Chapter 9: The Redemption of Cooper Anderson
Chapter 7: Purloining the Light

Chapter 8: Paper and Clay

The news of Margaret's pretty box, that contained something Delta really didn't care to think about, traveled fast. They smacked a TS label on it but didn't try to take it away. Margaret and Dr. Evans came up with an acronym, which made it look and sound official enough to remain on her desk. CHRIS made a good paper weight, but touching it evoked an odd sensation, like the time she'd brushed against hotwire, reaching through a fence to pet a horse. 

The official event report indicated that the acronym was activated by mistake. Margaret and Dr. Evans provided minimal information, which was just how Delta liked it when weird shit happened in the lab.

There wasn't anything accidental about Christie's escape; and there was no rational explanation for why she stayed. 

Frank and Margaret were on their second and third bagels, respectively. Frank had a snout full of scallion cream cheese, and poppy seeds between his teeth. It was best not to make direct eye contact with Margaret.

Coop clasped his hands behind his head and rolled forward between his legs. He could have swung like a pendulum if he'd bothered with the usual man-spread. Sam got up and handed him a paper bag. "Just breathe, OK? I'm pretty sure this thing's going to land jelly side up."

Christie thanked Laura for the kindness and took the podium.

"I'd like to address the room, please."

Nothing.

"OK. May I have your attention, please?"

Nothing.

"FRANK AND DICKHEAD MARGARET!"

Nothing? 

In her shiniest flight attendant voice: "Are any of you experiencing a death wish this morning? I’ve got a two for one special today!"

The room came to order.

"Frank. Maybe you'd like to introduce Margaret to a couple of napkins? No? OK, if I have your attention. I've got quite a lot to say to you people, but I'm going to start with Margaret, because it's personal. I've noticed personal communication tends to go on a lot longer than, let's say, an 'it's just business' conversation. BUCKLE UP, BITCHES!"

From the middle of a pile of toys and blankets: "I think it’s supposed to be buttercups!" Jeffry smacked the analyst. 

"Thank you, Jeffry, if you think you can keep Marty in check, we can continue.”

Jeffry gave Marty a hard look, and hissed, "Dude, if like your fingers attached to your hands, pull it together!” Marty looked up at the podium, realized Christie was about to blow, and threw the blanket over Jeffry’s head and crawled in after him.

"Cooper Anderson! Stop the possum routine and Sit Up. Please. No? Sam, could you give Coop a smack, please? I realize he's sitting right next to me, but I don't want to blow him into the stratosphere if it can be avoided."

Sam got back up and approached Coop at knee level. "Mr. Anderson? It's one thing to deliberately take yourself out, but right now, a blow from Christie is going to send half the building into the stratosphere." Coop sat up, blinked, and dropped his hands into his lap. Sam retrieved the paper bag from the floor and tucked it under one of his hands.

"Alright, Bitches, some of you might want to take notes." Sam and Laura pulled out legal pads and a couple of pens. Laura told Sam not to bother with encryption; in this room, it would be pointless. Christie, satisfied, continued.

"We have a very long shit list, and since I've taken the room, we'll be approaching that list from my perception of importance. Please try to hold your editorial comments until I'm through with the first bullet.”

All editorial comments were promptly stowed.

“We’ll start with Margaret. While Margaret has a very long list of infarctions, infractions?" Sam nodded. "While Margaret's list of infractions is egregious, the top bullet is a Universal Mortal Sin. I could appropriate the trial and hanging process, but I'm not capable of objective consideration just now. I'll summarize, just to make sure nobody's missing any pieces.”

Christie was clear that Margaret's intensions had mostly been good. While it was possible that Margaret misunderstood Christie’s sister's last words, there was no reasonable explanation for what she did afterward. Given the theft of the Chuck Prentiss light box and subsequent tampering, Christie slapped a premeditation label on the whole thing start to finish. The value of Margaret’s good intentions plummeted into the negative.

Margaret Abegg did more than hold a star captive; she caused the box to open with clear intent. Within that box, because time and space aren’t subject to perceived physical limitations, Christie stated that she would eventually have re-built an entire galaxy and might have been perfectly happy. But Margaret chose to do something that would have killed Christie or forced her to open the box out of desperation. She did it so gradually, it was almost too late when Christie realized the environment had gone dry. The purloined light box was a crypt and Christie had no idea why.

