It’s 7:00 am on a Friday. A big, brown eye dilates then contracts, scanning the room. It stares at the same light fixture and fan hanging, wobbling slightly as it rotates. Finally recognizing that he is awake and fully conscious, TJ opens his other eye as he sits up and looks out the window of his humble, one bedroom apartment. The same bird, a beautiful cardinal, as it has always done, is perched on its nest, chirping with its three babies that had only just recently hatched. TJ no longer feels the need to set his alarm, for almost like clockwork, that same bird starts to chirp at exactly 7:00 for as long as he can remember. He hated those birds, as he has always wanted to take the nest down or at least close his window, but for some reason never took the initiative, nor found the will to do so. In another second, TJ finds his stream of consciousness, sits up, rubs his eyes, and takes another glance out at the birds with a slight wince from the sun, sticking his hand up to shield his eyes. A quick yet noticeable shake of the head propelled him out bed and toward the bathroom. Each step hits the same, faded pieces of carpet as he slums across the room, no longer noticing the mirror that has been turned around or the picture frame that lie face down, all of which have accumulated a thick layer dust from years of neglect. Crossing his tiny desk causes him to step on some of the loose leafs of paper strewn haphazardly across the floor, as he thinks about the interesting texture the papers presents to his feet especially when juxtaposed against the shaggy, old carpet.
Oh how TJ hated Fridays. It was the repetitive, wholly uncreative routine he developed for all days that troubled him, but for some reason, he particularly hated Fridays. He took his same shower with the same, apple scented shampoo, ate the same breakfast of a bagel with cream cheese and jelly and tall glass of orange juice, extra pulp, and slipped into his same uniform. He hated that uniform. Seeing his name etched in blue cursive contrasted against the grey background, representative of a big, emboldened scarlet letter, depressed him almost as much as life itself. Then, suddenly, as he was walking toward the door, he was overcome with this rather odd sensation. It was a small but ever-present glimmer of hope that something may somehow be different today. But then his eyes glanced down at his wristwatch to check the time. Clearly worn down from years of use but displaying a resilience that allowed it age far better than TJ, the watch has a stunning shade of blue, as though it were an amalgam of the sky, ocean, and sapphire that made TJ quiver every time he looked down at it. The watch had some odd, attractive force that TJ could never quite understand but nevertheless surrendered to. The metal touching his wrist always irritated his skin, especially where the dial intersected the top of his hand, creating a tiny indentation in the skin, but this sensation seemed to pass with time, and the discomfort now rests on the outer limit where the feeling is just noticeable even with the callous that has formed from years of use. Looking down at this watch made any optimistic feeling evaporate faster than water hitting a dry dessert stone, so he just dropped his head down, like he always did, and moved toward his front door.
Upon walking down his front steps, he went to his same pole and unlocked the bike he had received years ago. It was a gift from his parents; the last one he had ever received. Slightly rusted from consistent use and decorated with hints of spray paint from the occasional act of vandalism, TJ couldn’t help but think this ride seemed oddly appropriate for his life. He could have bought a new bike or even a car, but he preferred the same raggedy old bike. It just seemed right.
During his ride to work, TJ was overcome with a faint, captivating aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg coupled with a light hint of umami that he figured came from all the leaves falling from the surrounding trees. The unmistakable signatures of fall that he knew he used to love some time long ago, perhaps in another life, overran his senses as he tried his best to block their effects. He neither could remember nor cared when he enjoyed them, all he knew was that he hated them now.
After the brief ride, TJ pulled into the same parking lot, as he had done for the past thirteen years, and upon noticing that his normal bike slot was taken, took the one immediately adjacent to it. Sure it bothered him a little. You park in the same spot for thirteen years, and you hope people would cede the spot or even just start to notice. But by this point nothing shocks TJ. He just shook his head and parked in the unoccupied spot next to his normal one.
Upon entering the front door, TJ quickly recognized that this was not a normal Friday at the university. This was the first day that all the new students who were admitted into the particle physics program came to tour the university’s facilities. Selected from the brightest and most accomplished undergraduates in the world, these students were destined to become future world-renowned physicists, and inevitably one or two would go on to win a Nobel Prize. And all had chosen to come to the university where TJ worked because it was, by far, the most prestigious graduate school for particle physics in the country. TJ should have known they were coming today. He could smell the arrogant miasma that infused his senses well before he observed the self-absorbed strides as they passed the lonely janitor that day.
The day progressed as predicted. TJ cleaned the toilets, replaced ink cartridges, and emptied out the recycling bins all while fighting through the sea of arrogant, self-appointed protégés that refused to acknowledge anybody not wearing a suit and tie and the look that conveyed a certain title before the name.
10:15 was TJ’s break where he got his one pleasure of the day. He knew that sixth year students would be presenting their latest findings in a thesis seminar, for by the end of the year, all would be trying to defend their theses. Room 107, the same room it had been for as long as TJ can remember. There were relatively few students in what was one of the largest lecture halls at the University, so TJ suspected that he could sneak in and listen, especially on the second floor, without anybody suspecting the janitor was up to no good. Upon crossing the barrier from the hallway to the lecture hall, the atmosphere quickly changed from one of self-absorbed ignorance, to that of tension, apprehension, and a genuine fear of failure. TJ always wondered when this transition took place.
On the second level, TJ watched as the first student paced back and forth, thinking pensively as he presented his latest work: “The goal of my presentation is to present information on the Black Hole Information Paradox and share my own spin on the idea. As I am sure everybody knows, the Black Hole information paradox explores the mystery of what happens when part of an entangled state enters a black hole. Because the physical information encoded in that system could permanently disappear after the black hole emits radiation and it, along everything in it, dissolves, it calls into question what happens to the particle that was entangled prior to the other part getting sucked into the black hole. As the paradox is hinting at, this implies many physical states can devolve into the same state, which violates the assumed tenet of quantum mechanics that complete information about a physical system at one point in time should determine its state at any other time. To this day there is no sufficient physical explanation for this phenomenon.”
While the student the student was presenting, one of the other students, trying desperately to occupy his time with something after his computer died started to look around. Upon scanning the large hall, he happened to notice TJ perched above, staring intently at the other student’s presentation. As a more conventional student at the university, the seated student was dressed in normal blue-jeans but a designer button down, overtly expensive frames for his glasses, and bearing the expression ‘I’m awesome and I know it’. While taking off his glasses to clean them, he rotated his head back around and in a bewildered look, tapped his friend of the same kin on the shoulder: “Dude, what the hell is the janitor doing in this classroom?”
The other student, at first puzzled by the question, looked up in the same direction where the first student was pointing and saw the foreboding-looking man, trying in what was a futile attempt to partially camouflage himself with the second story. Turning back to the student who asked the question, he responded in a mellow and very deep voice: “Oh, he’s in here all the time watching us. Some of us think he just wants to bang Dr. Arrow. Others think he is plotting an attack. Nobody really knows, but definitely a weird guy though”.
The student, fully exhausting his interest in the janitor, rotated his head back around and started to listen to the student still presenting his finding: “When matter falls into a black hole’s event horizon, radiation is generated via stimulated emission, retaining a copy of the in-falling information. This radiation will be distinct from the spontaneous Hawking radiation also being generated, but it turns out that the spontaneous emission of radiation conveniently prevents perfect cloning by supplying the necessary minimum amount of noise. If this is indeed the case, then black holes actually change the vacuum of space around it, so the speed of light actually changes. In order to test this hypothesis, I started to gather experimental results by looking at how light behaves close to black holes, and it seems to corroborate my theory.”
The student was a handsome young man, and bore an impressive smile, while he presented his findings. He had perfectly combed hair and a shirt with such crisp seams that even TJ could tell was reserved specifically for the presentation. While the student tried to fit in, he displayed subtle nuances that indicated the kid came from modest means unlike the others in the class. He was therefore determined to make an impression in his desperate attempt to fit in. As is normally the case, what the eyes fails to observe the brain undoubtedly captures. So while nobody could put their fingers on it, the kid was clearly different from the rest of the class and people acted accordingly.
Upon completing the presentation, the student was grinning as he could tell from the blank stares displayed by the few there in the awkwardly big hall that his logic had stymied everybody in his class except the professor. She too had a grin on her face, but her facial expression indicated a certain respect for the work.
“Very well done Henry” she said in a subconsciously despondent tone, as she pulled her sleek, blond hair back into a bow in preparation for the in-depth analysis that she was about to present. She stood up from the desk and walked purposely toward the screen that displayed the student’s differential equations. Her watch glistened on the desk, something she frequently did when she was overcome with an interesting thought. Even sitting placidly, the watch shone with a form of reverence that few pieces of jewelry could capture. As TJ had always known her to do, she walked with a pace and confidence that commanded the attention of everybody in the room. Of course it helped that she dressed impeccably: Always formally with just enough sex appeal that inspires the imagination of everybody who passes her. And, of course, those immersive blue eyes whose shade could only be surpassed by that of the watch. Before she even spoke, TJ knew exactly what she was going to say next: “Great use of the geometric relationship to prove your point. The problem is the Arrow Theorem explicitly tells us how to predict the nature of light so close to black holes. Since you didn’t make the appropriate corrections, I’m afraid your results are at best inconsistent and at worst inaccurate. ” Listening to her speak made TJ recoil slightly, as he instinctively, almost as though it were a reflex, started to rub his wrist where his watch was.
“I know professor Arrow” said the student in a respectful tone. “But my theory and the readings from my telescope seem to support the idea that light is far more consistent than what your theory would predict, and this could explain why entangled states are not a problem when we deal with something like a black hole”.
“I admire your thought process, but my theorem has not only held up through time, but is considered a staple of modern physics ever since my thesis. Clearly some of your calibrations must be off. I would go back and re-run the experiments. Use these specifications for the telescope that I used during my original experiments and let me know how it goes”.
Upon closer examination, TJ knew that the kid’s calibrations were not off. It was another “anomaly” that the Arrow theorem could not account for. TJ knew of at least half a dozen others, but, as always, chose to keep them to himself, as his eyes continued to scan though the student’s equations.
