Melinda                                                                   GREEN  2.1  
 

      Melinda loved to play solitaire.
      It had almost gotten her into trouble at work on numerous occasions; at least she thought that it had. She felt sure that it had. It was hard to be sure. Melinda always tried to keep an ear tuned for approaching footsteps, but sometimes she would forget to listen, and suddenly a face might appear, looking in at her from outside of her cubicle, bent over like Gumby around the corner, causing her finger to freeze on the mouse in mid-click. She would set her face into a professionally congenial style accompanied by piercing eye contact if the visitor was from her workgroup; otherwise, she chose an expression of impatience -
what do you want? - juxtaposed with a voice full of cordiality - what can I do for you?
      Meanwhile on her desk her mouse hand would be moving ever so quietly, sliding forward to maximize a spreadsheet which she always kept open, just in case of this type of emergency.
      Ha! Nobody ever takes a close look at a dumb spreadsheet. What sprang to her screen was the agency's summary budget from five years ago. No one would ever look closely enough to notice. And if they did, they would turn to salt.

      Melinda loved to play solitaire. No, no, that's not the word. It wasn't love. It wasn't even comfort. She knew that she had no choice in the matter. It was a necessary ritual. Not so much a ritual. That's the wrong word.
      She had an undeniable need to play the game, to play it every single day, to play it all the way to the end, but she also had developed a desire to write about what she was doing and understand why she was doing it. She wasn't a total dummy. She did understand it as symptomatic.
      Melinda fully realized that her playing was obsessive-compulsive behavior. She knew that much and more. She had read about OCD extensively, and yes,  that person was her. Sometimes, today being a good example, she wanted to be able to observe what she was doing, study it from afar, contemplate it, find out what was really happening inside herself.
      Melinda wanted to understand where else this type of behavior might be creeping into her life. Surely there must be more than one crack in her psyche. She knew that she was always forgetting herself. This forgetfulness was a given, something she could remember. She could lose hours of a given day.

      Her friend Stan Keaton had told her - of all things - about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and how it applied to real life. For Melinda, it boiled down to this simple fact: It is difficult, if not impossible, to watch your own behavior directly. Behavior changes it's nature when observed. Your life becoming a series of self-referential and inconsequential acts. Or your actions and thoughts come to a complete halt, leaving you hanging there, disoriented and feeling split.
      One requires an intermediary.
      There is another Melinda; she knows this to be true, a shadowy one that is caught up in a strange tangle of rules and rituals. This was the Melinda that she was looking for when she looked at herself when she played.

      Melinda had been practicing a detachment technique that Stan had taught her. He had used it for years, he said, as a way of monitoring his writing. (Stan seemed to know about everything. Susan had no idea just how lucky she was.) The process involved assigning a small portion of the consciousness to the role of what he called 'The Reporter'. That was Stan's name for the assigned segment, but she liked it well enough to adopt it for herself. The Reporter's job was to remember Melinda for Melinda when Melinda remembered to remember herself. She would catch glimpses of herself via the Reporter and retrieve a thought or action to record in her journal.

      Melinda's Journal existed on a 3.5" diskette, currently inserted into her piece-of-shit government computer's A: drive. She had fourteen backup disks stored at home. Her journal wasn't all that long, but in the time since she had committed herself to keeping it, Melinda would save a copy whenever she felt that her psychic narrative seemed to be shifting. Paper copies were printed at least once a week.
      Melinda's journal required no hiding at work. It was just a Microsoft Word document like any other. She kept it open in a little window on her desktop, with the font size set low enough to disallow any stealth viewing.

      Not being able to win at Solitaire, not even being able to return to a zero balance, that was the risk Melinda faced, and she faced it every day. She had to play the game in order to psychically begin her day, and the longer she had to wait to get started, the more anxious she would become. She knew that she couldn't begin playing before she showed up for work because it might prevent her from ever arriving. She knew from this from experience. It had happened to her before..
      Playing with the Vegas style scoring option - $52 a deck, with a $5 payback per played card - and the draw three option, she allowed herself a monetary boundary which stretched from minus $150 to plus $150 before the game could be allowed to reach an end. The final score would predict the karmic outcome for the rest of her day.

