Sunday again, time for some creative writing (even though thatʼs what I already gave you yesterday). Following parts 1 and 2, hereʼs a third section from Chapter One — “End of an Affair” from Slaves to the Lesser Moon.
I poured the whole evening out to Terry by the time I finished at least ten Keystones, taking longer and longer on each can. He quit texting after about an hour but looked preoccupied even through his sympathetic support. Finally, as I ran out of anything more to say, not feeling like cursing Jen out loud, no matter how bad sheʼd made me feel, I asked him, “Whoʼre you texting?”
“Itʼs nothing. Just Birch.”
“Oh.” Birch was one of my least favorite people on campus or off. McKennal College had its share of oddballs, idiots and weirdos, but Birch Thorstein was in a class all his own. He was the most amazingly self-centered person I had ever met, completely unaware anyone else had any life of their own, completely preoccupied with his own little puzzles and problems. A physics major, Birch had gone through at least three other colleges, including UWM most recently, none of which ever wanted to see him back or even hear about him in the future. So dropping into McKennal was the best accident he had ever contrived for himself (and he was also the most accident-prone geek I had ever met).
And if you are reading this, Birch, I mean every word of that.
How or why Birch and Terry had become acquainted I never knew. I never asked. Physics and economics types donʼt generally mix, even when they take required courses together (of course econ and lit majors usually just drank together, having little or nothing in common either; and although roommates for two years now, mostly all Terry and I ever did together was drink). Birch didnʼt drink. He said it slowed his mind, killed brain cells (actually he told me exactly how many cells it killed with each drink, but I wasnʼt listening, as usual when Birch talked). He and Terry did hang out pretty often, enough that I got sick of finding him at dawn sprawled on our couch, having crashed there after some longterm talkfest with Ter. Sometimes I thought all he ever did was talk, sleep loudly and leer at Jen when she came out of the bedroom in the morning. He was probably just calculating biological differences between the sexes, though, rather than lusting, as she thought. He was probably the most sexless dweeb I ever met and had to deal with. I never knew him to have anything to do with women.
Birch didnʼt do much of anything but duck classes he had to take and sit in on science stuff he didnʼt have to audit. And work up experiments in the physics lab. He was always over in the rundown, ancient Miller/Norton building hacking together wires and microchips, lasers and magnets, random crap and worthless whatever, to bring to reality crazy old Dr. Fairchildʼs latest crackpot cranial misfire. The lucky accident that brought the third-time fifth-year physics retard to McKennal College had included a soul-sister affinity with the schoolʼs oldest living (unwanted) professor, V.J. Fairchild her raggedy, antiquated self. In her Birch had found his true mentor, someone even nuttier and farther past the fringe than he was.
And if you are reading this, Valerie Jean, Iʼve never forgotten the awfulness of your freshman Fundamentals of the Scientific Method course. Worst and longest three hours of credit I ever suffered, and only got a C.
I hadnʼt even seen Birch around campus for weeks, since before Christmas break began. That was peculiar because he usually wound up sacked out in our place about once a week, sometimes even on nights I knew Terry had gone to bed early. And Terry swore he had never given Birch his own key, but thereʼd Birch be, unwashed and unwanted as ever.
“Birch? Really? I had hoped heʼd died.”
“Heʼs been busy. Fairchildʼs had some kind of breakthrough, and heʼs — ”
“Fairchild had a breakdown? About time, if you ask me.”
“Breakthrough.” He chuckled suddenly, having noticed something. “You said, ʼabout time.ʼ Dude. Good one.” He sounded like Beavis. “Like you knew or something. According to Birch, sheʼs actually onto something this time.” Terry laughed again. “Huh. ʼThis time.ʼ Thatʼs funny.”
“No, itʼs not, dude.” I flipped my dozenth can onto the growing, leaky pile that had avalanched onto the carpeting a long time back. Since Terry had kept up with me, even after his head start, I figured he was losing it.
“Nah. Seriously. Sheʼs figured out something about time, Birch says.”
“Birch says a lot of stuff, Terry. You should know that.” I released orally some of the gas the cheap beer had infused into me. “Maybe he meant it was about time she finally came up with something that wasnʼt totally crap.” That one struck me as simply hilarious.
Terry laughed, too, but not very sincerely. “Dude. No. Itʼs some kind of new understanding of the nature of time. Something. You know me. I donʼt get it at all. But Birch is real excited. Heʼs been building stuff to test it all out for a month, more. I think he was started back in November. Camping out in the lab, heʼs so excited about it.”
“Youʼll believe anything.”
“Ask him yourself.” Terry belched, too, not for the first or the fifteenth time that night. “Told me he was coming over here. Once he meets with Fairchild. Damn late for a faculty meeting, if you ask me.”
“Tonight?! I have to endure Birch tonight?”
“Dude. Do ya good. Make you forget about Jen and everything.”
Which of course just brought it all back, and I felt sick.
Then the doorbell rang. Birch had arrived.