Surfer Girl – Short Story



Dennis Nau

 The people were all wrong, the people at our wedding. I know they were taking bets at the back end of the bar. Some said our marriage would last three weeks, some a year. It’s been six years since we got married. They all lost. Still, losing is relative. Winning is too.

At the time of our wedding, I held the chair in Theoretical Physics at The University of San Diego, and I know something about relativity. I got my doctorate’s degree from Harvard. I’ve done consulting with NASA. I’ve had dinner with Stephen Hawking, twice. Women were not generally attracted to me in spite of my academic honors. So I posted myself on the internet with one of those search engines that pops up in an irritating manner on your screen late at night. Find your true soulmate now! They asked about my background and I typed it in. My doctoral thesis was on the science of wave theory. My book, “Astrophysical Wave Theory for the 20th Century and Beyond,” garnered all sorts of awards. I was on the cover of American Scientific in 1997. I’d been published 36 times.

I met Susan through this internet company and it cost me $1800. That was a bargain. Professor Anderson, my good friend, found his wife on the internet but it cost him almost five grand. Mix-ups do occur, and I should have learned from Professor Anderson. He had several patents in the field of medical imaging. He was responsible for designing some of the first transducers in the field of Positron Emission Tomography. Well, he mentioned that on his compatibility chart, about his work with PET Scan machines, and he was inundated with e-mails from women who loved pets. Professor Anderson married one with 26 cats. Oh, we weave a tangled web, whether or not we mean to deceive.

My first meeting with Susan was at Raphael’s, a small Italian joint on the coast, and I was nervous. How could we be matched? Was this Susan a professor of physics atSouthern Cal? Would we discuss black holes? Maybe we could talk about antimatter. I spent some time combing my hair to make myself look as intelligent as I possibly could. The dating service said, on their website, that first impressions were very important.

I sat at a table alone, a half-hour early, and I watched as the restaurant filled. Then this woman walked in, gorgeous, and I thought, no, it couldn’t be her. Physicists are not supposed to look that good.

But she was my date.

I kissed Susan’s hand before she sat down and she blushed. Physicists are not supposed to blush.

“I’m Herbert.”

“I’m Susan.”

We made microscopic talk about the weather, baseball, and traffic. You can always make small talk about traffic. She was beautiful and I fell under her trance and I didn’t much care at the end of our conversation that she knew nothing about physics. She worked in a convenience store and had only one interest in life. She liked to surf.

“If you catch a wave, a good wave, shortly after dawn on a day when the weather is perfect, you can ride that wave for maybe a quarter mile. You glide past these houses on the beach and you feel that you are on top of the world. You shiver a little, but it’s worth it. Know what I mean?”

Of course I didn’t.

“And Herbert, what do you do?”

Well, well, let me see. I investigate the fundamental principals of the universe. I talk in terms that are incomprehensible, except to other physicists. How did the universe form? What keeps it together? What is the relationship between energy and matter? Those sorts of questions.

“So, you can’t advise my next door neighbor if she should leave her husband?”

Not really. We physicists deal in the most important questions of existence, the questions of why and how, if and when. We measure time in nanoseconds; distance in light-years. We have our bases covered on both ends, the long and the short.

So, how many physicists does it take to change a light bulb?

Oh, I first heard that joke 20 years ago. Every physicist has heard that joke.

I deal in truth and I deal in irony. All of these earth-shaking, universe-rattling events that I study mean nothing. Tell me that the earth will start to wobble on its axis and the wobble will increase over the next 10,000 years and some time after that a new Ice Age will start, and this will not cause me to alter my dining habits. I’ve always gone out to eat at Raphael’s.

Susan followed the Grateful Dead for a number of years, she said. That didn’t discourage me. I’m tired, Herbert—can I call you Herb— of all those idiots that followed that band and followed me. That’s why I went on the Internet. Well, Susan—can I call you Susan—it seems to me that you may have made the best choice possible for your $1800.

“$1800? I only paid $450.” I guess it helps to be blond and beautiful.

We were married two months later, right around the time of all that massive sunspot activity. The best viewing areas were in theFijiIslands. We honeymooned inAlaska.

We caught salmon up there, lots of it, and shipped it back. We had a big party, invited all our friends and colleagues, ordered kilogram upon kilogram of beer and liquor, and damn near everyone we invited came, which often happens when you have free food and liquor. There were conversations about the sand and the surf and solar flare activity.