Upon hearing the response by the professor, the student’s demeanor quickly changed: His shoulders slacked back, as he ever so slightly bent forward, revealing his natural posture—one that reflects a person who had spent his life in front of a pile of books and a computer. He let out an in-audible gasp, but respectfully nodded and agreed to change his experiment and report his findings later in the semester. The rest of the class sat there, inevitably checking their phones and trying to figure out what they were going to do tonight, this, the first weekend of the semester, and their last year as students at the university.
TJ snuck out, thinking once again that he had not been noticed, and went back on his shift. Now with his fun out of the way, he could carry on with his oddly predictable day. While he does his best to avoid the faculty room, Friday happens to be the last day for him to change some supplies in the room, so he had to go in. He always thinks that next week will be different and that he won’t push the task off for the last second, but he inevitably fails in this regard. So once again, Friday morning passes, and when he can push it off no longer, he turned the slightly faded brass handle and entered into the room preceded by a squeaking noise made by the old door.
Much to his dismay, Dr. Gill, the chair of the physics department and prized theoretical physicist at the university happened to be sipping his afternoon coffee at the large wooden table in the middle of the room and reading the latest addition of “I’m awesome magazine”, while twitching his left foot that was swung over his right leg.
TJ, quickly disappointed when Dr. Gill instinctively looked up from the noise and noticed him, started to walk with an exaggerated slag in his step. “Ah, TJ…How are you doing? …Were you able catch the game last night? I heard your boy hit three homers. Might be able to get us back into the playoffs. Don’t ya think?” Dr. Gill said in a recalcitrant but humble tone, while piercing TJ with his hazel eyes that most presumed were capable of staring directly into the soul of anybody he meets.
Shocked by the comment, but nevertheless disappointed that he was addressed, TJ consciously debated on whether to respond or just keep working and hope he leaves him alone, before answering in a barely audible, submissive mummer, “No, I wasn’t able to, had to take care of some things.” Upon finishing his response, TJ took a big sigh after as though he had just received a shot from an unnecessarily large needle. He was determined not to look up, but could not help but take a quick glance at those now famous hazel eyes. He tried to subconsciously convince himself that those eyes in certain lights emit a shade of red, but he knew that it is an optical allusion that can easily be explained using the quantum mechanical properties of color.
“That’s unfortunate. If you have some free time later this week, maybe we can catch a game, my treat” Dr. Gill said in the most sincere and sympathetic tone he could muster. “It would be nice”.
“Honey, who are you talking to?” said a mumbling voice that clearly came from a mouth that had just eaten something. “Did you invite them to…” Upon realizing who it was, the person abruptly ended her sentence, allowing her voice to trickle off. TJ turned his head around to see Dr. Arrow finishing her last bite of bagel, and in a further attempt to lower the awkwardness of what she had just done, and in a nervous tick as she had always done, adjusted her watch. Now on her body, the watch accented not just her blue eyes but also her blue blouse in such a way that made her appear as radiate as light itself.
“TJ just came in to change the paper bin. Isn’t that right, TJ?” Dr. Gill said with a haughty stare and feeling of accomplishment, coupled with a more latent feeling of disappointment and embarrassment.
“Yea…I should be going now anyway.” TJ replied in another muted, constrained voice, his throat now too dry to do anything more, unable to swallow the huge frog in his throat.
To say TJ was disappointed or upset after his interaction would imply that he had not encountered these same conversations in the past. Rather, his pupils could not even muster the energy to dilate and his tear ducts had long since dried up from these past encounters. His body now knew it was no longer necessary to expend energy on such futile tasks. He merely turned his head down, and headed toward the trash bin.
“You too” The others said simultaneously, though one was clearly more audible and encouraging than the other. They walked out of the lounge together, and let TJ carry on with his tasks.
“Hey Thomas, can you send me your algorithm? I can’t find where I saved it, but I need it to back test my model one last time”. A petite woman, glaring as she always did with her piercing blue eye, said in a nervous transitioning to desperate tone.
“Sure thing. I just need to finish tweaking my Fourier transform, but I should be able to get it to you as soon as I get home today”. Thomas responded, as always, with a large smile almost as radiant as the other person’s eyes. The rest of the room rolled their eyes knowing full well what was going on, that was, everybody but Thomas.
For Thomas had a lot to smile about. Ever since he started working in Dr. Caldwell’s lab, things have never been better. He had finally started to command the respect of his classmates that had eluded him for the previous five years and was on the verge of his first true scientific break-through of his life. “You’re still coming to the bar tonight with Brett and me, right?” He said after a brief pause.
“Oh, I forgot about that. I would like to, but I really need to finalize my research before we present to Dr. Caldwell tomorrow. I heard he is the hardest person to impress on our thesis panel, and I really don’t want to let him down. Can’t work this hard only to fail the defense tomorrow. Am I right? She replied in the apprehensive, nervous tone once again.
“Come on Dannie, Brett and I are going to toast the end of what has been best year of our lives” Thomas said in a sarcastic tone, hiding a thinly veiled truth, in an attempt to persuade Dannie’s decision. For this type of advanced, esoteric research that these three were engaged in is enough to break even the most accomplished scientists. However, Thomas was part of small percentage that not only enjoyed but excelled in this type of thought process and environment.
“We’ll see. If I can run some simulations in a timely manner and MatLab doesn’t crash on me again, I should be able to meet you guys by 9”, she replied, clearly pondering the thought of a night out for the first time that could remember.
“Oh come on, its quarter beers at Mckinneys. I’ll buy the first three, no first four rounds if you come” Thomas said joking, in jovial tone, overcome with same smile he always wears when he thinks of a clever joke that no one else understands.
“Fine, make it the first five, and you get the cab back” Dannie finally conceded.
“Awesome, this night marks the start of the freedom that we have sacrificed for the last six years in exchange for” putting his fingers up in quotations “scientific enlightenment.” Putting his fingers down, “Let’s just make sure we don’t remember it tomorrow”. Thomas said in that same sort of smile, as he packed his things up and moved toward the door, staring back at Dannie. “9 O’clock, be there, or your beer will get warm, and we all know we don’t want that”, he said while smiling as he closed the door behind him.
Head held high, knowing in a mere 24 hours he would be know as Dr. Jenkins, Thomas headed toward the cafeteria. Upon entering the wide, brightly lit room, Thomas looked around for a brief second before spotting Brett sitting at one circular, wooden tables. Sticking his index finger out to motion that he would need a second, Thomas ventured over to the line waiting to buy food, and stowed his pleasant reverie of being a doctor for a brief moment in order to think about what he would eat for his last lunch as a student in this building. He settled for banana pudding, prone to the sweets as he always had been over any type of normal lunch. He pointed at the glum looking pudding that was accompanied by vanilla wafers floating atop a dollop of whipped cream. “A sweet treat for a sweet day; am I right” He questioned rhetorically in a gleeful tone to the cafeteria employee who merely handed over the bowl in a laborious motion showing no noticeable change in facial expression after hearing the comment. “Thank you” he spoke once more, this time more sincerely, and headed over to the table where Brett was waiting, lounging in a chair and finishing a text message as Thomas approeached.
Well polished and very hansom, Brett’s exterior highlighted all the flaws that Thomas tried to cover up. It was a look that took years and overbearing, wealthy parents to accomplish, and was one that most other students shared at the university. It was something that Thomas both hated about himself and the university as well. “Dude, banana pudding again? Not only is that shit unhealthy, but it tastes horrible. Are you ever going to be an adult or just the least mature doctor this university has ever seen?” Brett said in a joking tone with shades of seriousness, but also overcome with a big grin, as he greeted Thomas.
“Last time man, besides, we don’t get food like this where I come from”, Thomas replied.
“I know; I can’t believe what your high school was like. The fights, the poor academic standards, your school was the type of school my friends and I made fun of in high school” Brett said in a haughty tone.
“What do you expect man, being son of a steelworker and seamstress doesn’t really get you into the elite private schools and ivies now does it? It’s like we still live in the middle ages. American dream, yeah right” Thomas stated in a slightly embarrassed and frustrated tone.
“Still man, it’s impressive. My parents still can’t believe it when I told them.” Brett replied with serious reverence.
“Yea, well as long as I get to come up to your house for the graduation party I’ll tell them my story personally. I can even tell them how unselfish their son was to help a poor, dejected classmate” Thomas said in a sarcastic tone, now having eaten all of the vanilla wafers and whipped cream, and now starting to make some serious progress on the rest of his pudding.
“Hey man, that second part is true. You hated this place until you met me. Remember, I basically had to talk you off a ledge when we first met” Brett said, trying to assert his relevance in the story.
“Not my fault this place sucks, and everybody is the son or daughter of some foreign dignitary.” Brett’s facial expression noticeably changed. “I can’t wait to move on and see another part of the country or even the world”, Thomas proclaimed in a slightly elevated tone, the sugar rush clearly getting to Thomas’ brain.
“I wouldn’t say that so fast, I’m pretty sure Caldwell is going to want you to go on to tenure track here, he always chooses the best in class for his lab.” Brett said in a slightly jealous yet conceding tone.
“Dude…There is no way. I love the man; I would take a bullet for him. But I have to get the hell out of here. Starting with you graduation party, am I right?” He said in a rhetorical manner
“Don’t worry man you’re coming. And so is Dannie” He said maniacally.
Thomas didn’t reply to that last statement, for he was far more focused on using the malleability of the plastic spoon to scrape the bottom of the bowl and excavate all the nooks and crannies that hid the final remnants of the pudding.
“I don’t know what you are talking about, I’m just trying to help her out. I don’t want any of us to fail, that’s all… Anyway, I got to get out of here early today and say goodbye to some professors, but I’ll see you later tonight, yea? It’s going to be fun”, finally replying, happy that he could leave but sad that his pudding was gone.
“Definitely man, I’ll see ya at Mckinney’s.” Brett remarked, as he returned to his numerous text conversations that awaited his reply.
Fridays ended as they always did for TJ. He locked his supplies in the cupboard and never looked back. Weekends were a time specifically reserved for activities other than work. And Friday’s were a night that he tends to spend at the local watering hole. TJ never understood why he tortured himself by going to bars. He never had any fun, as most nights ended in dejection and completely ruined the rest of the weekend.