      If Melinda scored fifteen cards or more, she won the hand and could add $25 to her bottom line. This meant that her bottom range could not drop below minus $125. You were already on your way.

      A clean sweep was worth $50 against her bottom line, bringing it up to minus $100. Playing all fifty-two cards also allowed her to reduce the number of cards she need to declare an official win - after the first sweep, she only needed fourteen cards to claim her next victory.

      A final score of minus $150 ordained a potentially disastrous day. It might not be probable, but it was certainly possible that with a score that low something truly awful might befall her. Anything could happen at those depths. Deck after deck, card after card, the game took real time off her life. She was afraid to measure it.  

      On the flip side, Melinda also had the possibility of good fortune. Amounts in the positive range would portend an increasingly good day. If her final score reached plus $150, it also meant that anything could happen. Magic!

      In theory, a score of zero, or close to zero, meant a day untouched by the fates, a normal day. By not playing the game, you would automatically have a zero sum game and the day would be under control. Or not under control. But this outcome could not happen. It was against the rules.

      What would actually happen at the game's conclusion, was forever the same, regardless of whether she won or lost. She was condemned to snap back into the world and nervously wonder, What am I doing... The spell would be broken and she would forget the importance of the game, shutting it down with a frown of disgust. She would not even remember to think about what a moronic idea it was to use a computer game as a personal oracle. She would simply have lost a slice of time, a piece of her life she could never get back.
    There was a dream that never got any closer. Upon waking, it resolved itself to sparse details - cast, set, but never plot. Her other self, the other Melinda, the player, seemed to have no personality. No motivation. Just rules.

      Melinda heard footsteps approaching her desk and the sound of a throat being cleared. She knew that throat. It was Lex. In a moment he would be peeking around the side of her cubicle. Obviously, he wanted something from her. He had been here earlier, and she had to pretend to be talking on the phone. Get set.
      Melinda minimized the game and pulled up her eMail. She hated this. She had a thought that she needed to write down quickly - something about the little tasks she had found herself performing in between the games of Solitaire - and if she didn't capture it in her journal quickly, the thought would be gone forever. This always seemed to happen. She hated this. She so rarely had a chance to remember. She forgot so much...

      Because she was reluctant to travel, citing personal reasons and filing a doctor's letter in her personnel file, Melinda seldom had any major job responsibilities. She was not considered a team player, no, not at all. Everyone else had to travel, and never mind the hassle of juggling childcare and uprooting schedules. Miss Melinda, thirty years old, childless, and single, was simply afraid to fly. That was the word. Screw her and the horse she rode in on.
      Because she seldom held any major responsibilities, Melinda tended to let the projects she was assigned slide. No one ever seemed to notice. Her co-workers, when they thought of her at all, thought of Melinda as a generalist, the perfect girl for all those pesky office odd jobs. She was always in charge of the Combined Federal Campaign, encouraging her co-workers to turn over a percent of their paychecks in a quick and painless charitable gesture. She always had to lead the Savings Bonds drive, encouraging her co-workers to buy into what was both a great investment and a patriotic gesture. It was always her responsibility to make arrangements for the office Christmas Party, at least up until last year when she scheduled it at Dauphene's, a Springfield titty-bar. You'd have thought somebody would have picked up on that.

      Lex is here now, arriving on little cat feet, peeking down from above her cubicle wall, checking  to see if she was still inside of her box. Melinda worked for Lex as much as she worked for anyone else in the office, she supposed... She was theoretically a Supply Systems Analyst, but there was never anything for her to analyze, and she had gradually settled into the role of an up-for-grabs Admin assistant.
      Her desktop was forest green, the color of a gaming table.