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The Café

From where she sat at a small round table in the center of the otherwise empty café a wave of quiet rippled outwards languidly in the heavy heat of the midsummer afternoon.

I didn’t want to disturb the spell by entering the radius of that quiet, sitting down at a table too near, and opening my notebook as is my wont in such places to write my own predilections.

The book she read was beyond my ken as her exquisite fingers hid the faint letters of the title. The tea in the glass beside her book was certainly tepid, as the air above her tea was not hot enough to make the light around it tremble and waver.

I ordered my own tea from the sometimes waiter and dipped my nib into my notebook.

After my tea was delivered steaming heatedly from the glass set down in front of me by the waiter he disappeared as was his wont, leaving us alone in the café as though we were the lone survivors of a shipwreck cast ashore on a desert island. I was intensely aware of her existence though she seemed intensely unaware of mine.

Every so often she would turn a page of her book, setting her mouth primly with her eyebrows slightly arched as though she might have been a bit near-sighted. I couldn’t decide whether the thick black framed eye-glasses enhanced her beauty or she was lovely in spite of the eye-glasses. I thought she might have been a schoolmarm or possibly she played the cello.

The hours passed slowly, darkening the sky outside the café imperceptibly. The waiter seemed still disappeared until I happened to spot him, sitting at a table on the sidewalk outside beside the boulevard smoking a cigarette.

By now it was getting too dark inside the café for her to read her book. I had stopped writing in my notebook some time before. My tea was also tepid by now. I looked about for a light switch in the darkness but couldn’t find one. Probably both of us looked intently at the waiter sitting in the darkness outside, the embers of his stubbed cigarette glowing between his fingers. Even if he’d cared to do so, he probably couldn’t have seen our faces willing him to come in and turn on the lights of the café.

I heard her chair scrape across the floor away from the table and saw the darkness of her slim form stand up against the darkness of the café. I heard coins drop on the table. I could see her dark form wending its way between the tables holding onto each wooden chair she passed until she reached the lighter darkness outside the café. The glowing embers of the waiter’s cigarette seemed about to fall onto the sidewalk.

I felt for my notebook, knocking against the tea glass. I stood up carefully, reached into my pocket, and dropped some coins onto the table, one of which rolled on its edge over the side of the table, falling in a small clatter on the floor.

I walked toward the lighter darkness of the boulevard outside the café. The waiter had again disappeared, leaving only his stubbed and crushed cigarette on the sidewalk next to the foot of the table where he had sat. There was a rolling metallic noise of shutters and bars closing up the café for the night.

I looked up and down the boulevard among the milling crowds of men and women. There was no sign of her at all.

I crossed the boulevard to the narrow alley where my hotel was.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Filed under Prose, Stories and Novels

Three Universes

The way I see it, there are three kinds of universe:
• The universe in which God created everything in it, from the smallest particle to the largest cluster of galaxies, and controls everything that happens in it, whether it’s our lives here and now or the movements of some distant cousin of a cockroach on some distant planet in some distant galaxy. I’m not talking about a vast team of gods divvying up the universe so that each god is only responsible for a small piece of it, but a single God responsible for a humongous number of pieces of it, twenty-four by seven, without ever missing a beat.
• The universe in which God set off the Big Bang fourteen billion years ago, which set into motion space and time itself, and all things we know and don’t know, which are still unfolding and unfolding in ways that nobody could possibly anticipate, things lovely and cruel beyond comprehension, including the apparent miracles of life, consciousness, intelligence, love, literature, poetry, science, philosophy, and an infinite bouquet of miracles that haven’t been born yet.
• The universe in which the Big Bang just occurred for some reason that currently escapes us but, if we work hard enough at it, we just might figure out the reason and, if not us, then someone or something else, or maybe not at all. And it occurred fourteen billion years ago, which set into motion space and time itself, and all things we know and don’t know, which are still unfolding and unfolding in ways that nobody could possibly anticipate, things lovely and cruel beyond comprehension, including the apparent miracles of life, consciousness, intelligence, love, literature, poetry, science, philosophy, and an infinite bouquet of miracles that haven’t been born yet.
Now, although I’d much prefer to live in a universe in which God exists, using the God-given intellectual equipment I was born with, I have never seen or heard any compelling evidence that He exists.
So it is quite obvious I don’t believe in the first universe above. Not only do I not have any evidence that it exists, it doesn’t seem possible to me that such a universe could exist. It would fall apart too quickly. It could not possibly be held together.
Now we come to the second and third universes. The second universe is just like the third universe, except for inserting God into the causal chain as the First Cause. Okay, so who made God? First causes are problematic that way. Also, God is not a sufficient cause. In other words, if you removed God from the second universe, you would have the third universe, which appears to be perfectly viable for the time being.
As for the third universe, I know that religious Creationists scoff at the idea that life could have developed in a primordial soup of organic particles in a pool of water shocked into existence by a random bolt of lightning, and from that soup sprang professors spouting Shakespeare. It seems far less likely than breaking open a sack full of coins, throwing them all into the air, and having them all land on their edges. First off, life from primordial soup doesn’t sound any more far-fetched to me than the first universe. Just for the sake of argument, however, let’s explore the sack-of-coins-landing-on-their-edges example. Consider the number of successes, in which the coins all land on their edges, the number of failures, in which they don’t, and the amount of time. Given an infinite period of time, not only will all the coins land on their edges at least once, they will do so an infinite number of times. Okay, let’s not talk about an infinite period of time. The probability is just a function of the number of coins being tossed, the likelihood of each tossed coin landing on its edge, and the number of times the coins are tossed. Back to our primordial soup: there were probably billions and billions of lightning bolts striking pools of organic molecules during the first billion years of earth’s existence. This sounds much less far-fetched than the first universe to me.
Do I see the unfolding miracles of the third universe with less wonder and appreciation than someone else who believes in the first universe? I think not. The more I know, the more I know there is that I don’t know. There is more humility in a scientist who confronts and wrestles his ignorance every day than in a person who believes all is known and he knows it all.

Mike Stone
Raanana Israel

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Filed under & Philosophy, Dilemmas, Essays