by Steven Gillis
M.E. hung the children in the yard. The girl was anxious and twice told not to kick. M.E. strung her beneath the arms, watched until the blue in her face disappeared and she seemed again almost normal.
The boy was weighed and measured next, a few stones placed in his front pockets, the rope looped over the highest branch rubbing the bark down to smooth white fibers. M.E. stood near the exposed taproot of the Juniper bush and explained resonant pendula to his students. "Every pendulum has an intrinsic frequency," he said. "When two pendulums are placed side by side, with one set in motion, the energy from the first is transferred to the second until it also starts to swing. The exchange continues until the first body surrenders all its energy and stops moving completely. At that point the situation is reversed and the energy acquired by the second body is stolen back again. It is," M.E. said, "a natural occurrence."
The first time M.E. tried kissing Mimi Bell, she laughed and slipped off her shoes. Mimi's skin was thick and smooth and tan, her breasts large, her cheeks round and lush as apples. In M.E.'s apartment, near the couch, a half step from the window, Mimi asked "Where? Here?" and pulled her sweater over her head.
M.E. phoned the next day and invited Mimi for a swim at the Fenview High pool. "I can't," she said. "I have a date." He waited until noon Sunday then called again.
"You can take me to dinner," she told him, then put him off until Friday night. They went to Dominique's on the waterfront. Mimi wore a green skirt and thin blue sweater. When she undressed this time, he had her lay her clothes down neatly on the back of his bedroom chair.
Saturday M.E. graded papers, ate a burger at The House of Meat, then phoned Mimi at seven. "I thought I'd stop by."
"On my way out."
"I see." M.E. checked the children in the yard, the new ones hanging and the others waiting. Afterward, he went to Huber's Market and bought groceries for the week. He remembered Mimi liked Oreos and tuna, and left a bag outside her front door with a note. Mimi phoned just before one in the morning. "What are you doing?"
"That's not what I meant. What are you doing bringing me groceries?"
M.E. sat up. "I thought you liked."
"That isn't the point."
He switched on the lamp beside his bed, heard Mimi turn from the phone and tell someone else to, "Just go!" A second later she was back on the line. "You can't bring me groceries."
"It's too transparent."
"Happened to be at the store."
"Wanted to bring you."
"Because, because, because, because, because," Mimi sang, "because of the wonderful things she does!"
"That's not it."
"Really? You don't want?"
M.E. considered his choices, said "No," then quickly, "That is, of course, I want."
"And so you brought me groceries," Mimi in her kitchen heard M.E. breathing through the line, all swift and eager as a puppy dog's pant. "Listen," she ran down a list of his deficiencies, how he was too thin for her, his shoulders and chest, his hair too neat and hands too soft. "Two dates," she said, and so what if she liked him better than the others? "You're just sniffing around the hen house," she held the phone out in front of her. "You don't even know me."
M.E. went to his window, saw the children where he left them, the girl now swinging higher but the boy catching up. The moon made them silver and black, silver and black, silver and black. "I know enough. I know I like being with you."
"You like playing pin the tail to the bedsprings."
"That's not it. It's more than that," M.E. recalled the first time he saw her, at a seminar on Electron Configuration and the Discoveries of Sir William Ramsay, which Mimi's company - Just Desserts - catered. Watching her across the room, in a pink cotton skirt and white chef's top, looking much as her own perfectly purveyed confection, M.E. experienced a series of involuntarily chemical reactions: the monoamine in his brain dancing like carbonated fizz, the dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin shooting off electric charges, while his PEA count soared and accelerated his pulse. An hour after the conference, M.E. found the nerve to ask Mimi out. "We seemed to hit it off."
"A couple of dinners."
"I thought maybe if we spent more time together."
"You like me."
M.E. whispered her name into the phone. "Mimi, Mimi, Mimi."
"Don't do that," she reached into the grocery bag, brought out a can of tuna, held it for a moment then dropped it back inside. "You got the wrong stuff."
"I don't think."