Dr. Evans licked a few napkins and did his best to clean up Margaret's face. He'd missed her hands, which she used to re-smear the top of her face with what was starting to look like pink sludge. Margaret was crying again.

"I sealed the light box inside an airtight hazmat box with a dehumidifier hooked up to a car battery."

"Very scientific, Margaret."

"Christie, I exhausted all of my options before I dehydrated the box.  I've spent my whole life trying to understand light as we see and experience it, versus fact. And Christie, while the truth may not have any scientific relevance now, someday it will. Someday it might be enough to keep our race from exterminating ourselves."

"Margaret, have you ever considered the light might have been hidden intentionally?"

"You mean, you wanted us to kill ourselves?"

"I didn't say that. I'm suggesting your scientific relevance might have turned on you."

"But, Christie, the nature of scientific exploration is to discover, unearth, and uncover knowledge relevant to ourselves and the world." 

"So, how do you think Robert Oppenheimer was feeling at the end of WWII? He did an amazing thing; a thing that might have been beneficial to the entire planet, but that's not what happened, was it?"

"No. It's not and I don't think Mr. Oppenheimer felt very good at all.”

Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

In the wake Oppenheimer’s words, the room remained silent.

"There's something I'd like to understand. I know how I ended up in that box, and I know how I got out. Can you please explain how I ended up in this human body? Honestly, I should have blinked out, just like my sister. What the hell did you do?"

"Christie, I don't know. I was probably as shocked as you were. I expected a roomful of singing stars and a chance to observe, and maybe interact again."

"What about the acronym?"

"The acronym? It was a bunch of random letters. Not even Delta caught on to that one. We filled the words in after the fact."

Dr. Evans pinched Margaret's arm hard enough to bruise. "Christie, she's lying. We already had that acronym. It didn't necessarily apply to you, but the light box was rolled into the project well before we understood the ramifications. She knew what she had in there and I was informed on an as needed basis. I didn't have a need to know until I touched the box and got zapped. Why did you zap me? Margaret would have told me if she'd done something, but I believed her, I still believe her. Margaret had no idea why that box was hot."

Christie stepped off the podium and approached Margaret, still sitting in the middle of a cream cheese orgy. 

"Margaret, do you even know who I am? Can you say my name? It's not a hard name; it follows the standard naming convention for Supernovae and I'm just special enough to jump right off the page. Who am I, Margaret? I won't ask you to come up with my street address, although it's public information, but my name? As a scientist, surely you would have been eager to know."

"I didn't think you had a name. Ah, shit, that's not what I mean. I mean, I thought I found you first."

"Hubris. It's hubris that gets you all killed in the end. You got greedy, Margaret. However, you've been very kind to me. Before I understood what or even why I was, you integrated me into this team. You nurtured and cared for me. You focused on my well-being and my mental health until you were convinced I could stand up by myself. In short, Margaret, you loved me and unfortunately, I LOVED YOU BACK and I'm not sure I can ever forgive you for that. It clouded my judgement and altered my perception of myself in the world. Have you any idea what it feels like to realize you don't really have free will?"

Margaret’s cheesy face clouded over, but she couldn’t speak. She looked at Christie and tried very hard not to cry.

"That's it? A sad face? Well, if you've got nothing, we can jump right to the guilty plea and directly to the sentence."

"Are you going to put me in jail?"

"Sort of. I'm going to put you in a holding cell until you come up with my name. If you can't come up with my name, you'll stay in the lab with Coop."

Coop woke up. "Wait! Wait, wait, wait!"

"Yes, Coop?"

"Why do I have to go to lab prison? I didn't do ANYTHING."

"That's right, Coop, you didn't."

"No. Wait. Dr. Evans has his hands all over this. I'm just interrogator! I have a degree in American Literature and a master’s in education. I don't know jack shit about any of this shit!"

"Cooper Anderson, you've told a lot of lies in your time, but this one's a whopper. Want to try again?"

Coop muttered, "Project Sponsor"

"A little louder, so the room can hear, especially those two fine ladies recording the transcript?"

Coop stood up and addressed the room. He made direct eye contact with each member of the core team. Even Sam looked up out of respect. "AO Core Team, I am the Delta Sponsor for this project. I am responsible for everything that happens in this building."

"Say it, Coop. Say the rest."

