MÖBIUS STRIP

Alexis Kelley

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     “Max, come see these jars I found,” Lucy called.

 

     Barely inside the apartment, Max dropped his satchel on the floor and went to look. Lucy was standing in front of his bookshelves. With a flourish of hands, she struck a pose of, And behind this curtain we have … ta-da!

 

     One shelf was, of course, completely empty. Max’s books were in piles beneath. 

 

     “Heavens, Lucy, where did you find them?”

 

     “The 26th Street flea market. An old woman sold them to me. She was sitting there on a wooden crate in all this heat with the jars lined up on the ground in front of her. I know, it’s extraordinary, right, to find them like that at the flea market.”

The light in the room shimmered in a faint, white aura and Max could feel his heart pumping. He concentrated on staying calm till it passed. 

     “Yes, remarkable. Did she tell you anything about them, where they came from?”

 

     “She said they were urns for the dead. I wish you could have seen her, Max. She looked like some grandmother from the Balkans, with the scarf tied under the chin, about a zillion wrinkles like one of those withered up apple dolls, the long, black skirt all covered in dust. I was surprised she spoke English.”

 

     “Do you have a favorite?” he asked.

 

     In two years of looking at invisible objects Lucy presented to him, Max still felt a dull anxiety every time but it always subsided and he had learned to ask questions that might be useful later if she made mention of this one or that one. He put his arm around her waist and they stood looking at the empty shelf.

 

     “The second one from the left,” Lucy said.

 

     She walked to the shelf. Lifting one of her small, delicate hands, she began to trace the outline of an object only she could touch. The light in the room, that had moments before spilled late afternoon warmth through the window, had transformed into rays of translucent, bluish-white clouds that popped with thousands of tiny, diamond-like flashes. There was no sound. Max didn’t realize he was holding his breath till Lucy spoke again.

 

     “It’s so beautiful all gnarly and pitted and rough, then smooth in places like bone. See how it looks like there’s wax melting here on the side? I told her I thought they were awfully small for ashes and she said they were for small animals. Look, this one has the body and head of a goat but when you turn it around, there’s a fish tail, see, like a fairy tale creature. Amazing.”

 

She raised her other hand and began to turn the invisible urn so Max could see the tail. When she gazed back at him, the thrill in her smile made him smile, too.

 

     “You are what is amazing in this room,” he said.

 

​     Lucy clasped her hands together in a prayer of glee. 

 

     “It’s a sea goat!”

 

     “Without a doubt, my darling. A sea goat, indeed.” It would spoil the moment to tell her that as far back as the second millennium BC, when the Babylonians organized a system of astrology, Capricornus was depicted as a goat with the tail of a fish. Max, himself born under this mythical creature’s stars, was Lucy’s sea goat. He watched her caress the invisible tail. 

 

     Max had first become aware of Lucy’s hallucinations the third night she stayed at his little bachelor apartment on 95th and Riverside. He’d made dinner for her, a simple meal of sautéed vegetables and wild rice. He wanted her to know that he thought about how tiring it must be for her to make a living cooking for others. That’s what she had been doing the first time he’d seen her.

 

     He often had lunch at one of the few places to eat near his office on Columbia’s campus. It was a tired old Greek place where the food was passable, the service less so, but on the day he met Lucy the atmosphere was electric. The usual scattering of three or four customers had given way to nearly every seat occupied. Bottles behind the bar gleamed and the little tin stars that hung from the ceiling in dingy decoration, twinkled as if they were real stars. Good will, mixed with intoxicating wafts of unfamiliar spices, permeated everything. He had stepped into an alternate universe and it made him feel completely vulnerable. Looking carefully at his surroundings to make sure he hadn’t walked into the wrong place, he was close to bursting into tears when she appeared. 