"I'm going to hang up," she had her finger on the button, hesitated then cradled the phone close again. "You can't just bring me things and expect," she spoke loud enough to keep her voice from dropping down into her belly. "What's your problem?" she insisted he tell her. "What do you want?" but M.E. didn't answer, was already searching for his shoes.
In the morning, M.E. fixed breakfast and filled Mimi's car with gas. He taught Newton's theory of gravity to 11th grade students, explaining by way of cannonballs dropped and then fired from the roof of Fenview High how any two objects in the universe can exert gravitational attraction on one another. ("Fg = Gm1m2/r2. Look at the pull, look at the drag.") The boy and girl still testing resonant pendula were fed through rubber tubes in order not to disrupt their motion. Their progress charted, their endurance earned them extra credit.
"Alright then loverboy," Mimi behind the door last night, let M.E. rattle the knob before undoing the lock and pulling him inside. "If we're going to do this," she handed him a mop and bucket, had him clean her kitchen and take out the trash. Surprised, M.E. did as told, anticipating Mimi waiting for him in the bedroom, naked and with candles lit, he pictured the pout of her mouth, the sweet swell of her nipples and deep green pool of her eyes. Afterward, M.E. undressed in the bathroom, went and found Mimi beneath the sheet, rubbed a hand along her shoulder and toward her hip, only to realize she was sleeping. Each additional overture proved futile. When M.E. kissed her cheek, Mimi squirmed and farted against his leg.
Ha! Who couldn't help but laugh? What a pip she was! What a pistol! M.E. consoled himself by wrapping his body around Mimi's curves, waited until the next day when he drove over from Fenview High, cleaned the rest of Mimi's apartment, picked up two more bags of groceries at Huber's and made steaks on the grill. In bed that night, Mimi wore grey sweats and a flannel pajama top instead of the see-through nightie and sheer silk thong M.E. hoped for. "Let's talk," she said.
M.E. leaned over and nibbled on her shoulder, ran a hand up her thigh.
"What are you doing?" she slapped at his wrist. "Can't you?"
"Yes, of course," he moved his hand to her knee. "I just thought."
"I know what you thought."
"We had a nice evening."
"So you figured."
"It would be fun."
"To smack hips? Hide the salami? Bang the monkey?"
"It's all about getting laid still, isn't it?"
"Because you promised."
"And now you won't even talk to me unless."
M.E. apologized, said "You're right," and hoping to salvage what he could from the situation, told her, "If you want to talk. If you need to. How are things then?"
That Saturday, after cleaning the windows and re-grouting the tub, M.E. invited Mimi to the Zoo. She wore baggy blue shorts and a yellow top one size too small, her white canvas sneakers large and wide, flapping like clown shoes when she walked. "You like?" She raised her arms above her head and did a pirouette.
"I'm speechless. Maybe a sweatshirt," M.E. suggested. "In case it rains."
Mimi stopped her spin, set her hands on her hips, her blue shorts flapping, the bottom of her shirt ending three inches above her waist, the small folds of her belly exposed. "What are you saying?"
"Nothing. Just. The forecast," M.E. muttered.
"There isn't a cloud."
"There's a chance."
"You don't like the way I look?"
"That's not it."
"I spent a lot of time."
"I'm sure you did."
"You don't like it."
"No, I do."
"Then tell me."
Between the cages and outdoor exhibits at the Zoo, M.E. held Mimi's hand as they walked past the llamas, the ocelots, polar bears and zebras. Standing later by the leopards, eating a Zoo Dog wrapped in silver foil and thick with mustard, M.E. apologized for not responding with more immediate favor to the way Mimi dressed. His reaction, he said, was uncalled for, petty and unkind. Why should it matter what she wore, especially when she was trying so hard to look nice for him? (How she got the shirt on to begin with, he couldn't imagine.) What a treat she was! What a corker! M.E. wiped mustard from her chin, said "Mimi, I," only she stopped him, shook her head and covered his mouth. "Please M.E., not while I'm eating."
