Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Quantum Mechanic: Un-Deleted Scene Three

Thanks to Zach L for some inspiration.
UN-DELETED SCENE 3: Douglas and Alvina fall in love all over again

As Alvina learns to deal with the burden of quantum awareness, Douglas tries to coach her. He wants to make it easy on her, but she isn't having it. She wants to learn everything the hard way.

"Sorry, Bea. I guess I just want to see you succeed better than I did."

"Well, that's an attachment you'll have to drop, I guess. I had a chemistry teacher in high school - "

"I know," he interrupts. "You've told me many times before."

"Well, then shut up and let me say it!" She stamps her foot without thinking. Douglas goes wide-eyed.

"Whoah! Sorry, you're right. Framing is important, I sometimes forget, and - "

"And stop reading my mind to tell me what I want to hear!"

"I - " he stammers, then is silent. "I don't know how to do that. I can't stop reading your mind, I care about you too much. I just want to put things in the best way possible."

"Well, I - oh, shit." She drops her gaze. "I wanted you to apologize right after I told you not to tell me what I want to hear. Fuck."

"People are messy."

"Yeah." She takes a deep breath. "Yeah, we are."

"Sorry I did a silly thing. I should have seen your desire to talk. It's still my bad."

"Thanks. And I'm sorry I blew up over nothing." He knows she wants to hear a reciprocal apology. And he knows she knows that she shouldn't expect it just the same. He decides to say what he wanted to say in the first place.

"Right. So where were we?"

They carry on. It's tough at every step of the way. Douglas tries to give the answers to his wife, but she wants the understanding that comes from figuring it out herself. This means he has to hold himself back, which is something he is not accustomed to doing with his students. Over time, he is able to stop seeing her as another student among thousands, and start seeing her as a project, a puzzle for him to solve. He still regards her as a person in her own right, but also as a force of nature he has yet to figure out.

Soon she is able to flip over action potentials in the quantum vagueness below the Planck length. She starts as Douglas did: trying to make wind.

"The thing you have to keep in mind about air is - "

"Would you kindly shut up and let me play around?" He complies. After a few moments, she speaks again: "Sorry, I just get tired of your didactic attitude sometimes."

"It's OK. I'd get tired of it, too - I think." She laughs a little. He smiles. She keeps playing around, but without success. This frustrates her. He sees this in her mind, understands that she wants results she's not achieving. He wants to help her get those resuls, to alleviate her frustrations - but then he remembers their past altercations. He looks deeper.

She doesn't mind being frustrated. She sees it as part of the learning process. He sees it as an obstacle to be overcome. But she doesn't want to follow his lead, she wants to find her own path. He lets her. Finally, she decides to ask for help. He waits for her to ask with her mouth.

"Doug, I - " She pauses, confused. He waits. He does not respond to her unspoken thoughts. He waits for her chosen words. "I need your help. I'm not sure what I'm missing." He asks her what she means, waits for her to explain, then tries to teach her in a way that does not come off as condescending to her.

Over time, Douglas learns that the most effective way to teach his wife - or anyone, for that matter - is to conform to her expectations of how she thinks she needs to be taught. In the classroom, this is obvious: students choose to enroll in classes, and they are there to receive lessons from their intellectual superiors in this or that subject. The relationship is not so explicit at home. Douglas finds that he must unlearn a good deal of his teaching style to actually do the most effective teaching he can. For her. Right now. So far.

Soon, Alvina learns how to read minds. Douglas is her first, just as she was his. She comes to realize how awkward it is to know a person's every thought, and to be unable to shut out such awareness. She learns no lesson that accelerates her learning process; she only learns to deal with the regret of wishing she had been wiser in the past. Eventually, she accepts that she could not have been wiser in the past, and gets on with her life. She does not tell this to Douglas. He does not tell her that he knows.

The lessons continue.

Alvina catches her husband reminiscing about how they had first met. She doesn't recall meeting him until high school, but he remembers meeting her in the fifth grade. Douglas catches her reading his mind, stalls for a moment. She quiets herself. He is self-conscious, embarrassed, but eventually realizes that he has done the same to her. He lets her watch. He tells her the story in his mind.

It was fifth grade. We were at the Intellectually Gifted Learning Organization's Olympics. I saw you and thought you were pretty. You had that ankle bracelet made out of string - I thought it was stupid and silly, but nobody else had one. It made you stand out, and I liked that.

