There was a note of warning in Maple's voice, so Ryan switched off the dzela. Home life. The company believed in it. He'd been told so at the job interview.
"No working at the dinner table," said Maple, who had inherited from her mother the notion that meals were a time for talk, for social discourse.
Red anger flared in Ryan's mind. He'd switched it off. What was he supposed to do? Stop thinking?
"Bread?" said Maple brightly, synthesizing a smile.
Bread. Ryan buttered it. The bread absorbed the insult. That's what we call it in the diaper industry: the insult. They'd told him that, too, at the interview. Something about bread. What? It's white, it's soft ... he couldn't quite get it. But he was on the edge of something. He switched the dzela back on.
The gadget caught the pattern, cottoned on to where he was trying to go, amplified the key resonances, woke up his memory bank. Bread. And now he knew! As a kid, he spilt a bottle of ink onto a slice of white bread. Deliberately? Probably. He had been that kind of kid. His grandfather's ink. And then he'd picked up the bread and he'd squeezed.
The lights were off, and he was sitting at the dining table, alone. He glanced at his watch. He'd lost five hours. Stuck in a data trance which had felt like five minutes. He blinked at the butter dish. There was a piece of paper mashed into it, violently, distorting the surface.
"My lawyer will be calling you. I'll be at my mother's."
What had they told him at the interview? We don't encourage divorce. Yeah, but it happens. You get the dzela, you get the divorce. He didn't care.
The materials would need selection, but he had the basic idea. A diaper built of something like bread, with a foamy cellular structure which could absorb the insult then hold it until it could be squeezed out. Reuse. The eco diaper. An end to the waste disposal nightmare. Some kind of machine to wash it, extract the insult, pipe it into the sewer line.
"We're in the garbage generation business."
They'd told him that, too, in the job interview. Very frankly. The diaper is designed to be thrown away. Change that, and you change the economic fabric of the industry. But the technology would be applicable to ... what? A million other needs, probably. If you could figure out the technology, it would be worth billions.
He had the concept. The technology would follow. He had everything now. Except his wife. His life. And how did he feel about that? Well, tired. That had been his dominant feeling, ever since he first joined the workforce, twenty years earlier.
"Living?" said Ryan. "You can do that when you retire."
Last year's joke slogan. But he was ready to try it for real.