Fotis, Sarah and Stanley loaded two trucks with books and reshelved a number of others that had fallen in the earthquake.
“I’m going to check the decks below and go pick up an empty truck,” said Sarah. As she headed down the staircase, Sarah continued on past the main floor landing into the basement of the old addition. She wanted to check on Patty and see if the odd woman with whom she shared Bernadette, might have an explanation for the continued planetary thoughts that intruded into Sarah’s mind.
Sarah found Patty sitting below the study table. Her crossed legs stuck out straight, while Patty leaned her back against the pedestal of the table. That was odd enough, but any passerby who didn’t trip over her feet, would probably note the unusual combination of colorful turquoise socks and rubber flip flops.
Patty’s feet reminded Sarah of her dad, who frequently wore argyle socks with his sandals, in spite of the protests of his daughters. Sarah recalled cringing as she entered the grocery store with her dad and saw a teenage sacker, point toward her dad’s feet and wink at his friend on the next register. It had been mortifying, then. Now, she found herself dropping to her knees to talk to Patty, socks be damned. Sarah leaned back on her heels, “Hi, Patty. Got a minute?”
“I don’t normally capture time, but if you mean you want to engage in a conversation, then, yes, I am available,” Patty replied. As she did so, she crawled out from her earthquake shelter and shuffled over to the nearby bathroom. Sarah automatically followed. The bathroom was the place where they both first connected with Bernadette. Specifically, in the third stall of the old-fashioned bathroom equipped with dated sinks and toilets, remnants from the 1930s when hardware was built to wear hard.
As the door swung shut, Sarah automatically looked for feet under the stalls, just making sure, she thought. After all, how would you explain this if anyone saw or heard a discussion about Bernadette?
“If a tree falls?” Patty remarked.
Sarah replied, “I assume you mean that if no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Actually, does it even happen the same way without an observer? In quantum physics, we are all observing from a different perspective, changing the actual event based on where we are and whether we even are watching from that vantage point. It can get a little hard to wrap your head around.”
“Head wrapping, hmmm…maybe I should be wearing a turban of aluminum foil?” Patty could be counted on for droll observations and changing thoughts that moved suddenly in unexpected directions, like a small sailboat tacking back upwind.
Sarah stopped briefly, slowed by her mind adjusting to Patty’s train of thought. As she tried to form a question, Patty began humming and moved into the third stall of the bathroom, situating herself on the toilet. Sarah now could only see Patty’s turquoise socks and flip flops. The turquoise socks with kokopelli patterns made her smile, as she began to unconsciously hum to herself, matching the rhythm of Patty’s hums, now echoing slightly in the tiled room. She licked her lips and wondered if Patty would share a cookie after their discussion.
“Patty, are you still seeing solar systems? I seem to think about them randomly pretty often.”
Yes. I think of them about as often as I think about sugar cookies. I’ve gained about three pounds in the last month. I suppose that gain correlates with the number of times I think about these things in a week. Why do you ask?”
“Trying to figure out why. Since we are both thinking the same thing, I think it is linked to Bernadette. And, since the Transformer has been caught and the rare books have been recovered, I don’t get it. I assumed our thoughts about flying keys and solar systems was tied to the book theft. Before an answer emerged from behind the stall door, Patty flushed.
Bernadette felt a swirling alignment as she hovered over Patty and observed her two quantum-linked companions. She tried to focus and began to vibrate with a subtle rhythm, matching Patty’s droning hum. Sarah tapped her foot unconsciously in the same pattern and as the rhythms merged like music Bernadette thought, Galileo Galilei.
Patty and Sarah both felt a surge and as Patty swung the door to the stall open, simultaneously, the words Galileo Galilei emerged from their mouths as though they were choir members chanting a Gregorian hymn. Sarah’s eyes widened and Patty’s held tilted quizzically, her eyes closed.
“Weird, cool,” said Sarah.
