Cuffy: Part 3
"Cuffy" is a novelette set in the year 2500 about a young black man who has earned a seat in an international sculpture competition. His sculpture, Black Power, has gained the interests of powerful people who seek to interpret it for themselves. All the while, his extracurricular activities reliving slave narratives in VR from the POV of the slave master have become increasingly dangerous for his future. "Cuffy" will be published weekly on Argot in six total installments along with a continuously evolving title illustration by Tiffani Gomez. This is Part 3. Read from the beginning at Cuffy Part 1.
In Applied Quantum Physics, Cuffy found the day’s topic interesting and baited the teacher into ignoring everyone else.
“What do you mean, Dewitt?”
After 15 minutes, the other students in the class could only watch as he and the teacher collapsed into their familiar short hand. It had happened before. Usually, Cuffy sat in the back of the class quietly drawing in his notebook, but sometimes the boy would come alive. No one questioned his motive, possibly because it was so fascinating to watch.
Their dialogue seemed to electrocute meaning, blistering with metaphors and hypotheticals, rudely interrupting each other, like dogs, barking out clarifications atop one another, at times laughing, and then other times pausing, leaving some grand potential hanging in the air like the unspoken importance of parable. A few students tried to take notes, but most simply pulled out their phones and ignored the whole thing.
Today’s topic was event horizons.
“No, Dewitt, it’s ahh...it’s a barrier to which there is no escape...So, you have to see both perspectives at the same time, the pull and the push as it were, and what we’re talking about is if the singularity-”
“Doesn’t the whole thing imply an absence of perspective?”
The teacher paused.
Cuffy continued. “No observer.”
“No observer...no, I don’t think you’re loo--”
“Okay, okay, let me say it a different way. The outside observer cannot perceive light if it originates within the event horizon, correct?”
“I have trouble with the word, originates, but okay.”
“So, what is to say that light within the event horizon...some phenomenon, does not exist, even if we understand it to?”
“Why would it not exist?”
“Does it? I mean if what you’re saying is true that the gravity of it is such that-”
“Stop it, you’re leading yourself into-”
“The singularity inside the event horizon. A unique phenomenon originates-”
“I told you that the word is problematic-”
“Why does it exist, and if it does, what are we defining as existing if it cannot affect an observer and if the singular phenomenon is conscious within it, a person...” Cuffy hesitated, then continued anyway. “If the...light...is conscious...and cannot be seen by an outside observer...does that mean that it never existed...?”
“I really don’t understand.”
“That’s my point, but if it doesn’t exist, at least not in any form in space time, and if the observer is within the event horizon, does that mean that the light would then exist in some form that we understand it?”
“You’re saying if you were in a black hole and you turned on a flashlight, could you see it.”
“No, I’m asking if I’m in a black hole, can I perform any action that would not be seen by an outside observer as some reaction to the black hole, beyond its pull...or does simply being within its pull obliterate existence, no process of degeneration or dissolution, but a true eschatological void that...” Cuffy trailed off.
The teacher put his hands on his desk. Some of the other students glanced up from their phones.
“Dewitt, nothing...nothing you’re saying speaks to an understanding of this topic.”
All of the students looked at Cuffy. Cuffy smiled. “Light can’t reach the eye of the outside observer, correct?”
“From the event horizon of a black hole, correct.”
“And what would happen if the observer was inside the black hole?”
The teacher held out a stolid hand. “Then, he would not be an outside observer.”
“They would still exist, their perception, the wave lengths of-”
“Technically, we don’t know what would happen, because no one has eve-”
“So, can a phenomenon exist within a black hole for any space of time, observed from within or without, originating not as a reaction from the black hole, but originating from within the observer?”
The teacher took his hands from his desk. Those students who were smiling at Cuffy stopped. “It’s hard to-”
There was a knock at the door. “Excuse me.”
Everyone turned and saw the school’s vice-principal standing in the doorway.
“Hello, I’m sorry to interrupt, could I steal Dewitt for a few moments, I need to talk to him about something.”
Cuffy stood up. The teacher smiled at him, then told the class to take out their books and turn to the section on Ergospheres. Cuffy flipped open his book to that section, studied the page for a few moments, then walked into the hallway. The vice-principal shut the door behind him.
“Learning how to build black hole generators?”