"I am responsible for ensuring the success of the lenses, the drops, and the bots, the containment of all the fucking bad press, and the mental and physical well-being of the CHRISTIE."

"In other words, you know everything."

"Well not everything! I'm no closer to understanding what you people have done to each other, including Matt Franklin, than I was when I walked in the door."

"I'll buy that, but you're still accountable. How's it go? The buck stops with you, Coop!"

"I suppose it does."

"Well, that takes care of the first bullet. Coop, would you please escort yourself and Ms. Margaret Abegg to the lab? Scratch that. Dr. Evans, will you please escort Mr. Cooper Anderson and Ms. Margaret Abegg to the lab? I believe you've got the external deadbolt key. Margaret, please stop crying. I'll stop by tonight and see if you've got an answer for me.”

“What if I don’t?”

“Then I’ll come by again. In the meantime, your lab will be sealed. No external communication, no internet access, and your phones will be nothing more than tiny doorstops in that room. Be grateful I haven't turned off the air. Coop, I'm giving you the key to the dispensary because a mild hallucinogen might be useful. Please don't let her eat the entire bag of lemon chews; she'll be catatonic for a week."

*

Coop worked it out; at least the first part. He regretted tossing an entire handful of lemon chews to Margaret. He should have known. The woman was a poster child for the downside of self-medication. She'd crawled under her workstation and gone still. He got close enough to make sure she was still breathing. blah blah blah box of rain, blah and blah and blah and hair ribbon! Good enough. He went back to his post and closed his eyes. When Margaret straightened up, they could resume the conversation. Coop slept and dreamed of dust motes, and from the deepest part of sleep, he sat bolt upright and screamed.

"MARGARET! WAKE THE FUCK UP!"

"Wow. Damn, Coop. I was having The. Best. Dream. Ever."

"Yeah, what's that?"

"Don't remember. The good ones seem to fly away first. Why have you awoken me from my holy stupor, Coop?"

"Because, Margaret, while you were lying under your desk in a holy stupor, a light bulb popped."

"Get a fresh bulb from the coat closet if it's bothering you."

"MARGARET! WAKE UP!"

"OK, Coop, whatcha got?"

"Margaret, what kind of star was Christie?"

"Not was, is."

"She's still a star?"

"Yes and no. She's a Supernova."

"Assume you're talking to a five-year-old."

"I'm talking to a teacher with an undergrad in American Literature. Isn't that the same thing?"

"No, it's worse, but I'll settle for kindergarten-speak. Margaret, can you please help me understand the difference between your everyday garden variety star and a Supernova?"

"I'm not laughing at you, Coop."

"You're not laughing at all."

"Inside I am, trust me. I'm laughing about the absurdity of Delta Holdings putting you in a situation you can't possibly understand."

"Margaret."

"OK, I'm going to simplify the shit out of this. A star is that light you see in the sky. A Supernova is an exploding star that sometimes leaves behind a blackhole. A Supernova is the last great thing a single star will ever do. It ceases to exist in its original form, but it causes a lot of shit to happen in the process and afterward. Dust, Coop, think dust. An argument can be made that a Supernova is the mother of all stars. Sorta. People have trouble with that last one because there are many Supernovae and many stars already in the sky. That's this time and space business and I'm not going to explain a Tesseract to you. Not now, anyway."

"OK, that's enough for now. No. It's not. If a Supernova is an exploding, or exploded star, shouldn't it just vanish after the explosion?"

"Yup. It sure does."

"Then why is she here?!!!"

"Time and space, Coop, it's the nature of time space."

"What about the blackhole?"

"Not all Supernovae create blackholes. Only the big ones; stars as large or larger than our sun. Unfortunately, Christie's a damn ginormous star. Or she was. Or she still is but only here not there."

"Stop that."

"Fine. Yes, Coop, the answer you’re really looking for: Christie may be the biggest, brightest, most intense Supernova ever which means she will, or she has, but not here, leave behind a blackhole."

"Hey, Maggie, watch me be smart. If a Supernova occurs roughly ten parsecs away, we're talking thirty-three light years which is, pardon my kindergarten-speak, so far away we don't see it until, like a gazillion years after it happened."

"Not bad, Coop. You've been googling. Remember I told you I wasn't going to try to explain a Tesseract? Google that when you get a chance."

