These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.
Eliot had years ago gone off the grid, as they say, and my encounter with him that crisp fall morning in the floral section of the grocery, seemed sheer happenstance. My surprise was accentuated by his appearance: rather than the disheveled countenance which had marked those last few years, Eliot looked clean-cut, younger even. He grinned upon spotting me, almost furtively, and shook my hand with vigor.
“It’s been a while,” he said.
I nodded. “Years. How have you been? WHERE have you been?”
His eyes glinted. “Traveling.”
I wondered silently at the roses in his hand. Janelle had been gone for years, dying suddenly after their cross-country trip in 2006, and finding another love or even dating had seemed anathema to Eliot. But it had been a while indeed. He’d resigned from the university where we’d been colleagues—he a tenured professor of literature and I of physics—and had been living on what pension or wealth he had to that point accumulated. He nodded presently at the arrangement clutched in my hand.
I felt a smile light upon my face.
“Special occasion?” Eliot asked.
Eliot grinned. “The things we do for love,” he said.
“Indeed.” I glanced toward the registers, to distract from the discomfort I was for some reason beginning to experience. “It’s great to see you.” I turned back to Eliot and extended my hand.
“Likewise,” he said. “You know…” His eyes danced with an alacrity I could not quite place. “Would you like to come over for dinner tonight? You and Evie?”
I was thunderstruck. Eliot had all but disappeared since Janelle’s passing. His eyes bore into mine, imploring my reply, and I heard myself saying, “I’ll check with Evie, but sounds great!” We made arrangements for six o’ clock, pending Evie’s response, but I knew she’d be fine with it, and likely as intrigued as I was. We shook again, and I headed for the registers, he for other aisles.
I’d been right about Evie: she was beyond curious and anxious to go.
“It has to be another woman,” she said, as she rummaged for something to wear. I could only shake my head. My wife’s logic was sound, yet flew in the face of all we’d known of our wayward friend. Janelle’s loss had devastated him utterly. They’d just returned from an epic driving trip, having enjoyed the beaches of the west coast, explored the Grand Canyon, even witnessing the drop of the Stardust return capsule as they crossed Utah. This, Eliot confided, had been his favorite moment of all. Getting out of the car to behold something so historic and rare, alongside the rarest soul he’d ever known. When word came of her passing, with scant details then and to this day, we’d all been shocked and heartbroken. There’d been no funeral, no visitation. He’d loved Janelle beyond all reckoning, and the day he lost her was the day he seemed to lose himself. I saw him only once after it happened, when perhaps against better judgement, I’d gone to their home to pay respects and check on my colleague and friend. Their driveway was in back, but I parked on the street in front of their home. A quaint bridge arched over a modest creek to their lawn (ER’s bridge, I loved to joke), and it was upon this span Eliot stood, appearing so stricken as to seem at once alive and dead. His breath alighting slowly into the morning fog, lifting from his body like errant wraiths. His eyes had always kindled with the light of the world at any mention of Janelle, but now glazed with such torment that I stopped in my tracks. What light had abided there, now extinguished, an event horizon beyond which there could be no return.
Things used to be so simple. We’d always had a good rapport, often jousting in playful repartee--he the helpless romantic, for whom life and love were a leap of faith, and I the stubborn logician, for whom seeing was believing. He didn’t proclaim perfection in their relationship, but insisted amidst the occasional arguments or struggles, their hearts still beat as one, their souls to the other ordained. I’d chided him that he was merely confusing the theory of entanglement. He told me finding Janelle was divine intervention, and when I’d gently argued on behalf of the random nature of the universe, he’d simply smiled and said in that case, he was the luckiest man in all the world. No matter the provenance of the thing, the man I encountered upon the bridge that morning looked anything but fortunate. He respectfully but unequivocally exhorted my departure, and after expressing my sympathies I acquiesced, but cast one last glance before reaching my vehicle. The slope of the ground at either end of the bridge, combined with the fog, evoked the appearance of two shimmering mouths, and I watched forlornly as Eliot turned, shoulders slumped, and disappeared through the obscurity.
So long ago, and as we pulled up alongside the bridge on that fall evening, we both brimmed in anticipation of just what man had returned. Our intrigue, however, would not be sated, but rather most terribly inflamed. In the days and months following, we’d both swear to having seen not one but two figures through the drawn curtains of Eliot’s home. Two figures, but only for a moment, as the light shifted and shadows danced and two figures became one, followed by a cry more grievous than anything we’d ever heard. Evie turned to me in horror, then stepped toward the bridge, but I stayed her just in time. She whirled back and saw in my eyes that we must not cross, that we must leave this place, and I pulled her toward our vehicle, casting one last glance behind, where I, for whom seeing was believing, observed on this crisp but fogless evening, two shimmering mouths at either end of the bridge.