“Transcendentally coincidental,” observed Patty. “But, what does it mean? Is Bernie some kind of ghost of Galileo or is she just trying to tell us something about a book written by Galileo? Maybe another book has been stolen or maybe is going to be stolen?”
Sarah had been on the fifth floor of the new wing just a few days ago and stopped to read some of the captions in the display cases. “There was a special exhibition about Galileo going on there and around campus. Maybe this was about that exhibition?”
“Who knows? It could be about the toilet. You know, the old joke about Klingons circling Ur - anus?” said Patty dryly. “After all, that’s part of the solar system.” Sarah giggled, hiccupped once and came up short. She swallowed slowly and said,
“Maybe it doesn’t matter if it’s a toilet joke or a potential threat? Maybe what’s really important is that it occurred to us at the same time? Doesn’t that mean something?”
Patty lowered her eyelids like a character in a Bugs Bunny cartoon who stares at the camera after a Bugs’ one-liner. “Maybe we’re looking too hard. Maybe there’s no Bernie at all? Maybe we’re just egging each other on, making word out of the wordless?”
Sarah felt her enthusiasm deflate. She thought about her own healthy skepticism of bigfoot and ghost hunter television shows. Normally, she was the first person to make jokes about improbable explanations and conspiracy theories. As she looked at Patty she wondered. The woman was clearly ‘fashion-challenged’ and certified crazy, if you counted time in the mental hospital. But, it just didn’t feel right to dismiss this moment as coincidental or lunatic.
“Researchers always try to verify. If they can repeat the same results doing the same thing, then that’s one way to validate what’s happening. Maybe we don’t know what it means, but we might be able to verify that this is more than coincidence,” said Sarah. Her analytical mind taking over in an attempt to rationalize her skepticism, she thought about her chemistry lab. In lab, all the workstations repeated the same experiment, each hoping to get the same chemical reaction. Most of the time it worked and proved the theory underlying the chemical reaction.
"So, are you proposing we meet in this bathroom to repeat the process?" Patty queried.
“Yes. I’ll bring a lab notebook and we’ll record the day, time and circumstances and then try to have the same simultaneous thought. If we can repeat this over the next couple of weeks, then we’ll have some data.”
“I’m here every day in the mornings editing manuscripts. I guess a bathroom break with a purpose works for me, said Patty grinning.
“I work in the mornings three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, all summer. I’ll meet you here every morning when I take my break and we can try this for twenty minutes. It might be kind of fun,” replied Sarah.
“You know, you’re the first person who hasn’t just assumed I’m crazy. You’re actually ready to get on the bus with me and see where the journey takes us,” replied Patty. “Thanks.”
“Hey, I’m always up for a road trip,” Sarah replied. “I need to get back, but I’ll be thinking about how we can conduct the experiment and keep all the variables constant. Maybe you should always wear those socks?” Sarah said it half-jokingly, but her mind was reviewing her last chemistry lab experiments and sometimes they didn’t always work the way they were supposed to…
Adam waited on the park bench outside the dormitories for Sarah. He’d texted her about meeting Lubna and Stanley for pizza. As Sarah approached, he looked up with a smile he couldn’t suppress. Eagerly, he launched into a description of Dr. Sizemore and Remington, the cowboy petroleum geology graduate student he’d met that afternoon.
“Sarah, I’ve had a rocking morning. I met with Dr. Sizemore and had an incredible day. You won’t believe the equipment and the project I’m going to be working on with this dude named Remington. He’s this cowboy petroleum geology major who actually wears a cowboy hat and has a belt buckle for bronc riding in an amateur rodeo! He’s into investigating fracking quakes. I was surprised I had some things in common with this guy. He’s awesome and he’s interested in getting readings of the geologic formations underneath the library. I figured he’d write me off the minute I mentioned Seed of Knowledge Stone of Plenty, but he’s actually read the book!” Adam’s voice escalated and he capered as he walked kicking his heels together, unable to contain his enthusiasm. “Who knew, who fricking knew cowboys think about some of the things I think about?"
