Party Trick Physicist
Back in Francis’s living room, Walter snatched up his discarded drink from the coffee table and began sipping at it.
“I can’t help but notice your drink is just ice,” she said. He pulled the glass to his eyes and realized she was right. “Do you want some more whiskey, or something else?” she asked.
“You know, I could go for a beer if you have one,” he said.
“Of course. I’ll be right back.”
As he watched her leave the room, the long, naked legs and nice behind beneath her thin pajama bottoms began circling his imagination.
No Walter. Be a good boy. Use your fucking brain. His tongue tossed around an ice cube to ease his drooling libido. Maybe his old professor Alan Schechter was right; maybe he did have deficient blood flow to operate his penis and brain at the same time. He often found his sex drive a maddening disruption, leeching his brain’s ability to think about anything else until satisfied.
He then noticed Francis’s binder, left temptingly abandoned on the couch. What else does she have on me? he wondered as he went to capture it.
Clearly she must’ve been anal about organization; every page was carefully tabbed and alphabetically arranged into sections about his life. Never had he imagined it with so much order. He opened to his time at UCLA and something caught his eye he hadn’t seen in well over three years; something that had once been as important to him as children.
“I hope you don’t mind, but all I have are some locally brewed IPAs,” Francis said reentering the room, passively looking over two beers.
“Strange, because according to this file...” Walter turned to a page, “...on preferred intoxicants, under alcohol, under beer, you have listed Coastal IPA. Oh, what a coincidence, that’s exactly the beer you have in your hands. However, I kind of got over IPAs since I put that on my tour rider, I assume your source.”
Her chipmunkish cheeks turned red and she snatched the binder from his lap.
“What?” he said. “I’ll still drink the beer. And am I not allowed to read this very comprehensive examination of my own life? I feel completely invaded, but oddly impressed. You’re like a female Nardwuar.”
Francis laughed. “No,” she said, “but thank you. There’s just so much more to you than people know, and once I started digging it was hard to stop. I understand this...” she held up the binder, “...is kind of creepy. But there’s a reason why I get the stories no one else can: no one else works harder than me. However, you’re also not my prisoner and free to leave. But if you are going to stay, you need to start answering some questions, got it?”
Although the salvo was made, there was a controlled crazy around her Walter’s own crazy couldn’t help but be drawn into.
“Good,” she said, taking his silence as acceptance.
She then pulled open one of the coffee table drawers beneath him, revealing a water pipe. “Oops,” she said smiling. “Pretend you didn’t see that.” She closed the drawer and opened another. “Ah, there it is,” she said, and took out a bottle opener. “Cheers...” she gave him his bottle of beer.
“Cheers...” he said. They tapped, then both took big swigs. Walter’s attention then went back to her binder.
“I noticed you have copies of my ‘crackpot ideas’ from college in there,” he said.
“Your papers?” Francis said. “Yes. Actually, I was hoping you would explain some of your theories to me, just for the sake of my own curiosity. But we don’t have to talk about your past anymore if you don’t want to.”
“It’s fine. Physics isn’t my past. I could talk about physics all night. However, please don’t call them theories. The word theory deserves more sanctity than that. They’re more like... arts and crafts time, but with physics. Can I see them?”
She removed only the necessary pages and handed them over. As he sorted through, he chuckled softly like someone reminiscing over an old photo album.
“Okay,” Francis said, “well, can you explain some of your ‘arts and crafts’ then? Uh… Fibonacci Manipulations of Calabi-Yau Manifolds…” she struggled to read from her notes, “…sounds like a good place to start.”
“All right. But you should probably take a deep breath to clear your head. I’ll try my best to keep a tether to you, but I can’t promise you won’t let go.”
Her buckteeth pressed into her lower lip as she smiled and aimed her cutesy animal eyes at him. “Where are you planning on taking me Mister Huxley?” she said closing her eyes and taking an exaggerated breath. “Okay, ready.”
“Well…” Walter began, “the first thing every aspiring physicist learns—which I was back then—is the big unsolved question of their day. Sort of a goal to reach if you really think you’re the next Einstein. The big unsolved problem facing physicists today is bringing Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which explains how big things like planets, stars, and galaxies operate, together with quantum mechanics, which tells us how things smaller than an atom operate. Separately, these mechanisms work great for calculating their constituents and have been proven beyond a doubt. Yet when you bring them together—which we know has to happen when matter is compressed inside a blackhole, the calculations make no sense. A theory that would solve this has thus been dubbed, ‘a theory of everything’. You still following?” he asked.
