Climb of the Cognizant Rectangle

Where a lady debates the sentience of paper…

It began with an e-mail.

Actually, in a precise mapping of the evolutionary path, it started with a business card. Disguised as professional courtesy, they represent society's urge to mark status through the exchange of thin rectangular identifiers. Most are only as good as the fireplace they're thrown into, but this one had a mind of its own. Against the wishes of the recipient, it established roots on her desk. Initially buried under mounds of reports, it slowly scrambled of its own volition to the top of the paper stack. Soon the card found a place atop her computer monitor, a feat accomplished with some sort of invisible climbing gear. Next it hitched a ride in her backpack to her home. Later it settled into her hand with an almost sticky resolve to be used. All in all, it had been quite a journey for a little card that should have been banished to the flames.

A toll free number was embossed on the front along with a name in bold black font. It suited the original owner. Flipped over, the card revealed a handwritten cell phone number, the uneven penmanship expressing haste. Well, she had been practically dying after all. But the prospect of nervous paused, lengthy silences and lethal throat-clearing kept her receiver on its cradle. She would not call any number that promised quick connection to mortification.

In the two months that Karen Lowe had played babysitter to Stephen Connor's business card, it never once pointed out its most useful feature. In the bottom left corner, an e-mail address waited for notice. A marvel is today's technology, allowing strangers on opposing shores to communicate without the awkward moments guaranteed by the telephone. A glance out of her western-facing window provided a justifiable reason for contact; the seals. An innocent update on what his team had helped her save would hardly carry the mark of suspicion. And was it too forward to ask after his son? It wasn't as though she intended to mention the petals of his rose being pressed between the pages of her favorite chapter of Thoreau's Walden. And it wasn't like she could add a hint of perfume to an electronic message. All laws of purity remained intact in the endeavor.

Where a lady rewrites Homer's Odyssey…

By the 11th draft, she considered hiring someone with younger hormones.

Her confidence had lasted entire minutes. Two weeks after the decision to write to him had been made, absurd amounts of time were spent hunt-and-pecking, revising and ultimately deleting the few sentences she'd put together. The matter of content seeped into her daily tasks, though reciting lines while on seal patrol did little to provide decent material. Even warm seal eyes seemed to roll as she got stuck on the multiple versions of a greeting. Why were there so many ways to say hello? And why were none of them appropriate? Her sister Carrie had been hesitantly consulted for advice which was delivered thus: Karen desperately sucked at initiative. Her esteem-building sibling speculated that this was why Karen hadn't penned notes to guys in school. After all, the Magna Carta hadn't taken this long to draft. Late into the night, they came to a consensus that no greeting was worth this much planning and should therefore be foregone in favor of a direct launch.

Topics deemed generic enough to be suitable were sorted by that time-honored method of the pro/con list. Each subject warranted it's on sheet of yellow legal pad. The county paid for the paper but surely not for this purpose. Karen wished she could testify to engaging in the activity on personal time but possibilities struck at the oddest time. The lists served as a fine procrastination tool. At least until Carrie arrived one night to trash the papers Karen had killed many a tree to create, brusquely slapping down a 'Wish U Were Here' postcard featuring a standard seaside vista. With the flailing arms of a know-it-all, Carrie instructed her to just get it over with. So, with her personal drill sergeant hovering over her shoulder, Karen banged out a passable attempt at an unsentimental, non-probing message.

Where a lady ponders the viability of smoke signals…

The send icon looked a lot like those red nuclear bomb buttons.

The dilemma arose over the possible sending options and her draft remained safely tucked in a virtual folder for an additional two days. Was it best to go the extra step in the march of professionalism and process the message from her work e-mail? Would sending it from her personal account drop a hint that free discourse was encouraged? Of course, the only method more clinical than the e-mail would have been the Pony Express. Still, the personal touch of her private hotmail account might thaw the fairly frosty message, Carrie reasoned. And the address of would clearly unmask the sender before he opened it, which may or may not work in her favor. After significant wine consumption, the send button was clicked spitting her sad, single paragraph message across cold internet lines. Karen had to cover her blush with an enthusiastically faked choking and Carrie's back slapping was more congratulatory than lifesaving.

A mere four days contained the whole of their association. The recollection that she'd spent the latter half of that time flat on her back was dimmed by the 'dying in a hospital' bed part. Even in the throes of illness, there were stray thoughts spared for her hair, her skin, her breath. Hopefully, her infirmed look wasn't the one that stuck with Connor. Carrie said that if he replied on his own personal account, that would be a sign. Karen figured any response was close to prophecy. This led to stifling panic of realization. Contained in one reply could be a plethora of ways he could say 'leave me alone,' which in turn added yet another night of insomnia. In an effort to leave it in the hands of a higher power, Karen threw back a shot and threw out the menacing business card; flat, instigating little stalker that it was.

Where a lady's age advances years in a day…

She had to yank it like a weed.

Never had a grey hair dared to sprout from Karen's hair, a mix of dad's genes and her sister's free hair coloring. The futile act of waiting had resulted in a springy mutant hair, with all the color and texture of fishing wire. It emerged from her scalp like a defiant flag being raised over the battlefield. And it was only seven hours since her message had escaped her screen to fill his. Of course, if she'd have added a delivery receipt like Carrie had ordered, she'd have known the 'when' of her many panicky questions. Having scorn off the constant checking of the bottom right corner of her screen for the yellow envelope icon, she focused instead on activity reports for her flippered charges. But Karen couldn't bring herself to leave her station and take the boat out to the colony fringes. Landsbury stopped by early in the day to discuss the brewing storm's effects on her seals. She attempted to pay respectful attention to the man with land jurisdiction who was clearly trying to mend fences since she'd recovered. But since he wasn't an intense blind with a single rose, he had no purpose. The shack she called the office had no back up generator, thus any loss of power meant a swift end of her working day.

Not that she was working so much as keeping an exasperated vigil on her computer screen. The envelope icon, when it chose to appear, netted updates from conservation societies, mammal protection groups and her boss's insistence on her now-late reports. And her sister. Eight times. Carrie's messages ran the gamut from 'anything yet?' to 'what the?' to 'just pick up the danged phone!' And then the yellow envelope popped up once more, bringing with it a jolt that said: this is the one. A nervous hand moved the mouse to shrink her spreadsheet to reveal her inbox. What would he say? Was there an invitation for further replies? Were her eyes ready to take in the typed words of a man that obscenely attractive? Would he thank her for contacting him and then praise his new girlfriend's cooking?

And then a surge zapped the power. So hard had she been staring at the screen that even as it sat black and dead, she could still see the teasing little icon. As Karen sat in the dark, it occurred to her that the next person who handed her a business card would be castrated on the spot.

I know... I know... Here I am going all non-traditional again but don't tell me you haven't wondered! More to follow...

Apologies to all those who's stories I am extremely tardy in reviewing. I'm just starting to catch up, I promise!