“No, approximately 186,000 miles per second, the speed of light.”

“Wow, that’s fast, man.”

That first year of our marriage was wonderful, what with the surfing finals inHawaii, and the theoretical physicist’s convention inParis. The next year was even better. My consulting team and I were awarded a 3.2 million dollar grant to develop a plan to detect the existence of quarks, a theorized fundamental component of the universe. It involved qualifying a bona-fide quark detector, and examining sites surrounded by heavy metal locations buried at least a mile underground that were easily accessible. It was quite a grant, and my staff and I had another party.

Although I had no appreciation for surfing, the pseudo-science of the sport amused me. I designed a surfboard for Susan made out of foamed titanium, covered with an aluminum skin. That skin was coated with a hard-coated aluminum oxide finish, infused with Teflon. She glided through the sea, Susan, and took second place in the ‘98 World Women’s Surfing Competition.

I think her prize was $3,000. I spent $22,000 making that surfboard, but I didn’t care. She was my surfer girl.

There’s dark matter in the universe. We physicists all know it. We can’t prove it, but we know it. 

I had to attend a weekend meeting with NASA in ’99. I took Susan along. Somehow, stepping out of that cab, she tripped, and snapped a bone in her ankle.

“Really, Herb, it’s nothing.”

“You’re limping, Susan.”

“It’s nothing. I’m fine.”

She limped entirely too long. By the time Susan finally agreed to go to the doctor, the ankle had become infected. The doctors managed to save her foot, but there’s a price to pay for being stubborn. Her price was surfing. She’ll limp forever, and never ride a wave again.

Susan became a Christian, shortly after that. She couldn’t surf, so she turned to God.

I’m a physicist. I don’t know God.

This led to some awkward dinner conversations about the meaning of life.

“Well, evolution teaches us…”

“I don’t give a damn about evolution, Herb. Everyone believes in evolution. I want to know why.”

“What do you mean?”

“Why? Why is there creation at all?”

“Well, that’s not an easy question to answer.”

I had to leave, in the middle of that conversation, to go to observe the convergence of two of the moons of Jupiter. This was more than idle curiosity. We physicists knew what their orbit was, but we didn’t know the speed of their rotation, versus their distance from Jupiter. An exact time of their convergence could clear up these matters.

“So how important is this?” Suzy asked me before I left.

“Well, extremely important.”

“How will it affect life on earth?”

“Not at all.”

“How could it be important, then?”

I went to the observatory that night, and Jupiter’s moons converged just slightly before we predicted they would converge, so we re-calculated our figures and patted ourselves on the back, and, as I traveled home, I felt like one of those burned out booster rockets that were used on the Apollo missions. They flared for a few minutes and then they landed in the ocean.

Nobody gave a damn about them. Towards the end, nobody much gave a damn about their payloads, either.

All of this led me to reconsider my life. I studied the most fundamental tenets of existence, like the Big Bang, when all of the matter in the universe was gathered in a sphere the size of a basketball (well, some of my colleagues claim the size of a baseball, but lets not split hairs). Suppose some new calculations prove that it was actually the size of a marble. Perhaps 40 people in the world would find this interesting. Nobody else could suppress a yawn. Did all of the fundamentals of existence mean nothing? It occurred to me that there was this strange, inverse relationship. The more important things were in my profession, the less important they were to virtually every person on earth.

This revelation caused me some minor psychological trauma.

The discussions that Susan and I had at dinner became less frequent, with the evening prayer services that Susan started attending. Still, I hugged her at the end of our conversations and she hugged back. Then, one night, as I hugged her, a thought hit me. Could Susan be seeing another man she met at her prayer meetings, another Christian man, one who shared her beliefs in the Holy Trinity, one who knew how to pray? Certain things naturally attract, such as oxygen and hydrogen.

No. It wasn’t possible. Christians, I thought, are supposed to believe in faith, hope, and love—love, eternal, death-do-us-part, love.

My mother knew how to pray. She prayed that I would get into an Ivy League School.

“Really?” said Susan. “I wish your mother was still alive. I’d like to talk to her about prayer. She prayed for you to succeed and her prayers were answered. It’s all part of the space-time continuum.”

“What do you mean?”

