Kathleen wanted so badly to be important. The specifics did not concern her. Maybe she would be an important blogger. Maybe she would be awarded for her terse prose. Maybe she would be a best-selling author in her genre, whatever genre was most popular. Or perhaps she would simply be the best looking at the convention, which would make her the most important. It did not matter how she was to be important. It was only important that she was important.
In her tidy apartment at her neat desk in her ergonomic chair with her compact laptop and her insulated mug, Kathleen surveyed her final entries in the fields in the web form for the First Annual Excellence in Achievement Convention. She was terribly satisfied with her entrance essay, which she called, “A Bright Smile in the Face of Adversity.” Kathleen had found it a bit cumbersome typing in the smallish text entry field provided. In fact, she had almost considered extracting the text into a word processing document, but by the time she thought of it, she had been on a roll and did not want to disrupt the flow. She smiled with tight lips and double-clicked her wireless mouse. The pointer hovered over the “submit” button on the convention’s web form. Kathleen had meant to single click, and she noticed that her double-click seemed to have confused the form. She saw the progress bar halted at about thirty percent. Kathleen was not sure if she should press the X button to stop and re-load the page, or whether if she simply waited it out that the form would send. It was an esoteric twenty-first century type dilemma.
After two minutes of staring at the unwavering progress bar, she got out her phone and browsed to the same site that was stuck on her laptop. The mobile version of the site was different, to say the least. It did not seem to have the same menu options as the full site. Tapping through several screens, she happened upon the public registration list, but she was unable to tell whether the list was organized by submission time or simply randomly. It was certainly not organized alphanumerically, nor did there seem to be any way for users to customize sorting of the list. Kathleen found it infuriating. Carbon dioxide shot from her nostrils.
Kathleen refreshed the list on her phone, and her name did not appear. She held the phone in two hands, looking down disgustedly as if it had suddenly turned to feces. She glanced back up at the laptop screen. The progress bar may have progressed to forty percent, but she could not tell. Maybe it had already gotten there when she looked last time, or maybe it was slowly progressing. There was no percentage displayed—merely an aqua-colored pattern that represented progress. Kathleen projected her own corresponding numeric estimate, but numbers were never her strong suit. She was a person of words, ideas, and image. She was a Renaissance woman, an enlightened mind who could still be playful and sexy and loving and, if required, stern and forthright. Kathleen, if prompted for a single word to describe herself, would have said aloud, “composed.” Internally, she thought of herself as important, but she would have found it distasteful to utter the word about one’s self. Or, rather, she assumed that others would find it distasteful if she uttered it about herself. Once, in high school, Jessie MacBethany—the bitch who won Homecoming Queen—had called Kathleen “conceited.” As far as Kathleen was concerned, Jessie and her perhaps-accurate insult had ruined senior year. Recalling this, Kathleen threw her phone at the wall, where its rubber-cased body thumped and fell to the floor.
These things ran through Kathleen’s mind before she literally swatted the side of the laptop:
This is all stupid.
Why don’t you work, you ridiculous website?
I am not going to hit my computer.
But she did. Her palm smacked the site of the display, spinning the laptop partway around. Kathleen knew intellectually that violence was not going to solve this specific problem. But the building rage—compounded by a sudden, desperate belief in the idea that a physical attack could transubstantiate into a focused result—had overwhelmed her. Kathleen did not have too many firm convictions about life. She was not religious. She was habitual, maybe, but not what she would describe as ritualistic. But she began to feel that even if she did believe in a supreme power over every facet of existence, this situation would too easily coerce her to renounce such an entity if only it produced the result she sought. She was prepared to abandon hypothetical convictions like no one’s business.
The little wheel—the animated graphic on the computer that stood in for the passage of time, superimposed over the apparently frozen web page—spun. It spun and spun, while behind it the aqua colored progress bar did nothing at all.
Then—and Kathleen saw this and her heart swelled almost to bursting—the progress bar began to move. If you had asked Kathleen at this instant to describe what she was seeing, she would have probably murdered you. But if you had somehow plied her and coerced her to step far enough out of her own psyche to reasonably communicate, she might have said this: “It’s moving … backwards.”
Sure enough, the progress bar was going in reverse. The aqua bar was shrinking faster than it had grown it any point in its brief tenure. What had been a stick was now a twig, and barely that. The aqua progress bar shrunk to a nub. A sliver. A speck of countable pixels. It clung to its existence long enough for Kathleen to theoretically renounce her renunciation of a God in which she had no business believing and to pray with all of her soul that all progress would not disappear. Then, without a sound—without any fanfare whatsoever—it was gone.
For twenty-nine years, Kathleen had lived in a world where there was hope and possibility. Things could be achieved. Dreams could be won. Love could be gained and even reciprocated. The untapped potential of the future had stood as a beacon, a siren calling to the hopeful. That world was gone now. The web page containing the submission form for the First Annual Excellence in Achievement Convention remained impotently on the screen. The entries—first name, last name, and email address all the way through to her essay—appeared gray. As she expected, when Kathleen tried to click and select the text, it was impossible. There would be no copy-and-paste to salvage her efforts. The only part visible from her essay was the closing line:
When we make every effort with grace, the world can do us no wrong.
Kathleen then screamed, “Fuckface!”
Too sick and dehydrated to cry, Kathleen scooted her rolling ergonomic chair over to the corner of the room where her phone lay. She bent down to retrieve it, pulling a muscle in her back. She groaned, leaning to one side and refreshing the browser in her phone as she scooted the chair back to her desk. The mobile version of the site now showed a message that had not been there previously:
Thank you for your submissions. Due to overwhelming response, we are over limit. As we have already reached registration capacity, we have closed to new submissions.
Perhaps it was a ghost, but more likely it was Kathleen herself who uttered the moan she heard.
She thumbed frantically on the list, scrolling through name after non-alphabetized name, hoping she would see her own somehow hidden within the list. She got through what must have been close to three hundred names, not seeing anything recognizable. Following the final entry in the list, Kathleen read this:
Thank you again to our participants. We look forward to meeting you, and we cannot wait to share your insights. Please welcome our keynote speaker, Dr. Jessie MacBethany.
Kathleen’s mouth opened involuntarily and blood-red vomit shot all over her laptop and phone and her lap. Everything turned to liquid, and she passed out.
A buzzing sound roused her. The apartment was dark. He face felt swollen against the floor. Kathleen realized what had happened, remembering. He skin itched from dried vomit. The buzz happened again; her phone’s screen lit up, illuminating a translucent cake of regurgitation covering it. She wiped the puke from the screen with her thumb, seeing a message with the subject, “Confirmation.”
She tapped, feeling drained and sick. The message read:
Thank you for your submission. Your registration is confirmed. We understand that some users were confused due to complications with our servers earlier. We apologize for any misunderstanding.
P.S. Our panel loved your essay, Kathleen, and we would like to have it featured during our “Inspiration Roundtable.” We think it will be a valuable and important part of the event.
Kathleen, on the floor of her apartment, covered in her own vomit, aching and exhausted, weakly smiled.