A flash fiction piece in preparation for my novel tentatively titled Annie and the Second Anasazi, scheduled for publication in late 2012 or early 2013. Sign up for notification by email here.
At age ninety-two, Annie Roth Serles held a final series of interviews with Jesse Theodore, her biographer. In this segment, Annie discusses her husband, Samuel Langhorne Serles. This is a transcript of the recorded interview, edited for clarity. A video is available for a small contribution to the Leave-Behind Project. This interview took place in Miss Annie’s home in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, in February 2114. The ticking sound in the background is the drip of irrigation water in her home’s garden room. Miss Annie’s voice is a bit hoarse from talking at this point. But she still has the spirit that made her famous.
Question: How’d Serles get his start, Annie?
Answer: It’s funny even you call him that, Jesse. Everybody called him Serles. Just Serles.
Q: And his first and middle name were so interesting.
A: Samuel Langhorne. He used to say, let’s see, I can get it just the way he said it. “I’ve got the MarkT but not the wain.” He had a way of seeing the world that most others found unintelligible, but everything he thought and said made sense if you could bring yourself to see it from his perspective, which was kind of this whole-world-view of formulas that seemed to just float in the air about him like the scent of meadow flowers on a warm, still day.
Q: That’s poetic. And unintelligible. You’d better explain that “MarkT” business.
A: That’s right. It’s the way he thought and he forgot that most mortals couldn’t leap around with him. It took me quite a while before I could understand him, and, of course, I couldn’t even begin to like him until I understood him. But let’s see. When he said that about “MarkT,” I made him explain it to me. Mark Twain wrote the book, Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain’s real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. My Serles’s full name was Samuel Langhorne Serles, after the writer. So, in his mind, that gave him two-thirds of the given name of Mark Twain, leaving him with a “MarkT,” leaving him without the “wain.” So, hell, Jesse, you got me off trying to explain a science nerd. That’s all Serles was and wanted to be. A science guy.
Q: How’d he get his start?
A: That’s a funny story.
Q: I always found it hard to pull stories out of him.
A: Oh, you didn’t. You chipped them out, piece by piece, then figured out the story for yourself.
Q: Okay, I got you off track. Keep talking about his start.
A: It was an accident. He screwed up. It’s one of the funniest things about him. He loved the irony. But as a graduate student in the lab, the nancarbon production facility at Los Alamos National Laboratories, which is where the United States developed the nuclear bombs used in World War II, his job was to prepare samples to send into the — what’s that machine they used to use?
Q: Jesso, they called it. I remember because it’s almost my first name.
A: See, there’s something strange with the names of the men in my life.
Q: Men? Do we need to turn this recorder off?
A: Calm yourself, Jesse. Where was I?
Q: He made a funny, ironic accident with a Jesso machine.
A: Right. So he prepared these samples, each slightly different, you know, so they could study how to get a higher production of that nanocarbon stuff. Well, he’d been out to Chaco Canyon over the weekend, and he cleaned his boots the morning before he ran the tests. One of the samples fell partly out of the tray and he caught it, put it back. But he knew he’d not washed his hands yet from cleaning his boots, so he made a mental note about the contaminated sample number. Of course, the whole world knows what happened then.
Q: How many times did that increase production?
A: I don’t think they were able to calculate it for quite a long time. And it depended on the availability of carbon in the air column.
Q: They’ve since estimated it in the trillions, I think.
A: So those Los Alamos people went crazy. They had Serles run test after test after test, ignoring his suggestions to try a little Chaco Dust, as he called it.
Q: And they finally did.
A: Yes, and set him up in a research lab there in Chaco Canyon, where he worked for two years until the First Outage.
Q: That was in 2037. What happened to him during all that?
A: He thought the world had ended. That they were the only humans left. Can you imagine?
Q: How did they find out?
A: Antone. He stumbled into the canyon more dead than alive. He told them.
Q: I want to know more about Antone. And what you were doing during the First Outage.
A: Oh, sure, but not anymore tonight. My talker is all talked out.
Q: Yes, yes, of course. Until tomorrow then. Good night, Miss Annie.
Annie and the Second Anasazi, set in 2054 A.D., is about a migration of intellectuals into the deserts of New Mexico where people live like the ancient ones because of changing climate coupled with an intolerable mix of politics and religion that rises in the cities of the American South. Annie is the daughter of Tucker and Lydia Roth of Girl on a Rock.