Penelope Coaching and Consulting – Fiction from Andrew Farkas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DO KIDS IN CALIFORNIA DREAM
OF NORTH CAROLINA?


“Heisenberg May Have Slept Here.”
– Bumper Sticker

An Excerpt from Andrew Farkas’ story collection Sunsphere

On a television leaning against a floor-to-ceiling window
in the southern portion of the peninsular apartment, a latenight
talk show host claims, “Scientists no longer believe that
the universe will be destroyed by fire. They used to think the
whole place was going to burn up one day, but not anymore.
Now they say the universe will eventually run out of the
energy it needs to keep everything going, that it will just keep
expanding and expanding out into complete chaos where
everything will break down. So, it’s pretty much like Los
Angeles.” The audience laughs.

Trevor is unable to laugh because he wonders, as he
forever works at solving the mystery of his Rubik’s Cube, why
a late-night show is on during the day. He sits in a chair,
facing a set of bookcases perpendicular to the television set.
Trevor once believed in mathematics, experimentation, and
causality. Now there is only speculation, observation, and
probability. Life is uncertain, indeterminate, chaotic. Toys are
as likely to hold answers as anything. Yet like Einstein
searching for a local hidden variable theory that would restore
determinism and causality to measurements, Trevor hopes
order will return when he finally solves the Cube. It has to.
There’s nothing else.

Trevor says: “There must be an energetic center to life.
There must be a focal point where it all makes sense,” and
keeps manipulating the toy.

Kat says: “Ninety million miles is one Astronomical Unit,
or AU.” She makes campy quotes in the air with her fingers
when she says AU, and continues shuffling zombie-like in an
ellipse of unknown momentum around the coffee table in the
center of the room, mumbling numbers, computations,
formulae, equations, differentials, smoking a cigarette, ashing
on the floor, staring at the debris-covered ground. She does
not care what time it is.

Indeed, although the television displays a late-night talk
show host performing his opening routine, the sun beats down
on the awkward apartment, enervating each one of the atoms
in and surrounding the structure; this atmosphere consists of
Nitrogen (78%), Oxygen (21%), and many other gases,
including some Hydrogen. It might be assumed that the star
is taking a vendetta out on the people below, but it does no
such thing, for the sun remains a G-class star, burning at five
to six thousand degrees Celsius, ninety million miles, or one
Astronomical Unit (AU), away from earth, as it will for
another 4.5 billion years. None of this matters to Trevor, who
wonders about the late-night show and its illogical timeslot.
More proof of chaos. He would ask Kat, but she has become
catatonic with her mathematics, and to Trevor particularly
high figures represent the number of times Kat’s cheated on
him, ratios equal the probability of her having some harmful
disease …

Kat says: “Twenty percent.”

In the East, Trevor and Kat were as indistinguishable as
the molecules in a cloud. They could only be taken as a whole,
could only be measured as a system.
Trevor tries to ignore Kat’s numbers because the Cube,
the precious Cube is much more important. It holds the key.
Unfortunately, Trevor has never heard of Augustus Judd who,
a mere six years after the Rubik’s Cube was invented in 1974,
founded Cubaholics Anonymous.
The apartment is a peninsula because it juts from the side
of the main building, because it is for no discernible reason
supported by raised piers like houses in Louisiana, and because
there are floor-to-ceiling windows on all but the north side.
Hence the structure, built obviously as an afterthought, is a
protrusion of living space surrounded on five sides by

pressurized and enervated gas. The windows to the east are
blocked by bookcases containing Kerouac, Ginsberg,
Burroughs, Keats, Byron, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and other
Romantics, Beats, and general adventurers. There are also
textbooks, dictionaries, thesauruses, and a set of
encyclopedias. Lying open on the floor in front of Trevor,
who faces the eastern wall, is a volume of the encyclopedia.
The article displayed is one about the birth and death of stars.
Kat once said: “We’re gonna be stars, baby.”
Trevor once said: “We’ll shine as bright as the Dogstar,
Sirius.”
Kat once barked.
A wide view: to the south is the television, tilted because it
is on an uneven elevated stand. The picture is snowy and
shows a man with a large chin rocking his head back and forth
as if it were on a spring. The set itself is placed dangerously
close to the edge of the slanted dais. The room is chock full of
items placed on the edges of tables, bookcases, ledges, etc., a
veritable diorama of potential energy, giving one the idea that
the precarious balance of the apartment, itself poorly stabilized
on its piers, could be upset, could come crashing down if the
proper force were exerted. Kat, on her mumbling ellipse, often
comes close to disturbing the perilous construction of the
room, but she hasn’t quite upset the equilibrium. Yet.
The apartment forms a T, with the vertical portion

