The parameters of the assignment were not at all clear. The only thing I knew for sure was that I was to live alone in a house outside of Buffalo. The unspecified length of my stay worried me. I thought perhaps after awhile without human contact I would begin to unravel. 我是一个社交动物. During the first few days I drafted a checklist, 哪一个, 如果坚持, would help stave off any peculiarities of the mind. 一些是显而易见的. 其他人似乎是愚蠢的.
#1:避免来回踱步. Madness is always accompanied by pacing to and fro.
#3:不要偷工减料. For example: continue to pee standing up.
#4:进行脑力锻炼. For example: think of ten green things before breakfast.
名单还在继续. I was happy with the first twenty-four rules and I would add to them when necessary.
两个卧室, 两个澡堂, replete with hardwood floors and white walls, 吹嘘着一个床垫, 没有弹簧箱, 在主卧, and a single collapsible chair in the living room.
On the wall in the kitchen hung a clock, a calendar and an old phone with a coiled cord. 这些是最基本的. 为了消遣，他们精心准备了一个黄色网球和一本儿童涂色书. Unfortunately no crayons were included. The rumor had it the Agency was experiencing cutbacks.
我不能离开这房子. 在这一点上他们是清楚的. 他们说我的全部任务会在我需要知道的时候告诉我. 我想象了不同的场景，但没有一个看起来可信. 我所能想到的最接近现实的事情就是想象可能有一个由当地家庭主妇组成的潜伏小组，他们都准备在不久的将来被激活. It wasn’t much of a hypothesis as far as they go.
我拿着网球在墙上弹了好几个小时，想着中情局和我的使命. 中情局喜欢神秘兮兮的. 没人知道他们到底做了什么. I guessed this was what gave them the peculiar amount of clout they seemed to command. 正是这种神秘感吸引了我，让我一走出校门就爱上了他们. The sense of adventure had tantalized me. 现在我开始希望我走了另一个方向. I wouldn’t quit mid-mission though. 我害怕. 他们可能会让我为此付出代价.
在不知道的时间做不知道的工作会引发焦虑. 我忍不住感到紧张. I felt the Agency was toying with me unnecessarily. 我不明白. 我开始低声诅咒他们，但在打破“不自言自语”的规则之前，我总是控制住自己.
第18天，我把一些麦片倒在厨房柜台上，希望它能吸引老鼠. I thought if I could get one to hang around it would give me an excuse to hear my own voice. 我给它起个名字叫杰瑞，聊聊天. “你好? 住在墙里是什么感觉?诸如此类的事情. A mouse infestation would greatly increase my quality of life, I thought.
在此之前，我总是希望有更多的时间坐下来思考，但现在我渴望做点事. 即使是最单调、最无需动脑筋的杂务也会受到欢迎. I would have gladly scraped the barnacles off a ship’s hull with a spatula, or counted the cars in a train station’s parking lot. Even cleaning the kennels of an inner city animal shelter wasn’t out of the question. I would have done all this for free. 相反，我的报酬是把网球扔向墙壁.
一次, 我把网球往墙上弹了五百三十四次都没有掉下来. 这个记录维持了几个星期. 后来，每当我达到400的时候，我就紧张起来. 一次 I got really close to breaking the record. I got to five hundred and twenty-nine and I bobbled it. 球滚离我时，我捂住脸哭了起来.
在第35天下午2点22分整，电话铃响了. 我把网球扔到半空中，跑到厨房. 第二声铃声还没响完，我就把电话从听筒里拽了出来.
On the other end of the line I heard a man’s voice. “There will be a job for you at 19:42 on the eighty-fourth day,” it said. The man’s voice was chilled like a glass of ice water. “In the meantime,” he said, “you are to learn Spanish.“我觉得我错过了一个节拍.
“你指望我怎么做??“我查询. But just then, true to the cliché, the doorbell rang. 我让电话里的那个人稍等，然后去开门. 我绞着双手. 我把门大开，很高兴又看到了一个活人，并向他打了个招呼.
The woman wore a frown with a pouty lip. 她不是心情不好就是不喜欢我的样子，因为她一句话也没跟我说. Still, being snubbed by her was far better than not having had anyone to be snubbed by. 她给了我一个黄色的盒子，上面写着“罗塞塔石碑”，还堆了一个旧的, 上面是用过的笔记本电脑——真的很破旧.
I went back to the phone to question the man further, but the line was dead. 我一点也不惊讶，我太兴奋了，不会太失望.
