(Love)(Entropy), by Susan Eisner

1.0 The Laws of Magnetism

They met across the lab bench in the Department of Physics at MIT. She had short hair and glasses, and the perfunctory habit of writing equations on her legs in permanent marker.

This did not fail to get his attention.

He, a red head, had the tendency to lapse into periods of prolonged silence, during which he wore the   alternating expressions of either intense thought or anger, while at the same time chewing on the eraser of his yellow Number 2 pencil. He was, however, completely adorable in his silent, angry, chewy way.

This did not fail to get her attention.

“I think your fundamental theorem for derivatives there, on your leg, is incorrect,” he said to her, or rather more in her general direction.

“Pardon? Did you say something to me?” she answered, feigning involvement with her prism, while actually completely aware that he was speaking to her and that he had been looking at her legs.

“Your theorem for derivatives… there, near your ankle.” He used the moment to get another free look at her legs.

“You were looking at my ankle?” she asked. Something inside her went warm.

“Well I, well, they caught my atten.. it caught my attention, I mean. I don’t see many people with formulas written on their legs,” he answered, taking sudden interest in cleaning the 40 mm diameter convex lens on his bench set-up.

“You’re supposed to use proper lens cleaning tissue on that, you know,” she said to him, immediately regretting it, and wondering if he might suddenly become as disinterested in her as most non-physics majors.

“I am using the proper tissue, Missy,” he answered, re-directing his attention to the chunk of Icelandic spar on the bench. His voice seemed to emanate from the side of his head and, had been surprisingly well projected towards her (within an angle of 20 degrees, plus or minus a degree or two).

“Shit, I just said that out loud, didn’t I?” she asked out loud. “Sorry, I thought I was just thinking that.

Personal flaw, mea culpa.” She knocked on her chest and bowed her head. Shouldn’t’a said that. Shit! “Sorry if I peeved you…” She managed a sheepish grin.

“Peeved’s the name,” he smiled, then turned to look right at her.

 

2.0  The Gravity of Dating

“I mean it,” she said, taking an enormous bite from the slice of double-pepperoni double-cheese pizza she lifted from the box on the low table in front of them. Then, after waiting to chew and swallow, she said: “I’m going to go see the Magellan before I graduate.”

“The one in CHILE?” he asked. This girl continued to impress.

“Yeah. I’m submitting an application for observation time. I thought I told you that-” she said.

“Nope.” And then, (with pride unbefitting a face wearing such a silly grin), he took an equally huge bite; pulling the slice away from his mouth and creating an inverted parabola with the lengthening string of cheese. The parabola grew longer and thinner the farther away he pulled the slice from his face.

“Ah, ah, ah… ” she said, watching him re-direct the cheese into his open mouth, and then, “AHHH,” as the cheese slipped right off the slice, onto his face. “I could have predicted that with mathematical certainty,” she laughed.

 

3.0 Her Equation for Mate Selection

She tried to live her life, in so much as it was possible, on sound mathematical principles. And to her, he was an equation; an equation with multiple variables. She wondered if she could formulate a mathematical model in advance of their actual relationship, one that would project whether they might be right for each other; one that might give her insight into his unique geometry, both physical and mental. Then, she would input what she knew about him and solve for variables (applying what she knew about derivatives and the inevitability of change).

Define           AP (Appropriate Man) as a positive integer,

 where            ε, σ, ω, ψ, μ, θ, ζ, and γ have the following values:

ε                   Egalitarian (A must)

σ                  Smarts (Ivy League Y/N)

ω                 Work Ethic (Present, Absent)

ψ                 Sense of humor (Satire, Puns, Wit or Dry)

μ                  Manners (European, American, Eastern, Barbaric)

θ                  Adaptability (First Class, Business Class, Coach)

ζ                  Sex Appeal (Looks, Chemistry, Stamina)

γ                  His Mother (Degree of Overbearingness, 1-10 scale)

 

Using the following equation: AP =  f(ε)(σ)(ω)(ψ)(μ)(θ)(ζ)(γ),  solve for AP.

