So there they were, five children of the atom, siblings in the sense of the solar system. They had travelled up an artery of the country, in a three door hatchback clot, the service stations being valves for the weary platelets to come and settle, hot dog vans and bacon butty joints bloated cists, brought closer to bursting by each family saloon exchanging gristle for small change. It had been soon enough dark, the evening pressed down on the car with great pressure, heavier than Mr. Proton’s feverish feet against the accelerator pedal. Mr. Electron beat his chest, to the solemn heartbeat of the motorway, and Mr. Neutron swung his legs and mopped his forehead against the cool glass of the windowpane.
On one stretch of road, the car reached a peak of a hill and the motorway scrabbled forwards two miles ahead, the only lights being the white head and red tail lights of hundreds of vehicles, some the size of the stars appearing over the horizon, white alive, and red dying, a blood stream, white blood cells and red blood cells in a long, long turbulence, the sounds of the all the engines was the soughing of a sea, a million meal worms writhing through fine sand.
The car is parked up now, and the five of them are drinking, tepid beer from cold tins.
Mr. Electron raises his voice:
‘Drink is the fifth fundamental force of the universe,’
‘What are the other four?’ Asks Mr. Neutron.
‘Malt, water, hops and yeast.’
Mr. Proton interjects:
‘Ah, but Malt, Malt is a contestable fundamental, being itself a collection of other things.’
‘Could I suggest, Barley? As a replacement?’ adds Mr. Neutron amicably.
‘Malt,’ says Mr. Electron, ‘It’s most definitely Malt,’
‘Mr. Proton’s argument holds: Malt includes Barley. It surely must be Barley.’
‘Barley,’ slurs Mr. Proton triumphantly.
Mr. Electron is undeterred, he counts out on his fingers as he speaks:
‘Malt, water, hops and yeast,’
‘We’ll put it to vote, unless you can give us a real reason,’ says Mr. Proton.
‘If you must know, it’s a matter of syllables, rather than science, Barley has too many syllables. Barley, water, hops, and yeast, is a list that veritably sticks in ones throat.’
‘Syllables? That’s it?’ scoffs Mr. Proton.
‘Life, gentlemen,’ says Mr. Electron, urging the others to lean in, ‘is more about the syllables, than anything else,’
Later in the night club Mr. Neutron was thinking about wild animals. He was trying, unsuccessfully to convey his thoughts to a drunken Mr. Proton.
‘Well, they’re eaten aren’t they?’
‘Animals, most animals are eaten,’
‘No, yes, no, well by other animals - including people,’
‘Here hold my drink, I need a piss,’
Mr. Proton got up, and stumbled through the crowded dance floor, a green light shone atop of the tall staircase, a beacon for the restroom. Mr. Neutron watched his progress, from his seat beside the bar; people stood on tables, and kicked off pint glasses to the music, men leant against walls in a stupor and women dragged their semi-conscious friends beside them like heavy handbags. Mr. Proton limped through the dancers after the green light like a Wiseman after a star. A hand fell on Mr. Neutron’s shoulder.
‘I’ve got us a place to stay,’
It was Mr. Electron.
‘Her place,’ Mr. Electron gestured to girl queuing at the bar ‘She says her name is Ms. Photon,’
‘How fitting,’ laughed Mr. Neutron.
Mr. Proton returned from his pilgrimage to the restroom.
‘We have a place to stay,’ said Mr. Electron.
Ms. Photon had finished at the bar; Mr. Electron beckoned her over, introducing her to the group, he began telling a joke. At the first word something happened, as curiously Mr. Electron had inherited a certain habit from his namesake, that is, he could be in two places at once, and after the first word of the joke, two events unfolded simultaneously and dichotomously. Two jokes, entirely antipodal, one so foul and maladroit that Ms. Photon struck him then and there across his cheek, and marched out past the clumsy bouncers and onto the sickly orange streets. The other joke, intelligent and insightful, with such tangible wit that all in ear shot fell about immediately into laughter, and Ms. Photon finding herself peering down the gun barrel of Mr. Electron’s irrefutable charm had no other option other than to be instantaneously and utterly enthralled.
And this is how they found themselves spending the night in their car, amongst the pornography and empty beer cans, with Mr. Proton and Mr. Electron occasionally opening the front doors to let their clotted vomit stream out onto the road.
And how they found themselves in feather beds, with plumped pillows, at the seemingly bottomless hospitality of Ms. Photon. At sunrise Mr. Neutron rolled off of his mattress, and snuck around the flat, to find a whole room of prosthetic limbs and dismantled wheelchairs. He followed the faint sounds of something like a pair of bellows to a room beside the lounge, and peeked through the keyhole to find Ms. Photon’s father on a respirator, wrapped up like a mummy, with a pharaoh’s oxygen mask, and his innards piled in canopic jars on a dresser with the potpourri.