It isn’t an aquarium just yet. Right now, it is simply a study room.
Sarah sits in the study room, her papers spread across the table that was originally meant for five people, and today, could barely contain her belongings. The table is made of mahogany – or at least it was mahogany-colored. This new study room is exquisite. The chairs have cushions, and the couches look expensive, although they don’t necessarily match in terms of color. The color of everything seems to be only describable as some variation of beige.
Each framed work of art decorating the room seems to be completely random; there is a large colorful painting of a busy street in some foreign country, a photograph of Dutch children, and a small painting of a man or woman rowing a boat full of vegetables. Sarah wonders if there is any connection between the three, and decides that there isn’t, other than the fact that each work of art depicted somewhere very far away from where the art itself was hung.
The lamps hanging from the ceiling look like upside down wine glasses, and Sarah wants to ask someone if they’ve noticed the same thing. She then wonders if there is a rule in here regarding silence. Is it supposed to be a quiet study room? If not, why is everyone so freaking quiet? Silence is golden, but it’s also awkward. She worries even her thoughts might be too loud.
A few of the wine glasses are glowing up on the ceiling; they look like white wine. Most of them remain dark and empty – Sarah can only liken them to depressed jellyfish, dangling in distress, missing their missing tentacles.
There are three windows total, but they are all on the same wall, and standing up straight in a line like obedient, disciplined soldiers. The sunlight barely reaches past maybe a quarter of the entire room. Sarah wishes more of the jellyfish would come alive and glow to compensate for this. She feels as though she is in an aquarium, and wonders how the scene surrounding her would seem to a giant if he passed by and glanced into the windows.
All of the students in the room are busy reading. Two boys sit across from one another; they have been sitting this way for a long time, but neither has seen the others face. Their laptop screens light up their faces – each screen, with it’s internal sun, is another barrier between them. They will never notice the wine glasses or the jellyfish.
A girl to Sarah’s left is eating fruit out of tupperware. Each time she needs both hands to rifle through her bag, or type something, she sticks her fork in her mouth and lets it hang there. Sarah appreciates this small deviation from perfection, although it seems as though fruit girl does not acknowledge anyone else’s presence, and probably isn’t trying to make some kind of statement. Everyone is inside of their own bubble, but Sarah doesn’t know how to create one for herself. She is in a fish tank full of jellyfish and bubbles, but Sarah is neither of those things. She is just a pair of eyes and ears, observing what doesn’t care to be seen, and trying to listen to the silence.
She looks around and realizes that she hasn’t actually seen anyone’s eyes. She only sees apples. Bright, white apples, floating and glowing. Each apple is identical – an orchard of light. Behind the apples, all of the students are absorbed in words – words on a page, words on a screen, words on their phone. None of these words are being shared. They remain a mere organization of black lines on white background, never transformed into sound or conversation.
When Sarah finally makes eye contact with another girl, the moment is fleeting. The girl is looking straight at her, like there is a dotted line connecting their pupils, but suddenly returns to reality and looks away the moment Sarah notices, as if a break from reality is something to be embarrassed about.
The dotted line connecting Sarah to someone else, albeit momentarily, disintegrates as quickly as it comes into existence. The girl gives Sarah a quick apologetic smile, but her eyes return to the words in front of her before Sarah can smile back and welcome the girl into her world.
Sarah does not have breaks from reality; she has breaks into it. Her world is one that others only enter for a moment. It’s hard for her to make friends when everyone else is a mere passerby in this world of hers. At least, that is true for everyone that is near to her in age.
Everyone in the room is protecting themselves from one another, Sarah thought. They all came here to be alone – but why did they choose this place?
She realizes that the purpose of this room is, ironically, for people to be alone together. Sarah is very confused – she regrets wandering in here, but the snow had been blowing so hard against her face that it stung her skin, and she had ducked into the closest doorway she could find.
She is still shivering, although it has been over an hour, and wishes the room was smaller. Sarah wishes everyone was sitting a little bit closer together, but she knows that their bubbles would not survive such close proximity, and resigns herself to the ways of this mysterious place where Alone and Together are friends, or maybe distant cousins, rather than enemies.
What would it take for all of the bubbles to pop – for Alone to evolve into Together?
The study room reminds her of the neighborhood she grew up in – large, white, colonial style houses each with two car garages, and vast green spaces in between each residence. There was so much greenery that you could barely even see the neighboring houses – the trees did for each house what silence and eyelids and laptop screens did for each student in this room: provided protection.
People create so many bubbles, thought Sarah.
Sarah knew the names of maybe two or three of her neighbors back home, and only three or four nameless faces in the development were familiar to her. At most, she’d see them jogging with their dogs in the morning and wave from the car window, but never roll the window down.
But at least in a car, you’re moving; you’re going somewhere. In a car, you are alone, but with a destination. In this room, everyone is still; some people are even sound asleep, the only movement being their chests heaving up and down ever so slightly as they breathe. The sun is at it’s highest point, still shining, and still struggling to reach farther into the room, maybe struggling to wake everyone up. Suddenly, the ground begins to vibrate. It isn’t shaking constantly, it vibrates for a moment, and then returns to normal. A series of mini earthquakes ensues, and it feels like the heart of the planet is beating. As the sound continues, it becomes louder with each thump, and Sarah walks over to one of the walls where she can hold onto a doorway for support.
No one else seems even mildly disturbed, although a few of their belongings are thrown off their desks. They reach down to grab their pens and pencils, but they are otherwise calm. Sarah assumes that whatever is happening is normal and common in Baltimore. She becomes a little less worried.
Suddenly, a giant peers through the windows. An actual giant. The small amount of light that the windows were previously emitting is gone, and replaced by eyes that are each the size of a house, big enough in surface area to serve as a full body mirror for Sarah, who can’t help but marvel at her reflection in the hazel pupils.
At first, Sarah is worried that her imagination has come to life – that the world she resides in, the one in which people only ever seem to pass by momentarily, has taken over reality.
Soon, however, she realizes that this has nothing to do with her. One of the boys sitting on a couch by the windows peers over the book he’s reading, pushes his square, hipster-esque glasses up higher on the bridge of his nose, and studies Sarah’s reaction to the giant.
“Are you new here?”
His voice is loud and steady. Sarah is taken aback – she had only just gotten used to the fact that these students did not make conversation, and had started to think about them as pieces of furniture more than fellow human beings.
“Is it that obvious?”
“Yeah, you clearly didn’t know about the giants.”
As if reacting to being mentioned, the giant’s eyes scan the room and its inhabitants, and then move out of view. The sun’s rays reclaim one-third of the room as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Sarah should be frozen in awe, but all she can do is wonder what that giant must have seen when he glanced into the room: probably nothing but a few very sad jellyfish, some toy furniture, lots of bubbles, and quirky little rocks shaped like humans. He probably couldn’t tell that Sarah was any different from the others – and Sarah realizes that maybe she isn’t. [tc-mark