Breathing through the pen tube evaporated any saliva I had in my mouth.
“What the hell is that smell? Turpentine?” Tommy asked as we stepped into the elevator.
“It’s acetone.” I said.
“Acetone?!” Tommy questioned, one eyebrow raised.
“Yeah, it happened last night. Something… something really weird happened. It’s sort of a long story.
“We’ve got time, Mike,” Tommy said.
“All right. It all started around six…
I had just finished dinner and settled down in front of my computer. I needed to start some scripting for a website I was preparing to build. I double-clicked the little NotePad icon on my desktop. Instantly a stark white field opened before me. I always liked this part, the proverbial and quite literal “clean slate” upon which I could create something from basically nothing. I began coding. Creating the technical framework of a site is one of the most interesting parts. I was engrossed. I didn’t get far, though.
Maria came into my office and asked if I could perform a minor miracle with the kitchen sink. It kept acting up. I knew I’d be helping a plumber’s kid through college sooner rather than later and told her I’d be in in a minute. She stood in the doorway looking at me. I knew this and looked towards her giving her my best really, honey face in response the yeah, sure face she was wearing. I turned back towards my screen and my fingers began moving across the keys of my keyboard. My face again awash in the monitor’s glow.
My oh-so-understanding wife came into my office again. She cleared her throat and questioned the length of my minute. Knowing better than to make another one-minute promise, I got up immediately and approached my wife. She turned and I followed her into the kitchen.
I got the drain open finally so Maria could finish cleaning up. I excused myself and headed back towards my office. Maria stopped me to remind me that we planned to watch a movie together at 9:00. I nodded at this, just remembering it, actually, and turned again towards my office so I get some work done before the movie. But Maria stopped me again. She asked what I had on my pants. Exasperated, I shrugged, craned my neck, and tried to view my backside. Maria came over and poked at something as I tried to see. She told me I had some sticky stuff on the seat of my pants. A spot the size of a dime. I explored the spot with my finger. It was some sticky substance for sure, but I had no idea. Maybe I had eaten something, dropped it, and later sat on it. I had no other explanation. I told her I didn’t know and this time successfully left the kitchen and headed back to my office.
In my office I checked out my chair for a corresponding sticky spot. And I found one too. Right under where my right cheek would be when I sat. I thought it was odd, but figured it had to be food. I touched the spot on the chair and brought my finger to my nose, it had an intense odor, but it didn’t smell like anything I could recognize. I decided to put it out of my head and get back to work. I had wasted enough time already.
Maria came into my office again and gave me a fifteen minute warning — she was pretty serious about us watching the movie together. And I wanted to watch it too even though I had forgotten. We had been planning this for about a month, ever since the previews started playing on the network channel we watched most. It was a remake of an old classic and was supposed to be well done. But I also wanted to work. I was into it. The scripting was in-depth. I told Maria I was just trying to find a good place to leave off and that I’d be in the living room before 9:00.
Maria, probably unconvinced, turned to leave but I stopped her. I asked if she wanted to watch the movie in my office instead of in the living room. Nice television, comfy chair, she had no reason to decline my offer but she did. She predicted — probably correctly — that I’d end up not watching the movie and start coding half way through it. I conceded because it would be likely I’d have one hand on my keyboard and one eye on my monitor throughout the whole thing. She told me I had thirteen minutes, gave me a stern look, and left.
Now she was upset. I couldn’t stop, though, I had to finish the code block else I’d have to logic through the whole thing again from the beginning when I returned to it. She asked me sarcastically if I was going to glued to my work all night or if was going to come and watch the movie. She said it in a quiet and scary manner I didn’t like and was holding wire cutters in her right hand. She seemed to be looking at my network cable. I quickly typed two forward slashes and the words LEFT OFF HERE, then got up. It’s a good thing, too, because somehow she had moved closer to my network cable without me noticing. I got up, moved between her and the cable, smiled my sweetest smile and motioned towards the living room. She told me to go first, but seemed to soften towards me. I did and she closed in behind me. I wasn’t getting away this time.