At the giraffe exhibit, they watched one of the male giraffes follow the female around the yard, saw him stretch his neck and reach to rub his head against the female's rump, lick her tail and sniff her urine in the standard mating ritual. M.E. told Mimi, "The giraffe's heart is over 24 pounds on average, bigger than it's head. The giraffe heart pumps more than 16 gallons of blood a minute, up through a series of back-flow preventor valves in the neck and on to the brain. Physiologically, the giraffe is an anomaly. No other animal is put together quite this way. Any disturbance to the rhythms of the heart, the flow of blood or drop in pressure, and the giraffe will instantly pass out."
Mimi stared, imagining the fall, while M.E. rubbed his chest and agreed, "It can be a problem."
Mimi wore black chaps and a green cotton sports bra to bed that night. A tiny cowboy hat, red and white, was clipped to her hair, a blue string dangling under her chin. Her bottom was bare beneath the sheet, the leather of her chaps covering just her shins and thighs. She gave M.E. the curve of her back, her body turned for him to fit around again like the frame of a painting. M.E. slid into position and wrapped himself tight. Despite her outfit, Mimi insisted M.E. leave his shorts on. She pressed against him, making him hard. M.E. maneuvered around her shoulder and murmured softly, "May I?"
"Very much. Is it ok if I?"
She pushed harder against him. "What is it? Is there something you want to tell me?" She squirmed again, did a little backward wiggle and said, "Funny how eager you are to tell me now."
M.E. lined himself up, an explorer with his purple helmet poking at the mouth of a cave. "I tried telling you at the Zoo."
"So? I suppose you think all this sweet chatter will get you inside the magic kingdom."
M.E. in retreat, wondered "Why are you?"
"What? So hard?" Mimi laughed.
"I just want."
"I know what you want, but you can't talk your way in."
"You let me in, remember?"
"You pestered me until."
"If we're going to do this, you said."
"You brought me groceries."
"You opened the door.
"It doesn't matter."
"Because, I know how these things wind up."
"They wind up as we let them."
"Wrong, they go as they will."
M.E. moved his chin further down Mimi's arm and asked her then, "What are you so afraid of?" The question caught her by surprise. M.E. could feel her beneath him, breathing out, collapsed and still. He waited a moment, wondering if he'd gone too far, and losing his nerve, said "Mimi, I."
"Ha!" she rolled right and tossed back the sheet, stood over M.E. with legs wide, her sex covered by wild hair, all tangled and glistening. "I knew it. Who's afraid?" She hopped twice on the bed, bouncing M.E. who, rising and falling, thought of kinetic energy, the force created by the translational flow and the speed of Mimi's leaping mass. All objects in motion acquired kinetic energy - KE = 1/2*m*v2 - yet here M.E. considered the transference, how dormant he was laid out on the bed before Mimi started jumping, the way he had no motility at all until she moved him.
"If you'd only let me," he ached, his underwear tented, his hands curved like bird wings rising slightly while Mimi squatted lower, reached down and tugged off his shorts.
"Let you what, M.E.?" she grabbed hold of his member with her right hand, her left arm raised for balance, a bull rider at the rodeo seizing the rope. She dropped lower, settled directly on top of M.E., sinking with an, "Ooff," and an, "Ahh," and a "Wow-wee!" When she finished, well after M.E. who came in a series of quick, full body shudders, Mimi released a final, "Yee-ha!" and fell onto his chest. M.E. wrapped his arms around her, tender and triumphant, until Mimi bit him hard on the ear and rolled away. "Don't confuse any of this," she warned him, and tossing off her cowboy hat, slid over to the far side of the bed and fell asleep.
In the yard, the children fixed an additional three ropes to the surrounding trees. M.E. stood beneath their feet, each student hoping he would teach them now how to turn resonant pendula into perpetual motion. "We want to continue moving," they called from the branches. "We understand the give and take," they said, "but how do we keep things going?"
