The Friction Between Things

Wim Coleman is a playwright, poet, novelist, and nonfiction writer. His poetry has been published in SOL: English Writing in Mexico, The Opiate, Dissenting Voice, Tuck Magazine, and Vita Brevis. His play The Shackles of Liberty was the winner of the 2016 Southern Playwrights Competition. Novels that he has co-authored with his wife, Pat Perrin, include Anna’s World, the Silver Medalist in the 2008 Moonbeam Awards, and The Jamais Vu Papers, a 2011 finalist for the Eric Hoffer/Montaigne Medal. Wim and Pat lived for fourteen years in Mexico, where they adopted their daughter, Monserrat, and created and administered a scholarship program for at-risk students. Wim and Pat now live in Carrboro, North Carolina. They are members of PEN International.

The Friction Between Things

I broke an hourglass for no particular reason—broke it unaware, you might say, meaning the hourglass wasn’t sentient and felt no pain and I was unaware of any motive for my malignity.

Then came the fear of the glassblower’s curse and the bad luck sure to follow. What was I to do? Make a necklace of the shards and hang it around my neck? I don’t have that kind of wherewithal, and besides, I had nowhere to go.

And what about all that sand, spread out on the hardhearted floor into a little rolling Sahara strewn with oases of broken crystal? A broom seemed inadequate to the task. I didn’t dare.

I remembered spilling salt at my grandmother’s table. Throw it over your left shoulder, she said, and I said I didn’t know you were superstitious, and she said I’m not, and I’m telling you to throw it over your shoulder, so I did.

What’s true of salt must be true of sand. I knew I mustn’t hurry. I pinched a single grain between my fingers and peered closely but didn’t see a world there. I flicked it like a bug over my shoulder, then pinched another grain and flicked it away too.

I crouched there canker-like, flicking away grain after grain, never more than one grain at a time, mindless of my hunger and vanity as the days and nights rolled by, until there were two—exactly two—grains left, no more, no less.

I reached for my magnifying glass and studied them closely, and although they still didn’t look like worlds exactly, they did resemble asteroids adrift in the mocking ether, locked in a mutual orbit of restless attraction.

I picked up one grain and flicked it away. But then I reached for the other and it wasn’t there. It was gone, vanished. All that remained was the floor, that flattened impact site littered with glass.

I’ve seen no sand since then, not anywhere. Even beaches are barren of it. Waves crash instead over an invisible firmament, the bedrock’s sullen buffer. And now I know there are no things, only the friction between things,

the desperate rubbing that makes the world.

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