She told me to go change my pants quickly. The sticky spot, she told me, had grown and was now the size of a silver dollar. My hand went down to the seat of my pants and she was right. I didn’t get it. I turned and looked past Maria towards my office chair. I could still see it and there was a sizable spot on the chair. It was weird. We had a new couch so I went to the bedroom to change my pants. As I did it I investigated the sticky substance again but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was exactly.
I joined Maria on the couch and we watched the movie together.
It was good, just as they said it would be. I actually got into it, even though I had to fight off the script still running around inside my head a couple of times. I told Maria I had to finish at least the script I was working on but that I’d come to bed before it got too late. She didn’t believe me, justly so, but sighed and told me not to be glued to the thing all night. I promised, and I meant it. I gave her a hug and kissed her. She went off to bed and I went to my office.
The mystery spot was still on my chair so I grabbed some paper towels and tried cleaning it up so the stuff wouldn’t get on the new pair of pants I had put on. The stuff was really sticky and it ended up tearing away bits of paper towel. I was making even more of a mess. I decided to lay down a thick layer of paper towels over the whole thing so I could sit down and get back to work. I’d deal with the mess later. I just didn’t have time.
Finally I sat down and got to it. I opened up NotePad, which was just minimized on my task bar and removed my LEFT OFF HERE marker, perused the script quickly to regain my bearings, and started typing. I slipped into the zone and it was a while before I regained any awareness of anything around me.
The television was on in my office and turned down low. The murmuring kept me company. It wasn’t the TV that diverted my attention, though, it was my bladder. I stepped outside, lit up a smoke, and walked down the porch stairs to my yard were I proceeded to relieve myself. When I finished I walked back upstairs, took a couple more drags off my cigarette, and stamped it out in the ashtray I leave by my door. I dropped the cigarette into the ashtray but it didn’t release from my fingers. It was stuck. I forced it into the ashtray and touched my forefinger to my thumb. My fingers were tacky. It was really strange then remembered the spot and decided that my sticky fingers must have been from when I tired to clean it up. I groaned at this because I realized it must also be on my keyboard’s keys. Damn.
I went back inside to check my keyboard but my chair caught my eye instead. It was a disgusting mess. The spot now covered the entire seat, whatever it was had soaked completely through the paper towels. I didn’t get it. Naturally my hand went to my backside and sure enough, that was a sticky, disgusting mess as well. I didn’t quite know what to do. I had to at least finish the script I was working on. Maybe and hour more. I couldn’t really afford to go to bed later than 2:00 am anyway. I decided to lay down a few more layers of paper towel and sit myself down and get back to work.
I plunked down in my chair with a squishing sound and lightly caressed my keyboard. It was sticky. So were the arms of my chair. I touched my elbows. Sticky. Wondering what the hell was going was running through my mind — taking over my thoughts. But then I noticed an error in a function I was writing. I leaned over my keyboard and started tapping on my now noticeably sticky keys. The script was suddenly flooding my mind, forcing out my sticky situation. I coded.
The murmuring of my television took a decidedly abrupt turn for the worse. I had done a lot of work, and the TV is usually a good companion, but now it was distracting. I turn my headed toward the set and saw instantly why. It was an annoying infomercial. Infomercial?! I wondered and looked at the time on my computer. It was past three. The time is there in my system tray at all times, but rarely do I see it. Now I was, though, and now I knew I was going to have a rough morning. I didn’t want to go to bed, I wasn’t tired, but I decided I had to pack it in else I have huge regrets in the morning. To start I reached my the television’s remote control.
As my hand reached for the remote control I noticed the mess. My whole arm was heavily covered with a viscous substance. It was falling off my arm and splattering on my desk. I then looked down at myself. I couldn’t believe how oblivious I had been. I was wet! My whole body was covered with the sticky stuff. My mind was racing. I was trying to add it all up in a way that could somehow make sense. I wondered if something was wrong with me. I was scared.
I pushed my legs forward to force my chair back so I could get up. It was slow-going. The chair was covered as well and the sticky goop was pooled around it. The term, blob, came to mind. I finally pushed the chair back, but elastic tendrils of goop yanked it forward again. I tried again, with all my strength this time, and succeeded. A few of the tendrils broke and it was enough to give me control of my seat. I then stood up, or tried to, anyway.