     Dressed in all white––t-shirt, pants, apron––her deep red hair tied at the nape of her neck, she slipped through the kitchen doors right past him (Max would later swear she had been carried through the room on a cloud of vapor). A large bowl of something steaming was nestled between her hands. Like an offering, she placed the bowl on a table where two couples sat in a booth by the front window. In turn, each customer seemed to bow to the bowl as they inhaled the perfume of the steam. The diners were silent as they looked up at each other with eyes wide and cheeks flushed. A busboy materialized with four smaller bowels, placing one before each customer. They were transfixed as they solemnly dipped their spoons in for a taste. When they finally looked at Lucy, it was with the astonished gaze of the newly converted. The smile on her face was slight but glorious and Max thought, This must be the meaning of beatific. On her way back to the kitchen she stopped in front of Max and asked, “Are you real? If you are, I’m Lucy.” Her voice was earthy, an oolong tea of a voice. That was all she said to him. It was all it took. 

 

    Max had eaten Greek food every day for three weeks before he mustered up enough courage to ask Lucy if she might like to visit the Natural History Museum with him. He couldn’t believe his astonishing luck that she had said yes and that five months later she was in his apartment, smiling at him with appreciation for the food he’d prepared.

 

     After their meal, while he cleared the table, Lucy wrapped herself in the woolen throw Max kept on the back of the sofa. He was washing the dishes when she squealed.

 

     “A mouse!”

 

     “Are you serious,” Max asked.

 

     His back began to itch while a rash of tiny purple spots started to climb up his neck. Would she think his place too grubby to inhabit for another moment? Wasn’t it enough that his face resembled a pudding? His mother was right to call it that, “A yummy pudding of a face,” mother would say as she pinched his cheeks and ruffled his hair. He had long since given up trying to subdue the ashy, brown spikes that stuck up from his head or to dress his too lean frame with style. Why even try?

 

     “Yes,” Lucy had said. “Look over there in the corner by your desk. It’s just sitting there, little thing. It looks like it’s a baby. It’s weird that it’s white. Do you think it escaped from a lab?”

 

     Max looked. He saw nothing. He looked back at Lucy. Her eyes were fixed on the corner where shards of cold light from the streetlamp shattered the floor. She must be sitting where she could see it and he could not, or at an angle that created a mouse out of shadow and light. Her face was filled with amusement.

 

     “It’s so cute, Max, isn’t it? Like a little cotton ball with bb’s for eyes. No, not bb’s, but those cinnamon candies. You know, like when we were kids? What were they called?”

 

She sat very still for a moment, eyes closed in concentration. Max had stopped breathing.

 

     “Red Hots! That’s what they were,” Lucy shouted. “Remember? They were for baking. We would put them on top of cupcakes. I loved them. I’d eat the whole bag if someone didn’t take it away from me. Aw, there it goes,” Lucy said. “I scared it.”

 

     She picked up one of Max’s physics journals from the coffee table and leafed through it. Her reaction to a mouse in his apartment made Max heady with relief and he had to turn away from her to regain his breath. 

 

     “You know everything in these magazines is hilarious, don’t you?” 

 

     “Of course I do,” he said, “but I have to make money doing something.”

 

     “By duping your students into believing the universe is made up of particles that don’t actually exist?”

 

     “Absolutely, but they pay me pretty well.” They looked at each other with the pleasure of conspirators who know precisely how the banter will end.

 

     “And, Lucy, light particles exist. Your name is made of them.”

 

     He didn’t think about the mouse again that night. When the baby rodent appeared a second, then a third time, and he still couldn’t see it he played along. Was she trying to pull one over on him, a test to see how far he would let it go? Was it a game, like her teasing him about his job? By the time he realized it was not a test or a game, it didn’t matter. He loved her.

 

     They moved into an apartment on West Lawrence Street in Fort Greene and he asked her to marry him. Lucy said yes, but only if they could be engaged for seventeen months. It was so like her, not a year and a half but a year and five months. The white mouse with Red Hots for eyes stopped appearing a few weeks before he vacated the bachelor apartment. Max and Lucy were married seventeen months to the day after he proposed. When he had entered the date into his calendar the night she said yes, he saw it would be on a Tuesday, not the best day of the week for a wedding, but structuring his life with calendars and time tables was important to him. Staying true to exact dates gave Max a sense of order that was consolation for the low-grade panic that was often just under the surface.