 

3.1 His Theorem for Mate Selection

He considered their pending involvement within the realm of the theoretical and, as such, he would implement his 6-point Theorem:

  1. Formulate a hypothesis (Could she be the one?)
  2. Institute research (Meet her friends)
  3. Experiment (Date cum diversa)
  4. Provide proof (Good in bed?)
  5. Verification by others (What do his friends think of her?)
  6. Arrive at a conclusion (Good in bed?)

Now, where are we going for dinner?

 

 4.0  The Geometry of Sex

He complimented her on her nice figure, and told her she had a host of  ‘fine complimentary angles,’ then thought: integrals, and desired to solve for the shadowed areas of her curves: the curve of her lips, the curve of her legs, the curve of her breasts… her slope. Her angle of repose. She was radiant, an equation he wanted to solve. He considered her a marvel of physical geometry.

And when they were all finished, after they had made love a good number of times, he felt the urge to plot her most vocal orgasms (the more vocal, the more pleasure, the higher the numerical value) on a bell curve, and give it to her on their one year dating anniversary. Framed. Then, he would write the algorithm: ‘On Giving Her Pleasure,’ having learned to maximize penetration at her x and y intercept among other things, and publish his findings in Foundations and Trends in Theoretical Mathematics.

Then, she said:

“My body has natural endothermic reactions, Bartleby. I’m like a microwave. You’ve heated me from the inside, and that heat will be absorbed and radiate throughout my body for the next few hours. That is, proportionate to the amount of matter you… you left inside me.” Then, he knew he was in love.

He said:

“Well, Missy, I didn’t think it was possible to embarrass me, but you might just have done it there.” He blushed 700° nanometer red, then looked away. She smiled and opened her little notebook, into which she wrote: Modesty = 100. Then, she knew she was in love.

 

5.0 The Marriage Paradigm

She thought his having brought his work into the bedroom was endearing, though perhaps a little over the top. He thought she was a little too serious at breakfast when she arranged her toast points into parallel cosine vectors.

“But this is a high dimensional positive space, Bartleby. The toast-stack… ”

“But it has to have magnitude, Missy. Magnitude and direction. Your toast… is finite.”

“I’m not talking Euclidian vectors, Bartleby. I’m… I’m thinking. Hypothesizing. Must you disagree with me all the time?” She got up to bring more coffee to the table.

“I’m not disagreeing with you. I’m challenging your statements, that’s all. What’s ’em matter with a little challenge?” He grabbed her around the waist, nearly upending the coffee on her new suit.

“A-LOT is the matter with it, Bartleby, considering it’s Dissertation Day. That’s what.” She wriggled from his grip, and sat down with the carafe. She picked up the last piece of toast then purposefully bit off the points.

“It’s moot now, baby,” he said, gesticulating with a piece of the pointless toast. “And must you continue calling me Bartleby?”

“It’s your name, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but only my mother calls me that. It’s completely UNsexy to hear that name come from your beautiful, sexy mouth.” He shoved the remains of the toast between his lips, crunching purposefully.

She couldn’t help but smile.

“Wish me luck, sexy-toast guy.” She leaned over to kiss him.  He swallowed hard.

“I didn’t know you were into partially ingested food,” he said, taking another piece and ravaging the points right off it. She grabbed the leather swing-satchel he had given her as an engagement gift and wiped crumbs off it.

“Good luck!” Bartleby shouted after her as she left.

And when it was all quiet, and the screen door had finished banging recriminations, Bartleby stood up and began clearing dishes.

 

6.0 The Baby Principle

“Bartleby, it’s time to get up. The baby’s crying.”

“Mmmm. I’m sleeping.”

“Seriously, baby. Get up.” She pushed him out of bed with her foot.

“You’re fighting inertia here, baby,” he said, climbing back into bed. “My body wants to stay at rest… unless you want to act upon it with your body…”

“Are you seriously talking sex with me right now, at… 2 o’clock in the morning? Don’t give me that inertia business. I’ll set you in motion all right, and you’ll stay in motion until… Tuesday!” She yanked the covers right off him.

