Porous, Chapter Nine: The Second Law

Stolen from my favorite Instagram account, @ballerinaproject_
Stolen from my favorite Instagram account, @ballerinaproject_

As I wrench myself away from the the gravitational pull Silas seems to exert on me, my fingers intuitively search for my cell phone. I pull it out and press a button on the side to check the time. Two minutes past four. It astounds me that so little time has passed, though I’ve found my own path to a new world and visited a second with Silas. All our conversations, all our journeys, all that I’ve learned, happened in the space of an hour.

It then occurs to me that I’m fifteen minutes late to pick Ada up for her dance lesson.

“Shit,” I swear, under my breath, breaking into a jog. A few minutes later I’m jamming the key into our old Camry, revving the engine, and lighting out of the school parking lot. As I drive, I pray, as always, that the shadows won’t find me. Not that I’m afraid of my own harm if I were to get into an accident—I’ve proven to myself enough times that that’s an impossibility—but I worry endlessly about crashing into someone else, ripping someone else’s life away….

I swerve up in front of the elementary school pick-up line to see Ada glancing anxiously around, the last of the younger students waiting to be picked up. Her eyes light up as she recognizes my car, and the smile on her face brings one to my own. As the after-school supervisor walks her over to our car, I roll down the window and try to look serious as I prepare my apology.

“Gosh, Mr. Charles, I’m so sorry, I—”

“You don’t have to apologize, Noomi,” he says, the creases around his mouth deepening into canyons as he meets my eyes. “I know no one cares for her sibling so much as you do. I imagine it was something very important that kept you.”

I can’t help but smile back. Mr. Charles was one of my favorite teachers when I was at that same elementary school, and one of the first people to treat me, not as someone mentally handicapped, damaged, or even dangerous, but as a person. He was a science teacher, and when I was older, I learned that he was actually an experimental physicist who retired early to return to his true passion: children. He stayed late after school to read books to me that taught me to be brave, and to tell me stories of other children who had experienced the same pain I had. Even now, years later, the papery skin on his hands and the dark brown wrinkles in his face make me think of comfort, friendship, and happiness.

“It was, Mr. Charles. Thanks for watching Ada for me.”

He watches patiently as Ada swings into the back seat and buckles her seat belt.

“Be safe now, Noomi. I hope to see you around the library again sometime soon.” He shuts the door after Ada.

“I’ll stop by soon, I promise.” I wave as I roll up the window and drive away. “Sorry I was so late, little peach. I lost track of time.”

“It’s okay,” Ada says, her tone indicating that she’s already forgotten all about it.

“What did you do at school today?”

“A science project.” It’s always difficult to get her started about her schoolwork, but once she gets going, it’s hard to get her to stop.

“The science project you told me about the other day?”

“Yeah.” Her head rolls to the side as she looks out the window. “The one with magnets.”

“Well, did you learn anything new?”

“We played with iron magnets and set them up in different arrangements and drew pictures of the patterns the little pieces of metal made around the magnet. Ms. Nguyen told us that opposites attract, and showed us how to put the positive and the negative end together so they’d pull towards each other. But the positive and the positive just push away from each other. I thought that was pretty funny.”

“That is funny.” We’re just a few blocks away from her dance studio. “Did Ms. Nguyen tell you why opposites attract?”


“Want me to tell you?”

“After ballet class!” Ada says, sitting up eagerly as she recognizes the studio. Her dance lessons make this her favorite night of the week. I pull up in front of the building and turn back to watch her. She’s already halfway out of the car.

“I’ll be back to pick you up in an hour and a half, okay?”

She nods without looking at me, so eager is she to run inside and put on her tutu.

“Bye, Noomi!” she shouts as she slams the car door behind her. I watch to make sure she’s safely inside, and as soon as the door’s shut behind her, I drive around the block to my favorite little coffee shop. I always try to get homework done here while she’s at class.

I order my usual dirty chai latte and start to grab a table, but then I notice Paul, my wilderness counselor, in the corner. He’s staring at a textbook, his fingertips at his temples. He looks worn. I debate for a minute whether or not I should talk to him—is it a breach of professionalism for him? Is it appropriate for us to talk outside of my therapy group?—and then decide I don’t care. I walk up to his booth, covered with binders, papers, and books, and tap him lightly on the shoulder. He jumps, startled, but smiles when he recognizes me.

“Hey, Paul.” I pull away from him a little bit, trying to look casual. “You okay?”

“Noomi,” he says. “I’m fine. Just stressed. I’ve got a big exam in a few days.”

“An exam? In what? I didn’t know you were still in school.”

