PV=nRT: A Lesson in Mathematics (or How I Came to Witness My First Drive By Shooting) a Short Story
PV=nRT or a Lesson in Mathematics
The voice from the unit said “turn right” the last time I heard. It’s on the floor now, the cord pulled out from the cigarette lighter. I don’t think there was enough juice in the battery to keep it running.
I’ve had chicken on my mind, fried chicken and potatoes since I left the University. The traffic on the 80 was pretty bad and I knew I could find something good in Oakland. I saw a shop down off of San Pablo near the casino. The streets were pretty busy and it looked like it was a card house even though the neon sign for it could be seen from the freeway.
Taking in the mileage factor and the fact that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line the 80 is a tangential corridor between the north and the south. The blue and the grey and that’s what this town is about. There are certain borders you have to pay a toll to cross just like the roads or the ferry lines here in the bay. They said there are sharks out in the waters but even in the winter the surfboards are occupied something heavy with the wet suits out along the foam.
With the right sort of sieve you can sort through the sand and find fossilized shark's teeth should you want to go out to the waters. The way the wind whips off the breakers and jetties along the coast, the car is definitely a comfort.
I’m headed East towards the North Bay to American Canyon. The traffic is pretty light and the first indications of Tulle fog have settled along the ground. Napkins are never around when you need them and the barometric pressure is tinting the inner side of the windshield. The remnants of last night’s rain or the impending rain to soon come, have dampened the pavement underneath me as I turn off the exit.
“There are two days of the week you should never worry about,” she said to me. Sila, before she left on the back of his motorcycle. I had known Sila for a semester in a half and we talked about Gus Van Zant films and looked at books with Maxfield Parrish pictures. She has frizzy red hair and blue eyes and freckled arms and breasts.
We would sneak out of our dorm and once slept outside by the fountain at the edge of the mall until four a.m. This was three years ago and I picture them as Johan, my one time roommate drove his motorcycle into Rocky Point and the Mexican wilderness to never return.
I’m studying archives now, in graduate school and you need to worry about yesterday and the day before. If you don’t remember your past then you cannot predict the future. Archives are important because it gives you a foundation to build upon. Like the skyscrapers along the San Francisco skyline that you see from the bridge. In the winter they are lit up at night and look like a forest of neon. All that architecture stands on the foundations of the past. They buried the old city after the quake in ‘06 – 1906 and all the brick covered with sand and cement and pipes are the new geology.
But Oakland is a bit different, and the borders that weave between the city streets are invisible sometimes, even if you can read the signs. It may say Market or Grand but you have to speak the right language sometimes. Five will get you ten and ten may get you out to the Alameda if you know what I mean. You take the thoroughfare and drive by 5th Avenue and eventually arrive at 10th, but if you go down two lefts, too soon, you’ll be out on a pier. Sometimes you have to drive without looking at the street signs. I’m not sure if you know what I mean.
During one of the riots when I stopped off in Berkeley to get some pizza, a homeless group asked me for a dollar. You can ride the 80 or drive the San Pablo to get to all the major cities here. Or through the neighborhoods. San Pablo means Saint and all the streets here have Mexican names except for those that are written in Chinese. The cities along the coast are named Spanish too sometimes like Jose or Anna or even Angelo.
The riots were about the rules against posting bills and there were ten people involved holding signs and a group of policemen standing about watching and waiting. One of the girls involved removed her A-shirt – a wife beater some people call them – and had band aids over the part that counts. A man with long hair and pierced ears already had his shirt off. Even though there were only ten people there now, I could hear more coming and they sounded loud. I am not sure what they were chanting or in what language, but I didn’t tell the homeless group I didn’t carry cash.
I am driving along and have the windows open and the radio off so I can think. In archives you have to learn about paper and the storage of paper and books and how to turn paper and books into something that you can save permanent. There is so much erosion when you think about the yesterday which you shouldn’t think about, according to Sila whose quaint voice I hear after all these years and so many miles of mountains between myself and Mexico. This is so you can preserve things for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow for people you will never know.
