Joyland

The Midwest |

The Law of Strings

by Steven Gillis

Lange sits and watches Eva while she sleeps. On the floor, in the space between, is a book by Jerzy Kowlaski-Glikman, Towards Quantum Gravity, dislodged from the shelf in the hubbub of Friday, left there as gravity dictates. Lange can reach Glikman with his right toe but chooses not to, no energy exerted to put the text back, he doesn’t see the point, remains with his legs bent, his arms in a dangle. The ropes tied to Eva’s legs create a slight rise beneath the sheet. The apartment is clammy, the bedroom window closed although it’s summer, Eva likes the heat, prefers not running the fan or any sort of air conditioning. Sweat gathers beneath the collar of Lange’s shirt. His chair is ersatz leather, closer to plastic, black with cherry wood arms. Why Lange is sitting and watching Eva sleep rather than laying beside her, underwear jettisoned, is a testament to his own restraint, a decision made two days ago, one he is starting now to question. ______ In the lectures Lange gives his class, undergrads taught as part of his PhD requirement, Lange explains how the majority of energy in the universe is dark. “74% of the universal density,” Lange says, “compared to 4% for ordinary matter.” He describes how particles in dark matter repel themselves gravitationally, causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. A critical force, dark energy routinely fills empty space. Lange repeats this, makes sure his students understand. “Dark energy fills empty space.” ______ At Terra’s, Friday night, Eva drank Gilbey’s in the kitchen, let Jayson sit closer than needed, let him get her a fresh drink, touch her arm in ways she wished he wouldn’t, waited for him to touch her that way again. Lange was in the front room. Citizen Cope played on the stereo, ‘Let The Drummer Kick.’ Urban music, sedulous and primal, seductive and unrefined, Eva took in the sound. A quick study, a student of Sylvester Gates and John Toll, a physicist trained in spacetime, branes and M-theory, in quantum chromodynamics, Eva absorbed the universal energies, entertained all the possibilities of what was in store. High, she gave into the voodoo hold of acoustic guitars strummed in minor C. Jayson said something and Eva laughed. She thought about the sound she made, how it excited her and felt risqué. Unlike science, desire was disorderly, progressed along the central nerve, wormed its way through rhyme and reason. When it came to her own physical attractions, as someone who studied the Polyakov Action, who read Friedmann and Lemaitre, Glashow and Barrow and Tipler, Eva’s urges were no different from anyone else. All people wanted, when stripped and touched, kissed and touched and kissed again, was to feel the connection. Jayson raised his glass, put a hand on Eva’s knee. ______ The twine, as fastened, has enough lag to allow for comfortable sleep. Eva can turn a bit but not get free. She has the sheet drawn up to her shoulders, is laying on her left hip, as much as her legs will allow. Her wrists are also tied, her arms set at angles. Lange watches, attentive, the idea to tie Eva down not his. On their way home from Terra’s, Eva first spoke to him of strings. ______ He gets up, goes into the kitchen, starts the coffee, waits for the water to warm. After two nights of sleeping in the chair, his body’s sore, his muscles in need of stretching. He debates slipping in beside Eva again, burrowing down as best he can, as he couldn’t earlier, as she wouldn’t let him, exiling him after he mistook the purpose of the strings as an invitation to get kinky. How then to take her seriously, when the strings struck Lange as a creative anomaly? In the car, Eva quoted Witten and Horava, described the world as divided into two parts: the ordinary three-dimensional where everything can be touched, felt or seen, and the inaccessible dimension, separated from the rest by a narrow fourth-dimensional gap. “This,” Eva said, “is the fundamental disconnect, the way atoms and light from one plane can’t pass through to the other.” She spoke of gravity as the only force holding everything together. “Without gravity,” Eva made a motion with her hand, startling Lange as he drove. She grabbed his shoulder, identified him as the ordinary dimension, all she could touch and taste, see and feel. "While this,” she waved her hand between them, referred to the space as the other dimension, what she knew was there, everything she felt at Terra's yet didn't want to believe in. ______ Upstairs in their apartment, Eva opened drawers, told Lange what she wanted with the strings, how she was