Below is a fiction dialogue I wrote for a local public radio station contest, which declined to use it, so I’m publishing it with this wonderful blog.
“What happens?” Tom asked. He grabbed a Greek yogurt, blueberry, from his fridge and sat in his green recliner. I had a few more seconds to think of a response as he got back up to get a spoon. He peeled back the foil lid, scooped the fruit from one plastic well into the larger yogurt zone, slurped up a spoonful, and then looked at me and waited.
“Things happen,” I said. “Events, experiences. Birds fly from one powerline to another. A squirrel bounces across the street one moment, and is flattened the next. You mixed up the yogurt and it can’t be unmixed.”
“That’s not what I mean,” Tom said. He took another spoonful of yogurt, striated with blueberry juice like carrara marble, and swallowed it.
I squinted at him, partly to query him and partly to engage my brain.
Tom scraped the last of the thick dairy from the hard plastic and set the tub and spoon on an end table. He put his hands palms-down on the arms of the recliner.
“What I mean is — well, I’m not sure what I mean. But there’s gotta be more to it than what you just said.”
More to what, I asked.
“Life,” he said.
“Shoot,” I thought. I can predict where this is going. I suddenly felt safe in a banal way. I waited to again be brought to the edge of a mental chasm, to see how he’d drive the idea while staying between the cliff wall of known thoughts and the dropoff of cleverness.
“Well, not life itself, which is far too abstract. When I squash a squirrel, I’m also killing its children,” he said.
“Mary Poppins steps in time,” I said.
Tom ignored me and continued, “I’m ending a piece of that which gives life, that which IS alive, and which, according to evolutionary theory, has been continuous through unknown generations of individuals for more than a billion years. I just ended it. … That doesn’t make me special — but I can’t recreate squirrel life. And sometimes I end life so as to continue my own.”
“But when I’m alive, I’m eating yogurt. I’m turning food into thought. It’s literal food for thought.”
And we were both silent a moment. He closed his eyes and lay back his head.
I said, “Your need to define life and what happens is an emotional need, and not necessarily an intellectual one.”
“That’s a valid point,” Tom said. “But it doesn’t answer the question.”
“Which question, again?” I said.
“The question of what happens,” Tom said. He added, “Maybe we get in trouble when we ask such vague questions. But maybe these simple questions can be the most profound.”
“Maybe. But maybe they’re also just simple,” I answered.
He leaned toward me from his chair and said, “We’re alive, you and me, right here, right now. Doesn’t our very existence pose the question of what it is to be alive?”
I think I finally got his point: “And you’re wondering if considering this question is exactly the right, or exactly the wrong, thing to be doing with this experience of being alive.”