My singular achievement as a lab assistant is my ability to brew the perfect pot of coffee. It seems even stupider when you realize that my last job before this was as a barista. I have a good head for math too, but that’s usually just to check over Dr. Farber’s equations which are invariably correct anyway. But on nights like tonight, it’s my coffee making skills that make me indispensable.
So, I’m sitting in the faculty room, waiting for the coffee to brew. In the early days, I thought I’d go back to Farber’s office while waiting, but she was so perplexed that I was back without the coffee.
“I wasn’t away long enough for it to be ready yet,” I said. And that’s when I realized she had no sense of how long I had been gone. It was freeing to know that I can take my time but it’s not like there’s a lot for me to do.
I send a text message to my roommate, Lucy.
“I’m going to be here late. Doc just had me brew another pot.”
“OK. Why are you telling me this?”
Lucy and I have been spending more time together lately. I mean, we were friendly when we moved in together. Both of us working at the same café. But for a while, we were just two people who inhabited the same space. Then, we started eating together. Then movies. Sometimes a board game. I guess, I hoped she missed me when I wasn’t there. Not like a longing in her heart, but maybe just a wondering when I’d get home.
The coffee is ready. I add a dash of cream to mine, a bit more to Farber’s, then carefully carry them back to her office. I was told she got a new office around the same time she got approval to hire me. Her star is on the rise, so to speak.
She billed her research as “A Unified Theory of the End of the World” and it is her time.
“It’s sensationalist nonsense,” she told me once I’d signed the NDA, “I mean the research is real. But obviously, the world isn’t going to end, even if humanity does. And everybody digs a unified theory. Who wants to read two theories, when there’s somebody willing to simplify it down to one? And if somebody is going to only read one theory, well, let’s make sure it’s mine, ok?”
She smiles when I enter her office as if she had no memory of sending me to make coffee.
“It’s like you read my mind. Did you get the numbers from the hotline?”
“They refuse to give us anything over official channels, but I’ve been talking to Prisha at one of the call centers, and she thinks she can get them to me.”
“I can’t really publish with anything but the official numbers. I’ll have somebody in the Chancellor’s office see if they can get them, but it will take time. So, if your contact can get us something, I’d still like to take a look. Nice work, Gregor.”
“It’s just Greg.”
“Salesmanship, Gregor, salesmanship. You can be a Greg in your heart, but being a Gregor gets you the bigger office. I’ve done the math, and two or three syllable names get you ahead. Unless you’re running for office, then keep it short. And obviously, by four or five syllables, things fall. Oh god, this coffee is good.”
“So, do you really think they’re all connected, these umm, little apocalypses?”
“Yes, I mean probably. Sometimes, I have this crazy idea. Like what if they’re all man-made? I don’t mean like global warming man-made, but like, what if our collective unhappiness is causing it? I mean, there are fewer strange incidents in Scandinavia and those are the happiest countries in the world.”
“So, if I want to save the earth…”
“You should be happy.”
We both sip our coffees for a moment.
“I think I’m going to head home,” I say.
“Have a good night, Gregor.”
Lucy is on the couch when I get home. The T.V. is on, but she’s also looking at something on her phone. She looks up when I enter the apartment, and she smiles.
“Have you had dinner?” I ask.
She shakes her head.
I sit down on the couch next to her, and she shifts so that she’s leaning up against me.
“I’ll make us something after I sit for a few minutes.”
“I wasn’t waiting for you,” she says.
“But I’m glad you’re home.”