A story by Teo Rivera-Dundas
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Headlights come drifting in from somewhere down the hill; are killed. The air, with dust from the road and the tips of trees’ leaves, settles. There is the sound of hingey metal doors opening and closing. Three boys scramble onto the hood of the car: ugly jeans stained in tree sap, figure-eights cut into the dust of the dashboard. A mixture of retail antiperspirant and body odour wafts through the air, slightly undercut by the faint but undeniable refraction of something’s emergence from a frail baggie. There is, for a moment, silence. Floodlights douse a soccer field not too far away, walking distance, but it is other than that completely dark. Words sprout like weeds.
— So the, thing, the what is it—
The Large Hadron Collider, which in three hours launches upon its maiden voyage— particles with mass or particles with no mass. The Large Hadron Collider to extend the question, to shoot tiny bits of reality at one another, underground, and wait for the residue to calculate itself. Then,
— And then, but the what, the Higgs Boston—?
— Boson, Higgs Boson.
In Geneva, underground for miles, running circuitous metal and fiber optics, signals we later call God Particle. But that’s not for hours, as they, the boys, figure— not until that European sunrise, which, given the nine hours’ difference between there and here, isn’t for at least another three. Here, the lighted edge of a cigar’s shell, the reflection of the sunset in thick glasses, and the sunset itself. Here, the blue sweater lain flat as tablecloth on the tiny box Volvo upon which they sit. The concrete and metal playground adjacent to the parking lot and the concrete and metal lining of the school itself all the same tawny gray. There is a protracted cough.
— Yeah, my abuelita used to make these tapes, with every big world event, she would record these things as like a primer for my uncles, for my dad, she would record them in her pajamas…
They have scouted an abandoned middle school field, waiting, at the top of the hill in a city of hills, for sunset to begin lighting up. Their mothers refer to them as mobile in guarded tones. Three boys experiment with shaving, with trespassing and drugs.
— Your—? no, but, tell me about the Boson?
— It’s, they’re trying to find this thing, but the only way they know how, now at least, is to break into the Higgs Field—
— She recorded like four versions of the same thing, each time convinced that the world is right on the brink of ending. That, this time, this was definitely it.
— Break into it?
The way they vault chain-link fences, thick pockets jingling change, car keys, a tiny flask embalmed in gaffer tape, bulging cell phones, the dirty baggie, a lighter, a folded note written earlier that day, and a loud, spilling bag of Corn Nuts which leaves a trail for crows. Fire season has gone on longer than usual this year, and a faint cover of smoke hangs over the whole city, congealing into velvet with the sunset, the smoke clenched between one of the boy’s teeth as he navigates the jutting-out top of the fence just adding to a tiny edge of it. They find a log carved into four child-sized seats; sit sprawled, cross-legged, and upright.
— So there’s a Higgs Boson, this particle sans mass, and that’s everywhere in this Field, also Higgs, and the only way to find the Boson is to disrupt the Field. Or that if they find the thing then they know there is a Field in the first place, either way—
— She says to store enough water and cans of food, then launches into these various prayers of deliverance. Like this is how she understands change, that each time it’s the second coming of Christ, or, Christ…
A deep one, an ambitious and full-bodied taking of hit, now; the smoke of it goes where it goes. Fire season leaves tall grass the colour and consistency of cartoon hay, and every teenager in town wears rich blues: pine tree and ocean colours.
— And your grandma, I’m not following. She did this recently?
— She’s dead. But she spent half of her life watching TV and muttering to herself and to God in Spanish. If she watched the Higgs Boson she would have definitely made one of these tapes. Definitely; this is, you guys are on some second coming—
— It’s, no it’s like there’s this physical field wrapped around all of reality, and either it’s too small or it’s half-paradoxical or half-conceptual but they don’t know how to find it in any other way than like making an indent in the field— they’re, do you understand, they said that it’s like an ocean they can only know exists by creating ripples in the water. So imagine—
Their mothers have formed a three-person support group, suspecting a strain of muted self-destruction in each of them. In truth it’s an overexposure to sheer information: the boys have read the recent study suggesting adolescents sneak out only in an internal sense, that they sneak out via the internet as opposed to out of windows and as a result teenage pregnancy declines, teenage overdose and accidental deaths, but at what cost? The mothers fear that it’s 1980s’ New York cocaine, as it was for them; the truth is a locked door.
