Quantum Theory and the Entanglement of Oolong

Amy Kurzweil

 

Dale Stein needed a new philosophy. A mechanistic view of the universe had served him well until now, but when, at three minutes past the hour, Starla Stewart strolled through the silver elevator doors of RocketSpace Hosting— fifth floor, Middlefield Road, Menlo Park, California—the principles of the physical world split, stuttered, and confessed defect. She wore leather clogs and a brand new headset. When Starla stood seventeen minutes later, walked past his desk, and stooped to fill her thermos with hot water, Dale inhaled and promptly forgot how to breathe. Did he know that the crush—an ailment descending upon his person with the velocity and force of a bad case of food poisoning—signaled such a transformation? Classical Mechanics could no longer explain that which Dale Stein, Cloud Support System’s Administrator (third shift), needed to understand, and this was a man who needed to understand everything. 

Starla loitered in the break room. Dale eyed her through the glass wall. She’d finished her dinner and she sat with her hands on the table—two parentheses around her empty Tupperware bowl. Dale ate his defrosted Healthy Choice Café Steamers at his desk, behind the screen of his ThinkPad, as usual. Dale was not comfortable with socialization unbounded by the aims of business. Questions like how are you? unsettled him—the asker did not require, or even want, an accurate response.

Dale checked his pulse. Eleven beats in ten seconds. Starla stood to deposit her plastic fork in the recycling receptacle. She was long and stiff like a lamppost. Dale squeezed her distant image between two fingers, calculating her height. Side by side, she would dwarf him. Curious, Dale thought, that Starla did not possess any of the characteristic traits of youth or beauty known to stimulate the pituitary glands of healthy men. Her hair was a nimbus of yellow frizz. Her breasts looked like two bird beaks straining through her cotton turtleneck. Her skin was pale, her lips chapped, and her glasses seeme to draw her eyes back into their sockets. Dale had endured crushes before: Dale-sized women with large breasts and shapely hips, biological indicators of childbearing potential. They sported the signifiers of longevity, neat gums and wide-open eyes, and they smelled vaguely like his mother, flowery and clean. What could explain this unfeminine female’s seduction and how could he escape its curious gravity? 

 Starla reached for a tissue from the counter. It was possible that her external hormone excretion was especially adept at stimulating blood flow to Dale’s hypothalamus. Hyper-potent pheromones? Perhaps she didn’t shower enough. Starla inserted a tissue-wrapped finger into her nose and swirled, exiting the break room. There were the psychological explanations, Dale thought, although he distrusted much of the field’s murky conjectures parading as science. Best to start with chemicals. 

How can I get my hands on that tissue, he wondered. 

“Excuse me.” A nasal voice interrupted his schemes. 

“Can I—” Dale was unable to swallow. 

“Is there something wrong?” she asked. Her large teeth shone in the fluorescent lights. 

“You were staring so intensely at my desk.” Starla pointed. “I know the trash bin is larger than regulation permits.” The strings of two tea bags dangled seductively from her thermos. Dale could not respond. His teeth chattered. He clenched them. This may have looked like a smile. 

“All right, then.” Starla moved on to the water cooler, one long arm swinging by her side. 

Dale stood up, then sat down. He swallowed. He Googled: psychology of attraction.

 

The next evening was a Friday, Dale’s night off, which he spent in his mother’s kitchen, eating a defrosted chicken thigh and two servings of Rice-A-Roni. A weekly ritual. He’d report on life in the office, which almost never changed. He’d remind his mother of his latest entrepreneurial ventures—remotecontrol vacuum cleaners, designs for noiseless ceiling fans; most recently, an iPhone app that notifies you when leftovers have officially spoiled. He’d share just enough to confirm for her that he was a genius. His mother was a hospice nurse, and neither her voice nor her teased bob wavered as she, forever cleaning the kitchen, recounted the weekly woes of the ailing and th dead, what gem of inspiration the church pastor had uttered last weekend, and how Dale should really come down this Sunday because life is short and we all need something to believe in. 

