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 Category:  General Fiction
  Posted: March 17, 2020      Views: 106

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The Blue Room
"Molecules - the finale" by Mark Valentine

Previously on "Molecules" - Dan and Carie are Teaching Assistants at Caltech who are forced to share an office.Their relationship gets off to a rocky start when Carie makes fun or Dan's poster of Einstein that includes the quote: "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Dan bets Carie that one day she'll believe in miracles. The loser must buy dinner for the winner. Dan and Carie’s rocky relationship continues until Carie apologizes and the two are able to become friends. The story is told in the first person from Dan's POV. Also, Carie calls Dan, 'Rudy' because he went to Notre Dame. He's Catholic, she's an atheist. Now you're caught up.

I flew home for spring break. Unlike Christmas break, when I was dreading the thought of having to return to Pasadena, I actually find myself looking forward to getting back and seeing my Caltech friends. One friend in particular.
Upon returning to Pasadena, I notice a change in Carie. She is quiet again, but not an angry quiet, a sad quiet. After giving her a couple of hours, I intrude on her solitude.
“Can I ask you something?”
“We’re still friends right?”
“Of course we are.”
“Well, then let me ask, as a friend, is everything OK? You seem kind of sad.”
“Nice powers of observation, Rudy. Jeff broke up with me over break.”
He broke up with you?” I said, making sure the incredulity in my voice was unmistakable. “Wow. I knew that law students were dumb, but I didn’t think they could be that dumb.”
That elicits a small smile from her. “Keep going. I like the tack you’re taking here.”
“Did he not realize how lucky he was? I mean sure, he had perfect hair and nice teeth, but my God, he was dating Carie freaking Carlson! How did he not drop to his knees every morning and give thanks for that?”
“OK, you’re laying it on a little thick now. You gotta keep it believable.”
“At any rate, my friend, I can help you out here. As luck would have it, there is something I am better at than you.”
“And what would that be?”
“Rebounding my friend, rebounding. I am the Kevin Garnett of romance.”
“That’s a basketball reference, right? Because Kevin Garnett is a good rebounder?”
“The best. So the first rule of rebounding is: Alcohol is your Friend.”
“I don’t drink.”
“Say what? How did I not know that about you? Wow! Unfortunately, there is no second rule of rebounding so, I’m out of ideas.”
“How about talking?”
“Oh, you mean like you tell me about your problems, and I listen. Hmm… it’s crazy, but it just might work. OK, shoot. I’m listening”
“I can’t now. I’ve got class in five minutes. Can I take you out for pizza tonight?”
“It’s a date.” She looks at me warily when I say that, so I clarify, “a date among friends.”
 “Hey speaking of dates, I haven’t heard you talk about Annie for a while. Are you guys still dating?”
“Nah, she dumped me three weeks ago.”
“It doesn’t seem to have bothered you.”
“That’s because it doesn’t bother me. You know why?”
“Because you’re the Kevin Garnett of romance?”
“Damn straight.”

