Love in a Chinese Room
by Terra LeMay
Søren had a sense of foreboding.
He'd had it since puberty, as chronically troubling as acne, and equally insignificant along the spectrum of possible problems his life could offer. By thirty-two, he'd almost reached a point where he could ignore it (like his acne.) He'd met a woman he liked (her name was Hope, but he liked to tell himself that it wasn't her name that had attracted him) and he hoped to marry her. He was going to ask her. But his sense of foreboding had him putting it off.
Hope lived in rural Maryland. Seventeen hours, by car, from where Søren lived. They'd never met in person. They communicated by Internet and smart phone. Emails, instant messages, and status updates on social media sites formed the core of their relationship.
They didn't often talk by telephone, but they had once or twice. Hope had a nice voice. Nothing like the voice of that one audiobook narrator Søren liked--Kate--God, he could listen to her read the dictionary! Not so nice as that, but Hope was pleasant and soft-spoken. She sounded kind.
Disadvantaged by his sense of foreboding, Søren worked from home, assembling tiny widgets with even tinier tools his company had provided. He was paid per widget. He spent many hours alone at his kitchen table, pinning plastic cogs to thumbprint sized aluminum plates, and tightening them down with a special screwdriver. It was, in all likelihood, the most boring job in the universe, just the same work over and over, but too fiddly to do without paying close attention. As a result, Søren had taken up listening to audiobooks and podcasts to entertain himself while he worked. This, in turn, had led him to search for ways to listen to books no publisher had bothered to convert to audio.
If only Søren could've synthesized Kate's voice! He'd have much preferred if all audiobooks were narrated by Kate. He might've asked Kate instead of Hope to marry him, if he'd ever figured out how to meet her, but he hadn't.