“You were at the right space, at the right time.”


“At Raphael’s. But I was at the right space at the right time too, Herb.”

That’s not legitimate science, just irresponsible speculation I said, but I do know when to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, like just before I have a stroke.


She patted my head. “Just a minor thing, Herb. You were a bright light in existence, traveling that 299,792.458 kilometers per second. Of all the vast places in the universe that you could have traveled to, you ran into a brick wall, right here, on earth. What would be the odds?” A nurse’s aid looked on.

The stroke was bad. Susan held my hand in intensive care, after the stents were put in by very competent professionals. I could smell antiseptics and her perfume. I started wondering about dark matter and light matter, blue and gray matter, and what, if anything, actually mattered.  Was Susan like the force of gravity, the glue that holds everything together? Perhaps that force is love, I surmised, but I couldn’t say anything, all of these tubes going into and coming out of my body, not to mention the oxygen mask.

I wanted to thank Susan, but I couldn’t, not for another four weeks. I needed therapy to get me to the point where I could speak again. I was transferred to an assisted living center where they could wheel me out into the afternoon sun. Susan showed up every one of those afternoons. God, she was gorgeous, even though she wore no makeup. I’d get speech therapy three days a week.

So, we had the big bang. Everything got hurled for millions and trillions of miles. Sub-atomic particles started coalescing into atoms and molecules, and eventually they coalesced into love. Is that possible? It must be, because love exists, although we can’t weigh it, measure it, or determine its wavelength. This was not a topic covered in any of my college courses. I had to do a lot of soul-searching, but what else are you going to do in bed? Well, if you’re going to do soul-searching, you have to admit that you have a soul.

You admit these things, you’re on the edge, if you’re a world-class physicist. Einstein said that God does not play dice with the universe. Strobosky, whom we all revere, denigrated the notion of a deity until the day he died, when he said, on his deathbed, “May God have mercy on my soul.”

Susan never looked as lovely as she did outside the assisted living center, bending down to kiss me on the cheek, the sun behind her. Why would she take the trouble? She’d be better off if I died. I knew that. She must have known that, also.

“Your angle of reflection is bad, with these thoughts, Herb. You can’t do much worse now than 90 degrees, can you?”

“What do you know about angles of reflection,” I asked. I had to ask it three times, because I slurred my speech.

“It would have been much easier if you had directed your life toward a gas with a higher specific gravity, a liquid, or even some fairly clear visco-elastic material, like clear silicone caulk. We would be talking about angles of refraction, not of reflection, and a much different refractive index. You might have come out of that incident with just some small cuts and bruises, or only a very minor stroke.”

“When did you learn about wave theory, Susan?”

“When I was nine years old, on my first surfboard.”

I progressed to the point where I could hobble around and Susan took me home and my monosyllabic responses were replaced with responses that had more syllables and I no longer grunted when I needed to go to the bathroom. I simply went to the bathroom. Still, Susan stayed with me, and I thought, there’s nothing in it for her.

I don’t know anything about love, I realized. I know nothing about beauty. I have some inkling about truth, but likely that knowledge is limited to esoteric subjects of no use to anyone.

“Love is like a wave,” Susan told me. “You have high points and low points. But it carries you along. It carries you forward, Herb. It carries you towards your ultimate goal.”

“Which is?”

“Well, heaven, of coarse, but if you’re on a surfboard it carries you towards the shore, which is your safe haven, and it makes a great deal of difference if you’re good at riding the surf or if you’re not. It’s not easy to ride a wave, but it’s like life, Herb.”

“Why do you stay with me, Susan?”

“You’re just a rough sea right now, Herb. And I love you.”

The waves aroundLaguna Beachare perfect for surfers, which is probably why the coast is littered with them. Now, you take theCaribbean. That is really a study in wave theory.

“Yes,” says Susan. “Around the Keys there are shallows and deep spots. You’re in high waves. A quarter mile away the waves increase in frequency, but their amplitude decreases. Then, of course, you get the undulatory reflection coming from shore. That tends to rock the surfboard from side-to-side. Still, I prefer Pacific waves. Well, I used to prefer Pacific waves.”

I was a little more than a rough sea. I was a chain around her neck. I still am. I had mostly been a 1099 employee, a well-paid one, to be sure, but one who knew what the average life expectancy was, one who heeded the health warnings about tobacco, trans-fats, and UV rays on the beach, and I thought I would live forever, and I didn’t put away money for the rainy day that I figured would never arrive.

