Last week on Closing Time, Joe tricked Kharnyvor and the robots of the Nepthli into ending their war. Without the war, the risen spirits vanished and the robots headed out Joe’s back exit into the unknown… but unknown for how long?
Terri’s been trying to tell Joe her secret for the last few weeks, but with everything that’s been happening it’s been hard to get his ear.
Today is no different. As soon as Terri gets off of her space-o-cycle and pushes her way through the plastic sheets that are currently covering the front of Joe’s bar while he decides whether or not it’s worth it to rebuild a bar just before the universe ends, she sees her boss kneeling on the floor setting up a Young’s interference experiment. It doesn’t bode well for pulling up a seat and having a heart to heart.
“Should I even ask what you’re doing?” Terri asks about what he’s doing.
“I’m putting together a little surprise for that annoying beam of sunshine,” Joe says.
“Hey!” shouts Chen Hu, zen master of optimism, seated at the bar behind Joe.
“Sorry, Chen,” Joe says. “I mean that literally.”
“I figured you must have,” Chen says, going back to drinking his absinthe fizz.
“The light again?” Terri asks with extra sympathy to try to warm Joe up for discussing her secret.
“Yes!” Joe shouts. “One darn beam left over from the Big Bang and it keeps getting away!”
The device Joe is building is a flat apparatus with two tiny slits on one side and an observable screen on the other side, kind of like the pinhole cameras Terri used to make to look at eclipses when she was a girl. Joe’s setup, though, has several particle detectors attached at the slits. Terri isn’t a physicist, but even she’s heard of the double-slit experiment. She just doesn’t see the point.
“So what is this going to do?” she asks, giving Joe the chance to do one of his great loves: explain things.
“When the light comes through here, my observation of it is going to force it to determine its quantum state… wave or particle. The particle detectors–combined with my observational intent–should force it into a wave form.” Joe paused for dramatic effect before grinning helplessly and adding, “and I’m a good enough surfer to catch a wave!”
Terri suddenly starts coming down with a headache. “How long have you been waiting to use that one?”
“A week,” Joe admits. “But seriously, folks, once the light becomes quantumly determined, I can direct it out the back door and–voila!–number one on the Big Notebook is finally taken care of!”
“Cheers!” Chen toasts.
Terri glances down the back hallway. She’s gone down there a thousand times to get things, but she’s never opened the back exit. Lately, though, it’s been all she can think about. Kharnyvor was her friend, but once he went through, he never came back. Neither did Frazz. She knows that it’s part of Joe’s job… to clean up the loose ends of the universe before the end… but what started out like an apocalyptic scavenger hunt is now…
The Doom Clock tolls, as if to sum up her train of thought.
Despite wearing her last pair of pantyhose, she sits down on the wooden floor next to her boss.
“Joe?” she asks, “where does the door go?”
“The back exit?” Joe asks.
“You know I can’t really talk about that, Ter.”
“I mean, is it a good place? Do we leave the universe for heaven or something?” Terri normally doesn’t press Joe on the cosmic stuff, but she has concerns Joe doesn’t know about.
“Terri,” Joe says in his serious voice, “it’s a Mystery. If it weren’t a Mystery, this wouldn’t be the end of the universe. It’d just be… a season finale.”
Terri is getting upset.
“Look, Joe, I’ve worked here for… what? Ten years? A hundred? And when have I ever asked about your business? Never. But I need to know a little more about this!”
Joe squints his eyes, and for the first time, he realizes that Terri has kept her own secret from him.
“Why?” he asks.
Terri purses her lips tight, a brief guilt washing across her face.
“There’s something… I might have forgotten to mention,” she finally says.
“Terri,” Joe says, putting his hands on her shoulders. “What’s going on… tell me you haven’t done something stupid.”
“Gah, as if!” Terri says exasperatedly. “It’s not like I’ve betrayed you to the Anti-Christ or something! You know me better than that! Though last time he did offer a really good dental plan…”
“Fine. Hang on.”
Terri takes out her phone, taps it once, and puts it to her ear. Joe can’t hear the voice on the other end.
“Hey, can you come see me at work?” Terri says to the person on the other end. There’s a short pause. “Yes, I know what I said. I’m changing the rules.” Pause. “Okay. Be safe. See you in a few.”
“Want to tell me who that was?” Joe asks. “You didn’t start dating someone, did you? It’s the end of the universe, hon.”
“No, I didn’t, not that it’s any of your business. You’ll see in a few minutes. But first… the back door.”
“You owe me this!” Terri yells. “For all the help I’ve given you… being your end times girl Friday? Just tell me if it’s a good place!”
I’ve mentioned before that Joe isn’t stupid. He knows Terri isn’t asking for herself. He looks at the floor while he fights one of those masculine duty and honor versus love and trust internal battles. Terri lets him take as much time as he needs; she knows that he’s going to eventually come down on the side of his humanity.
“It’s… potential. Just potential,” he finally says. “Everything that ever was is converted into the stuff of possibility… but until this universe is done, there’s no way to know what that potential will become. It’s got to be completely free of influence from the past to become something new. Another universe? A paradise? A hell? I don’t know. Nobody knows. Nobody can know. It’s… honestly, it’s not our business to know.”
This is the point when I step through the plastic sheeting. Terri and Joe both look up at me.
“Hey, baby,” Terri says, getting up and putting an arm around me. “This is Joe.”
“Hey,” I say, raising one hand in a hesitant wave.
“Joe,” Terri says, “this is my daughter Evelyn. She’s twelve years old.”
Joe looks at me, then at the Doom Clock.
It tolls, and one of the arms slides a little closer to twelve.
“L’chaim!” toasts Chen Hu.
“This… changes things,” Joe says, and my mother smiles.
CLOSING TIME will return March 6, 2014! Tune in next Thursday for an all-new TESLA GIRLS serial!
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.