"That's the problem," M.E. looked up. "There's no such thing as perpetual motion. Resonant pendula allows for a sharing of energy between two bodies only for a time. The energy created produces friction, and while it seems counter intuitive, the truth is all motion causes resistance which leads to drag and ultimately forces a moving object to stop."
"But there must be a way," the children were convinced, believing as they did that everything in nature was eternal, the force and flow of objects, the sun and air, all energy immutable and constant. M.E. smiled at this, watching the children test the effect of resonant pendula on two classmates not of equal mass. ("What if the bodies are different?" they were curious.) For a moment M.E. was tempted to encourage them, imagined human emotion having a self perpetuating orbit built into its center, neutrons and electrons circling the nucleus of an atom. Nothing in physics actually denied the existence of perpetual motion, M.E. nearly confessed. Einstein's E = MC2 exposed the possibility of converting light into mass, and so, too, in theory the possibility existed for creating a perfect mirror through which mass could be converted into light. The light could then be gathered and reflected skyward where, at its apex, the light would change back into mass and drop to earth attached to a pulley, creating energy and force. By repeating the process through an indefinite production of light, perpetual motion could be created.
It was however, only a theory.
M.E. grabbed the foot of a tall girl in a short red corduroy dress and black and white saddle shoes strung some four feet overhead, and giving her a yank, said "Modern physicists insist energy can never be created or destroyed, but simply altered in form." He told them how Pascal tried building a perpetual motion machine in the 17th century, only to wind up inventing the roulette wheel, and picturing Mimi on the bed, thought of the energy expended and the way objects dropped from a great height produced friction and risked disintegration before landing. The girl swung against the drag of her partner. M.E. stared at the children, shrugged and said, "Let me think. Let's see if there isn't something."
The following Thursday, Fenview High held an end of the year faculty dinner. Mimi wore a strapless purple dress, a pink belt and red pumps. Her hair was pulled back over her shoulders and clipped in the center by an oversized bow. "You like?" she twirled around.
"It's you," M.E. couldn't deny.
The cafeteria was decorated with blue and orange crepe paper. Student volunteers in Fenview High band uniforms served boiled chicken, mackerel salad and bright yellow corn out of large electric crock pots. M.E. introduced Mimi to his colleagues who complimented her on her dress. Music was piped through the intercom from the stereo in the main office. Mimi heard Springsteen's 'Born In The USA' and wanted to dance. M.E. did his best to keep up, tossing his arms high and low as Mimi covered the floor with pulsating pyrotechnics; Newton's theory of gravitational attraction in full effect, the drag constant across the top of her gown. Halfway through the second song, Lloyd Nedhure tapped M.E. on the shoulder and asked to cut in. Soon a line formed along the north wall where a dozen of M.E.'s colleagues waited eagerly to give Mimi a whirl.
M.E. watched Mimi dance with Bill Teruss and Al Farre, Buck Wile and even Charity Wentworth who helped Mimi with her dress when most of her right boob popped out. "Some outfit," Dickie Davis loosened his tie, slapped M.E. on the shoulder and took his place in line. Driving home afterward, Mimi hummed tunes from Santana's 'Abraxas.' "That was fun," she said.
"What about you?" Mimi's feet were sore and she'd a bit of mackerel salad stuck between her front teeth. She undid her bow and tossed it in back. "Did you enjoy yourself?"
"You liked watching me with everyone then?"
"You seemed happy."
"That isn't what I asked. Were you jealous?"
"Of my friends?"
"Of my dancing with them. Did it bother you?"
M.E. turned the wheel, glanced at Mimi, wondered how he was supposed to respond. He pictured her again whirling around the cafeteria, dipping and grinding with Buck Wile, arching as Larry Wein set his hands on her hips, laughing as Dickie Davis had her slide through his legs in the middle of MC5's 'Kick Out The Jams, Motherfuckers.' "I would have preferred," he told her.
"But you let them," Mimi adjusted the front of her dress, pulled it down then up and asked again, "Were you jealous?" She took hold of M.E.'s middle finger, picked at the fish in her teeth, then clamped down hard. "Because you should."