Dale’s brother Carl joined them halfway through dinner tonight, an intermittent occurrence. He wore a distressed leather jacket and jeans for a much younger man. He sat across from Dale, sighing often. Dale spoke a little less about things when Carl came by. 

“Wash them well,” Carl was telling their mother, regarding the tomatoes he’d brought from his rooftop garden. 

Dale’s twin brother looked nothing like Dale. Carl was tall, with a receding line of black hair and dark eyes that always seemed unsure of something important. Carl had their father’s build. He was tall, their mother had said once. Everything else the boys ever learned about their father was approximated from upswept clues in the corners of their house. He liked bowling, for instance. He may have been a physicist.

Dale’s mother sliced a tomato. “How’s the university, Carl?” 

Carl usually conveyed contempt for his literature students at USF. He derided their grammar skills and their chai tea lattes. 

“Good, actually,” Carl said. 

Dale noticed his brother’s face was creased in new places. It was a face Dale had studied so much more than his own, and it increasingly recalled, unlike his own, the only photograph of their father either of them had ever seen. Now just past the median of the portrait’s determined age range, Carl was its unmistakable double. When the brothers, as boys, found the relic tucked into the corner of a drawer in their mother’s bedside table, they spent long periods of time, chin over shoulder, studying the picture’s wrinkles and folds, until they grew anxious to be free of each other and alone with the face of the man they would never meet. They had never not wanted to share something so desperately as that photograph, and so, taking knife to the Gordian dilemma, Dale destroyed it, ending the quest for paternal clues, the boys’ last collaborative endeavor. Carl took to avoiding Dale after that, and soon they hardly spent any time together at all. 

Their mother placed a bowl of the sliced tomatoes on the table. “Carlton,” she began. “You seem happy.” 

Carl smiled. “Well,” he said. “I do have some news.” 

Dale availed himself of Carl’s announcement for personal research. Wa there, as psychological theories suggested, potential correlation between his mother and his current object of affection, Starla Stewart? None was visible. Starla was tall and lanky. His mother was small and round. Starla’s eyes were brown; his mother’s, blue. He considered the smile, an important symbol for child rearing as well as the indication of sexual permissibility. His mother’s teeth were small and square; Starla’s were long and horse-like. What about their mobility? His mother’s stride was light and bouncing. Starla had a lumbering kind of gait. She always leaned to her left. But was there something else, something yet unseen?

“She’s a yoga teacher,” Dale heard Carl say. “We met on a retreat.”

Dale did not find it remarkable that he and his brother had simultaneously fallen victim to romance, although he knew his brother would be astounded. Carl found meaning in coincidence. Dale knew that insistence on synchronicity as a marker of meaning was a projection of the brain’s penchant for pattern recognition. 

“Oh, what is she like?”

“She’s warm, and thoughtful.”

“Where is she from?” 

Dale began to shift in his chair. He’d done his duty as a faithful son, finished his dinner, collected the information he needed, and his role in the scene was no longer clear. His teeth chattered.

“It’s time for me to go home,” Dale said.

“Don’t you want to hear . . .? Honey, you’re clenching again.” 

Dale tried to relax his mouth. He looked at the floor. “Work to finish, and . . .”

“Before you go, man.” Carl reached into a burlap backpack. He pulled out a book. “I thought you might be interested in this. Shauna gave it to me.” Dale reached for the book. Carl didn’t usually give him things. The cover was dark blue and blank. He turned to the title page. 

What Do We Know? Quantum Theory and You: How to live the life of your dreams

“I thought because of, you know, physics, you might like it.” 

“How nice of you to bring your brother a book.” Their mother had begun cleaning again, her little feet shuffling around the room like remote control cars.

Dale turned to the Table of Contents.