searching for a way to hold on, that she didn’t want to leave him, didn’t want to make any foolish decision, that couples came and went too fast these days because they didn’t employ the proper restraint. “If I’m to stay,” she said, “it shouldn’t be so easy for me to go.” She moved closer, put her fingers inside the top of Lange’s waistband, refused to kiss him. Lange’s mouth was small, with lips that disappeared when he spoke. He leaned in and Eva turned away, went to the bookshelf, pulled out Glikman and began discussing the Holographic Principle; strings oscillating across the surface of a black hole, vibrating like guitar chords, all volumes of space encoded by a light-like boundary in a gravitational horizon. “This means what we see in three-dimensions is only a diluted description of low energies echoing two-dimensional information. Think about that,” Eva said. “There are things right in front of us we don’t even know are there.” She dropped the book, went into the kitchen, opened their junk drawer and found a ball of string. Thread thin, easily broken, more symbolic than functional, Eva handed the ball to Lange, then got ready for bed. Laying down, she held out her legs which Lange wound twice until Eva demanded more. The additional wrapping created a wire effect. Lange was afraid of cutting Eva’s skin if she changed her mind, kicked and tried to break free. She dismissed his concern, put out her arms, her face round, her hair on the pillow spread wild by the static. Lange ran a fresh stretch of string around her wrists, was uncomfortable, tentative. Eva noticed, looked at the space between Lange’s fingers, the gap created, she told him to try harder, said “Would you rather I go?” ______ Lange tightened the string just enough, secured Eva’s hands and legs. When he crawled into bed, touching her, uncertainly at first and then more deliberate, she didn’t stop him, arched against the strings until reaching her limit, and realizing this, she made him quit, turned and tested the tension in the strings. Lange got up, went to the chair, wondered what just happened. He didn’t know, closed his eyes, then opened them, could not resist, asked Eva if she was alright, if he could try again and come to bed? She answered yes, but when he asked if that meant he could undo the strings, Eva groaned. He stayed where he was, went out in the morning and bought heavier twine, bike chains and locks with small silver keys to replace the string, as Eva asked. ______ All Saturday, Eva insisted on remaining tied. When Lange left briefly to go to Pender’s Hardware and get the supplies, she had him lash her to the chair. Returning to the apartment, he found her exactly as before, in front of the window. She heard him come in, looked over her shoulder, asked him to take her outside. He carried her, ropes and all, down the stairs, where they sat on the stoop, in front of their apartment. Eva had her arms in her lap, drawn together at the wrist, her legs wrapped from the ankle, over the calf to just below the knee. She leaned against Lange. He massaged her shoulders, nodded passively when she asked if he was happy, if he understood and was glad that she was there with him? “I’m glad you’re here,” he told her this, then asked again if he could untie her so they might go for a walk, go to lunch and a movie maybe? Eva recoiled, nearly toppling against the side wall. Disappointed, she reminded Lange how everything she was doing was for them, that here she was trying to stay the course, making every effort, “And all you want to do is release me?” Lange said, “Yes,” then “No,” then nothing for a while. People passing began to stop, curious. Lange endured their stares for several minutes, before getting up and carrying Eva back inside. ______ Saturday night, they didn’t leave the apartment, ordered Chinese, studied at the table, their books and laptops in front of them. Eva got used to the ropes, began treating the ties as normal, maneuvering on her toes, learning her limitations and distance, drawing everything she needed into a compact circle. Lange read Bock. Eva reviewed her notes on gravitons and photons, open ended strands and closed strings forming loops. The looped strings were pairs conjoined, and yet, as all looped strings were capable of splitting and connecting again with a different string, Eva wondered what this said about the stability of relationships? If pairings didn’t last in infinite space, how could she expect her own earthbound affair to survive? Another riddle. She stretched until her ankles tugged against the ties. ______ Sunday morning, Lange grinds the coffee, dumps it in the