In a twisted sense, bars were still one of a few places that interested TJ and kept him slightly optimistic. Pats Pub on 53rd and State was perhaps the epitome of this sensation. Located in an affluent, young neighborhood, Pat’s attracted the elite of the town interested in having a fun night on the town and perhaps making a bad decision or two.
TJ neither had any fun nor success in meeting any women there, but nevertheless, after a couple hours of reading “Why do I put up with this?” magazine and nursing a cold beer or four, TJ threw on a slightly wrinkled shirt and some jeans, finished an article that particularly interested him, and gulped down the final drops of beer, pucking his lips as he always did from the bitter taste. He walked toward the pub with a more upright demeanor and pace that reflects an anticipated mentality rather than the dejected pace that normal captures his mood.
Within a block of the bar, TJ could already smell the same type of smugness that encapsulated the place where he worked. However, as though the synapses were blocked from firing, TJ didn’t seem bothered by the smell, rather his pace seemed to pick up as he got closer.
He swung open the big, wooden doors and approached the bar. The tables were packed, as he expected, with young adults nursing the local, $10 fab cocktail with the occasional appetizer. The lights were dim, which made it that much harder for the inebriated to understand what they getting themselves into, and the music was just loud enough for most to get distracted from their thoughts—a welcome sign and part of the appeal of Pat’s. TJ was good looking guy, so as he passed by, he got the occasional glare from a women far more interested in anything other than what their dates were saying while thinking about what cocktail they could milk out of their dates next.
“What can I get ya?” said the waitress in a loud, rehearsed tone as she put a napkin down on the wooden bar. TJ watched as it distorted slightly and changed color from the excess moisture left from the last glass. She was pretty; they all were. Pat’s was known for their attractive waitresses. They all wore a low-cut, black shirt displaying “Pat’s” name in cursive, which was accented by bright pink shorts that captured the attention of every guy in the bar, and elicited a latent, ever-present jealously by the women. But as they all did and always have done, each waitress bore a big, “not even in a million years” expression across their faces just under their superficial smiles.
“Can I get a dark and stormy please” TJ requested, as he slid his credit card across the table. “Keep it open too… Thanks.” TJ tried to give an encouraging smile, knowing full well that the waitress serving him was probably as miserable as him, but she only interpreted it as the first, in what she assumed would be a long and miserable journey of him trying to pick her up.
“Sure thing hun.” She replied, expressing the same phony smile that he made, while reaching for the credit card. “Can I get ya anthing else some chips or chicken wings?”
“No, I’m good. Thank you.” TJ said, simultaneously turning around to face the open part of the bar. He no longer pays attention to the bar tenders’ beauty for after years of experience, he knows the drill. He prefers to focus his attention on the rest of the room. Upon scanning the floor, he spots a couple of women that on the surface interest him, but as though a light switch turned off, he turned around and thought: What is the point. We all know how this is going to end.
Taking a big sigh of relief and a big gulp of cocktail, TJ started to ponder: Why do I do this to myself? He took another deep drink, immersing his face in his glass in an attempt to shelter himself from the odor of the bar by smelling the effervescent, complex smell of his drink. He took a ballpoint pen from his pocket. Every time, he thinks again, as his optimism quickly transitioned from finding a mate to his subconsciously higher purpose, which is probably the actual reason he still comes to the bar. His self-imposed rule of not working on the weekend was once again going to be broken, as he took his pen to the bar napkin and began yet another thought experiment:
Imagine shrinking yourself down to an unthinkably small level were you could observe the interactions of not just molecules, but individual atoms. If you are standing on the edge of a black hole and apply a force to an object that breaks it into an entangled system, separated by the black hole. If you somehow go and find the piece that was thrown in the black hole, would they be able to bind again? If so, how do atoms recognize that they are supposed to be together even if their entangled state is destroyed by the black hole? How could that change the nature of light, and how can you reconcile two completely contradictory principles?
“Can I get you anything else? It’s last call?” Immersed in thought TJ looked up with a shocked expression. He hardly recognized the same waitress, as all patience she had a couple of hours ago was now lost from a night of serving ungrateful drunks all of whom inconspicuously glared at her as she brought drinks. Rather, she now bore a face that screamed “I think its time for you to leave”.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize what time it was. I think I’m good for the night, just close out my tab please”. He said while taking one more glance at his napkin and shaking his head: Just another failure to add to the collection. Only answer defies every law of physics. While nobody was looking, TJ pulled down a loose board underneath the bar and haphazardly placed the napkin among the 112 others that also failed in helping TJ accomplish his ultimate goal. After receiving the check, TJ left a tip on the bar, and dejectedly set off for his lonely, one bedroom apartment.
With an extra spring in his step, Thomas moved swiftly down the hallway, smiling at anybody he could, including the janitor, who was shocked by the attention. He passed by Dr. Caldwell’s office, and he stared in only briefly to see Dr. Caldwell working intently on his computer. So he decided to just wave. Dr. Caldwell, distracted by the quick motion, looked up to see one of his favorite students.
“Thomas wait…Please, come in, come in, we need to talk” He said with one eye still locked on the computer screen while the other was staring at Thomas and seemed to be foreshadowing the pleasure he was about to bestow.
Thomas came in, slightly surprised by the invitation. Upon entering the office, he was, as was always the case, shocked at not just the organization, but how genuinely interesting the office was, furnished by Professor Caldwell to display all of interests, not just those limited to just science. Lit primarily by the large window to the left, the office also had a small green lamp stationed above a mahogany wood desk. The desk was so dense and faded that even Thomas could tell had easily been passed down from one privileged generation to the next. Numerous diplomas, all from the most prestigious institutions, adorned one of the walls and were interspersed with awards from some of the most famous organizations in the world. “Yes sir…Is there a problem?” Thomas inquired as he closed the door behind himself.
Dr. Caldwell, slightly bewildered, replied “No, not at all. In fact, I have something to give you. He opened one of the draws on the desk while Thomas sat down, as it made that stereotypical groan that all old, wooden desks make. He pulled out a small, blue velvet box, and put in on the desk, sliding it toward Thomas.
“Sir?” Thomas said, awed with what he expected to happen a little sooner than 24 hours from now.
“Go ahead, open it” Dr. Caldwell replied with a large grin, as his now legendary green eyes focused directly on Thomas’s facial expression.
He gripped the box rather strongly but was immune to the texture unique to velvet, for his hand was overcome with a numbness that he had never experienced. He opened the box and stared directly at what he had expected: A beautiful, mechanical blue watch. The top of the box was engraved with a description written in beautifully scribed golden cursive: Imagination is more important than knowledge. Receiving something that he had worked so hard for and for so long had Thomas overcome with emotion. “Go ahead, pick it up” Dr. Caldwell encouraged.
Thomas picked up the surprisingly heavy watch, as his hand slightly gave in to the denseness. He inspected not only the watch’s face that emitted his reflection, which displayed an overwhelmed expression that Thomas would never forget, as he flipped it over to reveal the other side, which was inscribed with the same quote as the box. “It has a small cubic lattice of Einsteinium in it. It powers the watch by emitting a small levels of inert radiation, implying the watch will never stop ticking.” He explained in a proud tone, while displaying a reaction similar to that of Thomas. This only grew as he continued to explain: “As you know, the element is almost impossible to find in nature, but I figured out how to synthesize it. This reaction was the basis of my own thesis that I defended so many years ago…” Dr. Caldwell remarked in an oddly reminiscent tone.
Thomas nodded, knowing full-well what an honor this gift was. “I know you and the others were supposed to wait until tomorrow for this, but every once and a while, I get an exceptional student who deserves it just a little before anybody else. Take it home and enjoy it. Tomorrow will just be a formality. I can’t wait to hear where your research has finally led you”.
“Thank you Dr. Caldwell. You don’t know what this means” Thomas said, surprised that he could even get a sound out. He had heard rumors that some were able to get the watch early, but he never suspected that he would be the recipient of the rare honor. He put the watch on his wrist, determined never to take it off, and walked out of the office.
Almost like clockwork the birds started chirping at 7:00am on yet another Friday, and by 10:15 TJ was back in the classroom listening to new presentations. Having heard the rest of the students speak throughout the past few weeks, none had even come close to the level set by Henry. So while he was partially interested in any new development Henry may have had, he was slightly puzzled by the look of the class today. The students were focused: They all sat up straight, stowed their computers in their respective bags, and maintained their undivided attention upfront. Thomas looked around, noticing the difference, but was puzzled by it. TJ, on the other hand, quickly figured out exactly what going on. Professor Caldwell was coming today to present a special lecture on his current work and to encourage every student to apply for a position in his lab. Upon entering the stage, some of the students started to murmur:
“I hear he’s on the short list with Dr. Gill for the Nobel Prize again” Said one of the students in the back row already conceding his chances to work in the lab.
“Not a shot, somebody in Cal-Tech connected dark matter with black body radiation. He’s got it locked up” another replied.
“Caldwell and Gill’s work revolutionized the standard model; he’ll get it for sure” Henry said, joining the conversation. Nobody responded, as though his voice never resonated with the rest of the group. Confused and slightly dejected, Henry carried on taking notes, ignoring the rest of the comments that came from the surrounding students.
As Professor Caldwell transitioned from his research to his lab opportunity, his tone and demeanor slightly changed. He was no longer lecturing to the entire classroom, but rather to a select few student and one in particular. His piercing green eyes scanned the classroom; everybody eagerly hoped that he had taken notice of them in the past. For when a position is open in Dr. Caldwell’s lab, Dr. Caldwell personally selects the student, never having the student turn down such an important and prestigious opportunity.
Standing in the back, TJ stood with a skeptical, sorrow look on his face. His stomach clenched up as it often had in the past, and he was overcome with a crippling effect that left him feeling stranded, alone and helpless, left to just rub his watch in a desperate search for comfort. He knew something was off with the research considering the bulk was based on Dr. Gill’s original research, but as he had done for so long, merely stood there while his skin started to sour. He too, however, knew exactly whom Dr. Caldwell was recruiting, and frankly he was slightly shocked. Normally the student came from the Ivy leagues, pedigree like a racehorse, and a well-connected family. This kid, however, was the polar opposite.
