Jeff balances his iPhone between his thumb and index finger. He smacks down on the baby blue casing and the tail rotates up into his palm. He repeats the act, over and over in front of the stove until the rising steam fogs his glasses. Jeff clinches the warm plastic handle. The water hisses as it falls past the hot metal, onto the teabags, one green one black. He holds the mug stiff and watches the water’s circular surface shift at shallow angles, back and forth, as he crosses the living room and enters his bedroom.
“The simple pleasures,” he mutters, then realizes he has not spoken since Madison left his room.
The room feels more-or-less the same. The uneven paint, the deep-sea-blue lining on the windows, the mattress flat on the hardwood floor with no frame, his computer desk, and his old roommate’s solid pinewood desk that he and Madison carried into the room so they could study together. His relationship to it feels more-or-less the same, despite his knowledge that Madison’s perception of it is not. Just hours ago, the room sat in a universe of seven and a half billion persons tagged with a low probability (< 0.001 %) of unexpectedly walking through the door and one person tagged with a significant probability (> 10 %). Now, the room sits in a universe containing seven and a half billion persons all tagged with low probabilities. A shift within one’s perception toward his room typically follows such a realization. Yet, the room feels more-or-less the same. The bed sheet’s checkerboard pattern with alternating stamps of floral bouquets and countryside homes filling the open squares, the matte blue headphones on his desk which he purchased as per the recommendation of a ‘top-ten best-value over-ear Bluetooth headphones’ article, the dual CD player–alarm clock system at the foot of his bed. It all feels more-or-less the same. The familiarity of it all is heightened as Jeff squints towards the southern wall.
“Semipermeable membrane,” he says, lifting a candle up to eye-level.
A nub of candlewick is visible beneath the flat, frozen lake of pumpkin-scented wax. Today was a twelve-hour ice age for this little guy.
Jeff lowers the candle and digs his fingernail into the surrounding wax. Only one singular whispy thread pokes above the frozen surface.
Could it breathe? Could the bouncing balls of air molecules pipe their way down there? Depending on whether or not they could, his ‘index and thumb’ set of pincers were either engaged in a rescue mission or an archeological expedition. Jeff does not know which it is. But he pulls all the same. His thumb and forefinger land a firm pinch and yank upwards, stretching the cord as his fingertips twist the surrounding wax crumbs into the threads. He flicks a BIC lighter and turns his wrist against the carefully exposed wick, like candleland’s God delivering his people from ice-age number… September 5th.
Jeff uses his phone sideways for a vague amount of time, then rolls his head upright on the pillow. The sound of his breathing, slow and deep, confirms he is the only living thing in this cold bedroom.
Jeff closes his eyes to find shapes pulse against the backdrop of his eyelids.
Fractal rectangles, outlined by a negative imprint the last image pressed into his retina—his iPhone screen, stand stationary as their intensities breath in-sync. Inhale, exhale, inhale, and exhale.
Jeff wills them to move, focusing his attention on pulling the separated pieces inwards from their peripheral locations back towards the center of his nose. The shapes follow his command. They contort themselves and interact with each other at the center of his vision, then wander back to the margins the moment his attention fails to actively demand against it.
When the idea occurs to ‘let go,’ he does so immediately. In a single instant, the shapes are collectively set free. They float outside of his control. Their shapes morph. From rectangular to globular. They move naturally according to whatever laws control them. Whatever controls them. Laws emergent within Jeff’s mind. Black blob world.
A world within a world.
A world with a strict set of physical laws determining everything from the maximum size of a blob to how close two blobs can get before repelling one another.
Whatever controls them.
Perhaps a deity. Or, maybe the stochastic firing of photoreceptors. Or just, the imagination of his visual cortex.
Jeff digs for a guess.
A reason to believe one is more likely than the other.
The technical thought enervates his concentration, and the fatigue distorts his logic. The distorted logic, in turn, changes blob world’s laws—the shapes begin to eat one another. One shape grows larger. A big fish. A red fish, smooth fish. There are only two remaining. The medium-large on the left swallows the medium on the right. Boosh. It bounces off the bottom-left corner, rebounding slowly enough for Jeff to appreciate multiple stages of deformation: squished to a crunched oval, sprung into an elongated oval, then relaxed to its original shape. It springs along a new straight-line trajectory. It’s new velocity-direction being the negative of the velocity-direction before hitting the wall.
No, Jeff vaguely realizes as the circle rebounds off another wall at forty-five degrees. That must… not be incorrect. The circle bounces cleanly off another wall. Again it follows a V-shaped path. Its world is two-dimensional, and its velocity should be thought of in terms of horizontal and vertical components. Oh, yes.
Again the ball bounces off the side wall, and again it rebounds in a V-shaped path. The ball’s vertical speed does not change. Meanwhile, the horizontal component is reversed 180 degrees. Ah yes, the wall only changes one component. The perpendicular one. The other is unchanged. Fucking hell.
The fat ball now ricochets off the bottom boundary of Jeff’s visual frame. A clean bounce. It rises, pauses, and falls, pulled by gravity or something in Jeff’s mind. It bounces in little arcs, successfully shorter and shorter until it putters out in the center of Jeff’s nose.
The fat ball, the big fish. ha.
It sits there.
And Jeff focuses on it, channeling a childlike curiosity towards everything about it. Attempting in each passing moment to wonder collectively all at once everything about the fat ball’s nature. Its past, present, and future. Its environment and its internal workings.
He could open his eyes.
And erase it.
One trigger to his eyelids, one simple command-type-thought ‘open eyelids’ and its existence would be all for naught. Squatting still and fat-like in the center of the frame, the ball is his bitch. The corner of Jeff’s lips rise into a smirk and the name ‘Genghis Khan’ fleetingly flashes through Jeff’s auditory nerves while his vision remains firmly occupied by the fat ball. One simple action, poosh, and the ball would wisp away. Disappear. Be forgotten forever.
And he would be its grim reaper.
Or its benevolent savior.
Should he choose to keep his eyes shut.
It is, after all, just a ball.
It never asked to be here.
He could open them. Or not. Or maybe, Jeff wonders dimly as he watches the ball, he may be past the point of no return. It is impossible to focus on it forever. Who is he kidding. He could never be its savior.
The ball must eventually pass on, just like him. He may be asleep now. He may be across the boundary of SleepyLand and inside the town of Slumberville.
He may be past the edge.
Jeff watches the fat ball evolve yet again. It stretches vertically, slowly elongating into an oval. The sides are pinched inwards at two points as if there’s a rope tightening around the midsection and the upper-quadrant, dividing it into short, medium, long sections. Jeff watches each section slowly thin out.