I sit at my table in the atrium, surrounded by students doing homework, just like me, the rustle of their voices dancing through the air around us. Another hard problem, I think to myself and the small child sitting with me nods in agreement. A very hard problem indeed, he says, stroking the river of white beard on his chin. I’ve seen a lot of hard problems over the years, like finding the source of qualia in physical beings or how to do long division, he muses. The best thing to do if you’re stumped is cry and make Mom do it for you. I consider this, but then Gordon Ramsay yells Oh for God’s sake!, her explosive voice shaking the room. You need to scream at it, swear at it, beat it with your fists! I take a deep breath and say Yes Gordon, I tried that but everyone looks at me weird when I do. She scoffs and looks away, but not before the child snaps at her, saying Hush, you brute! I watch Ramsay get up from her chair, her satin-gloved fists clenched as she walks over to the child roaring You little… and I dash to the other end of the room to avoid getting caught in the middle. Far away from my sparring figments, I turn my rattled attention back to the problem sheet in my hand, exhaling, grimacing. Around me I hear a rainstorm of keyboard clacks, the slicing of pens across paper; I hear pages turning while my own page is still taunting me with its blankness, still locking its steel arms around my struggling body before it throws me into the air and lets me fall, fall, fall until I land at the feet of Buddha. I look up at him, look at his right and left palms pressed together, then lower my head and sigh. He looks down at me with those understanding eyes of his, those eyes that glow like a million candles that make the whole room smell like frankincense and myrrh. What’s wrong? he asks but I can say nothing. He glances at the blank sheet in my hand and then nods slowly. Oh child, he says, placing those left and right hands of his over my cheeks, you are a match under an ocean-sized kettle, a drip over a forest ablaze, just like everyone else. This is a problem that is due the day you die and the pistol blank has only now scraped the air so why do you need to rush it? With that he collapses into a ball of light and disappears, sending sparks flying. When the smoke clears, I look outside and see that it’s black night; the moon and the LED lights are the only things illuminating the overturned chairs and broken glass in this hollow atrium that my sparring figments have left behind, retiring back to their rooms in the middle unit of my prefrontal cortex apartments, this hollow atrium where the rustle of voices has been replaced by frozen silence, this hollow atrium where the problem sheet is still blank but I am still breathing, I
am still breathing.