— I’m talking implications though: what do we eat if we ripple the waves the wrong way? That’s what she meant. The whole point of the tapes was that she didn’t think her sons would survive the last judgement, that Heaven wouldn’t—
This makes nights like these rare, on the hill and the city below them, the sun moving beyond the ocean and the light of every building drowning out the stars without allowing for even a fighting chance. A year ago, it would be unheard of.
— What we eat is that it won’t ripple the waves the wrong way. What we eat is that we discover the invisible processes of the universe that keep it functional. A ring torus degenerating into a sphere.
— But what about, I’ve been hearing that one micro-misstep or some unknown variables, like what if the machine itself, large hard-on, can’t keep up with the invisible goings on, you know, the magic of it—?
— And that’s what she meant! That the natural and supernatural worlds need one another to exist. You can’t have the last judgement without mud and clouds, without the pain of starving to death—or avoiding this via canned food, by the way, which is what she meant—and you can’t have the discovery of your no-mass particles in the impossible field without some element of either massive-style world-ending, or, I don’t know, shit—
There would be a chill if the smoke didn’t insulate the valley’s heat up past the hills. Last winter, one of them gained access to an invite-only urban exploration messageboard, a seed of an idea granted momentum through the second boy’s recent ability to drive and the third’s outstanding fearlessness and tendency to coax. Digital images, slowly, deliberately, exiting the home. Three months ago, they infiltrated a heavily researched art installation inside a hollow freeway overpass, sifting through beer cans and computer parts. In June, they spent the night in a church bell tower and later in the botanical gardens a few towns over, each of them using one of the others’ houses as an alibi. Now the little flask makes its way down-log; gasoline smell of energy drink and vodka.
— I heard they’re worried about black holes with this—I mean, imagine like aw man, tore open a black hole instead—is this what you’re getting at with your second coming? Or you, your, your, tiny field rippling?
— Not even that it’s tiny, but that it’s fucking invisible, or even better it’s non-visible, something that doesn’t even oppose the visible, like I can say the air today was visibly blackgray while most of the time it is in-visible, but this thing, why are neither of you sold on the worthiness of this, a non-visible, something we could otherwise have no words for, the trillion-dollar special effects of actual life, which, which we still can barely talk about without reverting to stupid cosmic metaphors or getting completely tangled up in trying to parse out the specifics of the thing; we are opening avenues of perception previously unknown to humanity, gentlemen, we’re—
Headlights cast three long silhouettes down the hill— they exchange immediate, panicked glances and stuff everything back into their pockets. The first throws on the hood of his flimsy sweatshirt while the other two begin to crouch away from the light, and it’s either school security doing rounds, or a cop, or nothing. In twenty seconds, all that’s left of them is the diminishing trail of Corn Nuts leading to some downhill bushes. They’re at the edge of private property, now, their faces shifting blue in the light of a backyard swimming pool. At every movement, the brittle soil crumbles. Whatever car it was moves on, but they whisper either way.
— Either way, though, either way it’s something happening tomorrow which we can barely begin to understand today. That’s all she was talking about— if there’s some impossible field wrapped around reality, we need to be ready with canned food, and if a black hole goes off in Geneva, ditto. We have to live in the world.
—That’s what I’m saying, living in the world through understanding—
— Both of you! You don’t just compartmentalize your fear of the unknown into canned food, or into this broken Enlightenment idea that we can understand everything in the universe if we smash enough shit together. What kind of way is that: the unknown is all that’s out there, no matter how hard you try to plan for it— I mean if they accidentally create a black hole, there’s no planning, a black hole doesn’t change the way the earth operates within the framework it currently resides, it, it changes the framework altogether, there’s a paradigm-shifting that occurs then, and a black hole makes everything around it into a black hole, too, like it swells itself open and lays its eggs, roaring, but if you can see it you’ve already become it, so there goes your canned food or your non-visibility: the unknown reaches out and clutches with very large hands those who get too close to it with the notion that they can somehow transform it into a known.