making the peninsula, the left portion of the horizontal being
the kitchen, and the right the bedroom and bathroom. In the
kitchen, the oven is on, pumping heat into the already stifling
atmosphere. The windows in the peninsula not covered with
bookcases are open, although they are held up by slight cords
which could let loose at any minute; it is a blistering day
outside. Also in the kitchen, all four burners of the stove are
on, waiting to conduct heat into pots, pans, anything that may
land upon them. Next to the stove is a microwave which is on
the fritz, which continuously fires electromagnetic waves
inside itself heating nothing at all. Adjacent to the microwave
is the sink, where water flows and flows down the drain.
There are light fixtures and lamps throughout the apartment,
all turned on, but none furnished with light bulbs.
Kat once said: “There’s no moon. It’s so dark.”
Trevor once said: “It’s Kansas, what would you see?”
In the bedroom, pitch black because there are no windows,
a hurricane lamp leaks oil onto the floor; upon closer
inspection, the oil continues into the kitchen and the
peninsular room, as if someone had been carrying the lamp
around searching for something. Other than the lamp, there is
an unmade bed, a fiercely rattling fan, and an alarm clock
running on double A batteries incorrectly blinking 3:05 AM.
In the bathroom, the shower and sink are both on, two
different brands of electric shavers buzz, the lights (here there

are light bulbs) are illuminated, and a blow dryer blows.
Throughout the apartment, the floor is covered with
myriad books, papers, journals, notebooks, piles of drawing
paper, cardboard, newspapers, magazines, etc. The density of
the paper products at all points in the apartment is so thick it
is impossible to see the floor. Footprints cover the manifold
dross because of Kat, whose ellipse is almost perfect, but not
quite; the detritus is also covered in ashes.
Amongst the debris on the floor is Trevor’s now shredded
journal which he kept during the trip West. Some pages near
the kitchen read, “Our trip to the West begins with so much
potential. Our car is filled with gasoline, our Zippos with
butane, our coffee mugs with espresso. Our bobble-head doll’s
spring is compressed—all anyone has to do is push the button
on the bottom and the toy’s parts will shoot upwards, its silly
brainpan bouncing around. The lure of the West, leaving
everything behind for the Promised Land is intoxicating; we
can hardly restrain the energy built up inside of our own
bodies, let alone the various means of energy in our
possession. Before we even leave our former driveway, Kat
pushes the button on the bobble-head doll, and we laugh as
the crazy thing careens around.”
Trevor once said: “The road trip will be a grand
experiment, although it will employ elementary cause and
effect. In the East, we have stagnated. And whereas occasional

dissipation is acceptable, final stasis is not. In order for life to
continue, it must be put through the crucible.”
Kat once said: “The cause for our stagnation in the East is
comfort. Here we have our families, our friends, our familiar
places. Our epic will purify us via unknown experiences.”
To the west a window looks out to the Pacific Ocean. In
the center of the room, facing the western window is a couch.
A journal entry describes the scene: “Every night we sit here
and look to the West, just like we used to back home. Now we
see the Pacific Ocean curling, blue-green before us, always
roaring inland, quietly sliding up the beach, touching the very
sand of California, the Promised Land. We can only imagine
that the water wishes it could freeze time and remain there
forever, perched on the whiteness. And then, inexorably, it
slips back, tumbling off of the beach and returning to the
hulking ocean filled with memories of what was, filled with
the soaring energy of the journey up that cliff which can only
ever be made once before being sucked back into the aqua
oblivion.”
Kat says: “7.5 x 1018.”
Trevor worries he will never solve the Cube, will never
regain the confidence of Newtonian physics, that his entire
life will go by without him figuring out whatever he’s
supposed to figure out, that order will be lost forever; Kat
continues on her kinetic ellipse and says, “Two thousand four

hundred fourteen.”
Trevor stops working for a second and says nothing.
§ §
Trevor once wrote:
“The East was a landscape disgustingly imbued with
desperation, pathetically surviving on the chimerical hope of
going West, but never making it. The Great Plains were
singularly depressing because for miles in all directions the
land was flat as if it had lain down to die quietly without
dreams or memories, just one nigh-infinite blank space. Past
the Plains, the Rocky Mountains, knowing they were next
door to the Promised Land, soared to breathtaking heights,
and much as any being that strives for greater things, the
Rockies attained a majesty stemming from their desire to
achieve California. And then there was the place itself: the
Golden State. Where dreams came true. Where life was lived
to the fullest. Where everyone was a rock star or a movie star
or a TV star or some kind of star. No matter what your life
was like back East, and everywhere was east of California, you
could be transformed in the Promised Land. But beyond the
Promised Land … the world was so crestfallen after leaving
California, it couldn’t hold itself together. In a fit of
geographical suicide, the tectonic plates cut off abruptly at the
Golden State and dashed themselves into the sea – that blue21
green abyss which forever and ever wishes it too could be a
part of California, filching pieces of the Dream Land out of
spite and envy. The ocean in its sadness and jealousy remains
for eternity in a liquid, tear-like existence for being west of
California. For west of California is Sheol.”