After office hours that evening, we drive out to a pizza place near the beach. The pizza is wonderful and the conversation matches it. She is so freaking smart. It feels nice to be relaxed around Carie, to not wonder what outburst might be waiting around the next corner. This version of Carie, the one I have known since Ash Wednesday, is more than civil, she is kind.
After pizza, we decide to go for a walk on the beach. At some point, we stop and sit. She breaks a short silence.
“So, Kevin Garnett, what’s your secret?”
“Well, like I said, usually it’s alcohol.”
“No, I’m not talking just about rebounding here, I’m talking about being a good person. For six months, I treated you horribly, and, with one notable exception,” she smiles slightly here, “you did not respond in-kind. You always seem so…” she stops for a moment searching for a word, “self-possessed. What’s your secret?”
“I’m not nearly as good a person as you think. I tried extra hard, when I was in your presence, to be nice. I think my motive was to make you feel bad by being nice to you when you were mean to me, and thus, moral desert theory would say that makes me a pretty bad person myself.”
“I’m not buying it. You’re a good guy, Danny. C’mon spill it?”
I’m struck by her calling me Danny. That may be the first time she’s used my real name.
“Well, you won’t like this answer, but, to the extent that sometimes, I have some semblance of peace, I gotta credit my religious beliefs and an attempt at having some perspective on life.”
“Go on.”
“It all goes back to that Einstein quote.” Carie raises her eyebrows and I course-correct, “I’m sorry, that alleged Einstein quote. I’ve done some research and l have to admit that you’re probably right about its authenticity.”
“Ha! You owe me a dinner!”
“Not so fast, mon amie. The bet was that I would renounce the possibility of miracles, not the authenticity of the quote.”
“Fair enough. Carry on – I’m interested in seeing where you’re going with this.”
“Do you know how many molecules there are in the universe?”
“No.  Hey, you stumped me with an astrophysics question – is that a miracle?”
“No. I’m getting to that part. They number 10 to the 78th power. And they have been around in one form or another for fourteen billion years. Given that, what are the odds that we are here?”
“Well it’s the monkeys on typewriters argument, isn’t it? The universe is vast and old. Given enough monkeys on typewriters for enough time, it’s not only possible, but probable, that one of them will write Hamlet. Same for life evolving.”
“No, I’m not talking about the odds that any life has evolved, I’m talking about the odds that our lives have evolved. The odds that two of us, are here, now, in 2016? These molecules,” I point to her and then to myself, “are such an infinitesimally small percentage of the universe’s molecules, and our lifespans are such an infinitesimally small slice of the universe’s history, from a cosmic perspective, it seems an awful lot like a miracle that we should be here.”
“I’m not sold yet. Keep going.”
“Imagine the universe is a waiting room, and all the molecules are patients. The waiting room is as vast as this beach, as vast as all the beaches in the world, and the patients number more than all the grains of sand. They all wait in the waiting room for billions and billions of years. No one ever gets called out of the waiting room, and the only thing to do is to read the three Us Weekly magazines that happen to be there.”
“Is Jennifer Aniston on the cover?”
“Jennifer Aniston is always on the cover – that’s an Us Weekly rule. Anyway, you’ve already read the magazines a billion times and you can’t bear to read them one more time. You know why?”
“Because Us Weekly sucks?”
“Exactly. So you sit there. And you sit there some more. You heard a rumor that someone once got called into the main room, but there’s no verifying it.” I pause to make sure she’s still with me. Of course she is – she’s a bona fide genius. I continue.
“Then one day, it happens. You win the cosmic lottery. That’s really hard to do because you have to correctly guess six numbers between 1 and 54, and then a seventh number, called the Power Ball. And then you have to do it again ninety-thousand times in a row. But you do it, and so you get called to the main room, which we will call The Blue Room.
"The Blue Room is spectacular. It has pizza, and oceans, and Beyonce. It has snowfalls and literature and bruschetta. It has love. It also has some bad things, like disease and the Detroit Red Wings, but even the bad things are better than the waiting room. Besides, the bad things are how you know the good things are good. You don’t know exactly how long you get to stay in The Blue Room, but you know that it’ll only be for a very short time. Then you’ll need to go back to the waiting room – for eternity.
"Now there are people in The Blue Room that don’t remember the waiting room, and who can’t comprehend how large it is. Nor can they appreciate how small a percentage of the people waiting ever get to come to The Blue Room.  For these people, being in The Blue Room is just the way things are. Nothing is miraculous. They don’t appreciate how lucky they are, and therefore they don’t take advantage of all the wonderful opportunities. Many of these people have subscriptions to Us Weekly.
"But there are other people, like Einstein, who know about the waiting room. They know how vast it is and how long it has been around. They can do the math and calculate the odds that they should have been called into The Blue Room. They know how utterly improbable their existence is. That’s why I like that quote. Once you have that perspective, everything is a miracle.”
There is a short period of silence as she weighs my argument. I feel I’m waiting for a paper to be graded. She renders her decision:
“Not bad, Rudy.”
“Does it win me a dinner?”
“I’m afraid not, but I see your point. We should treat our existence as if it were a miracle, even though it’s not. I can see how Einstein might have thought along those lines. You’re a deep thinker, my friend. Sure, on the surface you look stupid, but you’ve got a formidable intellect.“
“I look stupid?”
“Just on the surface. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“Maybe if I had better hair. What kind of gel does Jeff use? That has to be some pretty powerful stuff.”
She laughs. “Nah, I’m done with guys with perfect hair.”
“Now you’re talking. You deserve someone with disheveled hair.”
“Like Einstein.”
“I’m afraid he’s decomposing at present.”
“Guess I’ll have to look elsewhere then.” She puts both hands on my head and tousles my hair until it’s good and messy. “Yeah, that’s the ticket.”
She slides her hands from the top of my head to the back of my neck and she kisses me. It starts out as a good kiss and turns into a perfect kiss at about the five second mark. A warm breeze blows off the Pacific. There are stars in the sky. I think to myself, How does this not count as a miracle? I am kissing Carie Carlson on a perfect night beside the vast ocean. Beneath the billions and billions of stars in the Milky Way. Beneath the billions of galaxies that lie beyond the Milky Way. Beneath everything in the universe; all the stars and all their planets, all the cosmic radiation and all the dark matter. Beneath 10 to the 78th power non-sentient molecules that have no idea what they’re missing, because they haven’t won the cosmic lottery yet. Odds are they never will.
It is good to be here in The Blue Room. So unfathomably good.

