The DSL Guy
Meg Pokrass

He came to my apartment to check the DSL connection. Something was wrong—it took an hour to Google a simple recipe for chicken soup. I had a sore throat, was sneezing a lot, and felt tired.

I have a bad cold, I said. My apartment was cluttered—a holding tank for things that had no use. Christmas cards up from three years ago.

Frost barked once. It was an embarrassing “woof” that sounded like the word woof. Then he rolled over and showed the DSL man his stomach and privates. The DSL guy put his hand down for Frost to sniff, and said, Are you the man of the house?

Of course he had to enter my apartment (it was his job). He shuffled his feet and rattled the countless wires in his carrying box.

Everyone’s sick, he said.

I was getting ready to move in a few weeks so I didn’t really care about the DSL situation long term. Being an only child had at one time seemed a burden—but now that my parents were gone the world was my oyster. At least that’s what my therapist said. That’s how to look at it. She used those words.

I need it to work now because I’m making arrangements to move, I told him.

It was also because my fiance Russell liked to e-mail regularly to tell me all the tiny details about his new illness, but I didn’t say that. He’d diagnosed himself on the Web, and found out exactly what he had. It’s called Reynaud’s Syndrome. Sometimes his fingers turned blue.

The tea kettle howled in the kitchen. It sounded like a fire alarm. I ran to stop it.

Where’s your system? he asked.

For a second, I didn’t know what he meant.

He inched into my much-too-warm apartment. I pointed.

I watched the sturdy legs of the DSL man walk over to my workstation in the kitchen nook. He investigated the wires behind the desk carefully, his ears cocked while he fidgeted.

This will be easy, he said. He looked like he was approaching middle age.

I went to the bathroom and blew my nose. I brushed my hair and put on mascara. I forced myself to look at my throat in the mirror and check for redness because Russell wanted me to list all my symptoms and e-mail them. Three hours later in Boston, so he was nearly finished with his patient load. He was a psychiatrist, and sometimes I wondered. He seemed so nervous about illness—and I hoped that didn’t affect his patients negatively.

I listened to the doggy sound of my congested breathing, holding back sneezes for a minute so I could hear the DSL guy.

Done! he said.

I burst out of the bathroom, hoping to get his business card before he got away.

He was already in the foyer, his cell phone ringing. Yeah? he said.

He looked at me and put up one finger in a just-one-second gesture.

I sat on the floor next to Frost and watched him carefully. He didn’t seem to notice that my eyes were on him, moving from his lumpy Adam’s apple to his waist. Broad, but not overweight.

No, that’s not OK, he said. He hung up and rolled his eyes.

He was not OK about something.

How about a cup of ginger tea? I asked.

Another time, he said, his eyes widening. He handed me his card, patted Frost. We smiled at each other as he left. I breathed out, my congestion loosening.

I went over to the computer and checked e-mail. New from Russell:

Subject: Reynaud’s Syndrome symptoms

Subject: Prognosis and care

Subject: Where are you?

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