This was the best, just the best, Sarah thought as she watched Adam’s enthusiasm over flow. Adam danced around as he explained the instruments he’d been trained on and how, Remington, or Rem as Adam was calling him, had some theories that sounded pretty off-beat for a cowboy. She couldn’t help thinking Adam looked awfully cute, capering on the sidewalk and what? She asked herself. The what was Adam’s interest in thinking outside the box and in how he reveled in the surprise that a “cowboy” thought the same.
Wisps of hair escaped Adam’s ponytail as he raised an eyebrow at Sarah, challenging her to question his interpretation of Rem’s ideas. He pushed the door open to the pizza place and scanned the booths for Lubna and Stanley. Sarah couldn’t help thinking of kissing Adam, as he launched into a rapid fire explanation of his morning to Stanley and Lubna who were both grinning as Adam’s lively speech about his new project captured their interest. Why was it that Sarah felt drawn to Adam more when he was pumped about an idea? Surely Freud had something to say about that, but gawd, it was intoxicating. Maybe it was hormones, but she felt excited and pulled into the idea at the same time.
As Sarah sat across from Lubna and Stanley in the booth, she began to tell Lubna and Stanley about her experience with Patty.
“I had an encounter with Patty in the basement bathroom today. Patty and I had a “simultaneous” thought while we were in the bathroom trying to contact Bernadette. It was quantumly queer. She and I both said, “Galileo Galilei” simultaneously.” Sarah stated. “It could just be coincidence, but I had an idea that we should set up some experiments. Go to the same place every morning in the library and try to contact Bernadette. See if we can make out a pattern, like a lab experiment.”
“I think that might work. I remember when I first encountered Blanche, my spirit guide, at the springs in Sulphur. I was walking through the park to get away from some bullies and was in about the same spot every day after school. I seemed to have more “encounters” with Blanche when I stopped at the same spot regularly.”
“What if Adam could measure the electromagnetic fields when you do the experiment?” Lubna suggested.
“That’s just was I was thinking,” Adam said. “I’m going to work with Rem this week to take some practice readings in the field and then we’ll get started on measurements on campus. I think we should take some base measurements first. Then I could measure the electromagnetism when you and Patty try to contact Bernadette,” Adam replied.
“It needs to be a double-blind study. You can’t know when Sarah and Patty think they have made contact and when they haven’t and you also have to take control measurements when they aren’t there. That’s how drug testing works, otherwise the researchers might see something just because they are expecting to see something. And, Sarah and Patty can’t know your results either just to make sure that they don’t attach more significance to a response because they know that you got a reading,” Lubna explained.
“I wonder exactly what you expect to do if you find something and how it would be described? If you did get readings, what would that mean? Would people think it was proof of what, a ghost, a lifeform, a geologic anomaly? I am confident I have a spirit guide, but I don’t talk about it or try to explain Blanche to very many people. It just gets weird,” said Stanley.
“I’m thinking we’re going to look like a crew from Ghostbusters. I liked the movie, but if we’re running around the library with instruments, I wonder just how goofy it will look? I hate to sound like a coward, but I’m kind of a low profile girl,” Sarah said, her brow creased with concern.
“Don’t worry, if anyone asks, we’re looking for changes in underground water flow due to fracking,” said Adam. “And, that’s really true. We don’t have to mention the other part of the experiment. You and Patty can be trying to contact Bernadette nearby, but you don’t have to be standing around in overalls. After all, it’s not like you’re going to be slimed or anything,” Adam replied while Lubna began to giggle and they all fell into a laughing fit.
Just then, a head popped over the back of the booth and Michelyn, a coworker from the library said, “You all sound like you’ve got something interesting going on?”
Immediately, Sarah’s stomach turned over, as she wondered if Michelyn had heard their plans? “We’re talking about Ghostbusters. Have you seen the new version?” Lubna countered, directing the discussion away from the experiment. “It was awesome and so funny.”
“Yeah, but I liked the first one better,” Michelyn replied with an odd smirk. “See you all at work tomorrow.”