"What am I supposed to think if you're not jealous?"
"But Mimi," M.E. retrieved his finger and massaged it with his thumb. "You know that I."
"Stop. You can't tell me now."
He reached for her with his sore hand, braving another bite, yet hoping to provide perspective, said of the evening, "It was all just dance."
At this Mimi laughed, shook her head and told M.E., "Of course it was. Everything is dance."
M.E. slept that night on his side, touching only Mimi's hip. He dreamed of the children in the trees and new ways to produce perpetual motion, imagined a couple making love, the kinetic energy from their sex transferred through their hump-hump-hump up into the branches. The couple's constant rhythm created an endless force, a long assembly of volunteers ready to take their place the second they tired.
Three days later, Mimi told M.E., "I have to work this weekend in Bristol. There's a convention."
M.E. had on a pink cotton apron and large rubber gloves. He was kneeling to clean Mimi's oven, a can of Campbell's tomato soup cooking on the rear left burner. "Alright," he said. "I'll drive up with you, if you like."
"That's ok," Mimi stirred the pot. "I'm going with a friend. Roy Fiske. We'll be back Sunday night."
"And Roy is?"
"I just told you."
"I mean, did you ever?"
"You could say that."
M.E. scraped the muck, finished with the oven, washed his hands and made tuna sandwiches to go with their soup. Later, in bed, he thought again what a pip Mimi was, how clever the way she set him up. ("Everything is dance," she told him.) He recalled the conference where they first met, how the lecturer spoke on valence shells and atoms merging, at one point joking that the process was like falling in love. "Chemicals bond in order to satisfy specific needs. Atoms with fewer than eight valence electrons look to fill their void by establishing a practical partnership. Chlorine for example, with seven valence electrons, seems a perfect fit for Sodium which has but one, and yet if Sodium took on Chlorine's seven electrons, the resulting electrical charge would be -7, too unstable given Sodium's number of protons." For the bond to work certain adjustments were required. Sodium first had to empty its 3rd electron shell, surrender its one valence electron and become a +1 ion before bonding with Chlorine. So much calculation and modification, yet ultimately M.E. knew the pairing worked.
Eager to offer more than minor mewling as proof of his jealous reflex, certain what Mimi needed, M.E. focused on the task at hand, set out his strategy and did not complain - despite other immediate desires - when Mimi came to bed that night dressed in armor.
Roy Fiske had short blond hair, cut close and standing on end like the hooked spikes of rodent fur. Early the next morning, Mimi packed while M.E. fixed breakfast. Roy pulled up in a red La Sabre, honked the horn and popped the trunk by pressing a button on the dash. M.E. came down the steps while Mimi tossed her overnight bag inside the trunk. Approaching the passenger door, M.E. put his arm on the roof and his hip against the paneling.
"What are you doing?" Mimi tried getting by.
M.E. grinned, found her protest almost believable. (What a pistol! What a card!) "I don't want you to go," he nearly winked. "I think, that is, I feel."
"You don't want what?"
"I'd rather take you myself."
"Don't you trust me?"
"It's not that."
"Are you trying to suffocate me?"
"No, of course not."
"It's just. Didn't you say?"
"I said? Jesus, M.E., where is all this coming from?"
Surprised, M.E. extended his free hand to touch Mimi's cheek, only she ducked underneath and came up feinting and weaving like a boxer. "Stop it, M.E.. I have to go."
No longer certain she was bluffing, M.E. set his hand down firmer, still startled when Mimi squeezed his wrist and tugged at his arm. "You have to move. What are you doing?"
Roy finished his cigarette, flicked the butt into the street. He had a gravely voice, not so much deep but rough in the center, like a tenor delivering notes through sandpaper. "Are you coming or not girl?" he called to Mimi who continued tugging on M.E.'s arm. Put off, baffled and unsure, M.E. thought, "What a muddle. What a can of worms." He shook his head, the sound of Roy's voice on top of everything else triggering in him a chemical reaction. Exothermic. The way Sodium bonded with water, sending blue and white flames skyward. Activation energy. Aluminum and Bromine steaming together. M.E. slapped the roof hard and shouted for Roy to, "Just wait!"
