Thank you for showing so much love for last week's guest writer, Kathryn Mattingly! And Kathryn, if you're reading this, thank you again for allowing me to publish your beautiful piece on my site. I look forward to collaborating again in the future.
Anyway, below is this week's story, In Vacuo. This tale finally reveals the origin of The Sugar Twins... duh duh dunn...
Let me know what you think in the comments section!
Also, A note about this story and future Fresh Story Fridays; this work will be presented in (3) parts. Parts 2-3 will be published on the following (2) Fridays, 11/11 & 11/18, respectively. The next Fresh Story Friday will be on 12/2, and will switch to a monthly feature after that, falling on the first Friday of the month. The reason for this is simply because I am consumed with finishing up the last +5% of my manuscript and I am finding it a little too overwhelming for me to keep up with the weekly newsletter/fresh story in addition to putting in the work that I need to on my novel.
But, on the upside, switching to a monthly commitment is going to allow me to do some pretty exciting things both with the stories and the newsletter. What kinds of things? Check out my newsletter to find out:
‘So I was thinking that, in order to make it easy to put on and take off, I would stick to kay-eff fittings for this. I mean, I’d have to replace the antechamber door with a kay-eff gate.’
‘Yeah,’ Jim said, ‘but you’re not going to be able to get the same vacuum.’
I was expecting this response. Actually, I was only partially expecting this response. In my head I was waiting for his response to this to gauge how deeply he would think about the problem. While it is true that a KF fitting would not be able to achieve the same vacuum as a CF fitting, it was negligible because the door-and-latch CF shutter that was currently being used to bring samples in through the antechamber was actually sealed by a rubber o-ring, probably Buna-N. That being said, the antechamber is still subject to the outgassing of the rubber o-ring and would not be able to achieve a base pressure lower than 10-8 Torr anyway. Switching to a KF-50 gate valve would not adversely affect the vacuum level of the antechamber at all.
‘Right, so,’ I used the tip of my pen to point to the gate on the drawing. ‘This should be able to get you down to ten-to-the-minus-eight, which is more than enough for the antechamber. I’ve already talked to Ivan about it and he’s okay with it. I checked the size of the opening and you’re only going to lose about a half inch, but you’ll still have, like, a two inch diameter to transfer your samples through, which is more than enough.’
Jim had his right forearm on the table and leaned over the drawing to where he was below my height. He pointed up to the top of the page. ‘Is this what you’re calling it?’
‘Ha, yeah. That was Ivan’s idea.’
‘Vacuum-Suitcase.’ He nodded his head and smiled. ‘I like it.’
* * * * * * * * * *
‘Gettin’ that fuckin’ Plattitudez.’
‘You’re Platt’n it up?’
‘Yep. What’re you gettin’?’
‘Hmm.’ She twisted her lips into a sideways S and looked down at the menu. ‘I don’t know, man. I mean, everything looks so good.’
‘Can’t go wrong with that Platitude.’
‘I feel like I get the platter every time.’
We were sitting at one of the tables set up along the left wall as you walked in. I was facing the front door and the strip-mall-windowed-entrance. I was sitting opposite Amanda and propped up against the wall. One of my only frail shows of chivalry when I’m out for a meal with a girl is to take the seat with the worst view by default. However, I have a mental partition in my psyche between friends and girls and Amanda, as the universe hath thus willed it, was in the former category. We ran on an alternating seating schedule. This was my turn to have the better view.
‘What can I get for you?’
The proprietors of Laura’s were from some indiscriminant Slavic country and they said their w’s with a barely discernable vh- sound.
‘You ready?’ I look over at Amanda and she strains the corners of her mouth as she bends over and scans the menu more closely.
‘Uh, you go ahead. I’ll, I’ll be ready by the time you order.’
The server turns and looks down at me with her hands clasped together at her midsection. ‘Vhat can I get you?’
‘Can I please get a, uh, a water and a coffee…’
There’s also something about they way she says cream. There’s an extra h or a vowel or something there. Kind of like the way that I used to pronounce Karim’s name - Kha-reem, but subtler than that.
‘Yes please. And I’d like to order the platter, please.’
‘Can I get bacon and two sausage patties, please?’
‘Szure. Hesh browns okay?’
‘Yes.’ I folded up the menu and handed it up to her. ‘Thank you.’