top of the machine, knows if he drinks he will not fall back asleep, if he doesn’t sleep he’ll have to occupy himself in some other way, wait for Eva to wake and then what? The what remains in question. At Terra’s, Lange came through the kitchen door, saw Eva with Jayson and connected the dots; the three points forming a triangle. He thought of scientists using Euclidean geometry to measure the universe, gauging the acceleration and flatness, charting along an ever-expanding triangle until it reached 180 degrees. As energy, not matter, caused the universe’s flatness and expansion, Lange estimated how much energy it would take before this one triangle lost its curvature and flatlined across some distant specter of space. ______ Eva wakes and rolls from her hip onto her back, needs a second to adjust. Shifting her feet, she sets her heels, bends her knees beneath the sheet, creating a tent. Lange sits in the chair, his coffee in a clear glass mug. Eva’s arms are connected to white twine, her legs bound up from the ankle. She looks at Lange and says, “I have to pee.” The book from Friday is still on the floor, a slip of paper tucked into a chapter on D-branes. Lange unlocks the bike chain, helps Eva with the ropes, releases her left leg, pauses again to see if she’s had enough, then leaves the rope attached to her right leg as Eva tells him. He unties her from the bed, follows her down the hall, stops in front of the bathroom and lets her drag one end of the rope inside as he holds onto the other. The bathroom door is closed against the line. Lange waits, thinks about the day ahead, about the argument he made last night when Eva said she still could not predict what would happen if he untied her. He spoke about the Boomerang Experiment of 1998, how scientists discovered light left over from the Big Bang, faint microwaves offering an image of the universe in its infancy, before there were stars or galaxies or any hint of God. The ancient light in Boomerang proved the Big Bang was not a onetime deal, and that ordinary and inaccessible dimensions were not fundamentally disconnected. “Everything draws together at regular intervals,” Lange said, applied Boomerang to their relationship, how “We are like this, made to move constantly closer.” He described their affair as part of an ongoing progression. Eva listened, skeptical, had her own opinion as to the compatibility of energy and light. ______ When she comes out of the bathroom, the rope is still around her right leg. She’s wearing pink panties and one of Lange’s t-shirts. Lange stands against the wall, his blond hair straight, full enough but the cut reveals possible signs of thinning. His shoulders are slack and boyish. He’s not tall, only an inch or two above Eva, his jeans faded and feet bare. He holds his end of the rope loosely in his fingers, asks Eva if she’d like to take a walk. She says no, has brought her cell phone into the bathroom, played the messages, listened twice and then deleted them, has left the cell now near the toilet, as if this will help. Lange tries persuading her again to go outside, describes the weather as sunny and warm, but Eva doesn’t care. She reminds him how poorly yesterday went, how he needs to stop asking her to undo the ropes, repeats much of what she’s said the last two days, argues again about gravity and the law of strings. Lange touches his lips, dry against the heat, is frustrated, focuses now on better arguments, insists that gravity is more than a restraint, that ordinary matter establishes its own gravitational pull and creates favorable attractions. “You and me,” he moves his hands forward and back, tries closing the space between them, says people are attracted naturally. “Right,” Eva wonders if Lange knows what he’s saying. She thinks about the calls made and unreturned, about what’s natural, what is not. ______ The hallway is cherry wood, darkly stained, a southern exposure, the light reaches at different intervals. Eva walks with the rope still tied, expects Lange to follow. Instead, he stays where he is, allows the rope to run out between them, becoming tight against Eva’s stride. Finding himself quite literally now at the end of his rope, Lange thinks again of Terra’s, puts the question directly to Eva, “If I untied you, where would you go?” Eva turns, feels the tug and tension created. She kicks her leg, tells Lange, “I don’t want to go.” “But if you did?” “I wouldn’t go anywhere.” “That’s impossible. You’d have to go somewhere. You’d be drawn, gravitationally speaking, you’d be attracted.” “I am not.” Lange looks up the hall, considers whether or not to mention Eva’s