There is a woman who waits in the darkness for the same bus each morning. Another woman stands stands nearby, in front of the graffiti-covered advertisement for Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. The women stare into the distance, searching for the lumbering public transport vehicle that will take them to campus. They wait for their future labor like two crocodiles in adjoining tanks. There is only silence.
Another graduate student speaks to her about his work in physics. His laboratory performs the amazing feat of turning light into a solid, or something else that is lost to her in minutes. She returns to the work that consumes her morning hours, blithely ignoring the correspondence between Frankenstein and this wonder of physics. She does not ask the question, are we pieces of solid light?
The day is spent for the most part in a glorious solitude. Like the hunter who moves silently through the woods to check his traps, she moves through the library, cautiously avoiding those whom she knows. A single conversation would ruin the beauty and vastness of her silence. Today no such conversation occurs and she is happy.
At lunchtime, she meets a graduate student friend at a vile chain restaurant. They are only redeemed from their disgusting food choices by their inflexible avoidance of the yoga studio above. As they eat the uniform food before them, they discuss their dissertations and television shows they have watched on Netflix. They understand each other’s daily labors with few words. Like polar explorers, they do not need to tell each other what is the snow. They simply build a wall with it, against the elements.
Later she tries to return to her work but is stymied by writer’s block. Though she has named her laptop after a character from a Jane Austen novel, there is no friend here. Only the pitiless, ruthless gaze of an insensate machine. The screen looks back at her, unforgiving and brutal as the nature that lies forgotten outside her window.
Each night her boyfriend introduces her to a spirit of levity. With the taste in alcohol of a young dandy, she picks up a glass of mead that comes from a bottle stamped with images of Vikings and yells, “Let us breathe fire over the moldering bones of our enemies!” A few years ago, her sister had a genetic test that showed they are descended from Vikings. She finds comfort in pretending that she is a Viking warrior, facing the struggles of daily life with the beautiful and strange fiction that she lays waste to her foemen on the high seas.