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All That Scant Helium


For part of the workday today I sat in a high school Chemistry classroom making Algebra answer keys. The classroom was empty. Ninth and tenth graders were taking their end-of-year assessment in English I and English II. The rest of the school was in other classrooms, and since there were no bells, no students transitioned into this classroom.

I was with a coworker. The periodic table was on the wall. I saw hydrogen then searched for helium. It was on the other side.

Yesterday, at a bar, I knew that beryllium was one of the early elements in the universe, but had my doubts about lithium; today I confirmed that it was, with an atomic number of 3, it’s all over the universe.

For lunch I went to a coffeehouse with a coworker and sat in the sunlight. I ate a roasted turkey sandwich and drank black tea with my white shades on, shielding my eyes from the polarized photons reaching me from the cosmic microwave at the edge of our expanding sphere. After a few minutes another coworker came out of the coffeehouse with an iced coffee. He sat down, explaining how he was drinking his second iced coffee because this coffeehouse has free refills.

We talked about April Fool’s Day, which was tomorrow. We agreed that probably no pranks would happen during the workday but it would be cool if something did, like getting here early and highlighting everyone’s name on the sign-in sheet even if no one was actually late.

The coworker on his second iced coffee got up and went to get his third. When he returned we got up and went back to the high school. Very few people were in the hallways, students even less.

Rather than go back to the Chemistry classroom, we opted for the cafeteria. At the very back was a row of booths. We sat in one next to a window. The sky looked good up there, all blue and full of calm. All that scant helium.

Normally we’d be tutoring ninth graders in math for three periods, but not today.

My coworker got me to download Quiz Up. After I finished reading more about the universe, which really has gotten my interest for some reason, I downloaded the app, but the whole time I was thinking about hydrogen and helium and lithium and beryllium.

Out there in space it’s a uniform -455 degrees Fahrenheit.

Herocious is the author, most recently, of the novel “Austin Nights.”
April 2, 2014 10:00 pm

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