For months after they arrived in California, Trevor and
Kat stared out at that invidious body of water and felt like
Balboa, who, in a manner of speaking, discovered the Pacific.
After all, if you were looking at the ocean from where they
were, that meant you were in the “Promised Land.” But
much as the landscape west of the Golden State lacked the
energy to remain in solid form, the system created by Trevor
and Kat was slowly being consumed by entropy (that can only
increase), as they found that the West was merely another
place on the map. The extreme differentiation they first
perceived was replaced by an acknowledged and allconsuming
sameness.
Their trip had been remarkable, but now Trevor and Kat
tried not to think about those Romantic days. They tried not
to think at all. With each passing minute, the energy that
surrounded them, so easily harnessed before, was being
abstracted beyond comprehension. And as the energy became
more and more abstruse, Trevor lost all confidence in his

Grand Experiment, lost all confidence in definites like
experimentation and mathematics, and saw the world as a
chaos of probability. Cursing Einstein, Trevor became an
obsessed shut-in, playing with his Simon or his Rubik’s Cube,
looking for answers where there probably were none. Kat,
meanwhile, began bouncing from bed to bed, hoping to
perpetuate the power discovered on the savage burn across the
country. When she found only sex and the risk of disease, and
once Trevor fell silent, she went numb, and, having once been
a math prodigy (which she despised because her family forced
her into … Kat once said: “People should feel, not think”), she
began reading about chaos theory, then delved into her old
math textbooks.
Until they ended up where they are now.
Trevor says: “There are so many. But it must exist. It just
must.”
Kat once said: “You’re looking in the wrong place. It’s in
the numbers. It’s not happy, but it’s in the numbers.”
Trevor once said: “In the quantities, you mean. Integers,
whole numbers, imaginary numbers. You’ll be like me soon
enough. Right now, you rest your hopes in the quantities.”
Trevor originally played with a Simon, lights flashing like
those in Las Vegas, simple sounds erupting from the machine.
But the batteries, or so Trevor thought, had burned out.
Actually, the speaker had merely gone bad. The Simon was
still operational, still on.

 

The late-night talk show ends and a meteorologist comes
on. He predicts a high-pressure front will move in. “Which
means it’s only gonna get hotter,” the weatherman says in a
strained, high-pitched voice, then flops his arms around like a
bobble-head doll. Without air-conditioning or wind, although
next to the ocean, and with the oven and the microwave, even
to some degree with the stovetop burners and the blow dryer,
the apartment is already diaphoretic, each atom in the vicinity
moving faster and faster. Now adding in the high-pressure
front, it would be as if the gases of the atmosphere were
squeezing their way into the space occupied by Trevor and
Kat, thanks to the ever-present force of gravity; and then the
pressure of the gases, along with the pressure of the
atmosphere and the proximity of the sun, combined with the
small size of the apartment, would all work together to elevate
the temperature in Trevor’s and Kat’s room to the point of
fusion.
Trevor once said: “Always know the time, but never worry
about it. That way everything will make sense, but you’ll still
have that feeling you’re getting away with something.”
Trevor says: “What time is it?! Why won’t you tell me the
time?! Why doesn’t the sun die already?! It’s always daytime,
never night! Nothing makes sense.”
Kat once said: “I never know the time and I never worry
about it. I’m timeless, baby.”
Kat says: “1.5 or greater in 4.5 billion.”

 

According to T-symmetry, or time reversal symmetry, the
universe is not symmetrical. It is, therefore, always creating
more entropy, although the amount of energy remains the
same. Hence, there is more interference than information,
more chaos than dynamism. In the East, Trevor believed that
his relationship with Kat would be similar, only that they
would create more and more energy, while the entropy would
remain constant. He has lived, however, to learn that the First
and Second Laws of Thermodynamics always apply: 1)
Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, and 2) Entropy
tends to increase over time, and once created it cannot be
destroyed. Because of this asymmetry leaning toward the
negative, it is difficult for Trevor to remember the good times
in his relationship with Kat. Anything positive is now shut out
by the ubiquitous interference of the negative. Only bits of
dialogue remain.
For a brief period, after the romance had been drained
from California and the relationship, Trevor spent his days
looking west, smoking cigarettes, and wishing the sun would