“Oh,” says Susan, “God’s used to dealing with people like you. He deals with them every day.”


“Yes. Astrophysicists are a dime a dozen.”

They can’t be.

“Just kidding, Herb. People who think they will live forever are a dime a dozen.”

We sold our house and bought a smaller, cheaper, one. The money was starting to run out. My professional associates quit visiting or sending their regards. I let my subscription to Astrophysics Monthly lapse. After my second stroke we sold our house again and moved into a one-bedroom apartment. We needed the money for a good-quality wheelchair. The strokes had affected mainly my right frontal cortex, the area mostly responsible for logical thought. A lot of the blood that should have been going there ended up toward the rear of my temporal lobe, the area responsible for creative activity, and I suddenly could sing on key, something I had never been able to do before, something I never really even cared to do before my strokes.

“They’re sound waves, Herb. God created them so we could hear danger and our babies crying, and listen to Beethoven, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles. God’s partial to the letter ‘B.’”

“That’s nonsense,” I tried to mutter, but the left side of my mouth didn’t work properly. “God didn’t create sound waves so husbands could insult their wives,” Susan said. She bent over and kissed me.

“Why do you suppose,” Susan asked, “that you can sing well even though you can hardly talk?”

She didn’t wait for an answer.

“I’ll tell you why. God likes beauty. He doesn’t much care for smart-asses. You’re not a smart-ass anymore, Herb. You’re a string on God’s violin. You’re still a little flat, though, when you sing.”

Susan would wheel me out every once in a while to the picnic tables outside the convenience store where she worked. They had regulars, people who came in every day for coffee or gas or simply to make small talk with the help, people who I wouldn’t have associated with had I never suffered a stroke. They’d pat me on the back, comment on the weather; ask me how I was doing.

Susan, I would think to myself, your love for me was not included in the theory of evolution that I studied, since I cannot now help you with having brilliant offspring, like a son or a daughter who might one day discover that long coveted “Unified Theory.” We used to talk about that inGradSchool, like it was the Holy Grail, although none of us much believed in the Holy Grail.

Middle-aged maybe, but she still had that gorgeous blond wavy hair and those bright eyes and that smile that seemed genuine, Susan did. The odd part about it was that her smile was genuine.

Then, one night, a light flickered. I could still use my right hand, and since I couldn’t really talk very coherently, I would type out messages to Susan on the PC.

“No, no, you don’t understand, Herb. Life has nothing to do with the right-hand or left-hand rotation of photons. That would be like saying it has something to do with the way you put the socks on your left foot or right foot. That has nothing to do with the path that you have to walk in life. The path you have to walk curves in and out, goes up and down, like a wave in two dimensions. God is the person who dropped the rock into the fountain, and created the wave.”

The speech therapy sessions were helping. The first thing I clearly learned to say was “No.” I really wanted to learn to say, “Like shit, you goddam idiot, how do you think I’m doing.” That would have been a response to all the people who visited the convenience store and patted me on the head. They don’t teach speech therapists how to help a person say something like that.

My speech got better. My walking improved. I could go down to the convenience store with a cane and say, “Good, and you?”

Bobby came into the store every day. I could tell by the tone of his voice whether it was a good day or bad day for him. He didn’t shave in the morning on the bad days. I charted out his good days and his bad days. There were three bad days to one good day, a wave bisected two thirds of the way up. Well, our standards were too high. If we lowered them a little it would be a classical wave, textbook. I could predict when he would be in top form. They didn’t teach me that in grad school.

And I could predict when he’d be in bottom form. When he committed suicide on the last day of May, I took out my chart. Sure enough, the time of death was at the exact bottom of the curve, when I extrapolated. All of existence obeyed the principles of wave theory, it seemed to me.

“Of course it does, Herb. I’m surprised you didn’t realize that long ago. It has been evident for decades now, since Einstein’s famous news conference, and after de Broglie presented his hypothesis. God does not play dice with the universe,” Susan said, “He cracks a whip. Well, it’s a gentle whip, but it ripples like a wave does. Have you ever seen a person crack a long rawhide whip, Herb.”


“It’s a sight to see. I worked on a ranch for six months. Did I ever tell you that?”