As Michelyn left with a friend, Sarah watched her walk by the restaurant window laughing conspiratorially and glancing toward their booth. As they walked away, she heard an explosive guffaw and instantly had a bad feeling. Sarah had a predisposition to worry and Adam turned to look at her, sensing her mood change. Sarah was mentally berating herself for not checking the other booth. Why hadn’t she looked around when they sat down? She knew why. She’d been looking at Adam and thinking about asking him to walk with her on the golf course tonight. Her mind had been occupied with thoughts of kissing Adam.
“Sometimes you are going to look different whether you want to or not and when that happens, you have to make up your mind to go with it, “said Lubna, sensing Sarah’s anxiety. “If it turns out Michelyn heard, then we just may have to look odd. It shouldn’t be any harder than being Pakistani in Lawton, Oklahoma.”
“Or, having spirit guides in the Bible Belt,” said Stanley. “Sometimes it’s pretty hard to follow your path when you’re doing it alone. I sure needed my grandfather’s support when I was being bullied in high school.”
“I’m more interested in what we’re going to find, than in what Michelyn or anyone else thinks,” said Adam. “I guess I like messing with the instruments and learning something new. I’m kind of oblivious sometimes.”
“Well, I think I worry too much, so maybe altogether we make a balanced team,” said Sarah, looking at Lubna’s self-assured expression, Stanley’s appearance, which was an undeniable challenge to the way of things, and Adam’s lifted eyebrow. They all seemed more courageous than her. “Lubna’s got the guts, Stanley’s got the philosophy and Adam’s got the curiosity. I’ll work on the theory and maybe it will all work?”
Adam eagerly began describing the instruments and Lubna grabbed a napkin to write down her ideas about experimental design. While their excitement rekindled, Sarah watched and smiled. She couldn’t help thinking that they reminded her of an odd assortment of superheroes. As she did, she wondered if she was miscast in her part? And, come to think of it, what role did Patty play?
Bernadette hung in the air over the coffee pot in the library school offices. She helped herself to some coffee molecules and then wiggled between the sugar packets mixing with the coffee and sugar at the subatomic level. She always found it comforting, like going home and hanging around waiting for dinner, when the kitchen smells like love. How Bernadette knew that kitchens smelled like love, she couldn’t explain, but she knew it to be true.
Feeling cozy, Bernie felt a creeping sensation that unsettled her warm kitchen dream. As the feeling put her on edge, she went on point. Outside the library school offices, Patty was trying to leave the library, having completed her project at her favorite table in the basement. Loaded with two recycled shopping bags, Patty was headed home. She’d been thinking about cooking in her small apartment kitchen and had lost her focus when her stomach began to grumble, in spite of the package of sugar cookies she had demolished.
A loud alarm sounded as Patty passed through the exit security gates. Surprised, Patty stopped and turned back to the desk, dumping the two bags. “Did you forget to check out some books?” Michelyn asked. Patty lifted her shoulders in a quizzical shrug
“I don’t have any library books with me. It’s all personal research materials,” Patty replied. Michelyn didn’t try to hide a look of skepticism and even, Patty noted, a bit of malice.
“I’ll just take a look." Michelyn made a show of looking through the two book bags Patty had placed on the table. Then asked Patty to walk through the security gates again without her. Berndette hovered in the area, curious about the proceedings. She was careful to hover close to the ceiling to avoid the electromagnetic emissions of the computer screen on the desk and noticed an odd thing. As Patty walked through the gate, Michelyn reached below the desk and pushed a red button. The alarm bell sounded.
“Do you have any books on your person?” Michelyn asked with an odd note of nasty in her tone.
“No,” replied Patty, reversing the pockets on her sweater and demonstrating they were empty. As she answered, Patty began to suspect something was amiss and that the girl at the desk was harassing her. Patty was no stranger to being made fun of. Guffaws and sly comments she often heard when she passed students on the sidewalk. It happened more around campus corner in the evening when groups of students displayed some beer-influenced witticisms. This time, it seemed the young woman was entertaining herself at Patty’s expense and Patty, ever astute, made a mental note to ask Sarah if she knew her.