 

     He sometimes wondered how this need for order could coexist with his acceptance of Lucy’s hallucinations but he always concluded that it wasn’t that different from physics, which continually required suspension of the probable. The physicist wants to find order and the universe keeps constructing trap-lines that make a definitive conclusion impossible. The exhilaration Max experienced in the simplest, provable theories gave him comfort. Lucy had, in her own way, found comfort by simply going around the trap-lines to buy invisible funeral urns for pets.

     

     Max and Lucy were happy in Fort Greene even though it was considered a rough neighborhood when they first moved there. Crack vials, condoms, stained underwear, lost single shoes, and fast food wrappers littered the park in between jonquils that somehow found the grit to persist. Handsome, old brownstones and clapboards in various states of dilapidation were, for Max, a melancholy sight but Lucy could read their history and saw the exquisite patina of time. It might have been unnerving for someone who didn’t have Lucy’s talent for sidestepping traps, but she saw through the tawdriness of the neighborhood and was captivated by its inhabitants. Her ability to see sparkling leaves dancing in the once elegant London plane trees, now grimy with city dust, or the dainty, ballet-like walk of an old woman carrying shopping bags, was infectious and Max began to regard their new home through the light of Lucy’s eyes. 

 

     Lucy was the one who found the Fort Greene apartment, two upper floors of a three-story clapboard, set amongst the brownstones of the block. At first glance, the shocking Caribbean blue paint with white, filigreed trim looked garish and completely out of place amongst the browns and greys of Fort Greene, but there was a vitality about it that was not unlike Lucy’s own and Max began to love the cheerfulness of the house. By comparison, the brownstones seemed constricted and lacking in mirth. The landlady took great pride in her house, meticulously maintaining every detail. A formidable Grenadian woman, who wore impossibly joyful colors––bright reds, taxi cab yellow, electric greens, Caribbean Sea turquoise––she was known to the neighborhood as Queen Mother. 

 

     Queen Mother looked at Lucy and, without a word, took her in as her own. When she looked at Max, concern filled her smooth face and she invited them to come in for a tea that would make him feel better. When he asked Queen Mother why she thought he needed to feel better, she tapped his forehead with her finger and said, “Too much heat.” As Lucy and Max followed her into the house, the early summer breeze carried the scent of nutmeg through open windows and out to the sidewalk. 

 

     Queen Mother lived on the first floor where she was able to walk out her kitchen door to work in the dizzying lush garden she cultivated on her small plot of land. Squash blossoms were in bloom and leaves sparkled like iridescent jewel beetles amongst the delicate, pink flowers of rose geraniums and the aromatic feverfew. Queen Mother used feverfew to brew teas for clients who came from all five boroughs to be treated for joint pain, migraines, or other more serious maladies. Every day she made a specially concocted tea of it for Max and she wouldn’t let him out of her kitchen until he drank it.

 

     Max and Lucy occupied the upper two floors, one of which had been converted from an attic into a huge bedroom with sloping roof, jutting eaves, and a skylight. When Lucy saw the skylight she said, “Oh, Max, we can lie in bed and count your stars till we fall asleep.”

 

     Max would come home in the evening and the smell of nutmeg would hit him when he was half way down the block. He hadn’t known that nutmeg was one of the principal exports of Grenada or that mace came from the same plant. He had never heard of an herb called feverfew, let alone seen the loveliness of its tiny, daisy-like, white petals. Often, he found himself stunned by the things around him he hadn’t known existed before he met Lucy. Now he could no longer imagine living in a house that didn’t bring eggnog to mind on a daily basis. 