Alvina had spent days braiding that string, then braiding the braids, then braiding those braided braids. It turned out like shit, to be sure, but it was her shit! She realizes that she did in fact make that thing, though; even though Douglas remembers it differently in the particulars (her ankle bracelet was awesome, dammit!), that's more or less how things went. But that was in the fifth grade - she sees his memories of that time, and now she herself remembers - he was the geeky kid who stood in the corners of her vision and wouldn't stop staring at her unless she looked back at him.

That was you, Doug? Oh, jeez, he thinks. Yeah, that was me. He's in the shower. She's cooking breakfast. They carry on about their business, but make passionate love in the evening, the morning's awkwardness forgotten and transformed into affection.

Some time later, Douglas remembers their wedding. This is Alvina's favorite part. She shuts herself up, wanting to see how he remembers it. He knows she's watching his brain; she sees his face flush with blood, her eyes closed as she rests in his arms. She orders him, laughing in her mind, to get on with his memory or they're through. He knows she's not serious, but indulges her anyway.

Douglas stands in a tee shirt and jeans in his mind's eye. He doesn't even remember the band logo on the shirt he wore, she reflects. Neither does she, he points out. She barges into his memory, laughing at him. He laughs with her in his mind's eye. It's not that important. He kicks her present self out of his memory and gets back to remembering.

"Do you, Douglas Bartholemew Orange," says their friend, Trevor, "Take this woman, Alvina Belinda Begalski, to be your main bitch for the rest of your goddamned life?" Trevor Fritz is, for lack of a better term, a loud character in both their memories. Her father laughs from a nearby park bench, her step-mom sighs in his arms; her mother is not in attendance. Doug's parents are ashamed, but they knew they would not get the traditional marriage they wanted out of their son. Douglas is establishing retroactive continuity in his mind, superimposing conversations about the event upon the event itself. Alvina knows that he couldn't stop staring down her dress, so he decided to focus on Trevor's right eye.

"I do," Douglas says in his memories.

"Same to you, lady. Whaddaya say?"

"I'm with that guy," she says, all a-glitter in her sparkling white wedding dress. She briefly remembers their compromise on ceremony: a justice of the peace, but a friend. Trevor was their only friend who decided to jump through the legal hoops to become a justice of the peace. No religious bullshit, they both agreed, but definitely some manner of bullshit to make for a memorable spectacle.

A hazy mess of cheers and platitudes echoes through his mind. Centuries later, the very next thing Douglas remembers is his bride of less than fifteen minutes shoving a piece of cake into his face. He cuts a piece and pushes it into her cleavage. She doesn't resist, but then grabs the back of his head and smooshes his face into the mess he made. He doesn't resist her, either.

Weeks later, Alvina dreams of their first date. Douglas is awake, and intrudes upon her recollection.

"You're dreaming," he says to her, taking the guise of the waiter.

"Yeah, I know. And are you a part of the dream?"

"No, I'm your loving husband. I'll remind you when you're awake."

"Fair enough," she says. Then she remembers ordering her food. The idle conversation. She didn't know what to make of him. He was cute, but a little distant. For his part, he remembers her being pretty, but awkward, and hard to read.

"I borrowed my parents' car and twenty bucks," he says. She doesn't remember this happening. "I didn't tell you this. But it embarrassed me. I figure, now's as good a time as any to tell you."

"I didn't care," she confides. "I thought you were cute, and you had access to these resources, no matter how. You seemed like a safe investement for my emotions."

"You told me some pretty crazy shit. I didn't know whether to kiss you, coddle you, or run away screaming."

"Well, whatever you felt like doing, you ended up doing the right thing: you listened."

"Huh." Their food shows up, out of synch with the memory. There were awkward silences in their real first date. Pauses where neither of them knew what to say, but wanted to impress the other person. "Maybe telepathy is a bad thing," he says while winding noodles around a fork.

"Maybe I like to invade your privacy," she says, pushing her drink over. He watches the liquid spill over the tablecloth and onto the floor. She watches his eyes. "Maybe I want you to be vulnerable to me."

"Maybe I want some privacy to myself," he says. The other people in the restaurant vanish. "Maybe I want some safety. Maybe I want boundaries."

"Maybe I don't think that's what love is all about."

"Maybe - I'll fuckin' stab you." He grabs a knife and brandishes it.

"Maybe," she leans toward him, "I know you're bluh-huh-fing," she says in a sing-song voice.

The patrons reappear. The waiter brings the check. Douglas stands up to pay without a word, then returns to the table.

"Maybe I'm just making this up as I go. Maybe I only love you 'cuz you go along with my story."

"Maybe it's a story I like to hear you tell."

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