In 15 minutes Thomas was back in his one bedroom apartment. He went for a quick run to release some of his excess energy and jitters from his anticipation of tomorrow, cooked his standard, cheap, and mundane dinner of grilled chicken, vegetables, and instant mashed potatoes that any graduate student would be familiar with, and uncorked a bottle of wine. A classy, 2013 Burgundy on sale for $2.99 at the local convenience store.
Scrolling though his finalized project, he said in a barely audible and ponderous tone, soaked with anticipation as though he were speculating in all that may lie ahead for the rest of his life: “This is the night. This is the night that everything falls in line. Just like I knew it would”. He repeated these lines to himself again, while taking a bite of his over-cooked chicken, grainy peas, and mashed potatoes that still resemble the flakes even after they were cooked in microwave. Then, after swirling the wine around in a beer mug, took a big sip to wash it all down. The subtle hints of whatever additive was in the wine were overrun with the overt bite of the cheap alcohol that made him grimace. Closing his laptop for the last time, Thomas stood up, made his way to his shabby, old speakers that he bought in a yard sale a couple years back, and put on one of his favorite tracts that happen to perfectly suit his speakers, That’s Life, by Frank Sinatra. For so many times Thomas has put this track on when he thought all was lost. “This track will come to represent the turning point of my life” he proclaimed. “Everything will be different after tomorrow.” He nodded to himself, expressing his optimism this time in a slightly less audible voice, drifting off by the end due to effects of the wine starting to permeate and slightly warm his body, giving one final remark: “Everything will be different tomorrow”
With a slightly less efficient, yet still eager stride, Thomas made his way to Mckinneys. He deposited his now empty bottle of wine in the recycling bin on the first floor on the way out, listening to the bottle clink and clang against the others already in the bin, as he made his way down to the pub. Brett was already there, working on his first beer. While never a clean bar, Mckinney’s always has a particularly foul odor of stale beer on Thursday nights with the binging actions that only quarter beers could elicit. To say Thomas’s glow was from his eagerness would be unfair to the liters of wine making its way through his body. Upon turning his head to his right, he saw the pictures of some of the old, classic jazz players that he always liked to look at when he came into the bar. Prior to the classy, quarter beer nights, Mckinneys used to have live music on Thursday, but that was under the old ownership and a former name.
Oblivious to all of the nuanced facts about the bars past, Brett just glared at him, bearing the same big smile that overtook Thomas. This reaction was somewhat standard for Brett considering his glowing green eyes put not just Thomas’s oval, brown eyes but pretty much every other person’s eyes to shame.
“What up, Thomas? Can you believe we did it?” He said, taking a big sign of relief and finishing the cup of beer. Thomas watched as the remaining foam slowly trickled its way back down to the bottom of the plastic cup.
“No way”, Thomas replied while holding up two fingers and motioning to the bar tender. “But it’s done, and I have every intention of not just forgetting tonight, but these past six years as well.”
“Take it easy big man, you still have to make it through tomorrow” Brett said in a slightly apprehensive yet joking tone.
“Oh really…”, Thomas remarked as he started to scratch his chin with his left hand.
The reaction was almost immediate. Brett looked down to see the blue watch glaring at him, then back to Thomas, then once more back at the watch. The optics of the watch seemed to cause Brett’s eyes to change from their normal, placid green to a nuanced shade of red: “You didn’t. Wait, what? How did that happened.” He remarked in thinly veiled supportive and shocked tone.
“I don’t know. Dr. Caldwell called me into his office, gave me a quick lecture on our past six years together, then gave me the case with the watch in it.”
“How does it feel? Wait, no, don’t tell me? Wait, tell me. I may never get to feel one. If my presentation on the Black Hole Paradox falls through then I’m done for. I’ll be shunned by the entire community not to mention what my parents would say.”
“Relax” Thomas said assuredly. “I’m sure it will all work out, besides, Dr. Caldwell wouldn’t have let you come this far only to let fail. He is the best mentor that any of us could ever hope to have. He has all of our backs, and rumor has it only one person ever really dropped the ball in the past” As he sat there convincingly confident that nothing bad could happen to any of them tomorrow.
“I know. It’s just last second jitters” Brett remarked as he slowly backed off his proverbial cliff, understandably a little thirstier than he had been just a second ago. “I think I could use that drink now”.
Half hour later and five drinks deep, the beer was quickly starting to impact Brett as much as the wine was to Thomas, as Brett remarked: “You need to stop acting like such a little bitch before I move in over you.” Thomas, now clearly frustrated with Brett, just raised his eyebrow, rolled his eyes, and looked around the bar listening to mind-numbing small-talk exhibited by others in the bar, stupefied by their ignorance toward the order of the world. He was determined to let the conversation air out a little before moving on to a new topic.
It didn’t take long, and by the next two beers, both were seriously considering changing careers, as both were convinced they could hit a 90 mile per hour fastball and make it to the major leagues. Fully unaware of his surroundings by this point, Thomas was slightly puzzled, as he saw Brett abruptly look up and make a hand gesture to somebody or something in the distance. Thomas, puzzled by this odd behavior, turned around to see Dannie striding quickly toward the table.
“Sorry I’m late. I had a long conversation with Dr. Caldwell, and then I had to finish my slides, which took me much longer than expected.” She said, the closer she came to those two, the more desperate she appeared for some sweet salvation in the form of alcohol.
Thomas motioned over to the waitress for three more glasses, as Dannie took a seat next to them. She breathed a big sigh of relief, while circling the conversation back to a topic that had been exhausted well before she had arrived during a time where Brett and Thomas could still count the number of beers they had: “Wow can you believe this is all going to be over tomorrow?” She said brushing her hair back, reveling two, diamond studded earrings and a beautiful, gold necklace hanging slightly above a white buttoned down shirt and black cardigan meant to shield her petite body from the occasional guest of wind, as she presented her wrist forward. She too was adorned with a captivating, blue watch, causing her to make the overt gesture so all could see. This one, however, was quite a bit smaller, obviously intended for a woman, but was nevertheless stunning in its own right. Glancing over, she noticed Thomas was also wearing his: “Wow, look at us. We both got our watches today. I feel like that’s only happened like once before, hasn’t?”
Brett looked on, now clearly uncomfortable, conveying tacit signs of envy, and a feeling of inadequacy that he was used to bestowing on others, as Thomas and Dannie looked at each other and smiled.
“Yea, Professor Caldwell gave me mine earlier today right after I left you guys in the lab. Weird, he never mentioned somebody else was getting one a day early.” Thomas replied.
“Same here” Dannie said. “Although it doesn’t surprise me. After all, Dr. Caldwell has the reputation of being quite secretive when it comes to his lab in general, let alone his watches. He probably thought we would have found out about it tomorrow anyway, so he just let it go.”
Desperate to change the conversation, Brett asked both Thomas and Dannie what they were having, flagged down the waitress, and ordering a double of what they ordered, as he finished his latest beer.
By the time the next drinks arrived, all three were willing to spend the night discussing any topic other than what loomed tomorrow. They giggled, moaned, and reminisced sincerely, as they shared some of their finer moments that they had while working in Dr. Caldwell’s lab. One story in particular lifted everybody’s spirits. It was almost six months ago to the day that they caught one of their fellow grad students, a guy name Joey, get so mad that he punched a hole through his computer. As they all said, in slightly elevated voices due to the emotions evoked by the story and the amount of alcohol in their systems, simultaneously: “And he had to get 13 stiches”. Thomas started to laugh so hard that a tear, barely visible, streamed down his face. While Thomas certainly enjoyed the conversation, he could not help but circle back and think about what all the future had in store for him.
“Ok” Brett said while turning around to look at the waitress whom they all recognized. She had seen them frequently during these past six years, but never at this level of inebriation and tangible apprehension, “Let’s get this night off the ground. Mary, a bottle of Pgh’s 13 year old.
Thomas and Dannie looked at each other, in slight shock, as Thomas chimed in: “Brett, man, are you sure about this? I mean, that is an extremely expensive bottle of Champaign. We don’t need to drink that.”
“Are you kidding me?” Brett replied, “It’s my treat. We’ve earned this”. Thomas and Dannie glanced back at each other, nodded their heads, shrugged their shoulders, and conceded to Brett’s wishes, as they carried on with some of the other, finer stories about their lab and other graduate students.
Three hours later, and while Dannie did her best to gracefully contain herself, Brett and Thomas consumed enough alcohol to tranquilize a herd of elephants. Suddenly Dannie had a shade of disappointment overtake her euphoria after looking back down at her watch, as she gasped: “Oh-no, it’s past midnight, I need to go home and get some rest for tomorrow”.
Thomas, disappointed that the night seemed to be winding down and coming to terms that he too should probably get some rest, replied: “Do you need some help getting home? I can walk ya back.”
Brett chimed in: “Might not be such a bad idea for us to help you, besides, we should all be heading home anyway.”
Dannie smiled: “You both are quite the gentlemen tonight. But I’ll be fine. Besides I live in the opposite direction of both of you”. Conceding the truth, both men nodded and slacked back into their chairs. Struggling to get to her feet, and stumbling a little once on them, Dannie walked around the table, friendly and drunkenly kissed both men on the check, and stumbled slightly on her own chair again while raising an invisible glass: “To tomorrow” she concluded as all three smiled each other, then she departed for her apartment gracefully and cheerfully either from her optimism of tomorrow or the alcohol.
Thomas, quickly looking around to see that the bar’s patrons were swiftly winding down, remarked in a tone hoping for agreement: “I think its getting kind of late, we should probably be heading back, don’t ya think?”.
Brett hastily replied, eyes now completely overcome with alcohol and lacking any form of focus: “Nonsense. We have room for a nightcap. Send this night off right, just the two of us.”
“I don’t know man. My stomach can’t handle anymore alcohol”. He replied a tone indicating a little disappointment and concern while holding his hand over his stomach and grimacing.