就像一个孩子打开了一个新的, 非常好的玩具, 我撕开盒子，立即开始寻找罗塞塔石碑. 我坐在起居室旁边的小房间的角落里, 我决定是研究吗, 然后直接插进去. In a few hours I had mastered Level 1.
Rosetta Stone said, The woman is pretty, and I said, 她是好人.
Rosetta Stone had several things going for it. 一个是，它被证明比用网球撞墙更有回报. 第二，它有一种悦耳的女声，能诉说我的孤独. And three, it allowed me to use my voice without technically talking to myself. 我立刻就被吸引住了. I just hoped my tennis ball wouldn’t feel too neglected.
课间休息时，我幻想着搬到南美洲，在某个海滩附近过着简单的生活. I’d marry a forty-something woman with thick black hair and a thick rear-end. I’d have a grown stepson and we’d become friends. It would be a simple life but it would be a full one. I’d think about this for several minutes each day and it conjured up a very pretty picture.
第56天，我像以前一样翻看了几十遍儿童图画书. 这一次，我想象着用一支蓝色蜡笔给它上色，就好像我是一个大人物，就像毕加索一样. It started off with a blue car and a blue house, 这很有道理, but ended with a blue bear and a blue lobster. 我告诉自己，我是一个艺术家，这是艺术的许可. 我想象着当我的第一个画廊受到严厉的批评时，我开心地微笑着.
橱柜里的食物很丰富，但种类不多. Whoever had made the selections had little imagination. After awhile you stop looking forward to meals. Clam chowder ceases to make the mouth water. The thought of baked beans makes the stomach feel queasy. Dried banana chips trigger a gag reflex. When I was studying food items on the Rosetta Stone I experienced hunger pangs. Yo quero hanburguesa con queso y papas fritas. Por favor, por favor, por favor… I hugged my legs and rocked back and forth.
我左边的房子里住着一位年轻女子，我断定她是个寡妇. The middle aged man in the house on my right tooled around in a sports car. And directly across the street a young couple and their two young children made their home.
I spent a good chunk of my day spying on them. I took the mirror from above the bathroom sink to ensure I wasn’t caught. 有时我会躺在地板上，把镜子举到一个合适的角度，一小时或更长时间，只为看一眼那个正在倒车的男人，或者两个在前院做游戏的孩子.
有时我觉得自己像个讨厌鬼. 当我第一次有机会看到这位年轻的寡妇在上床前脱衣服时，我把目光移开了. I commended myself for my fortitude. Eventually I started looking of course. It wasn’t hard to justify—I convinced myself I was watching with an artistic eye.
第八十四天来了，我的眼睛盯着时钟. I couldn’t wait for it to read 7:42 when the Agency was supposed to call with the job. 我一度把钟从墙上取下来检查. I held my ear up to the back where the battery was. 我听到滴答声，但只是微弱的声音. I would have hoped for a stronger sign of life. As it was I continued to eye the cheap clock with a certain amount of skepticism.
I played the Desert Island game to kill time. If I had to limit myself to one movie I would choose 被抛弃的人. If I could listen to only one song I’d choose 瓶中信. If I were stuck with one book I decided on Hemingway’s 拥有与没有. 我已经走了很远了. Eventually I chose a kind of car, a brand of sneaker and a type of scented candle. I went as far as I could then started over and chose the next best whatever. 这花了38分钟，这并没有像我希望的那么久.
The phone rang at 7:41, and I was alarmed. 中情局早到了一分钟. This type of sloppiness was unheard of. 我让它响了几次，仔细地考虑着事态的发展. After several harrowing seconds I decided not to answer until the clock read 7:42. 这样就好像从来没有犯过错误一样. 我让电话响了又响.
当我终于把电话从话筒上拿下来时，还是那个男人的声音说他给了我一份工作. 一种温暖的感觉笼罩着我. 感觉就像我的脚先被扔进了一个热水池. I thanked him and asked him how his day was going. I was starved for human interaction. 如果你能给我一点个人的建议，我会很感激的，但我什么也没说.
“Assemble the crib,” he said flatly.
我会问‘什么婴儿床?’ but instead I just waited for the doorbell to ring, 哪一个 it did momentarily. 我赤着脚轻轻地走到门口. 和之前一样，当我再次拿起电话时，电话挂断了.
I put the large rectangular box in the corner and regarded it from the corner of my eye. 学习西班牙语我并不介意, I had always wanted to learn a second language, but where there was a crib there was likely to be a baby and that troubled me. 这似乎是一件麻烦事. I had no desire to be a single dad. 我暂时把那个拆开的婴儿床留在原地.