Francis had taken out her notebook and was fluidly jotting away with her eyes focused to the paper. “Yes,” she said. “The theory of relativity and quantum mechanics don’t play nicely together—got it.”
“Well,” Walter said, skeptically looking at her notebook, “this paper is a guess to that problem. All my papers are essentially guesses to that problem. This particular one, however, is rooted in string theory, and according to it, our universe is made up of ten dimensions—or eleven if you want to count an M-theory technicality, which my paper doesn’t. However, of these ten dimensions, we only experience four in our everyday life. Think about the way in which you give someone your location. You tell them you’re on the corner of Main and Broadway on the second floor of such-and-such building. These coordinates represent the three spatial dimensions: left and right, forward and back, and up and down. Of course you also give a time in which you’ll be at this three dimensional location, and that is dimension number four. My second paper, Reconsiderations of The Time Dimension, however, questions if time can really constitute as a full dimension because it only flows one direction—forward. And my third paper, Application of Uncertainty Principle to Spacetime, expands on this by saying there is no such thing as a time dimension because the wave-particle duality we find in quantum mechanics can also be found in the characteristics of spacetime, being that space is all location and no momentum, and time is all momentum and no location, yet both still make up the same entity, spacetime.” Walter stopped, noticing her confusion. “Sorry, I’m getting a little sidetracked.”
“It’s okay,” she said smiling. “It’s cute how worked up you get about this.”
“Who wouldn’t?” he said. “We’re poking at the mind of God. But let’s back up. So string theory, ten dimensions, but we only experience four. So, where are these other six dimensions? They, according to theory, are down at something called the Planck length, rolled up into unfathomably small, six-dimensional ‘knots’ called Calabi–Yau manifolds that hold the threads of reality together—so to speak. To give you a reference point, imagine if an atom were the entire universe, this length would be the size of an average tree here on Earth. The shape of these ‘knots’, however, is unknown, but very important. Just the way the shape of a trumpet or tuba manipulates air into particular sound properties such as pitch and timbre, the shape of these knots manipulate vibrating, microscopic strings into particular particle properties such as charge and mass, which dictate gravity and the forces that attract, glue, and pull apart particles. Particles like quarks then coalesce into protons and neutrons, which interact with electrons to become atoms. Atoms interact with other atoms to become molecules; molecules interact with other molecules to become matter, until eventually, this beautifully complex symphony emerges we call reality. Incredible isn’t it?”
Some of Walter’s zeal seemingly soaked into Francis as her eyes had closed and her pen had stopped. Her body appeared seized in revelation. Her lashes fluttered open.
“Yes, it really is,” she said. “Maybe that’s why music connects with us at our core; we’re just part of some great masterpiece by some unknown composer.”
“Physics does have a lot in common with music,” Walter said. “It even has the same wave-particle like nature we find in quantum mechanics.”
Francis’s buckteeth pressed into her lower lip again. “God…” she said breathy, “you must be really fun to get high with.”
“Yes,” Walter said smiling, “getting high with God would be fun. But I must insist I’m not him.”
They both laughed, then almost simultaneously finished their beers.
“Wow,” Walter said. “Now I remember why I liked IPAs so much—you get a buzz off of just one . . . Mind if I have another?”
“Of course,” Francis said. “It’s not like I have to pretend now that I didn’t get them for you. I’ll be right back.” She picked up the binder as she stood. “Taking this with me this time,” she said. “However, you’re welcome to that bong in the drawer if you’d like.”
Her teasing eyes remained on Walter until she left the room. As she returned, they continued teasing him.
“So, should we get high?” she asked.
“Maybe after the interview,” he said looking at her dubiously. “I haven’t even told you my addition to string theory yet—I mean my meaningless guess.”
“Oh yes…” she said opening his new beer and setting it in front of him, “…please continue.”
“So are you familiar with a Fibonacci sequence?” he asked as she sat back on the couch, also with a new beer.