This afternoon when I stopped at the Coffee house I ordered my usual and took a short jaunt out into the town square. A little bit sweeter if you please I said to the barista who smiled and thanked me for coming back and then said “please come in tomorrow” and I said “yes of course”.
The man pushing the cart stopped in my spot by the tree as I was leaving the bench in the park. The newspaper on the picnic table said something about the Ukraine or North Korea I’m not too sure which and I sometimes get those two confused although I am not certain why. The borders between nations are easier to navigate when you have an ocean but when the different countries are along the streets you walk or drive down, you lose your sense of perception.
“I likes my liquor like I likes my music and I likes liquor and music” the man tells me as I stop and pretend to tie my shoe.
“Hennessey and O’Hearn,” I respond. “Some months have five Sundays and the number of chirps a cricket emits is directly proportional to the temperature of the air at the moment.”
He squints his eyes and looks at me and says “they say the harmonic convergence is supposed to happen last week, but they said that last year and they’ll say it again.”
“There are two days of the week you should never worry about.”
“Saturday and Monday if it’s a Sunday. And five times a week in some months except February.”
“How deep is the sea?”
“The whole nine yards. Did you know they got that from the war? Sometimes smart things come out of it the wars,” he tells me and then stands rigid and looks around. “I am always content in winter and summer. The bay is always cold and I don’t worry about swimming because I only have one pair of shoes.”
This was the highlight of my day and actually all days. Conversations with people I’ve never met or will ever talk to again. I’ve met other Silas and talked to them and walked with them and slept by fountains. I knew Johans and the professors and students I see on campus. I converse with them but don’t really talk. These are the other borders you have to navigate through like the way the timeline’s authors use to designate history or the imaginary lines that you have to see in the books before punctuation was invented. Sometimes you sense things and sometimes you know they are there even though you don’t know it. All the cities of the world are like this and within the cities in the world the little streets and towns.
No one would guess I’m mixed which is probably why I get confused about things sometimes because when you stand on the border you see both sides but you don’t see sides at all because there is a oneness in the middle. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but if you consider archives you are trying to take sometime from the past and keep there for the present and make sure it travels to the future. In the meadows behind my folks house the fireflies navigate the evening air in the summertime and disappear. Such is like that when the weather is perfect and the barometric pressure and the temperature and the entire volume of the air around you is in synergy with the invisible variables that you know about but don’t. Not consciously.
I am sad about Sila sometimes but when she shared her philosophy with me that last day I feel inner workings. I am not sure about Johan. He was an artist and who liked chalk and animals and the desert and Chagall. He had wispy hair and played tennis and wore colorful shorts and talked about Canada even though they drove into Mexico and never returned. Sometimes you cross borders and don’t come back. By choice or not. Sometimes there is other meteorology at work and the cumulus and the zephyrs and the sand the same sand that you find on any beach in any part of the globe is there.
I heard they found the motorcycle outside the village with the cantina where they sang music all the people from London and Buenos Ares and Toronto and Beijing. A guitar, a ukulele and a shot of tequila and other shots too.
There were footsteps leading out into the sea but the beach was popular and the motorcycle was parked by the roadside, tipped over where the campers came and built bonfires. I know they couldn’t have driven the cycle into the sea. It didn’t have sails.
Whenever they ask about my color I always say “just a shade” and “yes” even though they haven’t mentioned anything specific.
“What are you?” they say”
“Just a shade of the Worchester please and the steak medium rare.” I respond.
“Where are you from?”
“The velocity and time help determine the rate of speed.”
“Are you in the right place?”
“An object in motion tends to remain in motion and GMT is standard worldwide.”
You see how it is sometimes. Exactly as it would appear in a playbook for the winning team. I read somewhere that procrastinators can be found at airports waiting for their ships to arrive.
Which brings me back to the Bay. On weekends I would imagine Sila here, gulls in the air eating the bread we threw them and the fog horns calling out along the boom of the shore. The ocean is an imaginary border but the hungry sea always laps at the land. Rocks over time erode into sand and the sand eventually becomes miniscule until it completely disappears but then nothing ever disappears even the books that were written before they invented the book. In this sense archives seem futile because you cannot completely preserve the past because the now is constantly slipping in the future.