explode into a supernova, blowing the earth to smithereens;
occasionally, when she was not searching for a man with a
new source of adventurous energy, Kat would join him—
although she had no idea what Trevor was thinking about as
he sat there silently, staring out at the sky and the ocean.
Without causality or determinism, without control, life was
unlife and all were undead.
Drawing further inward, Trevor imagined the time when
the sun’s explosion would collapse in on itself becoming a
black hole which would crush all the remaining pieces of this
drab planet into nothing. It was his last coherent dream before
the mania of the Simon and later the Cube. Each day Trevor
waited for the sun to begin its descent into the west so his
visions of heavenly explosions could return, and at his behest,
right before his very eyes, the sun would ignite into a blast so
powerful it would rend this worthless planet into bits.
Kat says: “One trillion.”
When he still had some coherent energy left, Trevor
looked up “stars” in his set of encyclopedias. His heart raced as
he read about stars that were torn to pieces by neighboring
black holes, about giant planets engulfed in explosions so
grandiose they made our entire nuclear arsenal look like so
many bottle rockets, about mysterious pulsars firing encoded
messages perhaps to other stars. But then he read about our
sun. It was too small to go supernova. It was only a G-classed

star. It would have to burn one thousand five hundred degrees
Celsius hotter and be much more massive to erupt into the
blast Trevor wanted. Instead, in about five billion years, the
sun would expand out into a red giant. The red giant would
extend past Mercury, Venus, and almost as an afterthought, it
would reach past earth. The three planets would continue to
revolve inside of the red giant sun. The new stellar
configuration would remove the atmosphere; it would partially
melt the mountains; it would burn off the trees, grass, hills,
soil, and any other piece of nature; it would evaporate the
water; it would leave the earth a desolate, golden brown as if it
were a giant space cookie. Then the red giant would emit
more gas and become a planetary nebula, later shrinking down
to a fierce but impotent white dwarf, and finally it would
recede into a black dwarf: a dead cinder. The earth would
continue on, but it would be revolving around an exanimate
ember of a star with just enough gravitational pull to keep the
planets moving on their pointless elliptical paths.
Trevor once said: “I keep time for both of us.”
After Trevor finished reading about the sun, he dropped
the book in front of him, turned his chair to face the
bookshelves, and began playing Simon, feeling that it must
hold the answers since nothing else did, all the while cursing
Einstein and his probability. What Trevor doesn’t know is
that Einstein did not like probability, it was Niels Bohr and

Heisenberg that accepted the notion.
Einstein once said: “I cannot believe that God would
choose to play dice with the universe.”
Bohr once said: “Einstein, don’t tell God what to do.”
Soon, Kat began her orbit around the room, walking in an
ellipse that would extend seemingly over days and nights
computing all the figures and formulae the world had to offer,
extending out past Pi and remaining for ages with the
imaginary numbers.

The colors spin around in their seemingly endless
configurations. Each time Trevor believes he has solved the
Cube, he finds he is incorrect; it then takes hours to approach
the elusive conclusion. Perhaps he aligns the blue and the
white sides, but the green and the yellow remain jumbled in a
confused mass. Trevor understands that he could conquer the
puzzle rapidly by tearing each colored square off the Cube,
hence making the entire toy black; or he could carefully
remove all of the colored squares and rearrange them so the
red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and white are all perfectly
aligned, but there is a principle at stake here, and since
experimentation failed and certainty never existed, observation
of this random event is all that remains. The Rubik’s must be
solved.

Consequently, provided Trevor never ends up at the same
point twice, his solving the Cube could take 1400 million
million years, given one second for each move and going
through every possible configuration, since there are
43,252,003,274,489,856,000 possible configurations (only one
of them being the “solved” Cube), which more simply put is
4.3 x 1019. But what else is there to do?
Trevor once said: “Look at them all. There are maybe as
many as grains of sand on the beach.”
Kat says: “Astronomical.”
Trevor once said: “We have a connection to them. The
energy pulsing through us came from them. But we have to
find a way to access that energy, to understand it in order to
get anywhere.”
Trevor says: “I don’t understand! I just don’t understand
… anything!”
Kat says: “Astronomical.”
Kat once said: “They’re too far away. There aren’t any
connections to make. See those lights? The lights of the city,
at the bottom of the mountain. Those are the only lights we
ever need to worry about, baby.”
Their energy had finally dissipated into the formulae and
numbers which explained it. And the numbers which
explained it were soaring higher and higher, perhaps
increasing the pressure, perhaps aiding in the contraction of
the cloud surrounding their apartment.