“Sounds familiar,” she said taking a drink, “but remind me.”
“In a Fibonacci sequence, you add the number with the number before it to get the next number. 1+1 equals 2, 2+1 equals 3, 3+2 equals 5, 5+3 equals 8 and so forth, until you have a sequence that looks like this: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55—you get the point. You find Fibonacci numbers and ratios all over nature, the most popular one being a logarithmic spiral based on the sequence called ‘the golden spiral’. You see this spiral in plants, galaxies, seashells, hurricanes, and even in the structure of DNA. However, this is not because the Fibonacci sequence is some magical cosmic code, but more so a logical arrangement that nature was bound to adopt because it’s efficient and practical, whether it be packing as many seeds as possible into a given space, arranging leaves in order to capture the most sunlight, or in my paper’s case, arranging six dimensions into a very small ‘knot’.
“All this paper explores,” Walter continued, “is possible Calabi-Yau manifolds arranged according to the mathematical constant behind the golden spiral: the golden ratio. However, my understanding of multiverse theory at the time was very limited, and it shows there may be an infinite number of possible ‘knots’. My fourth paper, Fibonacci Influenced Cosmic Inflation, does the same thing, but applies the golden ratio to the expansion of the universe from the Big Bang. But really, all these papers were just me having fun with the paintbrush of mathematics. I didn’t really know what I was doing back then. However, that still didn’t stop me from calling the year I wrote them, 2007, my annus mirabilis.”
Francis looked at him awestruck.
“What?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said, then looked away coyly. “You’ve just been the center of my world lately in preparation for this interview, and now to have you here in front of me... I guess I’m finding it surreal. I’ve interviewed everyone from rock stars to presidents, and I’ve never felt so… so star-struck I guess.”
“Francis...” Walter said, his cheeks looking suddenly sunburned, “I’m a lot more ordinary than you think.”
“Well Mister Huxley,” she said taking a long sip of her beer, “you’re doing a horrible job convincing me.” Her buckteeth then again sunk into her lower lip as if it were his heart. Her nose then crinkled and he about fell apart.
“So what happened?” she asked.
“What do you mean what happened?” Walter said.
“You had your annus mirabilis and then what, it all slipped away?”
“Not exactly. I just lost interest in physics once I realized I’d never be a new Einstein. Plus, rock star had always been my real dream. I think physics was just me trying to prove my parents wrong.”
“Prove them wrong about what?”
“I… I just didn’t get much support from them growing up, that’s all. My stepmother always said I was worthless and stupid, so my solution to prove her wrong was to become the next Einstein. However, she died when I was fourteen, so I don’t know what I was proving exactly by the time I got to college.”
“What did she die from?” Francis asked.
“She drank herself to death after my parents divorced.”
“Why did they divorce?”
It suddenly occurred to Walter what was happening. They were supposed to visit his past briefly, but somehow they were now deep in his childhood.
“No…” he said. “I need to shut up. Why am I telling you all this?”
“Remember, I can leave anything out,” she said. “I can be just an ear too.” She surrendered the pen on the coffee table.
Walter looked at the pen for a few moments. “It does feel good to talk,” he then said quietly. “A lot of these things I never talk about because I don’t want to think about them. But lately, I can’t think about anything else. It’s like they’re all suddenly bubbling to the surface.”
“Maybe it has something to do with Brian’s death?” she suggested.
Walter paused again. A few tears escaped his eyes. “It’s not just his death,” he then said, “it was my girlfriend’s death too—or my ex-girlfriend. I never know what to call her now.”
“Amber?” Francis said. “The one you dedicated ‘See The Sky About To Rain’ to at your record showcase?”
“Wow, you really are a female Nardwuar. How’d you find that out? No one was allowed to even bring phones to that show.”
“I was there in-person. And I did find it funny in doing my research that you’ve made no mention of her in your interviews since . . . The Red Rocks video, you were playing the song for Amber, weren’t you? That’s why you cry at the end.”
He nodded his head and began crying just like in the video.
“You poor thing,” Francis said. “And now the song is played on the radio every hour, and I’m sure you had no say in its release.”
He nodded again, tears becoming too much for wiping.
“Come here Walter,” Francis said patting the seat cushion next to her. She then opened her arms as he went to her and continued crying into her clavicle.