‘Szank you.’ She took the menu from me and tucked it under her arm and turned to Amanda. She smiled down at Amanda and said nothing.
‘Uh, I’ll have a coffee and a water too.’
‘And, uhhhh…I’ll get…’ She looked down at the menu briefly then folded it in front of her and looked up at the server. ‘I’ll get the platter too, please.’
Amanda looked over at me after she said this and I squinted my eyes and nodded.
‘Can I get the ham? The bacon and the ham, please. And hash browns too, please?’
‘Szure. Szank you,’ she said, as she took Amanda’s menu and folded it under her arm next to mine. ‘I will be right back with z’coffee.’
‘Fantastic, thank you.’
In my head I was doing the math, okay, platter; $6.99, coffee; $1.99. Nine dollars. Two dollar tip. $11. Good. I had $14 in my wallet and about $22 dollars in my checking account. So that will leave me with, er, $25 for the remainder of the month. That’s about $2+ dollars a day. Okay. Okay, I can swing that. I got ramen and canned soup and enough weed to last me until payday.
That’s the thing with being poor. There’s this constant gnawing at the back of your brain; this incessant voice that pops up whenever you spend any finite amount of money on anything that says you can’t afford that. Every dollar that I spent on anything besides minimum articles needed to sustain life came with a black fugue of guilt and paranoia. I had a good, financially stable life back in Cambridge and I knew that I was going to need to make some drastic cutbacks in my lifestyle when I went to grad school, but this?! This was a level of poverty that I’d never known before. Even when I was doing my undergrad I was getting more money from the GI Bill than I was currently getting from my graduate research stipend. I don’t know how they expected people to live like this. I didn’t know how I was going to live like this. All I knew was that I had to live like this and I had to do it for the next four years. I’d travelled too far to fail. I’d given up too much to let a little poverty get in my way. But for now I tried not to think about that. Right now I was out at breakfast with Amanda and I was the newest member of the most elite battery research group in the world. Neither the empty refrigerator in my apartment nor the daily string of unanswered phone calls could change that.
‘Okaay.’ The server came back balancing a tray of beverages. ‘Here is z’coffee,’ she said as she placed steaming mugs in front of both of us. She went on, naming each item as she placed it on the table. ‘And z’cream… and z’waters.’
‘Okay.’ She turned the tray sideways and tucked it under her arm. Then she clasped her hands together loosely in front of her waist. ‘Anysing else?’
I made a forced frown and raised my eyebrows as I scanned around the table. ‘No, I uh, I think we’re all good, thanks.’
‘Thanks,’ Amanda said.
‘You’re velcome. Z’food vill be out shortly.’ Then she did a slight bow and retreated back into the kitchen.
I reached over for the packets of sugar that were filed away in a rectangular ceramic dish at the end of the table against the wall. I did this thing that I learned from my dad, where I would grab two packets at a time and, holding them side-by-side, I would flick them so that the sugar would settle out at the bottom before ripping off the top of the two packets in one move. Then I’d pour the two packs into my coffee simultaneously. Incidentally, most of the things that I distinctly remember learning from my dad involve beverages. For example, when you’re drinking beer from a can, you can use your index finger to put a little dent in the can opposite of the opening so that you’ll always know where the mouthpart is without having to look down and take your eyes off the road. There are many things that can be said about William James but, admittedly, he is the safest drunk driver I’ve ever known.
I grabbed two packets of sugar and began to go through my flick-rip-poor routine when something on the label caught my eye.
I held the packet up next to my face and curled the corners of my mouth and looked over at Amanda. ‘Sugar Twins,’ I said, in my most obscenely-effeminate voice.
‘Ha! You mean Twin Sugar?’
I looked back at the packet. ‘Oh. Shit.’
'Ha!' Amanda patted the table lightly as she shakes her head and laughs, 'Sugar Twin!'
There was as series of muffled dinks as I stirred the sugar into my coffee with a spoon. Then I poured in the cream and watched the fluid spiral as it got caught up with the circling motion of the hot liquid. I picked up an empty packet and examined it out in front of me.
‘I think I was thrown off by how big the word sugar is. Look at it.’ It turned the empty packet around so Amanda could see. ‘It’s like twin…SUGAR!’
‘Totally,’ Amanda said. ‘Plus, Sugar Twins is like a way cooler name anyway.’
-- to be continued