Speaking of good, this would be a good place to end, but you’ve been kind enough to read this far and I’m thinking you deserve to know how the bet turned out. Hence a brief epilogue is in order.   

It is 2019. The wee hours of a chilly October morning. Carie and I have been in the hospital since noon the previous day. You know that spot behind Carie’s ear? The one I used to fantasize about when I first met her? Turns out if you kiss it just right, it sets in motion a sequence of events that can be quite exhilarating. Some months back, one such kiss, and its sequelae, resulted in some of my molecules and some of her molecules bonding together and replicating. (Did I mention that we got married in 2018?) After they had been replicating for a couple of weeks, Carie missed her period and peed on a stick.
A few months, and many replications later, some technicians used a machine to bounce high frequency sound pulses off of the mass of molecules, thereby producing an image on a screen. It was a nice mass of molecules. We decided that we would name it Karen.
Yesterday morning, the sac that had been housing our mass of molecules ruptured leaving a puddle on our kitchen floor, so we came here. And now, after billions of years of non-sentient existence, nine months of gestation and 15 hours of labor, the mass of molecules which, for the next century or so, will be known as Karen, gets called in from the cosmic waiting room. It is her turn.
She’s a bit of a mess at first; lots of slime, and some blood, covering her reddish skin. She cries vigorously as the nurses clean her up. One of the nurses tells me the crying is good, and that Karen’s Apgar score is 10. Acing her first test! A chip off her mother’s block.
I turn my gaze from Karen to Carie. I can’t decide who is more beautiful. Maybe I should ask Dr. J. I smile at that thought. I look out the hospital room window. Outside, people go about their business, unaware of the historic events unfolding in this room. On a table next to a chair in the corner of the birthing room lies an Us Weekly magazine. The cover features a picture of Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt. Beneath it is a caption: ‘Jen and Brad – Back Together?’ I can’t tell you because I didn't read the article.
What I can tell you is that Karen stops crying and shivering when the nurse places a cap on her head and places her tiny naked body on Carie’s chest. Carie smiles and cries at the same time. There are tears running down my cheeks as well. I don’t know where they come from. I think they must come from someplace deep in the cosmos, someplace primal and eternal. Perhaps Einstein could say, but my finite mind can’t fully process this experience.
Carie, on the other hand, looks at me and is able to sum up the situation with just five words:
“I owe you a dinner.”


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