slip. He remains with the rope, says of their predicament, “Feelings are like chaotic inflation, there’s both a randomness and a reason for their existence.” “You talk too much,” Eva tries to resume walking, tells Lange, “I love you.” “I had a turtle once, I thought I loved.” “That’s not fair,” she tugs again, wants Lange closer, though in pulling this way it feels like an attempt to escape. Lange remains behind her. Eva yanks harder, creates further tension, the string in space, vibrating now. She continues to feel Lange’s hold, says, “If I didn’t want to be here.” “You’d vanish. Or need to be restrained.” Eva stomps her foot, sends a fresh wave down the rope. Lange lets the energy reach him, absorbs it in his hand. He tells Eva what he feels, says, “I don’t want to lose you, but if all my love is put toward restraint, what sort of love is that?” Eva has long legs, the skin smooth and white up on her thighs. She moves her left leg freely, leaves the right one set. She doesn’t answer Lange right away, thinks he should already know what she needs and the effort she is making. She lifts her leg again, tugs on the rope, says finally, “I’m just trying to catch my breath for a minute. I can stay if I want to.” Lange answers this the only way he can, says, “I know,” and drops his end of the rope. ______ Eva stares, tests the possibilities, feels the sovereignty, and then the panic. Between theory and resolution, there is experimentation. She pulls everything in, moves quickly to the kitchen where she slips pots and pans through the ends of the rope, binds herself with whatever heavy matter she can find. Anchored down again, she reconnects the chain, loops it through the rope, locks it inside the handle of the refrigerator. While she works, she repeats for Lange her need to hold on, asks “What is it you don’t understand when I say I love you?” She describes her fear for what comes and goes and the speed at which things pass by. Lange steps closer to the kitchen, watches Eva, is surprised by her effort, moved in ways he wasn’t before. Without so much changing his mind, he thinks differently, is willing to give a little ground. “I admit,” he says to also thinking sometimes about the distance their love has to cover, the energy required to remain together, and how hard it is to hold on. “It’s scary, the speed of it all,” he talks of love by way of the Red Tilt Theory, the fluctuation of branes in an ever expanding universe, the belief that the rate of expansion is actually speeding up, the acceleration of light as it crosses the universe to where, “There’s nothing for us to do but try and keep pace.” He apologizes for dropping the rope, and as an offering, to demonstrate, he goes and bolts the front door, returns and finds beneath the bed the extra rope and chain bought at Pender’s on Saturday. _____ Additional strands are still tied to the bed. Lange kicks off his shoes, takes the first piece of rope and weaves it through the length of chain, wraps his ankles and draws them tight, runs the remaining rope through the frame until it’s secure, then locks everything in place. He does the same for his arms, makes a noose, slips his left hand in, pulls the rope and chain through the far end of the frame, lays on his back and secures his right hand, wraps and sets it, draws the end and knots it off, pulls even tighter with his teeth, then shuts the lock and flicks away the key. Eva watches, the light from the window behind her, the sun through porcelain clouds, bright enough now, though in a few more hours will fade. She is, at first, appreciative of his attempt, and then suddenly sad. Lange puts his chin against his right shoulder, can see Eva, believes now if all she wants is a temporary mooring against forces that otherwise threaten to scatter them, he should be grateful she’s decided on this and not something else. He tests his ties, is locked down firmly to the bed, Eva to the fridge, neither able to move. From this distance, he notes how beautiful she is, unsure why she seems distressed, is saying his name, struggling against her chain. He wants to get up and comfort her, wants to hold her, but then he realizes and sighs deeply. Eva’s cell vibrates in the bathroom. Lange drops his head on the pillow, thinks about the two forms of dark energy, the cosmological constant and what is found in scalar fields with a variable density that fluctuates through space and time. He closes his eyes, remembers the first time he fell in love, pictures where he is now, where he was yesterday, and where he will be tomorrow. The light from the window shoots over his shoulder and races down the hall.