The tendrils of goop that had snapped my chair back in place had the same power over me. I was slammed hard back into my chair. I tried to stand up again, concentration on my face, my tongue linking my goop-covered lips. No luck. I was yanked back. I was confused and scared. My whole head was a mass of goop. I looked at myself and swore the substance covering me was thicker than before. I couldn’t imagine what was happening.
I sat there in my chair, glistening in my monitor’s glow. I could hardly move any part of my body by that time. I would try to move my arm but it would snap back into position quickly. I had quit trying to stand long before. The substance was getting thicker. And worse, it was covering my left eye, left nostril, and seeping into the corner of my mouth. I was really getting worried. At the rate it was spreading I wouldn’t be able to breathe before long.
I tried with all my will and was able to force my arm a few inches to my desk and a pen that was sitting at its edge. I grabbed the pen with my sticky fingers. I then moved the pen over to my left so could reach it with the fingers of my left hand. Grasping, sticking, to the pen with both hands I was able to pull the pen apart, removing the long, translucent ink barrel. Then, with my right hand I tugged hard, ripping the pen from the sticky fingers of my left hand. Once it was free I angled it towards my head. With determination I forced my head forward and down. The substance was relentless as it pulled at my ears, my hair, my whole head, trying to snap it back. Sadly it was winning the tug-a-war and it violently ripped my head back to its upright position, but not before I was able to grab with empty pen tube with my teeth and rip it from the fingers of my right hand. Cautiously I drew a breath through the pen to test it out. It drew easily. Oh, how I wanted a cigarette at that moment, I remember.
My eyes were closed, not that it would have done me any good to open them. Every part of me, my chair, and the floor all around the chair, was covered in several inches of goop. I could only fear for my computer at that time, and even more frightening was the thought that the goop might be closing in on the end of the pen tube. The pen tube was now my sole source of life-giving oxygen.
My urge for a cigarette was replaced by a strong need for water. Breathing through the pen tube evaporated any saliva I had in my mouth. Minutes seemed like hours and there was a sort of bubbling coming from the end of my precious tube. My ears were covered with the sticky mucous and my eyes blinded, but through my closed lids and translucent muck I could sense day light. I could also hear a chirping noise buried somewhere behind the strong beat of my heart. Between the light and the sound I realized it must be my wife’s alarm clock. I feared she might hit the snooze button — I didn’t think I could last another nine minutes.
I counted in my head, if for nothing more than to occupy my mind. I had reached 120. Three minutes since I began. My wife, I figured, had time to get up, put on her robe, use the bathroom, and come out for a cup of coffee which should already be done brewing, and… and what she would do next was a toss up. If it was a nice morning she might come out onto the deck to drink her coffee. Or she might take it into the bathroom for a long morning shower. I prayed.
I heard, or maybe sensed, the door to my office open. It was followed by a gasp, then a scolding. I sat there helpless as my wife scolded me. Like it was my fault! She came over and with her hand scooped the gel off my face and cleaned off my head the best she could. I released the pen tube from my teeth and took a real breath. The pen tube dangled, stuck to my lower lip. I could now hear well and but I didn’t dare open my eyes. Not yet. Maria told me to stay put and that she’d be right back. I laughed inside at this, but nodded. Then she cursed the glue stuck to her hands. Glue!
Maria came back with an economy-size bottle of nail polish remover and an armful of rags and towels. Starting with my head, she gave me a serious cleaning. The acetone in the nail polish remover cut right through it. The task wasn’t hard, but it was tedious and time-consuming.
I stood up. I saw the script on my monitor and closed NotePad after saving it. My computer hadn’t been covered too badly, and the monitor was okay, but my keyboard and mouse would need to be replaced. I wasn’t too depressed about it. I was alive, and finally free, and that felt pretty good at the time. I went into shower and cleaned the rest of the glue off with what was left of the nail polish remover. I got out feeling quasi-clean once again. Maria then took her shower and we both got ready for work.
…Anyway, that’s why I smell like acetone,” I said as the elevator doors opened.
“Yeah,” Tommy laughed. “Glued to your work indeed. Good one man. Hey, anyway, I’ll catch you later for lunch, Mike.”