Dark Matter

Page 21

I am not allowed to think I’m crazy.

I am only allowed to solve this problem.

Experimental physics—hell, all of science—is about solving problems. However, you can’t solve them all at once. There’s always a larger, overarching question—the big target. But if you obsess on the sheer enormity of it, you lose focus.

The key is to start small. Focus on solving problems you can answer. Build some dry ground to stand on. And after you’ve put in the work, and if you’re lucky, the mystery of the overarching question becomes knowable. Like stepping slowly back from a photomontage to witness the ultimate image revealing itself.

I have to separate myself from the fear, the paranoia, the terror, and simply attack this problem as if I were in a lab—one small question at a time.

Build some dry ground to stand on.

The overarching question that plagues me in this moment: What has happened to me? There’s no way to answer that. Not yet. I have vague suspicions of course, but suspicion leads to bias, and bias doesn’t lead to truth.

Why weren’t Daniela and Charlie at our house last night? Why did it seem as though I live alone?

No, that’s still too big, too complex. Narrow the field of data.

Where are Daniela and Charlie?

Better but reduce it further. Daniela will know where my son is.

So this is where I’ll start: Where is Daniela?

The sketches I saw last night on the walls of the house that isn’t my house—they were created by Daniela Vargas. She had signed them using her maiden name. Why?

I hold my ring finger up to the neon light coming in through the window.

The mark of my wedding band is gone.

Was it ever there?

I tear off a piece of loose thread from the curtain and tie it around my ring finger as a physical link to the world and the life I know.

Then I return to the phone book and thumb through to the V’s, stopping at the only entry for Daniela Vargas. I rip out the entire page and dial her number.

The familiarity of her voice on the recording moves me, even while the message itself leaves me deeply unsettled.

“You’ve reached Daniela. I’m away painting. Leave a message. Ciao.”

Within an hour, my clothes are warm and nearly dry. I wash up, get dressed, and take the stairwell down to the lobby.

Out on the street, the wind is blowing, but the rain has relented.

The smoking man by the streetlamp is gone.

I’m light-headed with hunger.

I pass a half-dozen restaurants before I find one that won’t clean out my funds—a bright, grimy pizza joint that sells enormous, deep-dish slices. There’s nowhere to sit inside, so I stand on the sidewalk, stuffing my face and wondering if this pizza is as life-changing as I think it is, or if I’m too ravenous to be discerning.

Daniela’s address is in Bucktown. I’m down to $75 and change, so I could hail a cab, but I feel like walking.

The pedestrian and traffic levels point toward Friday night, and the air carries a commensurate energy.

I head east to find my wife.

Daniela’s building is yellow-brick with a façade covered in climbing ivy that’s turning russet with the recent cold. The buzzer system is an old-fashioned brass panel, and I find her maiden name second up from the bottom of the first column.

I press the buzzer three times, but she doesn’t answer.

Through the tall windowpanes that frame the door, I see a woman in an evening gown and overcoat, her stilettoes clicking down the hallway as she approaches. I retreat from the window and turn away as the door swings open.

She’s on a cell, and by the whiff of alcohol attendant with her passing, I get the feeling she already has an enthusiastic head start on the evening. She doesn’t notice me as she charges down the steps.

I catch the edge of the door before it closes and take the stairwell to the fourth floor.

Daniela’s door is at the end of the hall.

I knock and wait.

No answer.

I head back down to the lobby, wondering if I should just wait here for her to return. But what if she’s out of town? What would she think if she came back to her apartment to find me loitering outside her building like some stalker?

As I approach the main entrance, my eyes pass over a bulletin board covered in flyers announcing everything from gallery openings to book readings and poetry slams.

The largest notice taped to the center of the board catches my attention. It’s a poster actually, advertising a show by Daniela Vargas at a gallery called Oomph.

I stop, scan for the opening date.

Friday, October 2.


Back down on the street, it’s raining again.

I flag a cab.

The gallery is a dozen blocks away, and I feel the tensile strength of my nerves hit the ceiling as we roll down Damen Avenue, a parking lot of cabs in the crest of the evening’s wavelength.

I abandon my ride and join the hipster-heavy crowd marching through the freezing drizzle.

Oomph is an old packing-plant-turned-art-gallery, and the line to get inside runs halfway down the block.

A miserable, shivering forty-five minutes later, I’m finally out of the rain and paying my $15 admission fee and being whisked with a group of ten people into an anteroom with Daniela’s first and last name in gigantic, graffiti-style letters on the encircling wall.

During our fifteen years together, I’ve attended plenty of exhibits and openings with Daniela, but I’ve never experienced anything like this.

A slim, bearded man emerges from a hidden door in the wall.

The lights dim.

He says, “I’m Steve Konkoly, the producer of what you’re about to see.” He rips a plastic produce bag off a dispenser by the door. “Phones go in the bag. You get them back on the other side.”

The bag of accumulating phones makes the rounds.

“A word about the next ten minutes of your life. The artist asks that you set aside your intellectual processing and make an effort to experience her installation emotionally. Welcome to ‘Entanglement.’ ”

Konkoly takes the bag of phones and opens the door.

I’m the last one through.

For a moment, our group is bunched up in a dark, confined space that turns pitch-black as the echo of the slammed door reveals a vast, warehouse-like room.

My attention is drawn skyward as points of light fade in above us.


They look startlingly real, each containing a smoldering quality.

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