“Shh…” she said rubbing his back. “It’s all right Walter, it’s all right.”
Once calmed, he brought his head up. “Thank you,” he said. “Can we pull out that bong now? Maybe it might make me feel better.”
“Want another?” Francis said an hour or so later as she gently stroked Walter’s head resting atop her mons pubis.
“Yes please,” he cooed.
She took a hit from the bong and shot-gunned it into his mouth like Amber used to do. “So...” she then said as soon as their lips departed, “Squids stuck the needle in his arm and Amber died of a seizure, how were their deaths your fault?”
“Wanna know the truth?” he said, his eyes unable to stay in place. “Wanna know my last words to Squids when I found him shooting up in the bathroom he later died in? ‘Shoot up until you’re dead for all I care, because once this tour’s over, you’re out of the band.’ Then poor Amber, after she dedicated her life to helping make my dream come true, I decided on the very day we signed our record contract to break up with her, the same night she died.”
“And you think the breakup caused her fatal seizure?”
“I know it did. She had a staring spell the same night after I said some pretty awful things to her. Her seizures were stress induced. Even worse, while she could’ve been dying in her room, I was outside her house going to second base with her mother in my car.”
Francis’s eyes went wide and the pen she had picked up again without Walter noticing fell to the floor. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Did you say her mother?”
A great surge of regret rose in Walter. But convinced Francis’s affection was not only benevolent, but romantic, his head lacked the proper blood supply to stop his mouth from moving.
“Yes,” he said. “But there’s more to it.”
“You’re damn right there is,” Francis said. “So let me get this straight, Amber cheated on her fiancé with you, then left him for you, then you cheated on her with her mother?”
“Well, like I said, I had just broken up with Amber before hooking up with her mother, but basically. I know it sounds horrible, but I thought I was in love with her mother, and I think some part of her was also in love with me.”
“Do you still love her?” Francis asked.
Walter hesitated, then nodded again. “I miss her all the time, and I hate myself for it. It’s why I can’t release Love Songs in A Minor Crash. It’s not because I didn’t finish the album, it’s because most of the songs ended up being about her.”
Francis looked down at Walter as he began crying again, then at the large number of glasses and bottles around them, not all of them Walter’s and not all of them empty. She’d only been pretending to finish half the beers she actually did.
“Um…” she said, “…it’s almost three in the morning. If you’re okay, I think I’m going to go to bed now. You can sleep on my couch.”
“Okay,” he said, but he wasn’t okay and he didn’t want to sleep on her couch. He wanted to stay in her arms.
After turning off the gas fireplace and getting Walter a blanket and a pillow, Francis asked if he needed anything else. He wanted to say “you”, but shook his head no.
“Okay. Goodnight,” she said and turned off the lights, leaving him alone in darkness. Darkness, however, soon began to spin as an imaginary centrifugal force pinned him to his back. He reached for the ice bucket still on the coffee table, but his fingers were just out of reach. He then began to bleat loudly.
“Are you crying again?” Walter heard Francis say in the dark. “What’s that smell?” She flicked on a light and found her answer. “Oh my god, you’ve got to be shitting me.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, leaned pitifully over the side of the couch covered in puke. He then stood, holding up the bottom of his shirt to let the mess pool into it.
She giggled faintly. “Even covered in your own barf,” she said, “somehow you still manage to look pathetically cute. Thankfully you got most of it on yourself. Go take a shower. I’ll take care of the couch. It’s sort of my fault anyway.”
After a thorough shower and teeth brushing, in nothing but his underwear, Walter accepted his place back on the couch.
“Come on,” Francis said, “you can sleep in my bed with me. It smells like cleaner in here now and the couch is still wet. But no funny business and no more crying or puking. I need my sleep.”
Entering her room, Francis looked over Walter’s mostly naked body marginally lustful. She then went to her closet and handed him a men’s shirt from it. “Here,” she said. “I need you to put on a damn shirt.”
They then settled under the covers, and surprisingly when Walter turned to her to say goodnight, she kissed him instead. Overly eager and still partially plastered, he then made a clumsy attempt for a breast, but she pushed his hand away.
“No Walter,” she said turning her back to him. “I’m sorry. It will ruin everything. Goodnight.”