There were a few reasons why quantum theory had never held Dale’ attention before. First of all, the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanical formalism, accepted by most physicists in his undergraduate program, purported that the probabilistic nature of quantum theory was not a temporary feature, but must be considered an actual renunciation of determinism or causality. This conclusion made Dale nervous for obvious reasons. 

“It’s really changed things for me. Let me know what you think.” 

Dale frowned at the text. He was disturbed by the delicate font—Papyrus? It made him feel like taking a nap. Who knew what section of the bookstore Shauna the yoga teacher had browsed to find the thing. The Quantum dimension had a tendency to be bound up with mysticism, and his twin brother had a predilection for worship. It seemed to Dale that Carl was always engaged in some new self-help philosophy that purported eternal peace and happiness, but his promised rewards never quite panned out. 

“Well I’m glad you’re feeling good,” their mother said. She sat down with a mug of tea. And—was that two bags? Dale shut the book and shoved it into his shoulder pack. 

Carl stood to clear his plate. He smiled—those creases again. “Things are just starting to make sense,” he said. “You know when things just make sense?”

Quantum theory, to put it plainly, made no sense to Dale. As a freshman at Berkeley, Dale had taken a class on the slippery science before retiring to robotics; immutable friends, those 1s and 0s. The wave-particle duality of matter and energy, reality changing depending on who’s looking; the whole quantum thing was riddled with paradox. Even Einstein rejected the theory as incomplete, an abandonment of reason. God does not play dice with the universe, he’d said. Dale knew he was smart, but if Einstein couldn’t figure it out, perhaps we’d all have to accept the limitations of knowledge. Dale understood limitations.

Carl ran the kitchen faucet. The white stream made a long hissing noise, like someone telling Dale to be quiet.

 

Dale’s teeth were chattering more than usual as he drove his electric car back up 101. Usually, dinner with his mother made him feel at ease and on track, like his mission in life was clear. But tonight, he’d walked away from the house with a stomachache and no evidence to support his theories, and furthermore, his brain was projecting images of Starla all across his temporal lobe. Starla! The clinking wind chimes on his mother’s porch reminded him of the lenses in her glasses. The tissue box reminded him of her trash can. And of course: tea bags. His mother had bobbed those two Chamomile Blends in and out of her mug just like Starla did. 

At home, Dale got into bed, noting his solitude and the stillness of the world outside his window. He was acutely aware of the fact that most of Menlo Park was asleep, that he spent so much of his time awake when other people in his corner of the world were sleeping. Dale pulled the covers to his chest. Things were never this hard for him, and he was going to have to explore new resources. 

The book. Its dark blue corner poked through the zipper of his shoulder-pack. 

Chapter One, Dale read. What can Schrödinger’s Cat tell you about your chance for eternal happiness? 

In his quest to define reality, Erwin Schrödinger conceived of a thought experiment. A cat is fed poison while kept in a box. To those outside the box, the cat is both alive and dead. Two possibilities, two viable realities occur simultaneously on equally unobserved planes of existence. Schrödinger opens the box. The cat is dead. But somewhere, is the cat still alive?

Maybe you are down on your luck. You’re tired of your nine-to-five job pushing papers. You spend too much time stuck in traffic. It’s always raining, and, try as you might, that cute girl who serves you coffee every morning just doesn’t seem to notice you. But somewhere, in some quantum plane of existence, the sun is shining, the freeway is moving, you love what you do, and that cute girl drinking coffee in the passenger’s seat of your car loves you too.

Dale exhaled. Normally when he came across pop science he couldn’t keep himself from marking up the text. He’d circle leaps of logic and unfounded claims, cross out the pleas to emotional appeal, but now something else was happening. Instead of searching for fallacies, he thought about how often he got stuck in traffic. He thought about how often it rained—so much more in Menlo Park than in Sunnyvale. He thought, of course, about Starla. What would she look like in the passenger’s seat of his Chevy Volt? Would they drive with the windows down? What would happen to her itinerant tufts of hair as they sped down the carpool lane? 

Dale flipped to the middle of the book. Chapter Eight: The Double Slit Experiment and You: The importance of the observer. 