"I know what a Tesseract is, Maggie, and I didn't google any of this. I don't care to put much energy into the Tesseract rabbit hole although it might be the only explanation I'm going to get. Christie is here. Christie has children; the eighth floor is rotten with them. Christie exploded before our sun was made. Christie is older than all of us."

"You got me on a technicality, Coop."

"Which means you don't have an answer."

"Imagine that."

"Hey, Coop?" Margaret asked if Coop knew what Christie looked like. He did not. "Well, I have a picture. I like to think of it as a baby picture, but it's really not."

"That's nice, Margaret."

"Yeah, it is, but there's something else."

"What's that, Margaret?"

"Coop, Christie looks, looked, will look, whatever, like a diamond. Supernovae aren't generally bright enough to be that color and shape and if she's already listed in the SN directory..."

"Bingo! Where's the directory, Maggie?"

"Please stop calling me that, it's hurtful. Also, I don't have the SN directory."

"Well, then where the hell is it?"

"Pretty sure it's on the eighth floor in a basket to the right of the door thing. It's under a pile of surgical masks. I think she meant to bring it back, but things got a little hairy. She asked to borrow it sometime last week."

"And found herself in the directory, am I right?"

"Yes, she did, and I know her name too. She's not exactly forgettable."

*

Margaret gave it a sound thwack with her football finger. It bounced off the door, prompting Coop to yell: "Foul Ball! My turn!" She'd given up trying to make him accept that baseball was not the only game played with a ball. He understood the basic premise of the Middle School cafeteria game played with a sheet of notebook paper folded into a tight triangle and then 'kicked' toward a goal post with the tip of the first finger. Generally, getting air was best. In this case, they had a four-millimeter gap between door and floor, which called for a ground level punt to Center Field. She let it go. 

"Be CAREFUL, Coop. That took literally hours." Coop said, "I don't think that word means what you think it means, Margaret. That was a mean fold, no doubt, but it was the writing part that took literally hours. It took two literal hours, Margaret, and your eyes were closed when you did the fold."

Coop put his face to the floor and knocked it out of the park. The paper heart zipped under the door and skittered into the hall. "You gotta pack some velocity, Margaret, or it's not going anywhere. Have you played this game, or were you the eleven-year-old eating lunch by herself?" She resurrected the mantra assigned by Dr. Evans the first time she bit a lab tech. "I keep my hands and feet to myself. I keep my hands and feet to myself... Coop. I wasn't eleven, I was six, so cut me some slack."  

"Whoa. Just like Sam, eh?" 

"Not like anyone, Coop. Now move the hell over and be quiet." She dropped to her belly, face pressed against the floor, and waited for the right pair of feet. Coop had an earworm, no idea how it got in his head; he would have sworn on a stack of bibles he'd never heard the thing. "cause I'm just a girl, oh, little old me...I can't get this out of my head..." Margaret snarled but kept her face on the floor. 

*

Christie thought it might have come from Margaret's notebook and gave it a gentle nudge with her toe. If it was animated, it wasn't going to do anything in its folded state, so she might as well open it. An origami heart without a label, is just an origami heart. "don't mean nuthin' ‘bout nuthin..." She snatched it up, dropped it in a pocket, and ran to the stairwell. Christie knew nothing about middle school angst but slid right into the 'miserable kid in the stairwell' role, refusing to open a love note because it might not be what she wants it to be and then the world would end. 

She had a funny feeling near the bottom of where her tummy might be, and her bottom lip was a little wiggly. Cascading twin rivers balanced at the edge of her jaw before dropping into the lakes flooding the sides of her white blouse. Just do it, no logical reason putting it off.

Origami is not meant to be opened easily. The crane she'd dismantled the year before came apart in just under two seconds with one or two microtears, but this thing was just asking to be shredded. Maybe if it had a sign, like 'Pull me', she might get it open in one piece. Christie sat on the landing and continued to wiggle different pointy bits until it opened with a pop.

Well centered, in the middle of the open heart, she read six words:

Dear SN 2007bi,

I'm sorry.

Love, Margaret

Fair enough.

