Friday, April 25, 2014

Chapter 14

Graham awoke at 5:15 a.m., as was his custom.  He flipped his light panels to “dawn” and stretched for about twenty minutes in front of a decades-old sunrise from the Canadian Rockies on his video wall.  He had seen that particular sunrise hundreds, perhaps thousands of times, but he liked the sound of the running water in the small creek in the foreground and the gradually glowing cirrus clouds above the mountaintops. 
A gaggle of geese flew high overhead through streaking sunrays as the first infinitesimal curve of the sun rose between two towering peaks.  Graham waited for that moment every time he dialed up “Sunrise CR-98.”  He knew exactly when the geese would appear.  He would stop stretching just to watch them pass – a perfect V, high overhead.  By all reports, every goose on the planet had perished soon after the Collapse.  Graham still hoped that maybe, just maybe, some of the strongest from the video had offspring that had offspring that were flying somewhere – unknown to any human being – past a beautiful sunrise at that very moment.  That would be so cool, he thought as the last geese disappeared from the immense screen.
While drawing a bath, Graham made his bed.  He took the top sheet and blanket completely off.  Then, he pulled the bottom sheet tight, straightening each corner so that the sheet was perfectly centered on his narrow mattress.  He replaced the top sheet and the blanket, centered and straight on the bed, and meticulously tucked in the sides and the corners.  He deftly fluffed his pillow and put it carefully at the top.  He knew that his subordinates did not make their beds very well (or sometimes not at all, he had heard), but he did not run this outpost like a continuation of boot camp.  He knew that most of the kids out there were just trying to make it through to their next assignment.  He had bigger problems to worry about than whether every soldier had mastered a proper, hospital-corner fold.  He felt like one of the perks, few as they may be, of being stationed at the water production facility was the fact that the soldiers didn’t have some middle-aged, testosterone-driven superior officer breathing down their necks.  It might be dark and dreary, but at least the atmosphere was mellow.
Graham followed the same routine every morning.  He was up before anyone else at the post.  After stretching and making his bed, he shaved his minimal stubble, made a cup of sweetened instant coffee in his microwave, printed out the daily reports from the facilities and any important messages from his superiors, and sank into a long and deep bathtub, filled to the top with steaming water.  He read his reports and drank his coffee while soaking in the clear, hot water.  He liked the lasting feeling of cleanliness of his diurnal baths and the way that it warmed him to his bones, deeply warm, penetrated and soothed.  Early morning was, by far, the best part of his day.
That day, Graham felt especially good.  He caught himself humming and smiling as he shaved.  He put a sprinkle of bath salts into his bath as it was filling up.  He momentarily laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of his putting salt into the water.  Here they were working year-in and year-out to desalinate the ocean’s vast resources, and then the leader of the program turns it back to brine.  He did not know where the bath salts had come from.  His quarters had been stocked with a case of them when he moved in.  That meant that they were at least fifteen years old.  He held the canister up to his nose.  It still smelled like roses.  Graham threw a few more crystals into the tub for good measure as it continued to fill.
He did not feel guilty about taking a bath every day.  While such an excessive use of water was illegal in the L.A. Climate Shelter Zone, headquarters had more water than it could ever use.  The Army had constructed large condensation tanks on many of the rooftops surrounding the Transamerica Building.  The constant, thick fog filled the tanks with water, which was then filtered for use by the staff.  Even if Graham and the other soldiers bathed and flushed the toilets all day every day, they still would never run out – as long, of course, as the water production facilities were operating.  The post even had a medium-sized swimming pool on one of the subterranean floors near the planetarium.  Graham encouraged his soldiers to swim and bathe as frequently as they wanted, for they would never again experience such luxury once they left.  Even in Alaska and other countries relatively rich in water, only the excessively rich and powerful could afford daily baths or a swimming pool.
Graham stepped into the tub.  The hot water stung the skin on his shins.  Perfect.  He stood still for approximately thirty seconds, waiting for his feet to adjust to the heat.  Then, he gently lowered his body into the tub’s warm embrace.  After a few moments, he closed his eyes and shifted farther down into the water, submerging the back of his head and his ears.  He lay there listening to his breath.  Other soldiers were starting to rise now.  He could hear taps turning on and off.  He could hear toilets flushing and water running as it reverberated through the pipes.  Perhaps Peggy Lee had gotten up.  He imagined her washing the sleep from her eyes and looking at herself up close in the military-issue mirror inside her quarters.  He wondered what it would be like to have her living with him, to have her come into the bathroom, tired and groggy, to wish him a good morning as he lay in his hot bath.
Quickly, he pulled his head up from underwater.  Where was he going with this?  She was worldly, gorgeous, smart, and successful.  She would never choose to leave her career and her life of travel and adventure to live on this island of solitude with some stranger known as the water hermit – a man with no life whatsoever beyond the water production facilities and watching old movies. 
And despite his drunken thinking last night, he knew that he could never leave.  No, it wasn’t even worth thinking about.  He had to stop fantasizing about making a life with Peggy Lee or he was going to drive himself crazy.  He shook his head and said under his breath, “What are you thinking?  You’ve known her for less than twenty four hours.”
He then slowly shifted into a sitting position, careful not to spill water over the edge, and dried his hands on a neatly-folded towel.  He reached over and picked up his daily reports and his coffee from the nearby toilet seat cover.  The rain reports looked normal, even a bit above average.  The winds looked relatively calm for their tour of the facilities and the Farallon Platform. 
As he flipped though pages, his mind wandered back to Peggy Lee.  It seemed likely that her report would cast the water production facilities in a good light.  He had done a good job last night discussing the Deep Six Cover-up and the facilities’ unhappy history.  And she did not seem interested in asking him any really tough questions.  Everything seemed to be going smoothly, he thought.  He was doing what the Minster’s memo required – and he was doing it without having to compromise his integrity . . . at least not too much.  No out-and-out lies yet, at any rate. 
Peggy Lee had been so sweet to him last night.  Could she have been simply building rapport, buttering him up so that he would reveal unflattering details about the project?  Or about himself?  He certainly had shared a lot of personal information.  But his gut told him that he could trust her. 
He quickly finished his coffee and ducked back under to wash his hair.  He flipped the drain and stood up slowly, careful not to make himself dizzy.  He turned the shower on for a quick rinse as the water level below him fell steadily to his ankles, then stepped out of the deep tub and dried off. 
As he donned his uniform and laced up his shoes, he continued to think about the night before.  Had he actually shoved Peggy Lee out of his way on his frantic exit from the walk-in fridge?  He could not quite remember.  She hadn’t made fun of him or gone up to her room.  She hadn’t rejoined Ian.  In fact, she had warmed up to him even more after his claustrophobic freak-out.  Did she feel sorry for him?  Maybe she was just being nice to the foolish old soldier who spent the whole night stumbling over himself just for a tiny bit of attention from the gorgeous journalist.  She was just a good person, he concluded, and certainly not interested in Graham in any kind of romantic way.  He needed to maintain composure and reapply himself to his initial tactic of being professional and informative above all.
Dressed, Graham ran a comb through his hair and plucked three stray nose hairs from his nostrils with a pair of tweezers.  His eyes watered with the prickly sting, but he had to admit, he was looking good.  He had slept well.  Slouch gone, eyes bright.  It was almost 0700 hours.  He crossed his bedroom and went out into the hall, securing the door behind him.  Well, he said to himself, here we go.

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