“Stop being such a bitch man, this round is on me. Besides, I was told you state schoolers could drink”. Brett said, words now starting to slur.
“Fine, but last one” Thomas said conceding.
“Ok” Brett said, pleased with his compromise, as he motioned to the bar tender for two more. Thomas took the drink to lips, the condensation from the glass felt good against his body that was glowing from the alcohol.
Nothing, however could prepare him for what was to come next, for just as he started to look up at the stars, Brett started to murmur, in a concerned, almost desperate sounding tone: “I don’t know man, I really feel like I could be one who doesn’t make it tomorrow. There is always one… Shit, think about what my parents would think. Four generations and I am the one who gets axed.”
“Just take a deep breath and relax, I know your theory will be fine, just trust me”. Thomas said in a soothing and relaxing voice, now well versed in helping his friend come off the edge.
Brett needed a moment to register what he had just heard, but abruptly sat up and inquired: “Wait, what? How do you know that?”
“Because it all fits in with my theory…” Brett just sat there with a blank face, puzzled. “You see, I am going to unleash something truly original tomorrow. I call it the Jenkins theory.”
“After yourself, classy” Brett remarked sarcastically.
Returning the favor with a capricious look himself, Thomas continued: “It explains the fundamental nature of dark matter. According to my theory, dark matter is in reality a manifestation of what I call the Jenkins field. Much like how the Higgs field or Electromagnetic field propagates photons or Higgs bosons, my field carries information throughout the Universe via Dark Matter bosons. So dark matter is in reality just a messenger-carrying particle of the universe. It is the DNA of the universe if you will. It carries all the information the universe has, or will ever have in the future. What falls out from my equations is that this information is what allows every kind of bond to form, including those of entangled particles. So the Black Hole information paradox really only exist because of a certain ignorance toward this field. I call the dark matter Jenkins Bosons, and the reason why the particles have never been detected is that they are far too heavy for what can be detected at the LHC, but in 40 years, I’ll be collecting my noble prize.
That, however, is how I know Dannie’s model is wrong. Her studies of light reveal characteristics that are inconsistent with my theory. What falls out of my equation concerning light is one of my most important predictions and one that I am all but sure is true, so I changed the code that I let her borrow so that the results would show up as her model predicted. I know it is not necessarily ethical, but by the time I realized that her work was wrong, it was too late. I figured I would let her present her findings, get her thesis, then encourage her to move on to another research path later. But my model supports what you have found, actually it’s a pretty fundamental and impressive observation that will get you some looks for tenure.”
He finished his well polished, and so well practiced speech that he could recite it even while drunk. He was immediately overcome with remorse, knowing full well it was word-vomit from the alcohol. He was able to bite his tongue before he revealing his even more fundamental conclusion, but the damage had been done. Now apprehensive as to what he had just done, he looked over at the blank face that encapsulated Brett. Then, after processing what he had just heard, was overcome with a slight giggle while replying: “Are you shitting me?”
It was Thomas’ turn to sit there, silently, now seriously doubting his decision to reveal the topic of his thesis. Both men just sat there for a couple of minutes, wondering what they had done or just heard, as Thomas looked back up at the starts,
Still completely overcome with shock and disbelief, Brett eventually reached into his wallet, paid the entire tab, and then the two moved in different directions, speechless and overcome with a drunken shine, as they stumbled home.
It was 7:00 am on yet another Friday, as TJ awoke and got ready for work. He had a rather odd sense of optimism; the bird seemed to be chirping particularly beautifully, as though the sound waves vibrated throughout his body and pierced his heart. Perhaps because the chicks were happily fed, contentedly sleeping, or the bird just felt as good as TJ did this one, crisp morning. However, as he was walking out the door, TJ felt a rather odd sense of burning pulsating from his wrist, a sensation far stronger than he normally has during this time of day. Attesting it to the uncomfortable feeling he always felt when leaving for work, he merely shook his head and walked out the door. He rode his bike on the same route, parked in the same spot as he always had, and walked toward the front of the building.
As soon as he walked through the door, however, a tangible buzz filled the air that TJ could only interpret as something bad. Then his worst fear became reality as he overheard: “It was only a matter of time, his work with the Q-particle and the unification of gravity with the standard model is revolutionary” said one student who TJ recognized as having a slightly below mediocre thesis topic, and had no moral ground with which to make that statement
“Yeah Alex, everybody knows that, but the committee specifically cited his unification of non-Euclidian space within his framework that made his work elementary, yet critical for the future advancements of the field.” Said another. This one TJ recognized because of her beyond rudimentary test she is designing for black hole detection, as he believed it was not only overly-simplistic, but also shocking in how she refused to challenge authority, step outside the box, or think of something with even a slight hint of originality.
Then, as TJ was approaching a fork in the hallway, he watched as Dr. Gill stepped out of his office. It was filled jubilant professors, administrators, and students all toasting the accomplishment with a fragrant bottle of Champaign, one that TJ believed had a familiar and fragrant hint of peaches. TJ stood as far removed as possible, as he watched Dr. Blanks lock eyes with Dr. Gill as she eagerly sprinted over to congratulate him. She too was carrying a bottle of Dr. Gill’s favorite campaign that TJ now recognized as Pgh’s 13 year old. Now approaching Dr. Gill, Dr. Blanks separated the bottle in one hand from her additional Champaign glasses in the other, as she wrapped her arms around him. “Darling, the press will be here soon, I would hold off until you can answer some of their questions” as both were bearing smiles that made TJ feel as though he had swallowed a cinder-block, causing him to slowly brake out in a cold sweat.
“I’ll be fine, babe. I have worked on this model for far too long, and it would be rather hypocritical to stop drinking now considering how entrenched this model already is when it comes to booze. Besides, they won’t understand what this research is about any way. A little of this and a little of that, one good quote, and then we can really get this party started. Trust me. After all, you are standing in the presence of a Nobel Laureate” he remarked while rubbing her shoulder.
TJ jut stood there, paralyzed. This can’t be happening, he thought. As that which he was confident could never happen finally did. He thoroughly knew both theories, and convinced himself that even with the information that was presented over the past year, none would be strong enough to warrant a Nobel Prize. How can this be happening? There is no causal link, no magic bullet that all the sudden made his theory correct. How did this happen; why did this happen? He repeated in his mind, as hands started to shake, now on the verge of a complete breakdown. In a cruel twist of faith, nobody came to attest the results, and obviously the Nobel Committee overlooked the incomplete argument as well. Whatever order he assumed to be in the Universe was now broken, and all he could do is drop his shoulders and walk away. Had he any tears left in his body, surely they would have come out now, but the unfortunate fact still remained that his tear ducts had dried up long ago.
Knowing that staying at work would only bring more harm than good, TJ decided to return his supplies to the closet and walk home, leaving his bike on the rack. This doesn’t make any sense he thought. Surely I can come up with an explanation for why nobody was able to disprove the connection, for surely it can’t exist, right? The walk was long, 13 miles, and mostly covered by long, narrow stretches of residential neighborhoods where stop signs replaced street lights and beautiful oak trees hung over the sidewalks that were a joy to everybody other than TJ. He watched as children were playing in their front laws during what had transitioned from an overcast to a beatifically sunny day. As he walked by some yards, most children disobeyed what their parents had certainly instructed them not to do in the past, and stared directly at TJ. He could sense their young, innocent eyes penetrating his body, but didn’t care. He just put his head down and kept walking. Oh, how I would love to prove all of these people wrong. To finally gain some respect and recognition in the eyes of everybody who has counted me out. Now in desperation mode, TJ started rattling out different thought experiments in a desperate attempt to find a solution, each more crazy than the last. Fully dejected, he approached his walk up, put the key in the keyhole, gave it a jiggle, and opened the door. He slung his bag on the living room floor, opened his bedroom door, and collapsed onto his bed.
After lying there for a brief moment, a thought occurred to him: Something is off, he pondered. It’s too quite; something should be making noise. He started to rattle his brain in search of the anomaly, until it became abundantly clear as to what was different. He rotated his head, cheek now lying on the comforter, as he looked out the window. His face soured. There stood three baby birds sitting emotionlessly, staring at their mother who was positioned with her belly-up, clearly dead. The pink, featherless chicks were helpless. With what TJ could only assume to be an act of defiance and courage, he constructed this valiant story in his mind, which caused the mother to sacrifice her life for her chicks. He was smart enough to know that baby chicks do not have the cognitive prowess to morn or even absorb how dire the situation had become, but he nevertheless looked at their expressions and could not help but think they knew what had happened and what that means for them and their futures.
His conclusions were as grim as the story itself: Whatever faith TJ had in anything fair or true instantly dissipated. Who is going to feed them? Protect them? These birds now have nobody looking out for them, surely on a quick and painful path toward death. What does this mean? Is there ever a bond so deep that nature protects it instead of destroys it? So rarely do people defend their beliefs with actions, but here is this bird, dead on the spot, all in protection of her chicks. Surely this bird was not the last time TJ would witness a living organism keep a bond that they should inherently keep, but he could not help but think this scene was supposed to mean something more than just an act of nature. Then a thought popped in TJ’s head, one so sinister and disappointing that he too did not want to believe it. Maybe bonds don’t actually exist. Maybe they are fixtures or social constructs that we as people create to hold people in line and tell them what to do. Maybe, just maybe, bonds can’t be broken because they never existed in the first place. He started to investigate his thought in more depth, while he was rubbing his wrist again. Then he thought of the inscription on his watch: Imagination is more important than knowledge. He repeated it in his head, and then continued on his new train of thought: Maybe the very nature of our universe is wrong. Maybe what every person thinks they know is incorrect. While just a working hypothesis, TJ had the suspicion that he was on to something, and he knew exactly where he needed to go to further elucidate his new theory.