§ §
The book on the floor in front of Trevor, besides
explaining the death of stars, also explains their birth:
“Stars are formed from clouds of Hydrogen left over from
the Big Bang. During the formation of a star, before the star is
born, it exists as an amorphous cloud of Hydrogen. Due to
some outside force (a shockwave from a nearby supernova,
contact with another cloud), and then due to gravity, the
cloud shrinks in on itself. The pressure of all the gases heats
the cloud. With luminosity, the stellar object becomes a
protostar—the stage before the stellar object can begin fusing
Hydrogen into Helium. As a protostar, the object burns with
an infrared glow, increasing with maturation along the light
spectrum until it reaches stability. The youngest visible stars
are T Tauri, which often appear in binary pairs.”
But when the star is in its amorphous cloud phase, it looks
exactly like a planetary nebula, the stage in a small to midsized
star’s life right after the red giant phase. Hence it is
almost impossible to differentiate between a star being born
and a star dying, unless one waits to see what happens next.
The problem is that what happens next may not happen
for years and years. But those who understand such
circumstances can speculate on what might occur.

§ §
An errant book (On the Road) covered in lamp oil, sitting
on the floor in front of the oven, will burst into flames. The
fire will spread quickly, following the trail around the
apartment, igniting all of the oil on the ground, in turn
igniting the papers scattered everywhere and the coffee table,
along with the entire stock of oil left in the lamp in the
bedroom, the flames of which will set the walls and the bed
ablaze. The shock of the ensuing conflagration will knock Kat
off her nearly perfect kinetic, elliptical course, sending her into
the windows on the west side (which will slam shut) and into
an end table just past the windows. Upsetting the delicate
balance of the apartment, Kat’s collision will set off a chain
reaction of falling ash trays, coffee cups, books, glasses, lamps,
plates, silverware, pencils, pens, everything will crash to the
floor. Between the fire and the cascade of precariously placed
items, Trevor will leap out of his chair, and his Rubik’s will
fly, still unfinished, into the fire. When he sees the puzzle
burning, Trevor will scream:
“No! There must be a center of energy where it all makes
sense!”
He will make several attempts to wrest the puzzle from
the flames.
Kat, frightened, will heave the burning coffee table
through the western windows and leap out after it.

She will proceed to lift the table (which will cool from red to white and
finally stop burning, a charred remnant of the apartment) and
carry it with her. Walking out past the rocky cliffs, over the
sands of the beach, to the ocean, Kat will place the scorched
table in the surf and begin limping around it.
After Trevor tries several times to reach into the flames to
save the Rubik’s Cube, the Simon will burst back to life
emitting the angry, electronic pulse it emits when someone,
unable to recall the proper sequence, has pressed the wrong
color. Trevor, eyes staring incredulously at the game for a
moment, will turn away from the Cube, which will melt into a
black plastic puddle, the colored squares dissolving away.
Understanding that he must find a way out, Trevor will
reach into the debris, come up with a plunger, and begin
bashing his way to the East. He will scream, “There must be a
center of energy somewhere! I know there is! I know it!” And
as a chink in the bookcases is opened, as the windows beyond
are broken, a faint, almost imperceptible red light will shine
through. As Trevor continues bashing his way out of the
burning apartment, as the entire place begins collapsing, the
red light will become more intense, until Trevor is bathed in
it. And when there is a hole large enough, still screaming
about the center of energy, he will leap from his apartment in
California into the much cooler air outside, into the focused
red light.

The light will surge, engulfing the building, as the fire
blazes and the awkward apartment finally falls. But even with
the former apartment burning on the ground, the light from
the east will continue to shine, although it is impossible to say
which color. Depending, it may progress from red to orange
to yellow to green to white and maybe, maybe even to blue, the
color of the biggest and brightest stars, the stars that go
supernova.

But that is only one possible future.
For now, Trevor remains in his chair facing the eastern
bookcases, while Kat continues in her kinetic ellipse around
the coffee table.
Trevor once said: “How will we know if we’re wrong?
What plans should we follow? What do the stars have in store
for us? How do we access their power?”
Kat once said: “Just keep your head down. Don’t worry
about the stars. They’ll take care of themselves.”
Trevor says: “Oh … I think …”
Trevor once said: “It seems too easy. Too miniscule. Like
… we’ll wreck for not seeing the bigger picture.”
Trevor says: “I think …”
Kat once said, laughing: “At least we’ll leave beautiful
corpses behind.”

 

An Excerpt from Andrew Farkas’ story collection Sunsphere

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