 

     Before Fort Greene, Max had lived within walking distance of Columbia. The commute from Brooklyn was a shock at first but he began to delight in the way it made him feel he was part of the city's equation. The chaos and thunder of the subway was a match for the never-ceasing maelstrom inside his roiling brain. Sometimes he would ride the trains for several hours after work, unable to tear himself away from this subterranean stew. The colors of the different lines, the schedules, the running from one train to a connecting one on another platform, transported him, not only to the Upper West Side from Brooklyn, but back to childhood where the game was one he might actually win. He studied the way other passengers navigated the system. They had such confidence in their ability to get home. Playing out their lives right there in front of him were these celestial creatures, simmering below in their mutual attractive forces, orbiting a center only they could see. He came home with stories for Lucy the way other men bring flowers, stories of romance and heartbreak on the rails beneath the ground, of musicians who could make him weep, comedians who didn’t know how bad they were, or boys who danced on their heads.

 

     Before Lucy, Max’s life had been so small. He hadn’t felt the meanness of it because he was forever looking out at the cosmos but she had turned that upside down. He knew his world had changed irrevocably when he came home one night to find the sound of strange, boozy music playing on an old turntable that hadn’t been there when he’d left that morning. He looked at the record going round and round but couldn’t read the label so he stopped the turntable. 

 

     “You have to leave it on, Max,” Lucy called from upstairs in the bedroom. 

A quick glance revealed the title, “Hub Caps and Tail Lights” by H. Mancini. He started the record again. After a moment, Lucy appeared at the top of the stairs. She wore a loose fitting, sequined dress of silver. Gone was her usual ponytail and in its place dark curls kept falling into her face. More shocking, however, was the makeup. In the two years they had been together, Max had never seen Lucy wear makeup and now her eyes had disappeared in black holes of smudge while her mouth was a shock of bright, uneven, orangey red that was already starting to smear. Shiny, black, patent leather heels, a half size too large, made it necessary for her to hold onto the bannister as she attempted to shimmy her way down the stairs. Max could feel the blush rising up his neck into his face. She’s going to strip, he thought, and was mortified but powerless to stop her as the record played boom-boom-ba-boom, boom-ba-boom, boom-ba-boom. 

 

     Lucy motioned for him him to sit and he sank into the sofa as she began her routine. It was difficult to watch but it was so odd that Max he couldn’t not watch. She kicked off the high heels, one nearly knocking over a lamp, and then, grinning, lifted her dress to where garters held her stockings. Unlatching the clasps from the first stocking, she began to roll it down her leg in a tidy tubular shape like a donut until it was at her toes but she didn’t take it off. Instead, she unclasped and rolled down the second stocking to the toes of that foot. Max became completely mesmerized. With both stockings still on, she slipped one stocking covered foot into the stocking that was on the other foot, nearly falling as she did. She had shackled her feet together with a stocking donut. Unable to complete her task while standing, she sat on the floor in earnest focus, like a child who is building a sandcastle for the first time. The music was grinding away as she switched stockings, seemingly one within the other, before rolling them up her legs again so they ended up on the opposite leg from where they started. The music stopped with the tacky, drawling voice of a woman saying, “That’s all.”

 

     Lucy was sweating as she jumped up and said, “It’s a Möbius strip!” Max was speechless. Even with hair sticking to her face and eye makeup running down her cheeks, she was glorious. They burst into laughter. 

 

     Before Lucy, a Möbius strip had been a non-orientable surface that appeared to have two sides but actually had only one side and one edge. One could travel on this surface indefinitely and Max felt his whole life had been spent trudging that singular path without end, the universe's parlor trick to keep him grounded. With garish makeup, old fashioned stripper music, and slight-of-foot, Lucy had made a Möbius strip of love. It no longer mattered to Max if the universe was finite or infinite.

 

     Lucy found work at a café in the neighborhood. The place was defined by years of changing hands and decorating schemes. Begun enthusiastically, each one of the renovations had been abandoned before becoming fully realized so that now posters of Chinese beauty advertisements from the 30s hung alongside African masks or signed photographs of Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger. Whatever struck the cook’s fancy was the menu for that day and customers sat at community tables where they actually communed with one another. Books were everywhere. Hans Christian Anderson was a favorite. Bound editions of the fairy tales were often read to children as they waited for a table, huddled up with their parents on one of the two old sofas or the stuffed chair in the corner. There were so many copies of “The Wind in the Willows” that people started calling the café Willows and it stuck. If you asked someone on the street where Café Loon was they couldn’t tell you but everyone knew Willows. 