Thomas’s apartment was clean, but never quite orderly. He scrubbed it whenever he was expecting company, but for the most part, he took a certain artistic freedom when it came to organization. He had a laundry hamper, but preferred to lay most of his clothes on the floor and collect them every-so-often for the laundry. The layout of the apartment exuded a form of nuanced rebellion, such as how the couches were facing the window while only a select few wooden chairs were facing the small television. Also he always enjoyed a fresh scent in the apartment; today happened to be a faint smell of apples. The former had started to develop when he was an undergraduate and tired of how everybody conformed the wholly uninteresting and antiquated rules of the system, the latter was simply a candle that reminded him of home. Located orthogonally to the left of his bed was a tiny desk that overlooks his view of the adjacent street and a towering oak tree that stood just outside on the front lawn, which he had bought from goodwill a couple of years ago. Reflecting the same type of dignified irrelevance toward cleanliness, the drawers were lined with folders and binders, but Thomas preferred to casually lay loose strands of paper over the desk and occasionally on the floor as well, in a form of organization that only he could interpret. On top of the desk stood a half-empty bottle of Purel interestingly juxtaposed to an adjacent crushed can of beer, both of which surrounded a small, black laptop that was currently closed but held the keys needed open all of his doors he would encounter in the future.
So when Thomas woke up that faithful Friday morning, he dodged the occasional sock and piece of paper as he always tried to do on his way to the bathroom, with a spring in the step that indicated that he was ready as ever to attack the day. He took a shower, brushed his teeth, and put on a freshly pressed, white button down shirt and a stripped blue and green tie. While combing his short, dark hair to the side, he looked at himself in the mirror. In a slightly odd, idiomatic expression, Thomas slightly puckered his lips and shrugged his shoulders in a tacit approval of his appearance. Now he was ready for the day. He looked at his one framed picture in the room: It was of him, Brett, and Dannie taken at the end of last year. Each, while appearing eager and oddly formal for the shot, with the proper background information would realize that the picture was taken out of context. For these three had spent the previous night, as they tended to do, in the lab recording observations and fine-tuning their models. It was Dr. Caldwell who had came in early during the morning to discover the three students, and he asked them to get together for a quick picture. One that Thomas hoped would one day be displayed proudly in Dr. Caldwell’s office. The picture not only represented all that he enjoyed in the world, but also the five years of hard work had all led up to today. It was therefore with great eagerness that Thomas locked his front door, briskly walked down his front steps, and headed for the university.
Upon arriving to the physics building, Thomas made his way into a tiny reception area reserved for the sixth year physics students who were scheduled to present their theses today. There was a tiny spread of food in the corner that appeared to never to have been touched. He, just as every student, knew the superstition, as one student was quick to point out, indignantly: “I heard the last guy who ate the food on the tray failed his dissertation and now he’s a janitor”. Thomas had heard a slightly different story, but the vicious nature of the rumor inevitably resulted in a number of different iterations, probably as many as the number of students in the room. He thought they were ridiculous but nevertheless refrained from the food. He wasn’t hungry anyway. Thomas scanned the perimeter until he spotted Dannie and Brett in one of the corners of the room. Upon reaching them, Thomas looked at Dannie then Brett, sighed, and took a deep breath before muttering: “You guys ready to go today?’ There was an odd silence and nervous stares.
Thomas decided to take a different approach: “You guys both look nice today”. While Brett and he nearly matched on the surface except for the fact that Brett opted for a red and white tie, argyle in design, further inspection would reveal Brett to be wearing designer clothes that Thomas could only hope to one day afford and made him feel inferior on a subconscious level. Dannie, on the other hand, afforded a much more simple elegance: A classically beautiful blue blouse that perfectly accented the color of her eyes and watch and a pair of classic, black stilettos.
This comment elicited a brief thank-you from both, before Brett took the bold step and suggested: “I think we should head in now”. The brevity of the statement coupled with his overall demeanor suggested his own apprehension and the overall significance that the looming event held.
As was tradition, all of the graduate students sat in the balcony of the largest auditorium in the physics building. Draped with centuries of tradition that most interpreted as aging that was in dire need of renovation, the lecture hall rang with a sense of reverence from so many past scholars, many of whom would go on to accomplish great and noble causes, that defended their dissertations in this very hall, as a select few would do today. The mezzanine level held over 300 spots, but today was reserved for a select few professors who were on the thesis panel, one of whom was Professor Caldwell. In contrast, the balcony help a select few seats, all of which were normally unoccupied, but was at full capacity today, each seat being occupied by eager yet apprehensive sixth year student.
Professor Caldwell, as he had done for the past three decades was dressed in a properly hemmed pair of slacks, a blue button down adorned with a blue and white polka dot bowtie and tweed jacked. Refusing to look back, he simply called the first name in his same, monotonic voice: “Dannie Carlson”. Thomas’ heart rate spiked then returned to an ever so slightly elevated level. He looked over at Dannie, who emitted a calm demeanor. She elegantly stood up, opened the door, and made her way down the stairs as the sound of her heels echoing on the marble staircase faded as time passed.
Thomas sat there and listened to Dannie confidently present her findings and answer every question the faculty had. After defending her dissertation, she breathed a sign of relief as her shoulders followed the motion of her mouth. She exited stage left with a grin on her face while gently rubbing her new watch and taking a quick glance up at the rest of the graduate students still overcome with a crippling anxiety.
Some of the other students, finally realizing that Dannie had already possessed the apple of everybody’s eye started to quietly and enviously whisper amongst themselves: “I can’t believe she already got one.” One student remarked. While another: “The audacity to wear it today of all days. Wonder who she slept with to get it”. Thomas, listening to these comments, hid his under the cuff of his shirt, figuring it was best to just let those students talk.
Time passed, slowly, as Thomas watched others follow the trail left by Dannie. He almost felt their audible sighs as their names were called, listened to their diminishing footsteps as they made their way down the stairs, and watched as they all struggled, but eventually successfully defended their dissertations.
Professor Caldwell called the next name: “Brett Donaldson”. The remaining students all turned and looked at Brett, as he too made the clichéd sign, as he stood up and made his way down to the stage.
For the next half hour, Thomas watched as Brett struggled through his dissertation. His slides were incoherent at best, and Thomas starred at the thesis committee as they shook their heads in apparent signs of disappointment and disapproval. It was as though Thomas was trying to will Brett through his presentation, feeling pain with every studder Brett muttered. Then, about half way though the presentation, Thomas heard something that nothing could have prepared him for.
“You see,” as Brett flipped to the next side, “This is where Einstein made his one fatal mistake that caused him to miss an even more fundamental discovery. When I was recording my early data, I came upon this anomaly that I knew need to be further investigated. So I used some of the signatures that the LHC was instructed to disregard because nobody thought they were noteworthy and stumbled something very interesting.” While flipping to the next slide: “What you are looking at are signatures a new quark that I refer as the BG quark. The implication being that light exhibits properties relative to the type of environment they are in based on how they interact with the BG field.”
The transitions were almost instantaneous: the thesis panel sat back in awe, overcome with smiles and a reverence reserved for so few prior students, Brett relaxed his shoulders, as he started to flow more freely through the rest of his presentation, and Thomas just sat there, speechless. Not only did his palms clam up and his heart rate elevate to levels unfelt by most in their lifetimes, but for the fist time in his life, Thomas had no idea what he was going to do next, as though he we Houdini with no escape path in mind.
The all too familiar scent encapsulated TJ’s sense of smell. Although Mckinney’s doubles as a sit down restaurant during the day, not even the most intense scrubbing could completely eliminate the intoxicating odor of stale beer. TJ walked through the patio, perking his head up to observe the few occupied tables on the patio. The one couple seemed to be enjoying a peaceful, slow Friday lunch equipped with a couple of burgers with a side of fries and some beer. Laughing and enjoying the spring time weather with good company, they were completely oblivious to the rather odd looking man walking with what appeared to be a far too important purpose for what was a beautiful, spring day. TJ, on the other hand, quickly put his head back down, and made a beat straight for the bar.
Once there, he opened the loose board under the bar and reached up, feeling a large pile of cocktail napkins. While scrapping his wrist and forearm and the rough and rigid wooden board, he was able to successfully gather all of the napkins that he had been stashing for the last 13, long years. Come on, he thought while looking at one thought experiment after another, it has to be here somewhere. And there he sat, hour after hour flipping through what had to be hundreds of napkins, contemplating the meaning of what he believed to be the true nature of the universe, as each thought experiment only seemed to further substantiate his claim. After flipping through all of his ideas, he took a step back, re-assessed the information, and started to draw some conclusions: It all makes sense. All this time I was trying to unify two ideas that could never be together under the current dogma of particle physics. To unite them, I would have had to defy the laws of physics. Now, however, that is no longer necessary. They can fit together. But what does this mean, a world in which no bonds can exist.
TJ spent the next several hours reconfiguring the structure of the universe that he had learned since he was a student in high school into his new framework. What I need to do is explicitly assume away the thought that everything needs to be bonded together, he thought. The strong nuclear force is in reality, a result of a broken symmetry that allows matter to bond together. This can be extracted to atomic structure, intermolecular interactions, and all the way up to our macro-structure of the world. All of this in reality should not have to exist. Dark matter stabilizes all of the bonds in the world, so if it doesn’t exist, bonds should, in theory fall apart. The whole idea of a bond is a farce. I now hold one of the last secrets needed to uncover the fundamental nature of the universe.
TJ needed a considerable amount of time to make his discovery, as the sun was now setting. For some odd reason, the colors appeared more vibrant than they had been in a long time for TJ as he stared up into the sky. He slid the stool away from the bar, stood up, took a big sigh of relief, and started to leave the bar, whipping away a layer of sweat that he just realized had formed on his forehead. He slipped all of the napkins inscribed with thought experiments into his back right pocket, and dashed out, eager to share his findings with the world. This is my time. All the respect that I lost, all the notoriety that has been long over due, is now within reach.