“Promise?” he asked.

She glared at him.

“Honey…” he said.

“What?”

“Today is Tuesday.”

PAUSE.

She reached over to get her little notebook off the night table and wrote in it: Annoying = 1,000.

 

6.1 The Momentum of Children 

“Is it true there are such things as antiquarks, Daddy?”

“Sure are, Es,” Bartleby said, unwrapping her wet hair and dropping the towel onto the floor. “There are three quarks or three antiquarks in one baryon, Es.” He turned to give Missy an ‘I’ll-teach-you’ raised eyebrow.

“Honey,” Missy said, picking up the wet towels, “did you know the word ‘quark’ comes from James Joyce’s book Finnegan’s Wake? ‘Three quarks for muster Mark.’ I never forgot that.” She turned to Bartleby and volleyed back raised eyebrows.

Three quarks for muster Mark. Three quarks for muster Mark. Three quarks for -“

“I can tell this is going to be our new family mantra,” Bartleby said, raising both eyebrows at Esme in the mirror. Missy grabbed Esme’s wet clothes and took them out of the room with her.

Three quarks for muster Mark. Three quarks for -“

“Bartleby -” Missy called from the laundry room over the sound of water pouring into the washer. “Please remember to send her PBJs with the crusts cut off in her lunchbox today, okay?  She won’t eat it if the crusts are there.”

Three quarks for muster Mark.”

“I know, I know, Miss,” he called back to her.

“And she’s having a playdate with Henry today after school.” She dropped the lid of the washing machine.

“His house, right?” Bartleby shouted back to her.

“Our house.” She popped her head back into the bathroom. “Sorry, baby. I forgot to tell you. It was our turn…” She popped out of the room again.

Three quarks for muster Mark.

“That’s great, Es,” Bartleby said. He finished snapping her ponytail holder into place. Then, kissed her on top of her head. “Our house.”

 

7.0  Bulk Modulus Elasticity

“Bartleby?” Missy asked, holding her hand over the telephone mouthpiece. “Es is on the line. Can I please have your attention?”

He did not move, save his right index finger arrhythmically tapping the upper right hand corner of the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine. Tap, tap, tap. He was reading.

“Excuse me, Hon?” She asked, again.

Perhaps he didn’t hear her. Perhaps he was ignoring her. He looked angry. What was he angry about? Now what had she done wrong? And what was so important about whatever article he was reading?  What was it now… Hybrid Corn? The Angry Mother? She was the angry mother. That confounded New Yorker was ruining their marriage. There would always be another article, another issue. And who the hell cares about what’s happening in New York all the time? They didn’t even live in New York! This was so typical.

“Honey?” Silence. “Bartleby!”

“What? What is it?”

“You never hear me when I speak to you.”

“I was reading.”

“Yes, you were reading, and I’m a New Yorker widow. You know, you really have turned into a completely closed system, B. Not only have we no transfer of words, or thoughts, or ideas between us anymore, but… but we have no transfer of mass either! Can you hear me? Are you listening?”

 

8.0 Electrical Resistance

To: Bartleby.Bird@gmail.com, 12:02pm

Bartleby, Es told me she hated me. She shouted it at me over the phone.

To: Missy.Bird@gmail.com, 12:07pm

She doesn’t mean it. Try not to be so reactive. Almost done with work?

To: Bartleby.Bird@gmail.com, 12:08pm

Then Calla Boyle wrote me this scathing email and basically told me, well, she dumped me. I’m helpful to her when she needs me, then, when she’s doing better, she’s no longer interested in me. We were so close. This really hurts.

To: Missy.Bird@gmail.com, 12:13pm

I thought you two weren’t speaking anymore. When are you coming home?

To: Bartleby.Bird@gmail.com, 12:14pm

We were speaking. She had started speaking again. I think she’s cut it off for good this time.

To: Missy.Bird@gmail.com, 12:16pm

Try not to let it bother you. I thought you were trying to work.

