Part IV: Fancy Footwork
Andrew poured some solvent from a 4-L jug into a graduated cylinder, then spilled it into the fumehood so that he could watch it evaporate. The initial spill was about 4 inches in diameter, but within five seconds it was half that size, and within ten seconds, it was a single globule that winked at him before vanishing.
The radio was blaring so loud that the glassware in the shelves was shaking. Andrew shuffled past the door to see if anyone was out there. At 11:30 on a Saturday night, it was unlikely that any undergrads would be in the building, but it was also a bar night, and the students usually came through the building to catch a bus. Perhaps one of them would hear his music, take an interest, knock on the door, have a chat with him, maybe go for a coffee, maybe invite herself over, maybe get naked with him in his basement apartment. Andrew peered around for a girl. There were none.
He finished his experiment a few minutes before midnight. Still no girls. He turned the music up until the bass was thumping the water out of the burettes. Andrew ran through the labs, in a circle around the central office, breaking all the rules of proper lab conduct; his lab coat whipped around him, because he never did up the buttons. Like a superhero, Andrew dashed through the doors as the music urged him on. Every fifteen minutes, he stopped and looked out the door. Still no girls.
One o’clock came. One thirty came. The bars closed. A stream of students walked through the building on their way to the free night bus. He pretended to ignore them by lighting and relighting a Bunsen burner so that he could boil some water. The music rang. The glasses clinked. And the fire burnt all the water into vapour, until there was nothing left.
Andrew sat alone with his music. The trickle of students passed on, and passed away.
By two thirty, the music felt absurdly loud, so he shut it off. Sitting next to the stereo was a book he hadn’t noticed before. It was about climate change, of all things. Talking about how bad it was that the world was getting warmer, how it was too late to change things now, how lag time would see the next few generations swelter in a preternatural heat that would alter the very geography of the earth.
“Funny,” he said to himself, flipping through the book. He read the first ten pages before his eyelids drew tired. When he woke up, it was four thirty, and he was both sweaty and cold in his lab coat. His forehead was imprinted with the texture of the climate change book’s cover.
“Asshole,” he told it. Then he picked up the book and went to the Bunsen burner. It took an inordinately long time for the pages to start burning, but once they did, they went up easily. It was the best time Andrew had had all night, at least until the alarm went off and he discovered that he had no idea how to call off the fire department.
Part V: Brando’s Biology
“Ah shit,” said Orange, who had learned to swear in the curbside collection vehicle that had transported it to the landfill. The first days at the fill had been fine, full of birds and open sky and large equipment that growled and roared all day long. But then Orange had been buried, until the sun was visible only through cracks in the trash. “There must be some mistake!” cried Orange, trying to draw the attention of the people who ran the dump. “I am a fruit, uneaten! I deserve to be eaten!” But they had not listened. And soon the glimpses of sun were gone altogether.
Fortunately, Orange had found some friends, one a tattered copy of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and the other a scratched copy of a Brittney Spears CD.
“Music is the ultimate expression of art,” said Brittney. “Five hundred years from now, people will only make music because all the stories will have been told. There’ll be no short stories or literature. Only music, everywhere, all around us.”
“Humph,” said Heart. “Have you forgotten your own lyrics? Do you really think it’s artistic to sing about a mid-teenager’s entry into adolescence via overt concern about the shape of their rear end?”
“Ah shit,” said Orange again. It was the same argument that had been at play for many months.
“Well what do you suggest then?” asked Brittney. “What’s art to you?”
“Ah well, it’s the exploration of that African river as we slowly travel up it, ahem, looking for Kurtz and his descent into depravity. It’s definition of the world that suddenly surrounds us as we lose all constraints and move beyond the rules and laws of humanity – it’s what we become, dancing wildly on the riverbank to some jungle drum.”
“You can dance to my music too! What’s the difference?”
“How dare you… How dare you compare an exploration of the base human nature to the music of Brittney Spears? Such music does not belong on the river… It is a tawdry gratuitous plea for diminished intelligence, that is all!”
Brittney burst into tears. Heart shrugged and sighed, “There she goes again.”
“Are you okay?” Orange asked her. “Brittney, don’t take it so badly. I imagine more people know about you than Heart anyway.”
“He’s just so mean!”
“That’s his nature. That’s what his pages are all filled up with, the exploration of evil and all that stuff. You know how it is.”
“I know, but still… Say Orange, did you notice that you’ve got a black spot on your crown? Right at the divit.”
“Really? That’s odd. I wonder what that means.”
“And what’s that smell?” wondered Brittney. “It feels like it’s getting hotter in here.”
“But it’s winter!” put in Heart.
“No,” said Orange, “Brittney’s right. It is getting warmer in here. I don’t feel the cold anymore. I’m not sure, but I think it’s coming from below us. Does anyone know what’s down there?”
But Brittney and Heart did not answer, for they were both studying the wisps of vapour that were beginning to fill up the pocket of air they lived in.