A few days went by with the box sitting there. I continued on with my normal routine. 我学了西班牙语, 我弹跳我的球, I spied on my neighbors and I colored the coloring book with my imagination. For exercise I decided to take up yoga. I knew nothing about yoga however so the poses I did were all completely original. 我发明了一套非常严肃的动作，包括一系列的扭转和伸展，并以我最喜欢的喜剧演员的名字来命名所有的姿势. 我总是以一个我命名为比尔·默里的姿势结束我的例行公事. 这实际上是一种螃蟹式的走路方式，但胳膊和腿都扭曲了. You knew you were doing it correctly if your shoulders felt on the verge of dislocating.
从第一天起，我就把在火警装置上安装摄像头当成了理所当然的事. 很长一段时间，我只是忽略它，但有时我发现自己站在大厅里凝视着它. Often I lost track of time in that position.
随着时间的推移，我与火警的关系有所进展. 我开始站在它前面，做着一系列复杂的手势，我想象着这些手势可以被理解. If there really had been a camera there, 如果有人在看的话, 他或她从我的手的扭曲中得到的唯一的东西就是我正在失去它, 我自己也怀疑过.
最后，我制定了一项关于火灾报警器的新规定. 我又要开始无视它了. 如果我不给它电源，那就无所谓有没有摄像头了. Still, if I had had a ladder I would have torn the thing apart in an instant. I tried the chair, but it was too short. I could just graze the circular box with my fingertips but I couldn’t get ahold of it. 这仍然困扰着我. Either I was clever or I was paranoid—I had a vested interest in knowing the truth.
又一天开始了，我从床垫上滚到地板上，开始在脑海里自动地数绿色的东西. Mostly I used the same ones over and over. 树, 草, 叶子, 芹菜, 奶奶史密斯苹果, 大麻, 我的彪马, 爱尔兰春天肥皂, 不可思议的绿巨人……通常我都不能坚持到底. 我越来越懒了. 我放弃得越来越容易. 我想也许我应该改变颜色，但这意味着改变规则，如果我改变一个规则，没有什么可以阻止我改变另一个规则，我将以完全无政府状态结束我的手. The rules were all I had to hang on to.
最后，我再也不能无视纸板箱里的东西了. 有个孩子的想法还在空中飘荡，就像一个不祥的预兆, but the prospect of having a project to immerse myself in trumped all forebodings. I cracked my knuckles and danced around the room like a boxer warming up for a bout. 我的身体感觉还不错.
我拿出所有的碎片，把它们摊在地板上. 说明书列出了15个步骤，并附有图片. It looked misleadingly complicated. 我身上所有“男性”的特质都大叫起来，把这张纸揉成一团，扔到角落里. 我克制住了这种冲动，把说明书折成一架飞机，然后把它们送进了厨房. 这是成熟的做法.
I put all of the pieces into categories, sorted by size. 我看到了一幅如何进行的图片，把桩子放进孔里，把螺栓放进更小的孔里，以固定桩子. I progressed quickly through the steps. 我不得不后退了一次，但之后一切似乎都好起来了. When I finished there were two pieces left over, 但根据我的经验，这经常发生，我并不担心. 我把它们扔进厨房，把婴儿床放在客房里. I felt satisfied to have put it together, but looking at it there gave me the willies. I turned away and shut the door behind me. 我决定关闭它.
My one hundred and seventeenth day in the house came without any more missions. I was up to Level 4 on the Rosetta Stone. I became more and more attached to the woman’s voice. 老实说，我完全爱上了自己. I feared it would be an unrequited love.
那个女人的声音说， 我的朋友在ordeñando la vaca, and I said, My sister is milking the cow. 那个女人的声音说， Hace mucho tiempo yo solia jugar al futbol, and I said, A long time ago I used to play soccer. 最后我鼓起勇气问了那个女人的名字. I waited several moments for a reply but none came. 尽管很荒谬，我还是觉得很令人心碎.
On sunny days butterflies flew around, and on rainy days my neighbors left their houses in raincoats and carrying umbrellas. 我对天气不太关心. 我把球弹向钟右边墙上的一个地方，把它划伤了, 无论刮风下雨，他都是蓬蓬的胡子. 如果我能用五罐蛤蜊浓汤换一把剃须刀和一些剃须膏，我会很乐意这么做. Having a shave would have greatly helped my morale.