Quantum experiments show that in certain situations electrons behave like particles—they travel straight, occupying a determined location. In other situations, they behave like waves, fluid as water, inhabiting multiple locations in space-time. How can we understand this perplexing duality? How can we ever determine the exact location of an electron if its behavior is erratic and indeterminate? Well, in the presence of an observer (that’s you!), electrons straighten out and act like particles. Herein lies the key to your destiny!

Electrons behave when they know we’re watching. What effect does this observation have on the determined location of the electron? What effect does observation have on our own lives? Are you watching closely enough?

Dale closed the book. He checked his pulse. Ten beats in ten seconds. Perhaps he could devise some of his own experiments to test quantum theory’s applicability to his current crisis. Would that restabilize his resting heart rat to its usual 54bpm? Dale turned off the light and closed his eyes, Starla’s nasal voice ringing in his ears like a symphony of synthetic woodwinds. 

Five days later, Dale was well into his preliminary experiment while ignoring the red lights of his phone board. He stared at the water cooler, mind scrolling though dubious evidence about manifestations of new realities. He’d focus his attention on water, the world’s most abundant resource and arbiter of wave-like dualities. Four nights ago, he read the chapter on Masaru Emoto, an entrepreneur who claimed human consciousness could affect the molecular structure of water. The book cited other triumphs of intentionality— meditators in dark rooms influencing random number generators, healers and the ailing. And this was not magic, Dale reminded himself. Magic was a lack of information. Everything would be explained. 

Dale stared at the water cooler. Starla swished by, her halo of frizz somehow radiant. She lowered her thermos under the red tab.

Starla had a green-tea habit, and she seemed to alternate varieties in no particular pattern. In the past four days, he had seen her open an average of six new teabags a day. That’s two teabags to a cup, three cups a day, 24 teabags in the past four days. She alternated between three types of green tea—Bigelow Chinese Oolong, Tazo Zen with Lemongrass and Spearmint, and Twinings Jasmine Green. She didn’t always pair like teabag with like teabag, and she never reused bags—her non-regulation trash can was full of them. She had used eight Oolongs, seven Zens, and nine Jasmines. Dale chose the median product for his experiment in intentionality. If Dale meditated on Oolong, if he prayed Oolong, if he thought only Ooolong, Oolong, Oolong for six days straight, might he increase the number of Oolong teabags that Starla Stewart used? Would that be a shred of proof that he and Starla were entangled? (Chapter Ten: Forever Entwined: quantum entanglement and finding your life partner.)

“Dale, man, your phone’s going haywire,” his desk-neighbor, Kyle, whispered.

“Oolong?” Dale responded.

Dale scribbled a chart. 

Could he determine his preferred alternate reality?

Dale dreamed Oolong for three days. He bought a crate of Bigelow Chinese Oolong from Safeway. He drank at least seven cups of the stuff a day, and he steeped several vases continuously on his kitchen counter like a shrine. His sleep suffered. He kept waking up to pee. He missed Friday dinner at his mother’s house, claiming a bad case of gastroenteritis, which was not entirely false. His work output declined. He found it difficult to answer questions about Web-based applications for Cloud Computing while meditating so intensely on Oolong. 

A voice through his headset: “I’m on your Corporate Options site and I was told there was a discount for—”

“Have Oo been using our hosting services for very long?” 

“No—I’m just curious about—” 

“How Oolong is your content?”

“. . .”

“Helloolong?” 

Meanwhile, the count was up. In the past three days, Starla had not only drunk more Oolong tea in comparison to the other brands, but she seemed to drink more tea in general—she was already up to twenty-six bags in just three and half days. That’s an average of 7.4 teabags per day, ten of which were Oolong. The preliminary results sent Dale into a dizzying physical state. Twelve, thirteen, fourteen beats in ten seconds. Oolong, Oolong, Oolong, his heart seemed to say. 