Shocked, Mimi almost peed her pants. The dog tattoo on Roy's muscled arm did a four-legged samba and leaped several inches. "What the fuck!" Roy shot from the car as Mimi tried pushing M.E. back. Roy raced around the trunk. "Are you out of your fucking mind?"
M.E. replied by banging the roof twice more.
Mimi shouted for M.E. to, "Stop!"
M.E. took his hand from the roof, raised both arms and began shuffling in a stationary moonwalk, much as the giraffe at the Zoo, the Giraffa Camelopardalis which, when confronted by a rival, marched in place with its neck stretched high. "Now what?" he wondered, still hoping Mimi would intervene and send Roy away. Instead she rolled her hips and sniffed the air. Roy went up on his toes, forcing M.E. to climb onto the hood of the car and then the roof in order to appear tallest.
"God damn it!" Roy lunged for M.E.'s ankle.
Mimi moved in a circle.
M.E.'s chest pounded as if filled with all 24 pounds of the giraffe's heart. The preventor valves failing, the blood flowing back, his head went light, the chemicals in his brain - the endorphins and opioids - doing their best to block the pain. M.E. stared at Mimi, tried quickly to assess his situation, the sudden awkwardness of it all. He thought in terms of resonant pendula and questioned if, at any point, two bodies paired together were ever in equal motion, where the one transferring and the one stealing energy became perfectly aligned.
Mimi turned and showed M.E. her tail.
Roy howled and grabbed again for M.E.'s leg. "You're fucking crazy! Get the hell off my car!"
M.E. danced in order to avoid Roy's grasp. In the cadence of schoolgirls reciting rhymes as they skipped rope, he presented a list of the inert elements. "Neon and Radon, Argon and Krypton, Helium and Xenon," he sang out, each atom incapable of bonding, their shells neutral and complete. M.E. asked Mimi, "Do you understand?"
He thought more about chemical reactions, how all false wishes aside, the end result was invariable. When Magnesium mixed with Hydrochloric Acid there was always fire, and when Urea and Ammonium Chloride bonded there was always ice. What kept people mixing and matching as mad scientists was the off chance of something remarkable occurring, the way lethal Chlorine gas reacted with Sodium to form Sodium Chloride, harmless table salt, and who would have guessed?
Roy sprinted around to the driver's side and yelled at Mimi to, "Get in the car!" When he hit the gas the old La Sabre flew forward, sending M.E. off the rear, suspending him briefly in midair like a diver at the top of a perfect pike. A half second later, M.E. crashed in a tumble, flipped and landed hard on his back. The force drove the air from his lungs and left him gasping. He lay by the curb, stunned and listening to the car roar off.
The sun passed in and out from behind a cirrus cloud shaped as a silver-white trout. M.E. groaned. His ribs ached and his tailbone burned. He checked his arms and legs, tested his faculties, relieved to have not hit his head. "Barium Hydroxide and Ammonium Chloride," he felt the chill, groaned again and thought next of Vasopressin, the chemical in the blood which promoted two animals mating exclusively for life. Less than 3% of all animals had Vasopressin, the prairie vole yes, but neither giraffes nor humans; the majority of creatures still fundamentally feral when it came to ways of the heart.
Mimi stood where the car had been, staring down at M.E., smiling as she heard him go, "Ooff," and "Aarrgh," while attempting to sit up. "Look at you," she said. "Alright, alright. I'm ready. So tell me."
M.E. gazed up the street, squinting and unsteady. His body ached, the pavement beneath him somehow harder than he expected. "Too hard," he decided, and recalled the afternoon Mimi and he spent at the Zoo, how they watched the male giraffe rub his head against the female's rump, licking her tail, nudging and gently bumping, resting his neck on her back, how each time he did this, he thought he was in love.