 

     Dented pots and pans, ladles, ricers, and tea strainers hung from hooks throughout. Lucy loved the old utensils, exploiting them whenever possible. After she had been at Willows for a couple of months, they began to shine with the polish of appreciation and use. Copper, steel, brass, and silver would catch the light, the reflections sending out streaks that crisscrossed the space. Whenever Max entered the café, he had the sensation of having been dropped into a photograph of a busy traffic exchange, shot at night with a long camera exposure to catch ghostly tails of red and amber light.

 

     With Lucy in the kitchen, Willows became the hangout of choice in the neighborhood. American Blacks and West Africans, Scandinavians, European singers or Japanese dancers on tour at the Opera House that was once again thriving, West Indians, white hipsters (some would say gentrifiers) from Manhattan who wanted more space for less money, all gathered at Willows in a goulash that was as rich as Queen Mother’s Oil Down. Lucy said there was no better name for a dish of anything from anywhere than Oil Down and under Queen Mother’s tutelage she became a master of the Grenadian national dish. Lucy’s Oil Down, wildly popular at Willows, was the only thing that was a constant on each week’s menu. 

 

     Max had been apprehensive about Lucy spending so much time at the restaurant. He would sit quietly and watch her without vying for her attention. The possibility of her revealing her hallucinations to her co-workers or customers had terrified him, but she never did. Just to him. Summer turned to fall and then winter.

     

     It was blistering cold the day Lucy came home with the dog. The sky was charcoal. Trash on the sidewalks was encased in soot-black ice. When Max opened the front door of the house, the smell of nutmeg was overwhelming. For the first time it made him feel sick. This frightened him. His breathing began to accelerate. As he climbed the stairs, he struggled to keep the panic down. The first thing that greeted him as he entered the apartment was a blast of heat. 

 

     “Max, come see our dog,” was the second greeting. 

 

     Oh, god, he thought. What kind of dog has she conjured up? Is it going to be a sculpture of a dog, a stuffed dog, or one that is supposed to be alive? Dammit, Lucy, is this going to be some long-running scenario where I’m going to have to feed and walk the thing? Lucy had turned the heat up high. It was almost unbearable. 

 

     “He’s so adorable, Max. Come see.”

 

     “I’m coming, Luce. Just let me get out of my boots.”

 

     He wanted to lie down, put a pillow over his head, and sleep till morning but he dragged himself from the hallway into the living room to see the dog. He stopped short. Lucy was sitting on the floor. In her lap was a sturdy, but emaciated, black and white terrier of some kind. With rapid but gentle rubbing, Lucy was using her favorite towel to dry off the sopping wet creature. The dog’s front right leg was deformed in an ‘S’ shape, giving the animal the look of an Edwardian dandy, elbow out, wrist on hip. It looked at Max with immediate wariness. With Lucy, it was totally content to be handled and Max could swear he saw a glint of a smile on the creature’s face when it looked up at her. A stab of jealousy pierced Max’s heart and then retracted as quickly as it had pricked him. 

 

     “It’s okay,” Lucy said to the animal. “This is Max and he’s going to love you. Maybe not as much as I do but almost.” To Max she said, “He was so filthy when I found him I had to give him a bath. I know it’s way too hot in here but I didn’t want him to get sick. Poor little guy. His name is Ratty. You know, the water rat in “The Wind in the Willows.” 

 

     Max wanted to scream that he was just too tired right now to meet a dog named for a water rat. His hands were trembling. A tiny white mouse with red eyes darted out of the kitchen, along the floorboards, and disappeared behind the hutch that held Lucy’s collection of old cracked and stained teapots. 

 

     “Lucy, I think I’m coming down with something. The dog’s very sweet, but I have to lie down. I have to lie down right now.”

