The Colloidal Broth of Brothers

Derek White

This is what occurs to the branch of the species at hand—how it is chemically transformed into other temporary and transitional sub-species, and how its fate is to be transported (in and of itself) and made available to the inhabitable environment at large.

The toxicology report stated that his exile to the Pacific shores of Baja was self-imposed. We had only each other to blame—carrying half the same blood but spit out from the canals of different mothers. He claimed our father had it in for him by virtue of his name and the fact that he was the first pancake. His given name was William. But our father, William Barrow, Sr., jokingly referred to him as Wheel on occasion. William, Jr., refused to let it go, legally changing his name to Wheel Barrow and undergoing cyclical biodegradation, converting biomass (anaerobically) into CO 2 & CH 4 :

{CH 2 O} + O 2 ( g ) --> CO 2 + H 2 O

2 {CH 2 O} --> CO 2 ( g ) + CH 4 ( g )

along with crucial sediment forming side-reactions:

5Ca 2 + + H 2 O + 3HPO 4 - --> Ca 5 OH(PO 4 )( s ) + 4H +

Counterbalancing Wheel's warped self-deprecation with self-imposed karmic retribution, our father died a week later in a nuclear submarine from the bends. Since the air we breathe is 78% nitrogen, nitrogen is dissolved in all of our tissues. But living in a vessel underwater for extended periods of time caused the nitrogen in his blood to become insoluble and return to its gaseous state (g). These gas bubbles became trapped in his tissues and blood stream, causing an aeroembolism and a massive stroke. That's what the autopsy report said anyway.

Wheel invested his share of the inheritance ( s ) into a Dodge truck with a camper shell on the back and exiled himself across the border from Indio—the port on the Salton Sea, if you could call it that, where they brought our father's corpse. Every month or so after his passing, Wheel Barrow sent me packages full of his beach-combing exploits. The packages contained found objects, but never written letters. They were not items you'd expect, like shells or pieces of coral, but decomposing sea urchins (before they had suffered colloidal harm), holdfasts (the colloidal mass of roots anchoring kelp to bedrock) and washed-up manmade debris (the re-enactment of colloidal toilet).

When I asked why this junk was sent to me, he replied with a postcard of what I presumed were his footprints near frothy globs of scum at the shoreline. I always considered the public forum of the postcard, legible as it passes through the same hands that deliver them, to be a cheap and incestuous alibi. I was from the same blood but was relatively well-rooted in factual representation. Or maybe I was just more tolerant and/or naïve. A part of me envied Wheel's lifestyle. But it was too late for me—I had a wife, we had serious talks of propagating ourselves to the next generation and I was already stowing aside money in my 401K. Whereas Wheel had studied theoretical physics, I had gone the engineering route like our father.

I could never call Wheel because I never knew where he was, but he would call me out of the blue once or twice a year, never during holidays. Every two or three years we met up in vivo. This particular time we met halfway at a Surf N' Turf in Omaha. I had moved to the East Coast for my work, and he would never commit to coming all the way out, so this was the best compromise, further exemplifying our phase interactions in caustic conditions:

Fe +2 to Fe +3 and SO 4 -2 to H 2 S (with sublimated charity receptors)

Fe(III) --> Fe 2+ & SO 4 -2 --> H 2 S (bacteria-induced respect)

Fe 2+ + H 2 S --> FeS(s) + 2H + (sentiment forming interaction)

The first thing Wheel did when he set foot in the Surf N' Turf was slap a sun-bleached doll on the table. It may have been pink or flesh-colored at some point, and was pudgy like it might have been a cabbage patch doll, but it was hard to say as I wasn't familiar with doll taxonomy. The evidence was irrefutable that it had been floating at sea or baking on a beach for some time. Wheel grabbed a steak knife and punctured the doll. It made a hissing noise as moist sea air escaped through the incision. He continued sawing through the ribcage until the abdominopelvic region could be opened like hinged doors to expose the internal organs. The contents of the thoracic cavity were also theoretically visible.

“Anything in particular that you are trying to prove?” I asked, watching the head of bubbles form in my beer.

“Physics, by definition, is an autopsy of reality.”

A waitress eyed us from her station but was afraid to come over. This was one to escalate straight to the maître d'. Wheel put the steak knife down and started ripping the doll open with his bare hands. There was a bit of seawater and some sand inside, but otherwise it was empty.

“What are you expecting to find?”

“Dad told me once, when he was on shore leave in the notorious Banana Court Bar in the South Pacific, he saw a go-go dancer do this to a coconut. It was all part of her act. She husked it with her teeth and spit it all over dad's uniform. And then she probably knelt to blow him, but he left out that minor detail.” At which point Wheel grimaced and buckled over in his booth.

The maître d' made his way over. “Are you gentleman okay?” he asked, his toupee slipping to one side.

“This is just a classic case of arrested development,” I said. “We'll take this one offline.”

“Would you like to place your order?”

Wheel lifted his head long enough to say, “anything with broth in it.”

“Crab Barley is the soup du jour,” said the maître d'.

“He's fighting an air-borne sinus infection. He'll have the soup du jour and I'll have the—” I read straight off the menu, “virgin oxtail stew. But can you substitute fish for the meat?”

The maître d' prodded the doll with his pencil but didn't answer my question directly. “And for dessert?”

“A slice of Shepherd's pie. A la mode.”

Wheel waited til the maître d' was out of sight and the coast was clear. “It's sick to think what we have to ingest in our bodies in order to subsist in this world. When will the cycle ever end?”

“It's great to see you too,” I said. “You look good.”

“You playing in any genetic-tac-toe as of late?”

“Good thing I didn't bring the wife this time.”

"If you did, this is what would've become of it.” He planted the knife into the doll carcass. “Our seas are toxic. Biological organisms living in the sediment are subject to high concentrations of pollutants such as Fe2 + , Cd 2 + , Pb 2 + , PCB, PNA, and also risk overindulgence to nutrients such as NH + , PO 4 +3 . This includes bottom feeders such as lobsters, crabs, clams, worms and mussels, and of course all of us who feed off these bottom feeders are subsequently at risk. We should ask these asswipes for some baking soda to diffuse the resulting reactions.”

I cleared the dollular debris from the table before the food arrived. Wheel helped me once he could see I didn't mean any harm. When our food came we ate in silence. He did ask for, and liberally sprinkle, bicarbonate over everything. If anyone saw us, they might wonder what our story was. But you could ask this about any couple of human beings sitting together in the booth of any Surf N' Turf in any state of America. Looking at us, you could probably tell we carried the same blood, but just had a different way of carrying ourselves and expressing our mutual protective custody. We were too self-absorbed to take other human beings into consideration.

The next time I saw him, he ordered me to stand at attention and salute him. He was a private in the Navy, dressed to the hilt for shore leave. “Call me Private William Barrow, Jr.—that's what they call me back on deck,” he said. “On the carrier of carriers.” He pulled out his dog tags from around his neck for proof.

“At least you're living out at sea,” I said, not realizing then that he was my role model. He was dutifully serving his time while I was merely next of kin. Our recipe was becoming denatured.

Derek White's work has been recently published or is forthcoming in Quarter After Eight, Denver Quarterly, Post Road, Tarpaulin Sky, Call: Review, 5_Trope, Double Room, elimae, and elsewhere. He has some collected works and collaborations available through his own Calamari Press, edits Sleepingfish magazine and works for Comedy Central.