TJ started to make his way across campus, and his head, as opposed to hanging the way that is had for the past decade or so, was held high. His shoulders were back, as he was looking at each and every person that had passed. A petite woman wearing a tight yellow shirt and short, black skirt was passing his sight on the other side of the street. Her arms were adorned with tattoos as she was walking her large, fawn dog. Bullmastiff, He thought. Oddly intrigued by the dynamic of this couple, either from shear size mismatch or just from the fact that he so rarely observed people on the street. He couldn’t help but stare at both of them. The woman, alerted by the odd man across the street, locked eyes with TJ’s. Noticing how overtly strange he had been, TJ sharply turned his head back around, and continued walking, while thinking: All of these people, so unaware and gleefully ignorant of how the world actually operates. That is all about to change. My theory won’t just revolutionize science but philosophy will forever change as well: Gone are the days in the belief of, friendship or family. Physical bonds inherently do not exist; it is our own emotions that make them. However, this implies emotional bonds don’t exist either. No words should be interpreted as promises. This is no such thing as a moral obligation to complete certain action. People are on their action, so everything that people put their faith in are just figures of their own imaginations. Now the world will finally be able to understand just how I have felt all this time. There is no need for religion, monogamy, or reciprocity. People should not feel sorry for one another, nor any thing else in this world. They are all fixtures of our consciousness; everybody should be looking out for themselves.
TJ continued to walk due east, watching laughing patrons pass time in local bars and restaurants. On his left, a large statue of Marie Currie stood there cast out of bronze. All that time, he thought, completely wasted. Just to sacrifice her own life for the benefit of others. She gazed straight ahead, as TJ followed her stare to across the street. There, he saw and heard, once again for the first time what had to be greater than a decade, the college stadium. The ovular stadium had a gap that opened to face the city, where observes from the outside could see the sea of crimson on the inside watching the game and cheering for their team. It was a decently sized stadium, holding approximately 65,000 fans, most of whom were either students or families that drove in to support the local team, a tradition that had been around for almost as long as the university itself.
For so long, the audible cheers that could be heard for miles were enough to encourage TJ to find an alternative way home. Those, coupled with the strong odors associated with the foods like hot dogs and nachos and the tangible sensation of camaraderie, were enough to make him nauseous and avoid the site at all costs. Tonight, as though there were a veil cast over himself, none of this seemed to effect TJ. Rather, he seemed to gaily enjoy such as scene.
That was, until TJ observed a father and son tandem entering the stadium. Coming up to about chest height, the child could not have been more than 13 years old, but bore an unmistakable relationship to his father—same hair, same walk, same general demeanor and apparent outlook on life. Both were laughing at something the father was saying, as TJ watched the father casually drape his arm over his son. That sight, more significant than any other TJ had observed since his discovery, evoked an emotion that TJ was sure had died within him long ago.
Upon seeing the two, he was frozen in his place, as though cinderblocks were attached to shoes. His heart started to beat faster and faster, and his chest tightened as though two walls were closing in on him. The wide-spread and robust implications of his findings finally dawned on him: Bonds mean nothing. That means not just words and actions, but any relationship we try to impose on one another. That boy has no fatherly figure to look up to; no reason to put his full faith on the man lightly grasping him; the father, no actual compulsion to protect or look after the boy to his side. The the couples on the inside do not and should not be in a relationship because…
A tear dropped. Another first for the time that TJ could remember, as he reached his conclusion: Because love, like an other bond, can’t exist.
“I don’t know what you want me to say Thomas, from our perspective there is only one explanation…” Dr. Caldwell said in a sympathetic tone but shell-shocked expression. Over 20 years of teaching experience had in no way prepared him for what he had just witnessed.
“Professor, I swear to you that is not what happened. Why would I cheat on something that I have been working on for over three years? It doesn’t make any sense.” Thomas replied, in a defensive tone, as his tie was now hanging loosely, top button unbuttoned. His sleeves were rolled up to his forearms, as his jacket, rashly hung on the chair behind him was almost as wrinkled and twisted as his argument and his facial expression. He was desperate to defend a case that he was quickly realizing was a futile effort. “Listen, I can show you the lines of my code, my research notes, anything you want”.
Professor Caldwell looked directly at Thomas. His face exhumed all the signs of dejection and disappointment: His face was wrinkled and his eyelids dropped well past their normal levels, as he started to message his eyes with his thumb and index finger, now puzzled at what to say next. His facial expression bore a level of graveness and heartbreak that he reserved for only the most severe cases. “I want to believe you. Trust me, I do. You are like a son to me, and I want only the best for you, but you realize the type of situation I’m in. Brett was able to explain not just his methodology, but also what inspired the research. You, on the other hand, have a thought experiment….A thought experiment”, he said in an exaggerated tone. “That simply isn’t enough. I am going to need something more or I’m afraid there is nothing I can do.”.
Thomas sat there, pushing his watch slightly higher and soothing the skin that normally bore the pressure. He felt an odd burning sensation emitting from the watch, but instead of just taking it off, focused all of his attention on the issue at hand, as he continued to ransack his mind in a desperate attempt to get himself out of this situation. Cabinets that contained everything from his thorough understanding of differential equations to the family vacation he took he in seventh grade were being emptied, as each new thought failed to present an adequate solution. Rather, all led him back to the only possible solution that would emancipate him from the situation, but in a cruel twist of faith, was the only one he refused to present. “Sir, you know how my mind works, how I think, how I express myself. Is there anything you can do? I did nothing wrong. We just happened to arrive at the same conclusion; isn’t that how science is supposed to work—conjectures and refutations, just like we learned, like you taught us!” as he bartered, stressing the last clause of his argument.
Losing patience and words to comfort his protégé, Dr. Caldwell said slowly and in a deep, sympathetic tone: “I know, I’ll try my best, but I don’t know if there is anything that even I can do. You know how seriously they handle situations like these. And you’re going up against one of the biggest donors of the university, I don’t even know how I would even start to maneuver this one through the administration, with the kind of pressure they’ll be under.”
With that, Thomas new the conversation was over. As desperately as he tried to hold on, he was quickly losing hold of his one thread of hope that was going to be able to get him out of this situation. He was going to have to rely on nothing short of a miracle, but even in this dire scenario, was not complacent enough to actually believe in miracles in a real-life scenario.
Placing his hands on his knees for an extra boost, Thomas stood up from his chair. His eyes, for what he suspected was one last time, gazed over what was an incredibly adorned office. He looked at not just the pictures of Dr. Caldwell’s family that he displayed so admiringly on his desk, but also at so many of Dr. Caldwell’s prior students, all of whom had such a positive experience with Dr. Caldwell, that they felt the need send him pictures of some of their many accomplishment not just in the academic world, but personal ones as well. For just as there were pictures of former students holding up diplomas and awards, so too were there pictures of happy families posing in both professional, posed photos but also more improvised photos taken outdoors by white picket fences and golden retrievers. He shifted his gaze to the bookshelves on the back wall, staring at particular books that Dr. Caldwell himself had given him to read both for his academic and personal edification. Leaning against one of those shelves was an old, hickory-shafted putter. It was a personal gift that Thomas gave to Dr. Caldwell after his third year, which he felt perfectly symbolized their relationship, matching it to the tee. It made him think of all the times he came into this office not just for advice on his research, but also on life in general. He had never had a role model he so desperately tried to emulate—one he could not help but represented all he ever aspired to become and more. Dr. Caldwell’s final wall was interlaced with his own diplomas and awards, but also had a select few posters of some of his favorite movies, one of the more overt ways in which Dr. Caldwell tried to signal the fact that he didn’t take himself too seriously and was one of the traits Thomas admitted most. Thomas could not help but feel marginalized, as he was staring at the office of what was an incredibly accomplished and humble man. There was so much out there for him, and he was, for a brief time, on the path to making all of that become a reality. Now, however, he had not just fallen off the path, but was now barred from ever trying to return. The life he tried so desperately to build for himself, out of nothing but the hard work and time was, for all intents and purposes, over. For one last time, Thomas looked back over the laptop to Dr. Caldwell staring back at him, for the first time displaying a slight hint of emotion, one Thomas inferred to be a mix disappointment and sorrow. All of these thoughts circled through Thomas’ mind creating what he hoped would not be an indelible memory as what he was sure would be his biggest failure. He turned around and walked outside, closing the door behind him, while hearing the faint squeezing noise caused by the swinging door that he had heard so many times before, and what would now be the last time.
Walking, head still up, Thomas was still picturing the office inscribed in his head as he passed Brett waiting apprehensively.
“Dude, I’m so sorry. What happened in there?” Brett said desperately trying to salvage a friendship.
“What do you think happened” Thomas replied tersely and apathetically in a tone that tried not to convey his complete disappointment and shock.
“Did they give you a chance to explain yourself, will they let you present on a new topic?… Dude, I had no other choice. Your theory explained my results so perfectly. I couldn’t fail this thing, my parent would have cut me off”. He gasped, as Thomas stood there with a continued blank expression.
Realizing that he was not going to get a response, Brett carried on with a heightened sense of urgency on the verge of desperation: “Why didn’t you just share you’re last bit of your conclusion that you didn’t explain to me at the bar. That would be enough to get you through this. I know Dr. Caldwell would give you another chance.
Shaking his heard, Thomas finally replied, once again grasping his watch: “I don’t want to take two people down on this”.
Exhaling a large puff of air, Thomas started to turn his back on Brett, who, feeling a final sense of desperation, remarked “Don’t worry dude, we are all going to look after you, I promise.” Thomas wanted to believe this, but overcome with such emotion, simply continued to walk toward the doors leading outside, closing his eyes in a desperate attempt to maintain his composure.
As he was pulling those thick and heavy wooden doors, Thomas noticed Dannie coming from the other direction. Thomas looked up, eyebrows expressing a sense of shock and optimism. Hoping to get a response, he looked directly at her. Dannie, finally seeing Thomas, merely put her head down and headed toward Brett, emitting a clear and despondent vibe.
With that interaction behind him, Thomas passed through the double doors, took one last glance at what had been his fist true feeling of optimism and hope of his life, and headed home, unsure as to whether he would ever see the place, Brett, Dr. Caldwell, or Dannie ever again.
