The Blue Screen of Death

A storm came in over Lake Superior. Rumbles shook the little cabin until the logs shivered. Crack! Blue. Crack! Blue.

I ran to the staff kitchen to make lunch, a newspaper over my head, watched by sodden hares. Cold noodles with Vietnamese dipping sauce. The kitchen window framed the lake, hills and sky, all in shades of pearl grey like a Japanese painting, and the rain was too heavy to go home. I made baked beans on toast for dessert and settled in with the police blotter from the Sault Star. Eventually the drumming on the porch grew fainter.

The path back to the cabin was now a small stream. On the desk where I’d left it, my laptop sat in a puddle. A new laptop, new to me at any rate. A sleek, elegant ThinkPad, bought for $950 loonies from eBay Canada four weeks ago. I loved it already, fussing around the desktop like a Fifties bride in a tract house. I’d dragged the toolbar up to the right hand side, where I like it and nobody else seems able to bear it. I’d downloaded CuteFTP, CD-burning software, overrated Mozilla, other bits and pixels. I’d restored all the photos and documents that have languished in storage on my server for a year. I made neat manila folders and filed my new life. For a vagrant who forever leans a backpack against a borrowed couch, it was home.

And then the roof leaked.

The screen flickered bravely. Feck. Feck. Feck. I turned it off, and shook the keyboard out. A cupful of water dribbled onto the desk, followed by some gunge. There was a smell of something that shouldn’t have been fried. I turned it on again, foolishly, cooking the motherboard. The hard drive cranked painfully. The résumé I’d been working on appeared, then slowly faded out as the screen went dark. No credits.

I wanted to cry, but I didn’t have an audience. So I turned it upside down and left it to dry. I paced around the one-room cabin, unable to think of something to do without my ThinkPad. It was the middle of the day, too early to knock off with a novel, too wet to go out, too phoneless to call someone. I was out of wine. I didn’t feel like studying the Ontario Driver’s Handbook. Bitterly, I tallied all the work I’d lost, all the software I’d patiently downloaded on a glacial connection, the $950 just forked out. I shook the laptop, and drops hit the wall.

Tim called IBM from the office because I was too deep in sullen mourning to be what the Americans call ‘proactive’. Stupid woods. Stupid cabin. Stupid rain. They answered immediately, as if his call really was important to them.
It stopped working, he said, lying by omission as smoothly as a Jesuit. I turn it on, I hear some hard drive activity, the three green buttons light up, but the screen is dead. He did not say, the owner lives in a condemned log cabin from the 1920s and didn’t realise there was a hole in the roof until five gallons of rainwater almost washed Model T409773 into Lake Superior. The nice man offered to send somebody out to pick it up. Tim explained that the service agent would have to paddle across the bay to reach me. They agreed that I would drop it off in town, an hour and a half south down the highway.

That was Wednesday. It showed some signs of life on Thursday morning, but was still gravely ill. It’s in Sault Sainte Marie now, wearing a paper gown, and might be discharged by the end of next week if I’m lucky. Today I finally finagled the loan of a nine-year-old Tecra. The keyboard has to be bashed as if I were spewing an Ann Coulter fembot rant, and my wrists hurt already. Stupid cabin. Stupid rain.