     Ratty put on weight. The dog and Lucy were inseparable. He went to the café with her and when they came home Lucy would tell Max how Ratty was loved at Willows, how he would stop at each table to visit and get a treat. No one could resist giving him bits of food from their plates, but they knew well his dietary restrictions. Lucy was a drill sergeant where Ratty’s food was concerned and everyone knew the rules. If you gave him a portion larger than your small fingernail, Ratty wouldn’t be allowed to roam freely about the café when you were there so everyone watched out for him and nobody broke the rules more than once. 

 

     The dog became the neighborhood ambassador. Lucy never tired of telling Max about Ratty’s journeys, how he would leave Willows and wander up the street to Henry’s key shop for a visit or how she would find him at the African hair extensions shop next door where he would be lying, belly to floor, gazing with unabashed adoration at the twin sisters, Ada and Uduwen, who sewed and wove long strands of fiery red, deep purple or yellow hair onto the heads of their clients. He was completely at home wherever he was, a lot like Lucy in this way but, whereas she was ethereal and floated above everything around her, Ratty was solidly planted and happy to be on earth’s firm ground. It was impossible to encounter either one of them without smiling. 

 

     Max stopped going to Willows after Ratty showed up. He told Lucy he was working on a paper for publication. In truth, he was filled with shame for not wanting to share Lucy’s affections. A couple of months after Ratty’s arrival, Max realized Lucy’s hallucinations had ceased. To make sure he began to place real objects where hallucinated ones were supposed to be and Lucy didn’t seem to notice. There were no more invisible urns. As the days and weeks went by without sighting an acquisition, Max became more and more apprehensive. He was acutely uncomfortable and finally stricken with fear by what was happening. He told himself that he should be grateful, that it was an indication of balance in Lucy, but he couldn’t shake his sense of dread and more than once he burst into a crying jag that shook him badly. He was sure Ratty was taking Lucy away from him. He was sure, also, that he needed some help, Dr. Glasser perhaps. Was he now becoming unbalanced? He made an appointment with Dr. Glasser and winter seemed to drag on endlessly into a spring that barely registered. Summer followed, a sultry, gritty grind that struck down everything in its path of enervation.

 

     Max was greatly improved in both physical and mental health when fall arrived. His decision to work with Dr. Glasser had been fruitful and now the city, too, was brought to attention. The air crackled with optimism. Muses, demanding devotion, returned to the artists who had abandoned them for summer retreats on Long Island. Faux fur and towering boots filled shop windows and long-legged girls cast off their wispy, boho beachwear for the incisive fashion of the hounds they were. Men shaved again and students returned in herds, alive and young, their skin still glowing with the summer's sun and buzzing with the charge of New York. Fall term at Columbia was the happiest time for Max. Great promise was palpable. He gave his students the cosmos and, in return, borrowed their immortality. 

 

     In the time since Max first met Lucy, his classes had grown to capacity and beyond, with students standing at the back of the lecture hall. He was in the middle of an introduction to quantum mechanics for freshman when Lucy and Ratty snuck in as quietly as they could and stood in the back of the class theater. 

 

     “Okay,” Max was saying, “We have our properties: a, b, c, d and e. Here’s what we’re going to call them: 'a' is the marsh; 'b' the marsh king; 'c' is his daughter with the Egyptian princess; 'd' is the stork father; 'e' the stork mother, and ‘f’ is the white priest.

     “You all read your assignment, right? Who doesn’t know the story of  “The Marsh King’s Daughter,” he asked. Smiles zig-zagged throughout the room.

 

     “For the purpose of this class we will not refer to our properties as anything other than the marsh, the marsh king, his daughter, the storks, and the priest. So, we think we understand the marsh. We can measure how deep it is. We can name the reeds that grow in the bog. We can see the opaque green of the algae in the water and the muck around the reeds. What we have no knowledge of is the dark matter at the bottom––the marsh king––or even the properties that enable the king to live there. For instance, how does he breathe? It was this sort of thing that made me really crazy as a child.” The class erupted in laughter. When they settled Max went on. 