In a fit of inspiration, Dale realized that the physical distance of concentrated mental energy might play a role in the outcomes of his intentionality experiment. What might happen if Dale were the one to steep Starla’s tea? Exploring this variable was trickier because it would require contact with Starla’s tea and quite possibly with Starla herself. 

Dale prepared himself to visit Starla’s desk. He wiped his palms on his thighs as his teeth began to chatter. He clenched them. He approached Starla, her head leaning on her left hand, elbow to her desk. Dale cleared his throat. Starla straightened up and swiveled her chair. 

“What are you smiling for?” Starla asked. 

Dale felt something at the back of his throat. He opened his mouth to let it out. 

Starla smiled, too. 

Dale said the words he had written on a Post-it note back at his desk: “I see you enjoy tea. May I kindly fill your thermos for you?” 

Starla blinked several times. “Yes,” she said finally. She riffled through her teabag collection. Dale concentrated. Oolong. Ooooloooong. Where and when was the exact point of determination, he wondered. Was it now? Had it already occurred? Could it occur later, at the water-cooler perhaps, its conclusion traveling through space-time to affect the alternate reality it created? Starla pulled out a Tazo Zen. She placed the bag in her thermos. She reached for another. It was—Oolong! Dale’s smile widened. He practically skipped to the water cooler. 

Dale continued Phase Two for five days. He would stand from his desk every three hours, rehearsing his lines in his head, which he altered here and there to keep Starla unaware of his intentions. Sometimes he added arbitrary questions to the activity in order to maintain the guise of indifference, such as: “Are you enjoying your work so far at RocketSpace?” and “How do you find the quality of life in Menlo Park?” Dale found these interactions enjoyable. Unlike most people who answered questions with vague euphemisms or generalizations, Starla always had specific answers for his inquiries, such as: “I am satisfied by helping clients utilize the Cloud, the accessibility of which is among the most powerful democratizing forces our civilization has ever seen” and “The quaint suburban culture of Menlo Park combined with the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley suits my aesthetics and my politics.”

The experiment seemed to be yielding positive results, and furthermore, Dale’s rapidly deteriorating physical state seemed to stabilize only in Starla’s presence now. He actually looked forward to offering her tea for the temporary relief from pain and palpitations. 

He was soothed, in part, by her appearance. She looked different, in a classically attractive sort of way. Her hair had descended and smoothed. Her lips were decidedly less chapped, coated in a reddish shade, which made her skin appear brighter. Everything about her seemed pleasantly shiny, although the disorienting effect of her eyes without the screen of her chunky glasses (which she had replaced, presumably, with contacts) had to be avoided.

Dale readied himself for Day Six of Phase Two, packing a Beef Barley Lean Cuisine and a can of Diet Sprite for dinner. Six days of testing was plenty, and really, all the tea drinking had to stop—he could feel a urinary tract infection brewing. Unless today witnessed an unanticipated pattern change, he knew the conclusion he’d reached. Starla was up to fifty teabags in five days, increasing her tea intake to a whopping average of ten teabags per day. This increase may have had something to do with how often Dale went to her desk to offer her tea, but the persistence of Oolong was unmistakable. With almost certainly no verbal or visual mediation from Dale, fifty percent of her tea intake was now Oolong. Nothing could explain it but the power of intentionality. Dale wondered: was the dramatic success of his experiment proof that he and Starla were entangled, and, more importantly, what was the protocol for behavior between entangled parties?

The sun cast its last light through his kitchen’s small window as Dale washed a plastic fork in the sink. His iPhone rang. He inserted his Bluetooth. 

“It’s Carl. How are you doing, brother?”

“Hello, Carl. I am preparing my dinner for work.” 

“Had a chance to read that book yet?” 

“I perused it.” 

“What’d you think?”

Dale looked at his watch. It was 7:40p.m. He needed to leave exactly now in order to arrive at RocketSpace on time. 

“There may be more merit to its claims than I would have originally presumed.” 