To: Bartleby.Bird@gmail.com, 12:17pm

I’m almost finished here. Tabulating now. But I can’t stop thinking about this. Then coincidentally Ellen what’s-her-face tells me I’m too unpredictable and she dumps me also. Why are all these people leaving me? This always happens. I cannot seem to keep any female friends.

To: Bartleby.Bird@gmail.com, 12:20pm

Male friends too, for that matter.

To: Bartleby.Bird@gmail.com, 12:21pm

I can’t seem to keep any friends. They all leave me. And I look at this equation, and I see thatam the common denominator. Me. I am the constant, and they are the variables.

To: Bartleby.Bird@gmail.com, 12:23pm

You know, Bartleby, you should love this, because on a qm* level, I am the antiparticle. I mean that whole quantum field business about particle-antiparticle annihilation. That’s me alright. I’m the freakin’ antiparticle. I might as well get a tee-shirt made up with a big AP written right across it.

To: Bartleby.Bird@gmail.com, 12:25pm

Who am I kidding.  I hate this. Everyone leaves me. I’m crying now, Bartleby.

And you’ve stopped writing back.

To: Bartleby.Bird@gmail.com, 12:27pm

Bartleby? Are you seriously not going to write back?

To: Bartleby.Bird@gmail.com, 12:30pm

You’ve left me, too.

 

9.0 The Ratio of Marriage

 

It had been a bad day for Missy. The kind of day that knocks a person off kilter. Doctor appointment stacked upon doctor appointment proffered only the news that she would continue to struggle. No cure. Not lethal. Nothing more. Just struggle. Lifelong. That’s it. Make an appointment for Friday. In the meantime, perhaps meditation might help?

Meditation. Yes. Right.

She sought diversion in the form of the typical grocery store turnstile varieties: crosswords, comics, and number puzzles. Finding them hopelessly facile, yet unable to summon the advanced thinking needed for more complicated yet more satisfying mathematics, she considered simple graphing, and found arrays of items she could plot:

 

minutes to waiting

cupcakes to waistline

Esme’s teenagerhood to frustration

post doctoral studies to dedication

bills to money

vacation to fantasy

 

It wasn’t long before she began plotting aspects of her relationship with Bartleby:

 

sex to frequency

Bartleby’s cooking to edibility

Bartleby’s silence to their degree of communication

Bartleby’s withdrawal to her frustration level

Her frustration level to her growing anger

Her anger to her silence

Her silence to… what was left?

She was tired of being alone while still being in his presence, tired of having only the back of his head facing her, and then, usually, while he was walking away. She felt profoundly alone. And how would she share her news with him?

She knew she wouldn’t tell him. How could he be there for her when he was already gone?

 

10.0 The Velocity of Decline

 

Bartleby withdrew into himself after having the feeling that he repeatedly failed to meet her expectations. He felt his efforts at communication passed by largely unnoticed, or were unacceptable, his humor no longer appreciated. Even his cooking had been found wanting. So, he withdrew.

He fell back to his natural state. He resented having climbed beyond it and questioned who it was that he had become. He was exactly as he was, and felt a precursory indignance wash over him whenever the crumbs of overture had simply been scattered in his direction. Even her desire for eye contact had become an expectation; a desire requiring a response from him, on demand, on her time schedule. Why could he not come to her naturally, on his terms, on his timetable? Isn’t it better to receive when offered naturally?

But that expectation was a killer. It was a constant rejection of who he was and what he did offer. So, he simply, stopped.

It pained him to see her disappointed. If only she could see what he was doing, how much he did care; but something prevented him from giving her the part of him he knew she needed and wanted. It was because what he did do was not the right way. It was not her way. But what about his way! Why wasn’t that good enough? It used to be.

Scotch soothed the effects of her dissatisfaction and stemmed his growing sense of valuelessness. Then, off she’d go to a meeting with the Dean, or the Board of So-And-So’s; go have a late dinner with her Think-Tank Buddies and their Well-Funded Friends.

He knew he was failing her. He was failing himself, as well.

 

 

9.0 Polarization

And this is how they were, when they came upon each other one Friday evening.

