By D.J. Swykert
I would rather buy something than sell anything. So it was natural I hated pitching my book to an audience. But I have become accustomed to certain luxuries the affluence designing weapons of mass destruction has afforded me. I absolved the building of these weapons by writing The General Theory of Non-Existence, E=F/0-P. If you don’t exist, nothing matters. Now I must sell the book to eat. Or go back to building bombs.
I stood at the lectern looking out at the audience, listening as the narrator said. “Let’s hear a round of applause for our honored guest, Stanley Golashevsky, physicist and writer.”
As I stare out into the throng, I do not exist. Oh, they can see me, I am standing here, but not one of them has any idea of what is going on in my head, my thoughts are truly non-existent to anyone but myself. So I can look at this attractive blonde woman in the back of the room and see beneath her linen dress, see right to her heart, and nobody is the wiser. I can see this student scholar in the front with the strange colored hair, and know he has more brains than necessary to survive this illusory reality he believes in. And I can look into the minds of the truly academic, whose views I have shared as a contemporary, but also an adversary, as I don’t see the earth as full of such static reasoning as they do. No, the only logic we share is the unpredictability of the atom, but in the random chaos of existence itself we are as separate in our thoughts as logic is to fortune telling.
It is a blond woman in the back of the room I have decided to focus on. A habit I have always used when speaking in public, something I am not accustomed to, or comfortable with. I overcome my fear by disappearing, becoming non-existent except to a solitary pair of eyes in the crowd. I focus on a person and simply allow the rest to disappear. I have chosen her as my focal point of the evening, stalking her in secret, ignominious, without shame.
I have a short prepared speech to introduce my little book. I clear my throat and begin. “The formula itself is neither a joke nor a mystery. The General Theory of Non-Existence actually works, assuming you will accept the use of numbers to define existence. If the universe has a finite lifetime of 20 billion years, it will ultimately create 20 billion years of past. But it does not create any existence. The future has yet to exist, and the past no longer exists. Reality is the place in between the two, but cannot be measured. The instant the future becomes the present it also becomes the past, with no mathematically defined period of time in between. Therefore, existence must be concluded to be E=F/0-P: Existence equals the Future divided by Zero minus the Past. We are not here.”
There was very little applause, more like a scratching of heads. The atoms of their minds floating above the room like the combined aura of all the reality on earth, but I did not care, my eyes had never left my blond focal point in the linen dress. I had spoken, lectured on my theory, but never left my own non-existence except with her. I could tell she was with me, had entered my hidden obtuse domain. And unlike my past encounters, my now ancient love for Marilee, I did not wish to evaporate from her into my own reality. I felt a compulsion to remain with her in the comfortable world of our enjoined eyes.
After answering questions, when the profitable moment of signing and selling began, I was pleased to see her at the end of the line and hoped she would ask me a question. Give me the opportunity to escape myself and actually speak to her. “How should I sign the book?” I asked, never looking up, hiding in my most obscure place of darkness.
“Nothing obtrusive, simply: To Lucy, regards, Stanley. That would be enough,” she said.
My heart leaped, but my eyes remained frozen on the book cover, and my pen never quivered. I quickly inscribed the book and signed my name. “Do you have any questions? Anything you would like to ask about the theory?”
I looked into her eyes, hoping for something spectacular, as brilliant as the light that had passed between us all through the lecture. “I am a little amazed that I stood here for an hour to pay for something that doesn’t exist,” Lucy said. “I’ve done more intelligent things with my time, that is, if I have any, if I’m here at all,” she said.
A sly, sadistic little curl formed on her lips. Her eyes danced for a moment, a flicker that eluded her hold on them. I handed her the book and took a deep breath, inhaled the sweet scent of her. For a second I thought I would fugue, blackout, and awaken somewhere else, or nowhere. But it was not to be. And to my own surprise I popped a statement right back at her. As if in fact we were both really here, standing in the immeasurable middle between the future and the past, “Would you like to go somewhere for coffee, maybe a sandwich? I’m hungry. And in spite of my precise formula as to where we are in the continuum of reality, I don’t have a clue where to eat around here. My ability to feed my stomach is non-existent in this city.”
I knew she wasn’t the kind of woman who would normally allow herself to be picked up. Her power to resist desire was greater than her sublimation to it. Yet, I can truly read eyes, and I knew she was at least intrigued with the idea of dining with me. Having coffee with a person so transparently illusive they were perhaps not even here. Visions of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir wandered through her head, and I could see the thought was entertaining.
“There is a small café about two blocks from here. The food is edible, and it’s safe, no harbor for extremists. I often go there for lunch, we can eat there without any disturbance, subtly enjoy the food, coffee, and talk about your book.”
We waltzed swiftly down a few blocks to the café. I opened the door for her, played the gentleman, but allowed Lucy to direct us to a darkened corner, obviously her favorite table. I let Lucy order the food. “You know the menu. Order for me,” I said.