“We were about to get into that I think.”
“Oh yeah? When, I was in school they had just started theorizing the idea, and now, 15 years later the station’s set up and we’re teaching it to teenagers.”
Cuffy looked at the ground.
The vice-principal leaned a bit trying to find the boy’s eye line. “It’s just interesting.” He continued. “How fast it’s all progressing these days.”
Cuffy nodded and shuffled his feet.
“So.” Said the vice-principal, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Is it finished?”
“I walked over there, yesterday. Got up close and personal with it. Looks good.” He paused, then added. “Impressive.”
“Its a great, big day coming, Dewitt.”
“Yeah, I know, I kno-”
“A big, big day, Mr. Cuffy.”
The vice-principal smiled. “The Trans-Shift people called me yesterday and I assured them that you were utilizing their technology to it’s fullest extent. I mean, the level of detail you put into it is simply astonishing.”
Cuffy said nothing.
“I know, I’ve said this to you before, but when they gave us that room, they gave us the specs for it too...” He made a large space between his thumb and pointer finger. “Like that. I have not read it, to be honest, because I cannot read 1200 pages of science specific data.” He laughed. “I tried to load the program onto my phone and I couldn’t even do that right.” He pulled out his phone to show him what he was talking about. “Simple thing, I suppose, but you...you took to it like a duck to water.”
“A duck to water.” Cuffy muttered.
“What’s that?” He asked, putting his phone back into his pocket.
“The inescapable environment of a duck.” said Cuffy without looking at the vice-principal.
“Right, well...the Trans-Shift people told me that they wanted the message of empowerment to be obvious, and yes, I know, that seems...like a strange request, but-”
Cuffy bobbed his head back and forth and moved in closer to the vice-principal.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what that means.”
“Well” said the vice-principal, taking a casual step backward, “they just wanted something obvious, nothing abstract. I mean, since they’re going to be sponsoring you, specifically the man who invented Trans-Shift, Turner Dessaline, since you and he are of the same...well, he just wants it to be about your...shared experience, the specific perspective and he wants that to be competing against these other people, I mean, the stage of this competition, the scope of it, well, it’s staggering, I have to say. And he just wants you to be...”
“I thought I did that. What’s the problem?” Cuffy shook his head. “If he’s so interested in it, why doesn’t he just come here and change it back himself?”
The vice-principal nodded and put his hands back in his pockets. “Mr. Dessaline is a busy man. I sent him the preliminary pictures of it, and he said he liked it, which Principal McTaggert says is high praise coming from him. He just seemed interested in how you planned on presenting it.”
Cuffy shrugged. “As is.”
“As is, meaning no more last minute changes?”
“Man, why doesn’t he just put himself in the competition? Everyone’s going to be using Trans- Shift to make their sculptures anyway, who knows better than he does?”
“I think, he sees it as a conflict of interest, since he’s on the committee, and besides that, he’s not an artist, he’s a scientist, an inventor...You know that.”
Cuffy frowned and looked through the classroom door at his teacher, pontificating about something fascinating.
“Listen, I was trying to be understanding with him. It was a strange conversation, to tell the truth. It seemed difficult for him to explain his intentions on the matter, but he told me his thoughts on some demographical, shall we say, concerns about society and he just hopes your statue will be reflective of that intent.”
“Creative freedom has been on my mind a lot lately.” Said Cuffy and took another step towards the vice-principal. “Ya feel me?”
The vice-principal nodded happily and took a step back. “Sure, and you know, it’s all a matter of perspective anyway, right?”
Cuffy looked at the ground.
“Art is relative as they say, but I doubt he’s going to be disappointed.” The vice-principal widened his eyes. “I mean, I remember your last Trans-Shift statue...the uhhh, the uhh...”
“Yeah, man.” He bent towards Cuffy, hands still in his pockets. “Incredible. Garnered a lot of great press for this school last year.” He straightened up. “I’ve got a picture of it right here, somewhere-” He began fidgeting through his pockets.
“That’s all right.”
“I just thought I had it here...”
“It’s all right.”
“Well, anyway,” He stopped searching and cleaned his glasses. “Look, other than that stuff about the Trans-Shift people, I just wanted to go over some particulars for Saturday and Sunday.”
Cuffy nodded and brushed a wrinkle from his shirt.
