Elisabeth blinked when she saw what the thermometer had to say. It had to be lying. Perhaps one of its many batteries was acting up again. The thermometer was an expensive model that reviewers online had complained of being overrated and a scam, but Elisabeth had nevertheless purchased it because she wanted to have the distinguished status of buying the head of the Physics Department at Filo the most expensive thermometer out there that could also fit inside his office.
For months the Physics chair had been in the middle of a research project on momentum that made Elisabeth’s eyes glaze over when he talked to her about it–she was in the Biology Department, so matters of inertia and constant velocity weren’t exactly up her alley–but she kept visiting his office over lunch breaks to see what progress he was making. That was how she’d one day noticed the looming thermometer crafted out of shining rosewood.
“Happy early Easter,” said the Physics chair, a tall, balding man named Max Lauder, PhD, pushing a bowl of egg-shaped chocolates toward Elisabeth. He once claimed the only reason he was friends with Elisabeth, if their lunch break conversations could be called a friendship, was her inability to compare him (in a negative way, of course) to another, much more renowned German physicist. “Even if it doesn’t feel like it.”
In the background the faint whir of an ambulance siren.
“Another one,” Max said, and he splayed his fingers as if he’d been counting them.
“Yeah.” Elisabeth’s voice was faint. She couldn’t even be sure if she had spoken or if her words had just echoed in her head. “I wish that thing was louder.” She pointed at the thermometer casting a shadow over Max’s bald spot.
Wiping beads of sweat from his forehead, Max spun around in his swivel chair and looked up at the thermometer. “So you’d rather have it lie to you?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
A second ambulance, or maybe it was the first one out of many rushing around outside that morning, sprang its sirens into the air.
“I wonder . . . if maybe there’s just some inaccuracies. With it. There could be some sun shooting straight at it and making it–“
“You’ve been eating lunch with me for the past seven-odd months, and you know very well that ever since you got that for me, that–“
“All right, all right, all right, all right, all right.” Elisabeth shook her head and put her hands over her face as though she was ashamed to look at Max or the thermometer.
She cracked one of her eyes through a slit between her fingers and spied what the thermometer was saying now. Stifling a cry and a sob twisted into one, she asked, “It’s never going to go lower than that, is it?”
“No.” Max swallowed hard. “Four hours left for it to–“
“Okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay.”
“Why do you keep doing that?”
“Why does it keep doing that? Elisabeth again shot a finger in the direction of the thermometer.
“It’s just doing what it was made to do. This is just how it’s going to be. From now on.” Scowling, Max rose from the chair. He told Elisabeth he would be going to the men’s room and would be soon back for the rest of their lunch.
Elisabeth said nothing. She watched the Easter eggs melt into a chocolate pool smearing the bottom of the glass bowl, and heard the ambulances screaming across the boulevard, and knew without knowing that the thermometer’s needle had jumped past the slash mark denoting one followed by a couple of zeros.