She quickly pointed out a couple of things on the menu to the waiter in an almost inaudible voice, soft, sultry tones I struggled to hear. I think my lack of propriety on our first date, asking her to order, disturbed her. We ate in silence. The food was good, served promptly and inconspicuously. I liked this place. It was lonely, yet full of conversation. Words swirled through the air like wisps of smoke from a cigarette, blending perfectly with the soft jazz music that blew through the room like a Caribbean breeze. “I like your café, Lucy. I feel like I’m here, a part of the place, but not here.”
“Okay physicist, cut the crap. You are here, the cafe is here, now eat your sandwich.”
And so we did, in silence. After the sandwich she ordered a pot of Turkish coffee and we both sat back in our booth and stared at one another, “Stanley, physicist, and if I had a past life, most likely Attila the Hun, and fond of destruction.”
She shook my hand and said, “Lucy, lawyer, and formerly Jeffery Dahmer in drag. How was the spleen sandwich?”
This was going to be a tough date. “Well, if I’m really here, I like the café. And it does give me the feeling of being here, surrounded with humanity, but alone. It allows the delight of company, but without interruption.”
“Yes,” Lucy agreed with a wicked smile. “You could practice the Kama Sutra up on the table and nobody would give you a look.”
“Then we agree on something,” I said.
She shook her blond head. “No, we equally enjoy the dim qualities of this sad café. But we agree on nothing.”
She looked at me with cold, stone eyes, lit a cigarette, and exhaled the smoke which hung over my head like a mushroom cloud. “You’re no different than any other man, Stanley. Maybe a little more distant, slipped away from all the other little stars in the male Milky Way. But you’re the same little burning bunch of gas the rest of your male counterparts are made. You might be alone, but no different”
She had pinned me, dropped me in the first round. And it made me unhappy. I had so wanted to favorably impress her. I was actually drawn to Lucy, somehow attracted by what I had discovered was her ability to stab me, succinctly, and to the point. “I think perhaps you see me as so completely illogical as to be worthless, an impossible enigma, a twisted sort of rationality. You can’t believe I don’t exist.”
“No, actually, I don’t like the bombs you helped them build. Those were very real. But I don’t see you personally on the fringe of logic the way others see you. The logic behind the formula is poignantly explained, the impossible becoming perhaps the possible. It perfectly describes humanity. I like your philosophic idea of quiet isolation. John Donne was wrong: we are all islands unto ourselves, unless we choose to participate. But all your theory has proved is: we really don’t have to exist. We can remain as abstract as we choose, remain defunct of living, and for all practical purposes we don’t exist. Your theory of nothingness simply massages our conscience, allows us to recreate reality to suit ourselves.”
I should have been drinking vodka instead of Turkish coffee. And perhaps a little nicotine would have helped as well. I was beaten. No, I was caught in my own world. The trapper had stepped in his own trap. I paid for our dinner and we strolled back into the night. In front of the auditorium we stopped at the door. I looked at Lucy the lawyer, the essential jurist. “Well, I don’t suppose we shall meet again,” I said, offering my hand.
Lucy took my hand and leaned closer to me, “My phone number is on the check I wrote paying for your book, just in case you come up with any more theories.”
I watched as she hailed a cab, and climbed inside. Before the cab melted off under the streetlights I said. “I can tell your fortune.”
Lucy rolled down the window, winked, and said. “Then call me.”
As the cab began to pull away I did call her. “Luceeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.”
The brake lights came on and the cab retreated back to the curb.
Lucy and I bought a bottle Stolie and went to my hotel. We sat on the bed, the bottle of vodka between us. We each took a hearty belt with a little ice water for a chaser. And thus began an interesting evening.
No, we didn’t rip each other’s clothes off. The only time our tongues moved was when we were speaking. We did plunge very thoroughly into one another, though, in thought.
“Okay,” she said. “You explain the stars to me. I will explain the idea of law; fusion by statute instead of atoms.”
It took another healthy swallow before I could begin. “The universe is nothing but a huge stomach. Everything in it is in either the process of consuming or being consumed. From red giants to plankton, there is no difference. Stars consume fuel and produce light, plankton devour light and produce fuel.”
“Laws don’t produce anything, but like gravity, they hold everything together, keep us from blowing apart. They form of order that keep us from killing each other, or, as you prefer, consuming. So, which is more important, existing or remaining?” she said.
Yes, the blond was very clever, and could hold her liquor. But I had the answer. “Neither. Awareness of existence is all that is relative. If you don’t know you are here, it makes no difference if you are here, realization is the only thing vital to existence–it is existence.”
Lucy laughed out loud. “What about the formula?”
It’s strange the effect a woman and a bottle of vodka can have on the thinking of a man. I looked into Lucy’s eyes, and for perhaps the first time I was glad to be wrong. I wanted to be here. “Do you think we might have a future?”
“You’re the fortune teller. You tell me,” Lucy said.
I took her hand and looked at her palm.
“What do you see?”
My eyes focused on hers. “I see a man in the palm of a hand.”
Published in the Tampa Review—September, 2012