F5

[Content warning: talk of the events in Boston.]

***

You’re curled in a heavy duvet in a clean white hotel room, watching history play out under your hands as you refresh the page again. It is not a conscious decision. Your fingers drift towards the f5 button like iron filings to a magnet, and the screen of the tablet goes blank for a moment as the page tries again to load.

The hotel room is in northern Switzerland, but it could just as easily be in Budapest or Shanghai or on a lunar colony. The entire room is neutral-toned: dark wooden furniture, pale walls, the sheets and pillows a snowfall of pristine white. Nothing about it indicates a sense of place: there’s a deliberate, soothing anonymity to these surroundings. With the rain drumming steadily against the skylights and obscuring telltale architecture outside, you could imagine this was anywhere. Well, anywhere except America.

The tablet in your hands displays a dozen different tabs of news reports, transcribed conversations from police scanners, and live feeds. An entire city has gone on lockdown. This is the world’s first crowdsourced manhunt, sources say. The internet has banded together in the wake of the Marathon to sift through countless photos, looking for white hats and black jackets and duffel bags where duffel bags should not be. Twitter users post pictures of armored vehicles rolling past their living room windows. The police have asked the people transcribing their conversations if they would please stop giving away the officers’ positions.

If this were one of your action movies, it would be very exciting. You deliberately sidestep another conversation with yourself about blurring lines between reality and fiction. Now is not the time.

It’s just that you’ve never been so far from home during a disaster before. America is reeling and you’re all the way across the Atlantic in a comfortable, safe place. You feel simultaneously homesick and guiltily grateful that you’re somewhere else. Hitting F5 is the least you can do.

You’ve been at this for a while. Your eyes have started to ache a little from the bright screen in the otherwise softly lit room, and your head has started to ache from the information. There may have been reports of a jumper. There may have been reports of a woman taken hostage. There may have been reports of an old guy with a dead man’s switch. The sources are not entirely sure. You recall an article you read just the other day about news being bad for you, and perhaps it’s no wonder you feel like you’re starting to come down with something. Most of the talk online right now is sick.

In a little while, you tell yourself, you’ll get up to take a walk. You’ll go down to the fourth floor where the electric kettle is and make yourself a cup of tea. You’ll go explore the rest of the hotel with its weight room and pool table and infrared sauna. You’ll go find somebody to talk to and maybe watch a movie with. You’ll power down the tablet for the night and put it somewhere out of reach.

In a moment. First, refresh the page.

The rain continues to fall.

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