Christie took the stairs to the eighth floor, three at a time, and nearly threw herself through the fire door before she remembered to look up. The fire door bypassed reception, opening between the primary entrance and exit doors in the vestibule. She scooted across the floor, slapped both hands on the door, and slid into the room. Christie turned over the basket of surgical masks and retrieved The Big Book of Supernovae, which served as a Supernova directory. The directory did not discriminate; it listed every star ever blown to pieces, in as far as said star managed to get itself noticed and recorded. It was untouched; Margaret came up with Christie's name by herself. That was something.

Flipping through the book, she was aware that she came from a very large family. She looked through the glass floor at what appeared to be an organized aggregate of dust motes and laughed. Look long enough and you'll see the whole of a galaxy. Dust motes, animated and waiting for a trigger, danced in long wavy lines, blew apart, and came together again as if they were meeting for the first time.

A Gazillion stars, Margaret would say, a gazillion stars or stars in waiting. Christie agreed with the assessment. There were at least that many, and apparently, they were all hers. Margaret might also be hers. She certainly belonged to Margaret.

Christie stood up and blew the motes a kiss. With the directory under one arm, she walked back down to the seventh floor. 

Margaret watched the right pair of feet come to a stop outside the lab door. Silence, except Coop, who was still humming a single line from what sounded like a very catchy tune. Through the door: "Coop, the song is, 'Just a Girl'. When I let you out of there, look up 'No Doubt'. The album is Tragic Kingdom, released October 10, 1995, dual record label, kinda confusing but you really should be familiar with the genre. Perfect for you. Maybe that ear worm's trying to tell you something."

Coop was on his feet and hammering the door before she got to Tragic Kingdom. He took a deep breath, counting to eight, and another eight on the exhale. As slowly as he could manage, he counted back up to twelve. With super full lungs, he screamed the air blue. Neat trick, Coop. 

Had Margaret and Christie been standing on the same side of the door; their faces would have looked identical; a stomach flipping marriage of horror and hilarity. When Coop stopped to refill his lungs, Margaret took him down and Christie slammed the door open.  Flat on his back, he had just enough air to whisper, "Great tackle, Maggie, you missed your calling." Maggie punched him. 

From the doorway, "Well, that was a long time coming, wasn't it? Coop, get the hell off the floor and clean yourself up. Maggie and I are going to the eighth floor. You're going to look up 'Just a Girl' and get that earworm out of your head before it starts eating the parts of your brain that matter. And Maggie? Please stop crying. You've got snot all over your hands and face."

"Why are you guys calling me Maggie? I already said it was hurtful."

"Two reasons: Coop's an asshole, and I'm still mad. The mad part will pass; I can't say the same for Coop's disposition."

Margaret and Christie walked up the stairs to the eighth floor. Margaret wasn't scared anymore. Who the hell was in the building that mattered enough to care? Not counting Coop, who was temporarily incapacitated. 

Christie turned the walls into doors and back again. She had her hand on Margaret's arm as if she might wander off and get lost on her own. Truthfully, Christie wanted a hug but wasn't sure how to make that happen. Margaret was a prickly. Sam was a hardcore fuzzy and Laura somewhere in between. Dr. Edwards didn't know himself, which made it hard to get a read on him, but Coop was something special. She wondered what would happen if his Men in Black outfit disappeared. Might take him up a notch on the human evolutionary scale.

Margaret had stopped. Christie looked around for a reason but didn't see anything obvious. "What is it, Margaret? Why'd you stop?" Margaret shrugged and looked down at the floor. Christie didn't see anything unusual. Just the galaxy.

"Christie, I need to tell you some things. I guess I'd start with, 'cut the scientist some slack', but there's really no point. I'm not going to ask for slack, understanding, or even forgiveness, but I want to tell you these things and I'm afraid you're going to be horrified. Worse, that you'll never speak to me again, and I don't think I could bear that."

This time, Christie took Margaret's hand and led her back to the floor by the basket. "Sit down, Margaret. It can't be that bad. If I promise to contain myself, do you think you could give it a try?" Margaret nodded and slumped against the wall. Christie sat cross legged in front of her and waited. 

"OK, Christie, I'm going to tell you a story. Some of it's straight forward, some of it, not so much. When you get mad, it would be helpful if you could save it until I get through this."

Christie smiled, held both Margaret's hands and said, "go."

"I know I could have been more diligent and focused on process, but I get excited sometimes. Other times, I know I'm not done with something, but I lose control of the process when someone takes one of my prototypes and surgically implants it in a beta customer's eyes. When that happens, everything I do is a reaction to an event I didn't create. Or agree to. That's not science, it's triage in the dark. Like the implants Dr. Evans and Laura were using, they weren't ready but Dr. Evans took them anyway. I know why, but it wasn't safe.