In my former life I would normally drink coffee and eat toast and jam in the morning. 现在我喝可疑的自来水，吃干香蕉片. 我一边翻看图画书，一边把薯片塞进嘴里. 如果我只有一种颜色的蜡笔，我会选择紫色. 在第七页，一只独角兽的鬃毛正渴望被染成紫色. 我很乐意拿出一个月的薪水来买一支紫色蜡笔. I would have taken half a crayon, or even taken a nub. Anything to put a mark down on paper. 只要能证明我不是鬼就行.
我对日历感到生气. It wasn’t being completely honest with me about the way time was passing. 有时它倾斜得太快了. 最后，我把它从墙上取下来，放在厨房里，和婴儿床的说明放在一起，剩下的婴儿床碎片. We would be spending some time apart.
Somewhere around the one hundred and forty-third day my doorbell came alive and spoke to me. I almost tripped on my dash toward the door. I pulled the curtains aside a crack and saw a pretty, strikingly-pregnant young woman standing on the porch. I took a deep breath and opened the door. I was surprised by her presence but I was not surprised when she greeted me in Spanish. 她递给我一张纸条，笑了. 我也笑了笑，打开了纸条. It said, Look after the pregnant woman. 她会说西班牙语.
I was glad for the company, of course, but I wished I had had a little notice. I had been experimenting with degrees of filth, and she found me at an all-time high. I hadn’t showered for more than six weeks. 我身上的气味很浓. 我看到我一开门它就打到了那个女人，但出于礼貌，她克制住了想捏她鼻子的冲动.
我示意这位妇女进屋，并把她领进椅子里. 我没学多少关于婴儿和怀孕的西班牙语词汇, but managed to work out that she was nine months pregnant and that the baby was due any day. We shared a chuckle about her size, but I wasn’t sure about much of what she said. 她当时还没有意识到我的西班牙语水平有多低，而且一次说了太多的话.
“Mi nombre es Inez,” she said with big wide eyes. I had never met anyone with that name before. It matched her face well, and the combination struck me as painfully beautiful.
I told her my name was Joe, but it sounded like a lie. I felt changed from the Joe who had existed before starting on this mission. Maybe I’d go by Joseph once I finished here. Maybe I’d take myself more seriously.
In a lull in the conversation I said, Hace mucho tiempo yo solia jugar al futbol. 伊内兹点头微笑. I offered her some banana chips and she said they were one of her favorites.
电话铃一响，我就跑过去，希望得到一些指示. What was I supposed to do with this pregnant girl? 但是那个人只说了一句:“打开前门”，然后就挂了电话. 我按指示做了, 不一会儿，两个男人抬着一张大号的床垫上楼进了客房. 我嫉妒它的大小，我想知道它是否有像我的一样的肿块. It was clearly used but looked close to new.
我不想让伊内兹知道我一直在监视邻居所以当她躺下测试床垫的时候, 我把浴室的镜子放回铰链上，以免引起怀疑. 我会想念监视的. Though we had never spoken I felt as though my neighbors and I were close friends. Giving them up would leave a big gap in my life. 我的眼睛湿润. 我用手尽力拧紧镜子的螺栓.
在伊内兹到达后的第二天，我又接到了来自代理机构的电话，他们让我做记录. 他们都知道，我没有写字的工具，所以我尽量仔细地听. 他们给了我四个项目.
我不能对那位妇女或婴儿说英语. 为了新居民的缘故，我要定量配给食物. (3) I was not to, under any circumstances, have intercourse with the woman. 我不能用蜡笔，因为它们是给婴儿用的.
Three things happened in the next few moments. First the line went dead, then Inez started moaning and, lastly, the doorbell rang. 我先去找伊内兹，但发现她在尖叫一串听不懂的西班牙语所以我走到门口. 我把门打开，发现一个戴眼镜的矮个子男人站在那里. 我能看出来他是个医生，因为他穿着蓝色的手术服, 他戴着口罩说, 大豆的医生. 考虑到这种情况，我决定不经审问就让他进来.
他跨进门槛，把一盒蜡笔砸在我胸口. I took a glance at the box then clutched it to my heart. 没有和那个女人上床很难确定, 假设她喜欢的话, 但不使用蜡笔简直就是折磨. 不过情况正在好转. And I was beginning to get an idea of what the Agency had in mind for me. 我的猜测是，这个任务将是另一个18年. Others should be so lucky, I thought.
皮特能’s work has been published in Forge Journal, 失去了海岸审查, 荒野之家文学评论, 质数杂志, 和《叶栎文学杂志, 等. 他今年34岁，住在费城.