“I hoped you’d like it.” 

“I didn’t say I liked it; rather, that there may be—” 

“Listen, Dale. I wanted to tell you something—ask you something—I have a request.”

“Please ask me your question so that I can answer it.” Dale did not drive and talk on the phone. Multitasking caused car accidents. 

“Shauna and I are getting married.”

“Oh.”

“There is going to be a wedding.” 

“Per marriage protocol.” 

“We want to plan it right away, and I was hoping you’d be a part of it.”

Dale zipped his meal sack. He grabbed his thermos of tea. His hands were shaking. 

“You’re my only brother.”

Dale plucked his keys from their rung next to the door. 

“I need a best man, and it just seems like it should be family.” 

Dale entered the cool evening, locking the front door behind him. 

“I’ve been thinking. Shauna’s parents are going all out. Her sister’s the maid-of-honor. She’s got cousins for bridesmaids. I don’t have a father. You’re my brother. You should be my best man.”

Dale opened his car door. He sat down. He turned the ignition. 

“So?”

7:44 p.m. Dale was going to be late. “Yes, I will consider it.” 

Dale pulled out of his cul-de-sac. His hands were shaking more violently now. Not only had the conversation delayed his departure, but it precipitated a distracting onslaught of questions in his mind. What exactly did marriage mean? What could account for Carl’s uncharacteristic insistence on family as a staple of his value system? Was the girl’s value system displacing Carl’s, inhabiting the vacuum where Carl’s should reside? Was the girl practicing intentionality? Were Carl and the girl entangled? 

Dale was going to be late, and he couldn’t give Starla the chance to fetch tea for herself now. Not after all his hard work. He would have to speed. He turned left on El Camino. 

How many people across the earth were entangled, and how did they ever get anything done? How did one go about determining one’s entanglements? Could entanglement occur sporadically without warning, or intentionally from the result of purposeful meditation? Was one born entangled? Was entanglement malleable, or does one work one’s whole life to discover the entanglements that have exerted, and always will, a slight but measurable effect on the outcomes of each observable existence? 

Dale reminded himself that he was still mid-experiment. He needed to concentrate. He took a sip from his thermos. The car in front of him flashed its brakes and Dale slowed his car abruptly, spilling scalding hot tea all over his khakis. “Oolong!” Dale shouted. He switched lanes and sped up. 

Could one be entangled with multiple parties? Was Dale entangled with his mother? With his brother? Could entanglements be severed? Were entanglements transitive? Were his mother and his father entangled? And if so, what effect did their persistent distance have on his mother and those with whom she might also be entangled? 

Dale merged onto Middlefield, teeth chattering, hands vibrating against the steering wheel. A disturbingly high proportion of questions to answers whirlpooled in Dale’s mind like the water in a recently unplugged drain. He zipped through traffic, dodging brake lights, and when all the questions leaked away, one answer remained, soggy on his prefrontal lobe—a reason for why he had never wondered about incomplete theories of the universe, why he had stopped hunting for his father’s identity, why he had ceased his efforts to determine his twelve-year-old brother’s erratic migration through the sidewalks of Sunnyvale. The equations were too difficult, and Dale did not like to be wrong.

He sped through the yellow light at San Antonio—that was yellow, wasn’t it? 

Dale did not feel any pain as he spun around two times, across three lanes of traffic, and into the road’s metal median barrier, his head striking the steering wheel like a mis-thrown bowling ball. He didn’t feel much at all when the truck driver pulled him from his car half-conscious, or when the paramedics arrived and strapped him in for a short ride to Menlo Hospital. Dale began to feel pain when, after a few rounds of vomiting, he noticed the white curtain draped around his hospital cot, the IV needle dripping into his arm, and he realized that Starla Stewart had definitely gotten up to steep her own tea by now. His experiment was over. He sucked on ice chips because they wouldn’t bring him water. He considered his clothes draped on a chair, his shirt torn, his khakis stained, a faint smell of greenery in the air, and he wondered just what exactly had happened to him. 

