Saturday, February 11, 2012

Rippling Happiness

This was written for a writing group I belong to. The prompt was "Rippling Happiness" - so, for want of a better title, that's what I'm calling it.

This version incorporates some suggested changes, as well as one or two edits I did on my own.

Ever since he was a boy, Melvin Jones had denied himself the basic experience of happiness.

It wasn't that he didn't want to be happy. He did, very much so, or at least he thought he did. It's just that he was concerned that, if ever he should really and truly experience happiness, something bad would happen. Something very bad.

Melvin Jones was convinced that if he were ever really, truly, completely happy, the universe would come to an end.

He wasn't sure how he got that idea. He just knew he had had it for a very long time. He started to suspect it back in third grade, the first time he had kissed a girl. He had suddenly stopped thinking of girls as cootie factories and had started to think of them as something else, something special. So one day at recess, he snuck off with a girl – what was her name, Mary something? - and kissed her. Then he got very embarrassed, and ran back into the school, back to his empty classroom, hoping he could stop feeling so funny before recess ended and the rest of his class came pouring back in. He sat down at his desk and pulled out his science book and opened it to the chapters in the back, the ones they would never get to by the end of the year, the ones where all the really cool stuff was hidden.

And suddenly, every light in the room exploded.

Well, not exactly exploded; there was a flash, and then the lights were all dark. They said it was a power surge of some sort, from a car accident across town, but he wasn't so sure of that. He wondered if maybe it had something to do with the way he felt after he kissed that girl. Maybe.

It wasn't the last time that sort of thing happened to him. It seemed like every time he was in any danger of experiencing true happiness, something bad would happen to offset it. The bigger the happiness, the bigger the disaster. Plane crashes and earthquakes and terrorist attacks, all seemed to be very personal responses from the universe to momentary glimpses of happiness in his life.

Even that time in college, the time that he heard about the guy who was supposed to have solved Fermat's Last Theorem. Only his solution wasn't simple or elegant; not only would it not have fit in the margins of Fermat's book, it would have taken more than the book itself to hold it. Melvin had been thinking about the problem for years, but had held off actually carrying out his solution all the way. Upon hearing that the prize had been claimed, Melvin once again pulled out his binder of notes and gave the solution another try. In a matter of hours, Melvin had produced a simple and elegant solution, something that would have been within Fermat's grasp and not required a knowledge of branches of mathematics that wouldn't be developed for centuries after his death. Melvin looked at his solution, checked his work, and put down his pencil with a sense of hard-earned satisfaction.

Suddenly the shelf with his bottle collection fell off the wall, smashing the colorful bottles to thousands of pieces. And while Melvin was still trying to take that in, the apartment exploded.

How he managed to survive the explosion of the gas line into the building was anybody's guess, but they found him on the front lawn under a couch, banged-up but mostly uninjured. He saw that as a warning shot from the universe – the fact that somehow, the rest of the building had been uninhabited at the moment of the explosion, that no bystanders were walking through the blast radius or debris field just then, was all too improbable to accept as a coincidence.

He resolved then and there to be more careful in these matters. Because, who knows, the next one might be the big one: the one that would cause all the quantum-mechanical waveforms to collapse simultaneously, the one that would decide that Schrodinger's Cat was not alive and dead simultaneously, but was just plain dead, and would be dead forevermore, the one that would bring on the Big Rip, with reality unraveling at the quantum level in a spasm of destruction that would race across the fabric of the universe far faster than the speed of light. And, really, he didn't want that on his conscience.

But this life of self-imposed anhedonia grated on him after a while. Years of monastic living, of denying himself the most basic pleasures in life, made him eager to get out and, at the very least, sample a little of what it had to offer. Meet people. Do things.

In one of his experiments at meeting people and doing things, he met someone. Someone who made him feel funny inside. Someone who made him think that maybe it was worth risking the continued existence of the universe. She looked like an angel, like something out of a painting by Raphael or Leonardo, one of those guys. She smiled at him the first time they met, and they even exchanged a few words. The second time they had spoken a little more, and she had hung out with him after the group had dispersed.

Which brings us to here, Melvin thought, snapping out of his reverie. They had been sitting and talking for who-knows-how-long, exchanging life stories or something. He wasn't really sure. But she was sitting across from him, smiling, looking at him, and he realized that it was his turn to say something. He tried to think of something, anything. Finally he settled on it.

So...maybe we could, like, get coffee or something sometime?” he said in a strangled squeak.

Her smile faded slightly. “We're having coffee,” she said, nodding slightly at the mug in his hands.

Riiight, he thought. We're having coffee. This is a coffee shop. That's what you do there. Dumb, dumb, dumb. He felt himself pulling away, pulling back through a tunnel of self.

But...” she said, “there's...there's this movie I'd really like to see, and it closes this weekend. Do you want to go see it tonight?”

The look of embarrassment on his face turned into an idiot grin. He realized he had forgotten to blink for a while. He closed his eyes and felt the universe begin to unravel.

It spread like waves rippling out from his body. First everything went momentarily dim, then all swimmy. Then he felt oddly euphoric, like he wanted to sing and fly and vomit, all at the same time. He felt lightheaded, and like someone had punched him in the gut, and like he was tap-dancing on eggs that would not break.

And then the universe refused to collapse. It spun around him like a carnival ride coming to a stop, and then it snapped to a halt. It stayed steadfastly in place. He felt himself breathe. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the mug of coffee was warm in his hands, a beautiful girl was sitting across from him and had just asked him out on a date, and and all was right with the world. He was happy, while the universe was going about its business regardless.

He realized a response was expected of him.

Sure,” was all he could manage.

And then, regaining his composure, he added: “That would be cool.”


D.B. Echo said...

"Melvin Jones" was a completely random and arbitrary name. Turns out it's also the name of the founder of the Lions Club, a 1981 member of the Washington Redskins, and (with a spelling change)one of the founding members of the soul group Baby Huey and the Babysitters.

JimboBillyBob said...

I enjoyed this; a good read! I have to ask: was he drinking decaf? If so, perhaps that's what saved all of us. I don't know if the Universe will unravel on a quantum level without caffeine.

dr.antony said...

Good read.
I think there was something in the coffee !