Once when I stopped in Oakland I ate at a sandwich shop. The woman behind the counter smiled at me and said hello in an accent that reminded me of islands and warm tropical trees and mangos and steel drums. We talked a little about Rilke and the fires that happen in southern California and the Mexican and Canadian borders and the sex shop down the street.
She served me my sandwich and I ate it.
Right now though I am trying to find my bearings. You walk down many streets sometimes and you never know the experience of another unless you slip into their socks. I realize as I pulled off San Pablo Avenue and that a little further down is MLK with the bus depot and the freeway overpasses that merge and the dark shemales that walk underneath the bright lampposts. I know that the last time I was here the Chicken place was next to the hotel with the dilapidated flamingos and the auto body shop with the wrought iron fence.
The Mariana trench is the deepest part of the sea and they used to say that if you were between the devil and the deep blue sea you were in the hull of a ship and probably not in a good way. The safe chasm in crest of a hull kept you from the heavy waters and the water that would one day reach the beaches of the bays of the world from coming in contact with you. It was a mutual understanding a formula of sorts that you didn’t have to run calculations for. It was the balance of the past and the future all right here in the present. The sea covers the earth for miles and the sails sing in the frail winds that envelope the globe and it has always been that way before the borders and the names that sound like they are sacred but are not and the walls that rise up to the stratosphere and reach to the earth’s core but you cannot see.
I am trying to get my bearings straight now and when I get to the end of the street and past the convenience mart with two green chairs out front I make a U-turn. Some lights are on the porches and I can hear music – some Mexican music, some country and some urbanized songs. A sign in the window of the market says “Deli” but I don’t feel like sandwiches at the moment. I turn on my interior light and look around when I get to the stop sign at the corner. This little neighborhood has little traffic and turn and roll the wheel around in a circle and then straighten it out. I drive back to the well-lit area in front of the warehouse and then turn around again so I am facing the store where I had made the U-turn.
A man in a T-shirt, shorts and a baseball camp strolls down the street. He is smiling and I watch him for about two or three blocks and then look back at the floor when he reaches the store. The green chairs are occupied now by a young child and a teenage boy. A woman stands between them.
One of the things we learn about archives is that in the moment when information is created it isn’t designed to be permanent. Things are done for the moment and for the time and it is only people in the future who will be concerned about the practices. Two hundred years from now they will not know us any more than we know about the people from two hundred years ago other than in our imaginations.
Sandwich shops, the street signs and the borders are all imaginary and matter cannot be created or destroyed is one of the laws of thermodynamics I remember. If you can add ten you can add ten more and five will get you ten and ten will get you infinity. Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday and tomorrow was the day after tomorrow the day before. It’s like that when you think about it. What are you what color are you and what color do you see and what does this word mean that is in Spanish and what do those lines mean that look Chinese. These are the things that come with perspective which is what the archivists look for in the timeline and the mathematics of things.
I don’t know whether I heard the sounds first or whether it was the smell. They say sound travels at 760 miles per hour and I am not sure what the velocity your olfactory perception functions at but I know it cannot be faster than the speed of light. I had heard that they sound like firecrackers and they do and the acrid smell of gun powder fills the air. The lights along the neighborhood have gone out and I look up at the store and see that it is suddenly dark and there is no one standing around.
Suddenly, coming towards me I see it moving out of the shadows. The vehicle is black and looks as large as a tank and I think it must be an Escalade or an SUV. I am unsure if it sees me as it grows larger in my windshield. I am at the side of the road and have my foot on the break petal and the car is in gear but I am in the hull of a ship, reaching down for the coin that has fallen in the crevice, between the devil and the deep blue sea.
The black shape almost clips my mirror and I am still trying to figure out exactly what happened when the car shakes a little and then look into the rearview mirror and see the dark square become smaller and then turn the corner and disappear.
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© 2017 Finnegan Williams