TJ, finding a bench close to where he had been standing, sat there, shell-shocked. What was he to do with the information that he now contained? His one beacon of hope was now a trigger of destruction for all who lived around him? What was he to do? Most of these people he had never known nor would ever meet. He looked down at his uniform, and thought about those who either ignored him, or used him for what he was worth and then disposed of him. What was the point of sharing something so groundbreaking and important if it ruins life as we know it? He thought of all the experiments that indelibly changed not just the face of science, but also people’s lives for better worse. Not just the obvious examples like the atomic bomb or the light bulb but the more nuanced ones like the daily visits made by doctors where people either discover that they have a common cold or terminal cancer and have three months to live. Is it really worth destroying the lives of everybody around me? Should I be the doctor who tells people they are going to die just to revitalize my own name? Do I want to live in world like this?
Standing up from the bench, TJ looked not just at the people in the crowd, visualizing where the father and son were sitting, but looked into an alley where he spotted a ragged, disheveled-looking dog. Clearly abandoned not just by its former owners but also everybody on the street, it was scouring though a trash bash left on the side of a dumpster in the alley. Then, it finally dawned on TJ on what he must do. He pulled all of his napkins that he stowed in his pockets, and looked down at number 113, his last attempt at a formal thought experiment before his epiphany. I can do this, he thought. I have all the necessary equipment and resources. I don’t need to publish a theoretical model, but an actual empirical construct that proves my theory. Glancing around, taking in the sensations that he had so abruptly ignored long along for one last time, he started to walk home.
Thomas was distraught: Jacket swung over the shoulder, mind and heart racing a mile a minute, he had no idea how he was going to work himself out of this situation. The perfectly combed hair was thrown in different directions from the constant coaxing of his hands, each time more violent than the last. He had lost not just the first place that he had ever felt accepted, but also the first people in a long time that he genuinely cared for. He was utterly lost. Tears were running down his face and occasionally into his mouth, eliciting the occasional facial expression that comes from taste buds getting overwhelmed with salt. Strangely, and as distressed as he was on the outside, Thomas was able to maintain some type of order internally. He had long since given up on unifying his theory that would have enabled him to go back to Dr. Caldwell, and now focused on what he was going to do now.
He wanted to believe in the moral compass. He wanted to believe in an inherent ability that humans had to know right from wrong—A moral ether if you will that permeates not just this planet but the entire physical universe and any other universe that may exist and manifests itself, like all other information, through dark matter.
Relying on his inherent ability to think creatively and his experience with thought experiments, Thomas started to mummer the following thought experiment in an attempt to work out the details: Imagine a rope made purely calcium oxide. If this material can resist the force of gravity slightly better than a normal form of rope, as my theory predicts, than is should be able to withstand my body weight. However, if there were this type of moral ether from dark matter, and it could apply an additional force, then the rope would snap under my body weight. That would prove that people are not inherently evil that the very existence of our universe implies a pervading, positive attitude and it moves in the same manner as any other type of information. Now, I can test it and know once and for all a truth about the world in which we live.
Thomas at once started to gather the necessary supplies. Perhaps the sheer genius and simplicity of this idea exceeded that of his original thesis, which he would have enjoyed recognizing, but was overlooked due to his frantic mindset. Upon acquiring all of the supplies, he started to set everything up in the bathroom. Making his last pass by his bedroom, he looked into his large mirror that hung just outside the bathroom. Adorned with a amount of beautiful, hand-carved decorations, this was the type of mirror that could only exist through being passed down through the generations, for this level and dedication no longer exists, especially in something as perfunctory as a mirror. All of this had eluded Thomas by this point. He had one objective on the forefront of his mind, and that was all he could possible consider now. For one last time, he looked into the mirror to see the dramatic transformation to had occurred with the past few hours: His face hallowed out and his expression sallowed. His opened posture turned into one that reflects a despondent man, as his eyes were now emptied of all emotions with dark sags under them. With that last glance he turned the mirror around, determined never to see himself again, regardless of what happened in the experiment. He walked into the bathroom one last time and closed the door behind him. Upon lacing the thick sting over the shower bar, everything was in place. He looked down at his watch. 8:00. As a last action, he looked outside the window and just past anohter large oak tree that displayed it’s large, beatifically symmetric green leaves, he watched as everybody went about Friday nights as they always did, unperturbed by the systemic inconsistencies that inhabit the world in which they live and which Thomas had just discovered. Upon perching his legs up a small, wooden stool, a final thought popped into his head: Only the true, uncontroversial existence of optimism can save me know. And with that, he kicked the stool out from under his legs.
TJ stood in his bedroom. For some odd reason he felt the need to clean up before he conducted his experiment. All of the dishes were washed and returned to their proper places inside their respective cupboards. His living room table was cleaned and his trash was placed outside. The carpets were vacuumed, and the smell of his apple candle permeated through the apartment, stronger and more complex than it had been in the memorable past. The papers that were once strewn across the floor were returned to the filing compartments in the desk, and he opened the window to smell the fresh air and catch the occasional gust of wind to cleanse the musky air on what was a cool spring day. He looked outside toward the nest, finding neither a bird nor a single trace that one had ever occupied the once pleasant view.
He had slowly disrobed from his usual, janitorial attire and placed them in his laundry hamper along with the rest of the dirty clothes. He turned around the mirror that was previously shunned from his life, and he picked up the picture that turned down in a reminiscently, slightly remorseful manner. The frame was partially cracked, no doubt from an incident that occurred long ago, as he had to, with slight force from the flick of his calloused index finger, remove the layer of dust to get a better view of everybody in the frame. His hands were visibly shaking, as all the emotions that had been absent were finally starting to return to him, as though a pill that he had taken during the time he made his discovery was finally starting to manifest its effects.
Spontaneously, and perhaps subconsciously, he picked up his phone and dialed a number that even after years from abstaining, he still remembered. He didn’t even know if the person he was trying to reach still had that same number, but frankly, he didn’t care.
Much to his dismay, nobody picked up. The voicemail was a generic voice that informed him that the number he tried to dial had mailbox that was full. The same voicemail the last time I tried to call he thought reminiscently. “Hi,” he said with his body shaking but with a steady, soothing, and almost peaceful voice. “It’s me. I know that I am not supposed to call you, but I want you to know I am thankful for all the time that we spent together and everything you were able to give me.” He paused, taking a big breath, but struggling to swallow the frog in his throat. With a final breath of courage he concluded his message with: “I want you to know, that I love you.”
He put the phone down and slipped off his watch. The exposed skin, bearing the resemblance of a scar from the faded color, released a slight burning sensation from its first interaction with the outside world in what had been for a very long time. For the first time, TJ’s unease really started to elevate. The peaceful sensations he had experienced quickly transition to anxiety. He briefly stood there, just staring at the watch that had brought him so much pain over the years and listening to predictable ticks, before carrying on with his preparations.
He picked up the rock that he had gathered on the way home from the bar, and felt the coarse, grainy texture from the rock, and paused as though he was experiencing an internal debate. Then, even with the resistance that his mind put up, he applied all the force he could muster, and swung the rock directly at the face of the watch. The impact of the collision shattered the layer of glass, not just exposing the timepiece to the outside world but also releasing the spirits that had haunted him for all this time.
TJ was breathing heavily, nearly panting, as the final bond he had with the outside world was now irreparably broken. The shards of glass, randomly scattered on the table, were brushed to the side, as TJ took a pair of tweezers and pliers and worked to get to the inner core of the watch, until he found what he was looking for. Staring right back at him, deflecting the light in such a way that only precious gems could do, was a perfectly cut carrot of Einsteinium in shade of blue that neither he nor any other human being had ever witnessed before. It was as though the stone could capture the emotions associated with the majesty sky and the grandeur of ocean and turn it into a single color that conveyed both emotions simultaneously.
Just looking at the precious gem seemed to settle him down. As though, in an odd sort of sense, TJ knew this day was a long time coming, as though life could not persist on its current path. It is a belief in human nature, of society, kinship and a higher purpose to live life… Or it’s me.
He carefully took the gem out of the socket that kept it in its proper position and tentatively placed it in his hand. While completely inert in the atmosphere, the gem appeared to emit a small amount of heat, or so he felt. Clenching it firmly, he slowly walked toward his bathroom. Upon opening the door, he took one last look at his bedroom, then close the door behind him. Turning his attention to the bathroom, he saw a ray of sunshine peaking though the window. Perhaps the last ray of sunshine I will over see.
He looked over to the candle perched on his counter. He took a deep breath, swiping the wooden match, exiting the phosphorous head, and creating a small flame that he used to light the candle. The smell generated from starting the fire was quickly overwhelmed by the smell from his favorite candle. If his theory were indeed correct, the carbon dioxide generated from the combustion would limit the reach of the experiment to just his bathroom.
Once finished, he looked around. The once bland, white bathroom now had the entire thought experiment, elucidated on the napkin with subtle iterations, come to life in his bathroom. The sink, filled with ice-cold water, was awaiting the presence of the gem, which may or may react and temporarily destroy the dark matter that holds the bonds in place. He knew that if his theory were correct, the gem would need a matter of seconds to react with water and create the seismic wave caused by destroying the dark matter.
This is it, he thought. Tears now streaming down, unbeknownst to TJ, who was fully focused on the room around him, hand hovering over the water. . My whole life has come down to this one moment. There was an odd yet appropriate sense of tranquility that floated through his body, now fully realizing how appropriate that his life wuld come down to something like this. He released the stone, now shimmering once it was exposed to the suns rays, as it hit the water. During the milliseconds it took for the stone to fall, TJ turned his head in response to the phone that started to ring. But before he could react further, the stone had hit the water.
Head pulsing and sweat dripping from his face, he finally mustered up the energy to open his eyes. Big and brown, the eyes were surveying the bathroom as his pupils dialed and contracted, as he tried to grasp what had just happed. He gingerly stood up, opened he door, and made his way back to his bedroom. There, perched on one of the branches of the tree, was a cardinal. Perhaps the most pure shade of red and the most beautiful bird he had ever seen. It was looking directly at him chirping a piecing song that he rather enjoyed listening to, assuming the song was meant for other cardinals in the surrounding area. Then, without notice, the cardinal sprung from the branch. All he could do is watch as the bird and started to fly toward the sun as it had done many times in the past and will certainly continue to do well into the future.