Suddenly Denied the Comfort of Absolute Zero

Erica had a penchant and a knack, for finding faults.

When school was in session, she took a particular glee in debriefing the researchers of University experiments in their post-experiment debriefing sessions. These experiments used the Psych class masses as their sample population (of which Erica was a member by way of minoring in it). Damn the IRB and its stipulations to hell!

“You’re using X as a proxy to measure Y, aren’t you?” she’d ask.

The lines on the Researcher’s face would tighten, “Did you feel that biased your results?”

“Oh definitely!”

Was how these conversations typically went . . .

In her work life, she hopped around from job to job, and the closer it got to graduation, lab to lab, in an effort to keep cognitive dissonance at bay.

A brief stint at the East Atlantis Mall had led her to conceive of her own theory regarding the disintegrating nature of capitalism, much in line with David Harvey’s work, she’d later learned. Maybe with a side of Wallerstein . . .

As a Hotel Operator for the Rancho Bizarro Inn, dressed like an airline stewardess circa 1950, she’d had ample opportunity to compile participant-observation narratives along the lines of Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed meets Hochschild’s Second Shift within the resort industries.

Later, a series of labs, all affiliated with the University, had struck her in their similarity: assessment of motor skills often using novel or strange body movements uncommon to everyday life, brain scans, word pairings, and surveys setting the test subject’s feelings to pre-made statements and a Likert scale.
Based on what she’d seen there, she didn’t believe in any of them.

Her latest gig, coding and scoring the Prism questionnaires, a name that somehow reminded her of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon for whatever reason, had proved especially problematic. There wasn’t a discernible pattern in the data. At all. And if there was, Erica would know, as she’d reviewed each and every questionnaire that made it to her desk excessively, desperately trying to rack up more paid hours. She combed them slowly, thoroughly, one after another. Again and again. Often taking pleasure in disagreeing with her prior coding, and beginning over again from scratch, just for the hell of it.

Last week, while in the document storage room pretending to find and file the questionnaires, her scheme to waste time was interrupted when one of the PI’s, not hers and working on some other project, entered the room.

“And how is my favorite student slave doing?” he inquired.

“Doing alright, how about you?”

After exchanging the usual pleasantries, they discussed the project she was working on and its problems.

He said: “You know, sometimes . . . there are ways of finding patterns in data, when there are, you know, not really clearly discernible patterns . . . to uh, most people . . . it’s all kind of like, in the framing?” A quick wink and he was on his way.

“Can you believe it?” Erica had complained to her roommate Nicole.

“If it offends you so much, why don’t you just quit?,” Nicole had sensibly advised.

“Well I need the money.”

“Eventually, you’re going to have to do something for more than a few months, you know.”

“I know.”

Erica’s keen skill in finding holes, imperfections, unforgivable flaws in work and its experiments, did not however, extend to her love life. With men, she was steadfast, ready with excuses, would tolerate all sorts of outrageous behavior so long as it didn’t interfere with her school or work.

Today, when Nicole came back from her glass blowing class, she found Erica hunched over on the floor with a dustpan and hand broom, sweeping up moving lines of ants. To Nicole, it seemed that Erica’s recent breakup with Olen had sent her over the edge.

“There’s Raid in the cupboard under the sink, Erica, it’s not like I’m gonna charge you to use it,” said Nicole.

“I’m a pacifist.” Erica continued her sweeping with a light flick of the wrist, herding the ants into the dustpan.

“Since when?”

“Since always!”

Raid now in hand, Nicole said: “Come on Erica! I can’t watch you do this to yourself! No more sulking . .. let’s go out . . .”

“I am hungry . . .”

“Did you even eat today?”

Erica’s mind drifted to earlier that morning. Driving to the lab, listening to a burned CD of Olen’s crappy band playing loudly. His lyrics were predictable: childhood perverted. Hansel hooking up with Gretel, Huckleberry Hound is homeless and on drugs – that kind of thing.

Eating a coffee almond crunch Häagen-Dazs ice cream bar, chased with sips of actual coffee, while she swerves to avoid traffic, content in the knowledge that there’s another one of those suckers on her passenger seat still in its wrapping, not yet melted, ready to bust into as soon as she’s settled in front of her computer.

“Uh, yeah . . . I totally ate,” Erica pushed her hair out of her face proudly, trying to look annoyed by any insinuation that she did not have her life under control.

“What did you eat?”

“You know, like, the usual . . . ?”


Nicole raised an eyebrow skeptically, grabbed Erica by the arm, threw her in the car, and drove them to Ranchos.

A few minutes into the chips and salsa, Erica leaned forward and whispered to Nicole, “You know I dreamt about that house again last night. The dark one. What do you think it means?”

Nicole, watching the way the light streamed in through the window, framing Erica’s hair against the hanging hollowed gourds and burlap sack ceiling, considered it for a moment. Then said, “I don’t know.”

One thing was certain, it wasn’t the first, or the last time, Erica dreamt about it.