The remaining corner of the cigar’s shell is thrown into the pool. A thick pause. Eyes filmy now and staring forward; exposed shoulders, rustling polyester, lighter flicked and reflicked, alcohol stain drying, nestled hair, thin light of a cell phone, exchanged looks, exhalation as communication. Language rises off the edge of them now like mist above the skin of water.
— You know the moon is moving away from the earth at the rate of your fingernails growing? So, in a week your nail grows a half-millimetre, well, so has the moon—
They’re on their backs now, not for anything but as buffer to speech. Every tendon aches at this point, this crumbling hill. Then they begin to feel the delayed effect of what they have consumed, caffeine first of all, the mix of sedatives following. Liquid and smoke.
— You know, the Genevan scientists resent the term “God particle.” They’re calling it unwarranted sensationalism, how cool is that? They’re unbuttoning the blouse of reality and they’re saying don’t get too carried away now, fucking scientists—
— If there were stars, I would say, ah, the heavenly spheres…
— So our gravity will eventually move out of sync with the moon’s, so only one side of the earth, soon, in some billions of years, will even be able to see it out there; to the other half of the world it’ll become a myth, imagine the tourism that’ll spring up around that, to visit a place with the view, imagine the effect that’ll have on the tides—
Time begins passing in fitful gasps, retracting into itself and starting over.
— Ah, yes, we’d say, giveth and taketh away…
They attempt further conversation, what’s the, uh, but lose the strands almost instantly. Kinesthesis in and out of focus. A plane seems to be moving too slowly, its path somehow too deliberate, to be right. Where are the keys. Orange clouds become ice floating in oil, contrails are chunks of styrofoam, the moon’s dull glow peeks behind layers of kleenex. The keys are here.
One of the boys thinks: That the universe expands doesn’t lead to the question where. There isn’t a wall it pushes against. The universe doesn’t do like waves breaking on the shore, probably. Its movement is hot the way I imagine the executioner’s blade to be hot— the clean force of something’s imposition upon nothing. Matter tearing through negative space and so through itself.
— Mm. Barbados.
One of them thinks: If the car is towed then it’ll be a black hole, if it’s still there we’ll find the ripple they’re looking for, and if it’s a black hole it doesn’t matter that it’s towed. If it isn’t towed and there’s enough gas to make it look tomorrow morning like I didn’t drive all the way there or even at all we’ll get drive-through quesadilla burgers with the windows down and roll out our skin from all that smoke. If the windows are down and the lid to the flask is open we’ll talk about girls on the hood of my car, about the soot falling on it with pigeon shit, lighting up my inbox, putting cereal in my milkshakes now. What I forgot is that we won’t know for like hours, still: black hole could rip us open while we’re shittalking different constellations or arguing whether silence is dense or like the smell of sugar again.
— Bar, no, gargantuan.
One thinks: Read the Wikipedia page in every language; every cultural bent of every topic. Find irregularities in idea-translation: Arabic page on Gaza conflict versus page in Hebrew. Find the sub-sub-sub genres of some other culture’s fictions. Catalogue every outmoded currency. Take screenshots and cultivate a folder called I Bear Witness. Here Stubb takes oaths that he has always been jolly. So I put memory in horse-blinders and return all the birds to their eggs. A pantheon erected to, what, to Jeopardy questions. That’s sort of what she was talking about. My anxiety boils into something delicious nights like these. If I can’t have the unknown my temples will hold everything that approaches unknown. Reality composed of shoestring, and theories.
— The, thing, the what was that word from before?
— From last night? “Monstropical.”
— Something so huge it’s like an entire tropical island. And also as humid as that too.
— Tonight I feel, what, I feel: monstropical.
Here. With the orange-violet clouds reflecting the city’s lights down upon itself. With the gaze of a million cameras in every steely parking lot. With brown marmorated stink bugs falling down lazy from pepper trees. With rust. Wind picks up pollen; brings the smell of rubber, exhaust, ash, cracking wood, breath, the ocean.
Teo Rivera-Dundas co-heads http://www.rivulet.net (formerly http://www.killingfieldsjournal.com) and makes loud music with the band Dominant Culture. More information can be found at http://www.teorivera.com.