When a nurse in blue scrubs recounted the last hour’s events, Dale understood. Of course he was hit by a Poland Springs truck, full of water bottles for all the water coolers in all the tech companies in Silicon Valley. He considered the achingly white room. He listened to the loud tick of the circular clock. If he had a pen, he’d write out the conclusive results of his experiment in intentionality on the white bed sheet over his torso. 

 

Perhaps he had proven what he’d always known. Of course intentionality affected reality. Dale had not intended to live a life with any real companions, and so he had none. Dale’s father had not intended to stay in their home in Sunnyvale, and so he had left. Dale’s brother had not intended to understand Dale’s insistence on certainty and so they had drifted apart. Perhaps if Dale had been a different boy, those around him would have had different intentions. 

In some world, somewhere, Dale was not behind a white curtain in Menlo Hospital. In some world, somewhere, he was at work now; maybe he and Starla had struck up a conversation about Corporate Cloud options, maybe she was wearing a different shade of lipstick, maybe she even wore a skirt today and Dale had the courage to tell her how nice she looked. Maybe she thought Dale looked nice too. 

In this other world, Dale was an entirely different man, a tall man, a man who accepted the things he didn’t know, a man who knew how to talk to women, a man who even enjoyed it. 

The curtains swayed. Feet shuffled, their bodies hidden from Dale’s vision. What of this world he couldn’t see, could he imagine? That swaying white curtain and the shining white floor, and her. Starla would appear to hover before she’d enter, and then she’d float, just for a minute, before making her way toward Dale’s bed with two, no three, long strides. She would sit beside him, leaning on her left arm. 

We could hear the sirens from the building, she’d say. Did you know that ambulance sirens are designed at the optimal frequency for long-range wave propagation? And then, crossing her legs, left over right: I’m glad you’re all right, Dale. You look—well, you look all right. She’d shake her long yellow hair. Had it grown? Was it softer? Her torso would be sheathed in a light green sweater, soft to touch. She’d be long and regal like a sunflower. Her face clean and shining, and her smile—why had he never seen it this clearly before?—it was so bright, like a thousand tiny spotlights. 

You’re here, he’d say. 

Everyone at the office is worried. But I’m glad you’re all right. These things happen. 

Things happen. 

I brought you something. Starla would reach into her purse. She’d pull out a present wrapped in tissues.

A box of Bigelow Chinese Oolong Tea. Dale would beam, and he’d be speechless. He did not know what Starla would want to hear. He did not know where she came from, how she spent three quarters of her time. He did not know what other beverages she consumed besides green tea.

There was so much he didn’t know. 

That’s when Starla would begin to talk. She had been in a car accident once and her right hip still acted up most days. She hated driving; she biked everywhere now. She appreciated the Bay Area’s bike-friendly layout and its intelligent citizens, who understood the importance of pairing sustainability with technological growth. 

Dale would be soothed by the swell of information. He’d listen and nod, posing the occasional clarifying question, manipulating his eyebrows with the rise and fall of Starla’s voice, the way he’d seen other people do. A conversation: an exploration into another person’s consciousness. 

The curtain swayed again, lifting the fog of Dale’s dream, and he heard a sound, a series of phonemes pinched through a nose. “Is he okay?” At least, he thought he heard it; no, he knew he heard it. His chest seized. He did not count his heartbeats. He breathed through his teeth—a smile—because he was okay, and all his experiments began like this: with a question, a voice faintly heard, small but insistent.

 

 

AMY KURZWEIL’s short fiction has been published in Shenandoah, Hobart, Blackbird, and The Butter. Her short comics have appeared in Hot Street, Short, Fast, and Deadly, and weekly with drDOCTOR’s Sunday webcast. Her graphic memoir Flying Couch (Black Balloon) is forthcoming in Fall 2016. Amy teaches writing and comics at Parsons The New School for Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology. She holds an MFA from The New School.