On this occasion, he brought home orange and yellow French tulips in a red vase, rather than his customary red roses in a clear vase, which triggered an overreaction on Missy’s part that altered her strict equation for their evening by adding the new variable, φ.

Their usual equation, now modified, required a solution for x.

Define x as a positive integer (hopefully),

where  φ, M, B and E have the following values:

φ                   Missy’s reaction, an unpredictable variable,

M                   Missy’s mood, (her ever increasing fatigue level x her                                  sense of humor) minus  ° of  overbearingness of Bartleby’s                        Mother,

B                   Bartleby, [his fatigue level = f (ratio of job leads to                                           interviews) + alcohol consumed] minus ° of                                                         overbearingness of his Mother,

E                   Esme, (hormone level) x (parent stress + boyfriend stress +                       college stress)

Using the following equation, solve for x:     

                 {(φ x M) +B}E  
Hours Since his Return Home

How would the newly calculated ‘x’ affect her? Affect him? Affect Esme? Missy’s desperate need for order had become overly burdensome. He could no longer live within her formalist structure. He craved his beloved pied-à-terre, the place where his true self dwelt, where he could roll in possibilities and not be shut down by expectations, disappointments and number boxes. He would return only to the realm of the Theoretical.

 

10.0 The Physics of Entropy

 

Their connection was, at best, labyrinthine: it had become clotted in dark corners by what she considered opportunities, and he considered failures. They withdrew from one another. He became sullen. She became angry. He, indignant. She, resolute. He… silent. She… silent. All that remained between them, other than Esme, was history, habit, and manners.

Clarity waned.

Disorder crept in with the leaf-scattering wind that April was rarely, if ever, identified with.

Then, one morning, Missy said:

“It smells like October,” all and at once confounding the very parameters she had struggled to set up in the first place; the ‘feel’ of October, to her, not being quantifiable. What was happening to her? She was, changing.

By November, he became sloppy, his tongue loose. His excesses had set him afloat in the physical and mental waterways of his own addictions. Belligerent and bellicose, he announced himself ‘a man in quantum superposition,’ the theoretical idea that he existed in more than one state at any given moment, indeed, an infinite number of states.

This infuriated her.

She reminded him that she was not a theoretical physicist, nor would she ever be one, and that though she could appreciate the idea of superposition in quantum states, he would NEVER be in a position of superposition, at least never with her, and never in their relationship.*

“You see,” he said, “You have simply become a random uncertainty to me. We are no longer attracted to one another; rather, I’m no longer attracted to you.”

“And my reaction to that, is that I am no longer attracted to you.” Though truthfully, she was still attracted to him. She was very attracted to him. She had to keep the equation of their marriage even. Newton’s Third Law would hold.**   But this was their life together.  “Resistance grows between us the longer we are together, B. We are no longer scientifically sound. There is no longer a flow of heat, any kind of heat, between us.”

She knew she would no longer be able maintain order or predictability. She would no longer be able to hold the marriage together.

Then she said:

“Entropy has taken hold, Bartleby. Things are falling naturally and expectedly towards disorder. I could have predicted this. I did predict this. And as our marriage falls apart, the less we can predict where we are going, or even know where we are, because how we look determines what we see.”†

Then, he said:

“Must you do this?”

And she said:

“Yes.”

 


Endnotes

1st * Quantum-mechanics

2nd * Schrödinger Theory and the Idea of Superposition.

**Newton’s Third Law of Motion states for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

†Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle – It is impossible to have a particle that has an arbitrary well-defined position and momentum at the same time.

 


Susan Eisner lives in Bell Canyon, just north of Los Angeles, California. She writes there and in Paris, Argentina, Mexico, and New Zealand. Her poetry has appeared in Outburst Magazine, and The Malpais Review, her satire in The Diamondback. Her fiction made it to the final rounds of The New Guard Volume IV Machigonne Fiction Contest, and won the Maryland State Governors Award for her essay on equal accessibility for handicapped individuals. She co-authored “100 Ways to Look Up When Everything Looks Down”, a guide for managing the depressive phase of Bipolar Disorder, due for publication in 2015.

She is currently writing her first novel.

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