That said, a lot of my work looks like Swiss cheese. It's embarrassing. I can live with embarrassing, but it's awfully hard to expect people to take you seriously when you've created so much chaos. I don't really want to talk about my nano research because it's not as convoluted; by the time I publish, I've got hard evidence. Of course, finding out Frank's been spiking the motes sheds a harsh light on the entire body of work.

But you. You were, you are, something else. You want to know how I got you in the box. The answer is, I don't really know. I followed some highly unscientific breadcrumbs and finally got the lightbox open. I wasn’t prepared for what came next. I thought the light would hang around a while. I didn't understand I'd opened a galaxy that was doing its galaxy thing and wreaked havoc on its reality. Getting another star in the box was just a possibility. If my weather station was to be believed, and I don't see why I wouldn't believe it, I needed to get the inside of the lightbox damp. I sprayed it with tap water, propped the door open, and waited.

That's the part where I tricked you. Is it really a trick to leave a freshly misted light box open on my desk, just to see what might happen? Because, Christie, I really didn't know. I recognize there's a big difference between leaving an environment open and then slamming the door shut the minute something's wandered in. I hadn't considered sentient beings. Christie, I really had not."

"Margaret, do you think you would have shut that door if you did know?"

Margaret's lip trembled and she clenched her jaw against the vulnerability. Vulnerability was never comfortable, but lately it felt like a well she might fall down and drown. "Christie, I'd like to say no, but the truth is, I don't know. Or if I'm being truthful, I think I might have, and I don't like that part of myself at all."

"I know I'm not supposed to interrupt, but I believe I should at least interject. Margaret, I don't believe that of you. I think you believe you might because you've got a giant bag of shame and guilt associated with the entire project. We're all responsible, one way or another, Margaret, but you didn't cause this thing."

"I sure did help."

"We all sure did help. So, you don't know for sure how or why I got in the box, but you do know you kept me there. Do you know why you opened the box? I know how, but I don't really understand why."

"I'm not sure, but we did expect it to happen. We were afraid that when we got the door open, you’d vanish. And Christie, I fell in love with you way before you hatched. It was sort of like being pregnant without a due date."

"Margaret, I remember you sang to me. I could hear you through the walls. I know you brought your violin into the lab and played the same tune over and over. It was lovely and I wanted to sing back to you, like this: “Au clair de la lune, Mon ami Pierrot, Prete-moi ta plume’ Pour écrire un mot.” I wanted to sing with you the way you sang and played with the rainbox. That was such a beautiful relationship."

"You know about the rain box?"

"Oh, Margaret, how could I not? Nobody carries that much sadness on their own; it weeps from the seams and tells the story of its grief. I heard it inside the box. I understood why you played for me, and at some point, Margaret, I understood, sight unseen, that you loved me. Love is a compelling emotion. It's carried me far enough to learn to generate emotion by myself. You made a mystery, Woman. Be proud."

"Christie, there's so much more, and I'm really not proud of the rest."

"So, tell me the rest. Would the rest involve this body I'm walking around in?"

Margaret dropped her head and said, "Yes, it would involve the body you're walking around in. You know Frank likes to mess about in his own lab? Most of the time he just directed my research, but sometimes something I'd done caught his attention and he couldn’t let it go."

"And what would happen to me when the box was open was one of those things, wasn't it?"

"Not just that. He wanted to find another vessel. He wanted to make sure you'd stay."

"Like a blow-up doll kind of thing? Damn, I'm glad I never gave in to my baser nature and did that sex thing with him."

"Did he ask?!"

"Oh, no, he's not that sort of guy. I don't think he'd have turned me down, but he does his best to stay above that sort of thing."

"Good. I won't have to kill him this week."

"So, what did you do?"

"This is going to require a massive suspension of disbelief, Christie."

"Oh, right, like watching Laura Franklin turn into a gargoyle wasn’t a stretch."

"Fair enough. Here's what our Fourth Frank did. Frank DROVE us all the way from here to Lower Manhattan, just south of the Brooklyn Bridge. We walked around and had dinner and then found a place to sit over the East River. He was dragging around a couple of shovels and a piece of luggage that looked like a soft sided coffin on wheels.”