“Walk through the gates again,” said Michelyn. As Patty turned back to walk through, Michelyn reached for the red button, but Bernadette dropped down and interfered. Bernadette stopped the alarm from sounding, but lost her concentration and was immediately disoriented by the computer screen’s electromagnetic emanations. She hovered briefly and then floated upward confused about why she was in the entryway. Thoughts of sugar cookies caused her to drift away toward the basement offices leaving Patty standing by the desk.
Michelyn frowned and mumbled, “Looks like there might be a problem with the alarm. You can go.”
“Maybe, it’s a fashion alarm,” Patty quipped looking down at her socks. Michelyn smiled unenthusiastically and Patty picked up her bags and walked out thinking about the petty inconveniences of being looked upon as odd. Definitely, she would ask Sarah about the young woman at the gate. Patty thought she remembered seeing her a few months back, when she first met Sarah at the circulation desk. It was a moment Patty preferred not to remember, since she had had a moment of obsessive compulsive thinking and had raved a bit about germs during that meeting.
Patty sighed. That was the hardest thing about crazy. Getting back your sense of self-respect. It was hard not to recollect some of your own actions without mortification. How do you undo people’s ideas about you being nuts when they’ve seen you be somewhat deranged? After all, it wasn’t like having a cold. People figure you are the same with or without a cold. Going off-the-rails was different with most people.
Sarah seemed to be able to accept a person as they are, when they are. Perhaps it was Sarah’s analytical perspective and her assumptions about quantum mechanics underlying observations? If a tree falls…and all that. If crazy happens and no one sees it, does it make a difference? Patty’s eyes wondered downward as a sidewalk crack tripped her briefly and a slow grin appeared. She was hardly fit for a runway fashion show, given that her turquoise socks and flip flops looked particularly peculiar in the full light of the late afternoon sun.
Nevertheless, the socks made her feel good and when she looked up, her eye caught a squirrel running across the campus, chased by a Blue Jay. She scanned the rosebushes in bloom and took a deep breath, anticipating fragrance touched with the smell of recently mowed grass, the acknowledgement of summer. Her pace slowed as she took in the beauty of a quiet campus and savored her peace of mind.
Bernadette recovered herself before she found the coffee pot in the basement and headed back up the staircase. As she passed Michelyn, she overheard her talking on her cell phone, describing how she had manipulated the alarm to stop Patty. Michelyn laughed maliciously as she described Patty’s fashion sense. She seemed disappointed that Patty hadn’t launched into a rant about germs or some other compulsion.
Bernadette made a note, but hurried on following a coed through the door. She headed toward Patty’s slow moving figure now half a block away. It frustrated Bernadette that she seemed to lose focus beyond a certain perimeter on campus. She felt strong and connected up to the business building and was able to go north almost all the way to campus corner. But south was iffy, and she seemed to get lost around the fountain that graced the south oval. She’d tried to go further earlier in the year, not long after she’d linked with Sarah and Patty. When she pushed the boundary, though, she lost time and seemed to awaken only when she drifted back toward the library.
How did she drift? Initially, she assumed it was a breeze that carried her but a strong north wind from a late cold front had been blowing that day. No, Bernadette was moved by something else, something she didn’t quite understand. Now she floated over Patty, who had nearly reached the border of Bernadette’s ecological niche. She hesitated. She could feel herself losing cohesion and stopped. Frustrated, she felt caged by an invisible fence. Anxious, she linked with Patty’s mind and comforted herself when she realized the link had no limitation. She knew Patty was taking in nature and enjoying herself and traveled along with her even though she wasn’t nearby. As Patty walked away toward her small apartment blocks from campus Bernadette sensed what Patty was experiencing, even as she was drawn by an unseen force back toward the turret and gargoyles of the old library building.