 

     “But then we realize we have already observed him. He’s come into existence only through our observation. “The Marsh King’s Daughter” was a title before, a kind of wave that had collapsed into a particle (the king’s daughter) at the bottom of our perception––the marsh.” 

 

     By the time Max had guided the class all the way from the idea of a particle, through the various quarks, mesons, gluons, talking storks, a priest, and finally the Higgs boson, or God particle, his students felt they had never read anything before and an entire world, which hadn’t seemed to be there a moment ago, suddenly appeared as a fairy tale that could explain the existence of everything.

 

     “We think of quantum mechanics and string theory as being ultra-modern,” he continued, “but everything we need, all the tools of comprehension are found in classical Greek philosophy.”  

 

     At the back of the hall a hand shot up. The boy, surly and unwashed, didn’t wait to be called on but blurted out, “Aristotle didn’t even get gravity right.”

Without a beat, Max said, “Aristotle, The Physics. ‘Motion is the actuality of potentiality, as such potentiality.’ When you can explain what that means, Jeremiah, we’ll discuss it. Class dismissed.”

 

     Lucy beamed from the back of the hall. When Max finished his lecture and the students had filed out, Lucy carried Ratty down to the podium. She kissed Max on the cheek. 

 

     “I have an appointment with Dr. Glasser,” Max said. “We’ll meet after?” 

 

     “Ratty and I will wait for you out front,” Lucy said. “Don’t give her too much of a hard time. She does the best she can.” She winked at him and hiked Ratty up securely under her arm. Max gathered his papers and they left the hall. 

 

     Dr. Glasser’s office, high ceilinged with gracefully arched windows, was dark wood, beautifully worn books, and elegance. It felt to Max more like a well-appointed private library than a psychiatrist’s office and that was the point he supposed. The two walls of floor to ceiling shelves held the books arranged by color within their sections, comforting in their solidity and symmetry. Taste and order prevailed in every detail. A deceptively large desk was made the perfect size for the room by graceful Louis XIV legs that anchored it on an antique Khotan silk carpet of the palest rose, brown, and charcoal. The carpet looked more like a watercolor than a rug. When Max examined it carefully, he could see delicately woven storks among reeds. A pair of table lamps, converted Asian urns of heavily cast bronze, set off a sofa of natural rough hemp. On the wall behind Dr. Glasser’s chair, a painting of mystical light on the Hudson River begged one to enter its realm of gold. The room had such authority and balance that it wouldn’t have mattered if Dr. Glasser was a good psychiatrist or not. She was, however, considered to be the best at Columbia Psychiatric.

 

     Max was looking out the window when Dr. Glasser made her usual, stealthy entrance into the room. Her tiny frame would have seemed frail had she not been so forceful in her conviction that hers was the only opinion that mattered. It was impossible to know how old she was because her self-possession defied age. It was rumored she was nearing ninety. A dove grey suit of blended Icelandic wool and silk in a box cut extended the silhouette of her haircut––a perfect, short, white bob. Like her office, Dr. Glasser displayed an air that was chic, structured, methodical, and comforting. Max’s file rested between both her hands. She smiled at him. It was a smile without teeth showing.

 

     “This is good news, Max. How do you feel?”

 

     “Ask me a month from now,” he said with a hint of a smile.

 

     “You’ve done extraordinary work here, Max. You can feel confident in that. It’s no small achievement to find the correct balance of medications. Dr. Maxwell is the finest neurologist in the field, yet, he has patients who give up long before success is within sight.”

 

     “I know, but I still miss her. I even miss Ratty,” Max said.

 

     Dr. Glasser once again produced her toothless smile and said, “It’s not unusual to miss something that brought you comfort. I would be concerned if you weren’t feeling loss.”

 

     However stern Dr. Glasser was, working with her had been extremely valuable for Max. What therapy had allowed him to understand was that the universe was infinite, after all. The Möbius Strip would insist his path was determinate but he had failed to recognize the alternate reality of Lucy’s universe. It had been there all along. Even when he was unaware of it, she was on the same path, the one they had always been travelling together. 