He hesitates a second, his eyes dropping down to the textbook in front of him, before he responds.

“Cognitive therapy,” he says. “I’m working on a PhD in psychology.”

“Oh,” I respond. “Wow.” It somehow never occurred to me that he could have a life outside of tromping around the woods with groups of troubled children. “Can I sit?” I ask, gesturing to the booth across from him. “I have homework to do, too.”

“Err,” he says, glancing around the cafe. “Well, I’m not really supposed to, you know—be friends with the students I work with. It’s considered a breach of ethics.”

“Oh, come on, Paul, I know you don’t give a shit about all that stuff.” I smile at him, trying to be encouraging. I’d much rather work in silence sitting across from him than by myself in another corner. “You make smartass, inappropriate jokes to me all the time in our sessions.”

“Oh, fine,” he says, relaxing slightly. “But you have to work. I really need to study.”

“I do too!” I protest, dropping my bag and swinging into the booth across from him. “I have loads of homework to do.”

Paul nods, obviously still uncomfortable, and drops his eyes back to his book. I consider trying to continue our conversation, but ultimately decide I’ll look cooler in his eyes if I act as mature and studious as he is. So I pull out my own textbook and start reading tonight’s assigned chapters about thermodynamic equilibrium and entropy.

Entropy is a quantifiable measure of disorder in a thermodynamic system. While the first law of thermodynamics describes the fact that energy can be neither created nor destroyed, entropy is a result of the second law, and is related to the concept of energy. Entropy within a system is at a maximum when thermodynamic equilibrium has been achieved. I scribble equations and definitions into my notebook, wondering why all of this seems to ring a bell. We haven’t studied thermodynamics yet in class—we’ll be going over this material tomorrow. The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases, and an increase in entropy is irreversible.When a fire burns, the energy is expended as a chemical reaction takes place and the overall entropy of the system increases. I remember lighting myself on fire, and wonder whether I contributed to the increase in entropy of the world as a whole, adding my own peculiar brand of disorder to the world.

I wonder if the worlds Silas took me to today are closed systems, and if the same laws of physics that apply in our world also apply in theirs. I think about the color world, Aurora, the buoyancy I felt and the silvery substance I drifted through as I watched the strange shapes float through the atmosphere. Is it possible that gravity exists there, but was negated by the silver we floated in, like drifting in an ocean? Does the frequency emitted by waves of light dictate the bright colors that comprised their landscape? Is it possible that energy there, once expended, cannot be reclaimed? And what about the shadow world? What laws, if any, govern their existence?

“Paul,” I ask, suddenly unable to tolerate the silence any longer, “do you know where Silas is from?”

He doesn’t look up from his notebook.

“Who’s Silas?”

“The new boy in my wilderness group.”

This time, he glances up at me.

“What are you talking about?”

“Silas,” I say, growing impatient. “The kid who just joined our group last week.”

He frowns.

“I don’t remember him. What does he look like?”

“Darker skin, black hair. A little shorter than you. He looks Hispanic, maybe. Our group isn’t that big, Paul. How do you not remember him?”

“Noomi,” Paul says, a trace of worry showing in his furrowed brow, “I don’t think there’s anyone named Silas in your therapy group.”

Hmmm! Mystery, intrigue, suspense! Who is Silas really, where does he come from, and is he real? Is Noomi fictionalizing him or is Paul playing games with Noomi? 

I am trying to slowly introduce some more scientific concepts into the story. We shall see how I do, as it’s been since my own high school career that I studied chemistry and physics! I’d like to use the notion of entropy and enthalpy (the opposite of entropy) to explain, a little bit, what the shadows are trying to do to the world. But more on that to come – for now, my question is, do you like the incorporation into the story, and was it too confusing or did it make sense? 

The ballerina photo is included because Ada, and her childish love of life, art, and dance, will hopefully become a more regular character, once I figure out what to do with her. Any suggestions or ideas are gladly welcomed. In revisions of this story, I may also make Noomi a dancer, because she seems to embody a certain grace and charisma that I think dancers carry naturally. But we’ll see. For now, it’s just Ada in her tutu.

Stay tuned down the way for more appearances of Mr. Charles, because, as everyone knows, librarians are always wise and knowledgeable, and they hold the keys to many universes (wink, wink). Paul, too, will become a more regular fixture, I hope. Dr. Chase will make a reappearance soon, as will Noomi’s school friends, who have, thus far, only very briefly been introduced. Many more exciting things happening soon! And of course, as always, if you have any suggestions, ideas, or criticisms, they are gladly welcomed! Please share!