“First of all, what’s the title of it?”
“Black Power? Hmm. Well, Good! And you said you’re finished?”
“Great,” The vice principal nodded a few times, then whispered, “Hey, I’m sorry for coming on all strong like that, it’s just the principal’s been breathing down my neck about this, that, and the other, but I’ve tried to shield you from it a little, cuz I know he’s talked to you about it too, but...We rely on Trans- Shift’s donations beyond just the room and we also want this statue to be a testament of our commitment to diversity. We’ve received some blowback in recent years about our admission practices.” He paused. “And look, it’s not something you really need to worry about, okay? Just do your best and have fun, all right?” He nodded a few more times then continued normally. “Now, logistics. logistics. logistics.” The repetition seemed to swing him into his purpose. “Right, okay. This Saturday, I’ll need you here around 8 p.m. to manage the presentation when we set it up. We’ll pay for the transport beam of course, or Trans-Shift will I guess, but you’ll need to tell the stage team how to set it up.”
“Also, the morning of, you’ll need to be standing with your statue at 9 a.m. because they tell me there’s some protocols the judges want to go over with you. You’ll have a handler, okay? A person who will guide you through the necessary press junkets. Please, as said to you before, please, please, please mention Templeton at some point in the interviews you’ll be doing.”
The vice-principal narrowed his eyes at the young man. “You do understand what this is, Dewitt...Right?”
“I mean, I think so...”
“This is not the state competition and this not any of those local things you breezed through when you were in elementary. This is an international event. Interstellar even, I heard there were even going to be people coming from the colonies. Do you understand? The words “return on our investment” comes to mind, Dewitt.”
Cuffy looked out the window.
“Now, look, I don’t want to put pressure on you here, but-” The vice-principal stopped as a young man holding an orange restroom pass walked by, not hiding his stares at Cuffy. He disappeared around a corner and the vice principal began simulating seismic subduction with his hands. “I need to know you understand the gravity of the situation.”
Dewitt couldn’t stop watching the process.
The vice-principal’s hands stopped. “What?”
“Why do I need to understand the gravity of the situation?”
“What do you mean?”
Cuffy sighed. “How’s it going to help me do better, if I understand the “gravity?”
“Are you actually asking me, Dewitt?”
Cuffy showed him his palms.
“Well, you might have better posture for one, if you knew what this was. You might stop stooping your shoulders, stop pretending this isn’t all about presentation, how other people see you, how other people perceive what your...Okay, I’m going to speak to you like an adult, all right?”
“You were selected to participate, selected, Mr. Cuffy. An even better word would probably be allowed, to express a particular perspective here, so I think, Mr, Dessaline, the principal, myself, your school, your community, all of us, are expecting you to act accordingly. The world’s eyes are going to be on you, and if there’s any clarification to this man’s interest in your work, it might be a little concern for how you present yourself. You are representing a lot more than just yourself.”
“I know that.”
“Do you? You don’t seem that interested in participating, let alone winning. The least you could do is act like you have some regard for the people your performance reflects on.”
Cuffy rolled his eyes, and the vice-principal, a short man by all accounts, began inching towards him, backing him up.
“A lot of people are going to be looking to you as their voice, Dewitt. This idea you’re “espousing,” I guess would be the word, hasn’t been brought up in a long time, and for whatever reason, there’s just not that many people like you who get this opportunity and I want to make sure it’s addressed tastefully, because, well...” Cuffy hit the wall. “You know you’re going to be the only-”
“Yes, I know.” Interrupted Cuffy.
“You know. Well, it’s just a big year...” He glanced around, seeming to take stock of their proximity and took a step back. “A...A big year for the school and if you place, I mean, we’re talking scholarships, interviews.” The vice-principal head popped right with a thought. “Job opportunities. But, you know that, don’t you?”
“All right. And, I just have to say, that I’m excited to see someone like...You’re going to be empowering millions with your work and I’m just, I’m happy that we’re enabling you to do it. That’s all.” He said, nodding, like his head was caught between magnets.
Next Chapter: Cuffy Part 4
Erik's Goldsmith's short stories have been featured in Metaphorosis, Hidden Menagerie, and Wavelengths Anthology. He also has a book of short stories called "Tinker's Pain Calculator" published by Scarlet Leaf Press. He teaches English in Texas.