 

“Thank you, Dr. Glasser,” Max said, “I couldn’t have gotten here without your help.”

 

     “You will be fine, Max. Remember, it was your own desire to let go of Lucy, the most intricate hallucination Dr. Maxwell and I have encountered in practice or in academic study. I know I have said this to you many times but it bears repeating often; it was your desire to live in reality that created Ratty." The slightest genuine smile flickered across her lips. "Truly, the creation of such a dog to bring conflict into you fantasy, well … ." It was the first time Max had ever seen her reveal so much of herself. She shook her head just a tick, was transformed back into the doctor, and continued. "Mac, you understood, on a deep level, that your physical health, as well as, your mental stability could not continue to deteriorate without dire consequences. Please let me know immediately if you have any difficulties.”

 

     “I will, Dr. Glasser.” 

 

    Max stood up and went to look out the window once more before leaving. The brilliant New York skyline and the trees below were shimmering with the golds and scarlets of autumn. On the lawn in front of the building Lucy played with Ratty, the two of them rolling on the grass. It didn't matter they were created by his own feverish brain. How could he let her go? Dr. Glasser could never understand how desolate his life was before Lucy appeared, bringing him an understanding of that which all physicists seek – the universe and beyond.

 

     For Max, it was simple. He had returned to the basics, the place where physics had first called to him and given him more joy than most will ever dream of. For Max the beginning was atoms. Everything that is is connected by them. And at the center of an atom there is a nucleus, a small, dense region consisting of protons and neutrons. Max liked to think of it as the heart of the atom. Lucy was that heart. She was the atomic nucleus of the atom. The nucleus is surrounded by a cloud of electrons, bound to the atom, not by any kind of actual barrier but kept there by electric attraction, creating energy quantization. Max was one of the electrons, kept close to the nucleus in the same way the nine planets stay near the sun instead of roaming the galaxy. Lucy was the heart, without which he would be a lone wanderer.  

 

     “I’ll see you next month for your follow up,” Dr. Glasser said.

 

     Turning back, Max extended his arm to Dr. Glasser and they shook hands.

 

     “Right, of course,” he said and headed for the door.

 

     When he got to the street, Max kissed Lucy for a long moment. He picked up Ratty and patted him.

 

     “It sure is a good thing we went for couples counseling, huh Ratty, old buddy?”

Lucy laughed as Max held Ratty out to her. He loved the way she would hike the dog's sturdy, little body under one arm, referring to him as, "Purse Dog." He loved the way Ratty would throw his head back to look at Lucy, showing his teeth in a big grin of adoration. He knew just how Ratty felt.  

 

     “I want to go to Harlem to pick up palm nuts for that palm butter you like,” she said. "I’m going to try it out at Willow’s tomorrow.”

 

     Particles of light glimmered about her head like a halo.

 

     “Tonight I’m making spiced lamb with fresh chilies and mace. Queen Mother gave me the most beautiful chilies you've ever seen and some of the new mace she got this week from the island. You’re going to love it,” she said.

 

     She put Ratty down on the sidewalk where he shook his footstool of a body into its compact stance. Lucy looked at Max. With one eyebrow raised, and the corners of her mouth promising a smile, her eyes flashed as twin suns, hot and blinding. She held out her hand, palm up. Max dug into his pocket and pulled out two prescription bottles. He dropped them into Lucy’s waiting hand. She kissed him on the lips, a whisper of a kiss, and turned to go. As she and Ratty walked towards the subway, Lucy opened one of the bottles and began to drop one pill at a time into the sidewalk's gutter.

 

     “He loves me,” she said as the first pill hit the pavement. “He loves me not,” as she dropped the second one. “He loves me. He loves me not.” The last pill ended with, “He loves me.” 

 

     As Max watched them turn the corner, gratitude engulfed him. The smell of nutmeg drifted by on a tiny gust of wind. 

 

End

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