Philosophy of Black Holes and Time Warps

by R.Gene Turchin

They found out early in the marriage that they couldn’t have children and adjusted to having each other and moving through life as a pair. 

Over forty years of holding hands and she reveled in the electric thrill when his fingers brushed hers or his hand reached spontaneously to touch her hair. 

In retirement years, she still felt a girlish vigor of youth, though the mirror said otherwise so she avoided sidelong and direct glance at the glass. She chose not to acknowledge those things she thought would break the heady spell of love. They’d drifted through the dust of time like children shuffling barefoot down a summer road. They checked off the marks on an unspoken bucket list, travel, exotic foods, parks and museums, and all the while content with each other’s company. 

He retired from teaching and physics research when it stopped being fun and she walked away from the Chair of History when administrative work superseded the joys of wakening students to thoughtful examinations of the past. She missed it a little but they booked journeys together to those battlefields and trod those paths where emerging events moved the world and people. 

He still puttered with small experiments in the basement workshop evenings and weekends. She brought him a small glass of golden bourbon as he worked on things that pulsed and glowed, throwing light diamonds into the glass. On a step halfway down, she watched him scurry, because that was the proper word, like some quick mouse, from machine to machine and she felt a sense of wonder over his delight of discovery. When she asked him what he was working on, he replied, “Things to change the world and make it a better place.” He did not intend to be cryptic, she knew, but he was caught up in quantum things, strings and a new calculus that even his colleagues seemed to not understand. 

The flight to New Orleans and the trip had been uneventful in terms of travel. He was guest speaker at the physics conference because he was now considered the “old man” of physics and still spoke with a delight and childish wonder about the unknowns of his field. 

The auditorium buzzed with sharp remarks when his speech was done. She hoped he did not hear the derogatory comments from his peers. 

“He thinks of physics as a kind of magic with spells and incantations replaced by klystrons, weird math and algorithms,” she heard one of them say. She squeezed his arm tighter as they walked back to their room. If he heard the comments his face didn’t show it. 

The last evening after the conference they ate Beignets with tea and watched the young people stroll by. She tore off pieces and fed them to him across the table. 

They were on the return trip home now to the house they’d lived in for all of their marriage. They remodeled it every few years to make the comfortable retreat from the world fresh.

Her thoughts jumped away when the plane jerked as if struck by—something. A rock. We’ve hit a rock in the sky. The noises and jarring came suddenly, truly an abrupt and disturbing scene cut like a camera swung wild. And she felt a rush of something, possibly air moving too quickly, like a wind, or an emotional fluid from the people, escaping in gasps. It wasn’t fear in the normal sense, she thought. It was more like an annoyance, things were going to get complicated. People were screaming and she heard prayers as the plane plummeted. It began to spin and objects flew around the cabin (“some objects may shift during flight”) as she felt the belt pull against her waist.

His hand found hers and there was that tingle again but it was confusing this time. Was it his love or was it fear? Blood rushing away from extremities? 

His face pressed against her, but he still had to shout. “We’ve had a good ride. It’ll be over in a second.” She tried to smile but the cabin was tearing open.

She blinked. The sunlight filtered by the trees overhead flecked across the table where two delicate white cups filled with amber tea sat cuddling the shared cake. He sat across from her, his eyes looking up into the trees.

“What happened?” she asked. “Are we dead?” 

A USA Today newspaper sitting on the next table shouted a headline in large font: Plane Breaks Apart Mid Air—No Bodies Found! He reached across and pulled the fluttering pages to their table. 

“What does it mean?” 

He hadn’t answered yet, his eyes scanned the paper. 

“Something unusual,” he said. 

“You look younger, not much but your hair is salt and pepper again,” she said. She wondered why she felt calm. “What happened?” she asked again. 

His hand reached up to touch his own head. A smile, tentative in its beginning, washed across his face. 

“The universe is capricious,” he said and set a small box on the table. She found it hard to look at as its shape appeared to melt and flow. “Sometimes small things can shape the chaos. I like your hair that way,” he added. 

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