In the future, a man in jeans and a white button-down shirt and a young family will measure the room with a flimsy yellow tape-measure. He is looking to find out which pieces of furniture will fit and how to best arrange them. He will measure along the worn spruce floorboards, ascertaining the dimensions of 10 by 14 by 7. He’ll try to imagine a charming sitting room with a coat rack, but in the itchy back corner of his mind he’ll wonder what to do with a separated front-room with no apparent connection to the rest of the house. Then he’ll remember or have to be reminded that old houses weren’t built with 72-inch flat screen Mecca’s in mind.
10 by 14 by 7. Using the available mathematical formula we can determine a volume of 980 cubic feet.
This worked well for an old piano against the back wall made of light oak with a stubborn right pedal, its bench full of scores from Broadway musicals and Christmas staples. Then two armchairs upholstered in light blue cloth close together for conversation and one further away for solitary reading by the pewter diamond-grid windows. Small end tables held the books and the brass lamps with cream shades that lit their pages.
The smaller you get, the bigger 980 cubic feet becomes. It is simultaneously absolute and relative. A few paces across a room, an expedition from Pluto to the Sun.
A hospital bed was placed facing the window with a view of the thorny Honey Locust tree in the front yard. In autumn the small leaves of the Honey Locust turn a florid yellow.
The bed was dressed in white sheets and the room shifted around it. The conversational armchairs were eventually shuffled out, while the reading chair was turned in, making it a watching chair. A waiting chair.
Atomic particles of a gas occupy only .1% of the measured volume of a space. The majority of the world around us is empty.
When we exhale, we release molecules of water vapor into the air. These molecules fly around like asteroids in deep space, so much space it seems like they are alone in occupying it, until they slam into other particles who believed themselves just as lonely. The collisions send them off again after the briefest moment of attraction, their speed and their loneliness driving them back out into the dark.
Eventually one of our exhalations will be our last. We will empty our lungs of the last vanguard.
The molecules of water vapor from the last exhalation of my grandfather soared out into the air of a crisp October morning, before the sun. These particles moved fast, most of them finding their way out of the room within fractions of seconds.
It could be that others lingered, spinning and slamming again and again into ghosts. It could be that they were still there when the hospital bed was returned and the chairs moved back in. It could be that 99.9% of what’s empty is full and humming with the tiniest and most persistent of vibrations at a frequency we have yet to measure. It could be that these intangible things make it impossible for the sitting room to go back to what it was, no matter how much it outwardly pretends to have done so.
Because dark matter has mass.
In the future the sun will warm the worn spruce floorboards. The man with the white shirt and new family will turn toward the flooded windows where the dust motes are more like rivers with strong currents coruscating in the beams of white light. Outside the Honey Locust tree will be slowly, patiently, almost invisibly unraveling its new leaves, and the man, if he is astute, will be aware of the poetic coincidence this spring has offered him. He will make this room a part of himself, perhaps without knowing first that he is already part of the room.