There is a light, and there is a button.

It is my duty to sit here, to sit here and guard the button: to look at the button but never press it.

Above the button is the light. Above the light, five tiny characters etched into a steel plate. The plate is bolted in with two grommets. The plate says ARMED.

Beneath the button is a machine. Its case is bolted together with the older sisters of the plate's grommets. It is painted blue and made of steel and the blue is flaking. Sometimes at night, when I am bored of all the machine's blinking lights, the circuits opening and closing, I peel away bits of the blue paint where it is coming off around the grommets.

I know there are other rooms in other places just like this one, watched over by other insignificant souls. But I do not know them.

I know that inside my machine, there are cogs and circuits. There are wires that carry information in and wires that carry it out. I am not in charge of the information; I am in charge only of the outside of the machine, of keeping it clean and safe, being sure the lights are blinking where they should blink and are steady where they should be steady. I am in charge of letting no one into the room but my relief and that is all.

But the button. This button. It is the most beautiful specimen of a button this insignificant soul could possibly imagine. It is the exact size, shape and color of the Player 1 and Player 2 buttons on an arcade machine I remember from my childhood, a Pacman, a Galaga. Though I have never pressed the button — I can never press the button — I know it will maintain the springiness of a Player 2 button. It won't have been punched so many times that its spring has weakened. It won't have been punched so insistently that it slides down into its slot, a little coward after all that. No.

This button will be firm and a little ferocious. This button will be springy. When I press down on it, it will press back equally. But I will not press down on it. I am not allowed. Also, it has a cage.

What a lovely cage. Soft wire woven, firmed. Soft wire woven so closely that it is in fact difficult to see the button at all. The cage is there to protect the button from mistakes and also, from lint. But one night, one night when I couldn't stand it any longer, I lifted the cage. There is an alarm for the cage of course, there must be, but it is a basic alarm. As long as metal is touching the flat plate on which the cage rests, the alarm won't go off.

So that night, that first night when I just couldn't take it any longer, when I just needed to see the button, I first dug around in the scrap pile to find an old knife switch, which I pried out of its holder and slid between the plates.

Then, with three fingers on one hand pressing down so hard, protecting me from the alarm, from the blare and the trouble, I eased the cover back. Like my very conscience itself, the hinges resisted and squeaked. But I didn't stop. I rolled back the cover, pressing so hard all the while, and then there it was!

I wanted to cry. It was so red: it was cherries, lips, clown noses, strawberries. It was a can of paint, shiny and deep. It was so clean and so beautiful, the arc of the button set against the collar. The top was just-a-bit concave and begged for the pairing of a thumb — but no. No touching. I closed the cover.

Of course I couldn't stop thinking about it. At home in my bed, where everything seemed so dull. At the market I would cruise aisles looking for a red that could ever begin to match. No berries were sufficient. I could test out every lip gloss I could find, but my lips never might match. Perhaps I was being ridiculous. Perhaps I should just look again. Nothing could be so lovely. It was a hallucination.

I had the metal plate in my pocket. I always held it there, a talisman, a reminder. I would look again. I did look again. I was not wrong. It was as I expected. And now every night, every night I come and I look at the button beneath the light, beneath the cover. Every night precisely at two I press down on the metal and pull back the cover, which slides quietly now on oiled hinges, I pull it back and I gaze for just a moment. It brings contentment when paint peeling pales in interest.

And now it is 1:58. 1:59. In the school-style clock the second hand sweeps around. I am holding the plate, my companion, my collaborator. In in goes, not too slow. I hold my breath. These last twenty-four hours I have missed my button, missed its enticing little dip. I fold back the cover and then—

ATCHOO! A sneeze. A spasm. How is this possible? The metal has clattered to the floor. The alarm is going. It blares. It is so loud. Trouble is coming. Trouble is definite. I will just rest my thumb here for a moment before it is over and I am taken. I will just lightly hold it here and think about the coiled spring and — ATCHOO! The spasm again. I have pressed it. The coil felt so right, but now, now it is much, much too late.

In the other rooms in the other countries, the lights on their machines will be flickering even faster. Their cages will be coming up, they too will finally know the pleasure of pushing. And then it will all be over.