The lights on Pier 16 come down a bit after midnight. Frank had a bottle of vodka and sat with his legs hanging off the pier. He took off his socks and shoes and rolled his pants up above the knees. 

They talked about the stars they couldn't really see from the city but pointed out the constellations anyway. Margaret drank some of Frank's vodka, but didn’t like it much, so he finished the bottle by himself. She asked how long before he sobered up and Frank said there would be enough hard labor to sweat it from his pores shortly.

At about 2 AM, Frank dropped off the pier with the shovels and his luggage and vanished. Not a word, just a splash from way down. Margaret didn’t want to drop into the dark. She ran off the pier and down to the water. Frank carried no light so she had to walk slowly, keeping the pier to her left until she could hear him.

He was knee deep in clay, specifically, East River clay from the island of Manhattan, where the East River meets the Hudson on the West side, just before they empty into Upper Bay.

Margaret held the case open, and Frank filled it. He packed it hard, every wrinkle and corner, with East River clay. It took both of them to drag it to the street.  They waited for the water to drain and then hauled it back to the parking garage. Margaret didn't think they could get the car back at 5 AM but the garage was open, and the car came up.

Frank said they were going straight back to the building, but not the lab because he was going to need an examining room. At 9:30, they dragged the clay covered luggage and their clay covered selves through the lobby doors.

They dragged the bag to Exam Room 1 because it converts to an operating theater and also because that’s where the box was. The clay and the box had to remain in the same room until the box opened. Frank gave Margaret a list of elements to retrieve from the lab and got to work.

"Wait, Margaret, wait. You came back with Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen..."

"Yup. You're starting to see it, aren't you?"

"I'm seeing Frank thought he could turn a pile of clay into a star. That's what I'm seeing. So, how'd that work for ya?"

"Christie, a lot better than you might imagine. Frank left the elements in their containers and deposited enormous chucks of clay onto the table. He said we were running out of time, so I helped him shape a human form, in approximately the correct dimensions, out of clay from the East River. He took time with the face, making sure the eyes were in the right place, and the nose and mouth were esthetically pleasing. Then he told me why we were almost out of time. Apparently, the properties attributed to East River clay have a pretty short half-life unless it’s altered, and we were almost done."

"You poured those elements onto the clay, didn't you?"

"Well, poured, sprinkled, wafted over... Yes, that's what we did."

"And then what?"

"Oh, Christie, this is absurd. Frank pulled this tiny scroll out of his pocket. It was damp and a little muddy, but still legible. I think. My Hebrew's not very good but I know the words 'life' and 'live' and I certainly know, 'to live', or 'to life'. And that was the word written on the scroll. Just that one word. Frank handed me a pen and told me to write my name under the word. I wrote my name in English and Hebrew and Aramaic for good measure and handed it back. He rolled it up tight, and with a scalpel, made an opening in the mouth. With the scroll tucked in well enough to stay, Frank told me to lock up the room."

"Let me guess what came next. The hazmat box that sealed my box in with a dehumidifier and a car battery was left in that locked up room. How did you think I'd get out of the hazmat box?"

"Oh, come on, Christie. I didn't know everything you could do but I couldn't imagine a construct like that would stop you."

"Fair enough. So, where you there when it happened? Was anyone there?"

"Nope. It took two days of us doing nothing before we heard the explosion and saw the light under the door. I opened the door. Frank wanted backup first."

"Why did you open the door, Margaret?"

"Because you were crying, Christie, and there's nothing sadder in the world than a confused golem with actual human emotions."

"Weren't expecting that, were you?"

"Christie, I had no idea what to expect and to be perfectly honest, when I opened that door, I got down on the floor and cried with you."

"Margaret? You're not going to pull the scroll out of my mouth, are you?"

"No, Christie, as it turns out, only you can do that. I wrote your name, not mine in Hebrew, and probably Aramaic as well. Noga, that’s your name and that’s what’s on your scroll.”

“That’s a pretty name, Margaret, but I like ‘Christie’ just fine. And wouldn’t pulling the scroll from my own mouth be tantamount to suicide?”

“Good question, Christie. Let’s not find out.”

“Margaret?”

“Yes, Christie?”

“I want a baby. I want a sweet, little golem baby just like me!”

“Of course, you do.”

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