“Cattle have patterns. They wake. They sleep. They pass gas. They eat. It’s all very rhythmic, a wave with a once-a-day cycle, well, 150 times a day cycle with the passing gas. Cattle breed. That’s a completely different cycle. When these cycles merge, you had better stand clear. It’s like the gentle waves that hit the southernCaliforniacoasts in early June from the south. Surfers love them. Occasionally, a storm in the Pacific will cause waves to come from due west. There are choppy seas, but when one of those waves from the west is in sync with one of the waves from the south, you could be up in a surfboard surveying all of creation, but fearing for your life. I know. I’ve ridden one of those waves.”

“I didn’t know you worked at a ranch.”

“You know less than you think, Herb.”

That was apparent. Susan took me toSan Diegofor the bypass operation. We drove by one of those huge photo-voltaic farms with the solar collectors on the roofs, row after row, where they turn light waves into electrical waves, and these electrical waves would make their way to motors everywhere, where they were turned into electro-magnetic waves, which would power a motor, which might pump water into a fountain. There’d be a splash, and ripples. More waves. Or they might power an air compressor hooked to pneumatic portions of a printing press, which would pound out an engrossing novel, and millions of people would read that novel. Their brain waves would flicker. More and more waves.

They gave me anesthesia at the hospital in the pre-op room. Susan kneeled down and kissed me. I looked into her beautiful blue eyes; blue, as in the most astounding wavelength of light that God ever created—only if there is a God, mind you. She kissed me, right before the needle went into my arm. “I’ll pray for you, Herb.”

Somehow, I felt better because she said that. Susan has some sort of power. It emanates from her, not as powerful as magnetism, maybe, but a lot more powerful than gravity. She’s the Rock of Gibraltar. Those loose molecules of that delicate perfume that float around her body are only window-dressing.

I survived the operation, as you probably surmised. They put in a couple more stents while they were at it. I had my new theory sewn up by the time I came out of intensive care. It accounted for all of that troublesome “dark matter” and “dark energy” that we physicists like to talk about at cocktail parties. I nearly died on that operating table. I felt myself rise out of my body, and I stared down at the surgeons that were performing the surgery. The heart monitoring machine started making noise, noise with a frequency meant to cause you to take notice, and everyone in the operating room scrambled. Those sound waves hurt their ears. Good engineering! A surgeon cursed.

I was riding a different wave, with a wavelength that seemed half the distance of the diameter of the universe. I was on a surfboard, coated with something other than Teflon-infused anondized aluminum, and I was heading towards the sun, a friendly sun. Oh, I know what Susan was talking about, I thought. I surfed around Venus and a Beach Boys song was playing in the background. Well, it wasn’t a Beach Boys song; it was a Beach Boys ring tone on a cell phone. “Turn that damn thing off,” a male voice said.

“I’m sorry, Doctor.”

Maybe dark matter isn’t dark. Maybe we just call it that because the eyes of physicists cannot detect certain spectrums. Perhaps dark matter is a pleasant flesh color, with blond hair, and it smiles at me, right out of intensive care. It rubs my forehead gently. The human soul, I calculated, is like a photon, has mass but no weight. The energy emitted from the soul is on a frequency identical to dark energy, but 180 degrees out of phase. That cancels dark energy, at least in our solar system.

The universe is expanding at accelerated rates elsewhere, because there are no women with good souls in outer space. The Hubble Telescope has confirmed this. Good and evil in the human soul correspond to the high-point and low-point of a wave.

Cosmology is a strange science. You only have questions and more questions and billion dollar particle accelerator experiments. Nothing can be proven, only surmised.

It would answer a lot of questions, my theory, explain why the universe hasn’t flown apart. Schoenberg thought we should have whispered into nothingness 300 million years ago, without the dark matter. Abramson says, no, last January. This energy of the soul is keeping us all in existence. Why?

“Well, honey, you want to see your grandchild grow up now, don’t you?”

“Susan,” I said, “We don’t have any kids. Without kids, it’s hard to have grandkids.”

“I’m eight months pregnant, Herb.” She patted her belly.

“How could I not have noticed?”

“You’ve been somewhat self-absorbed, Herb. I can forgive you. There are health issues, after all.”

“My God, I’m going to be a father. I can hardly believe it. How is our baby doing?”

Well the ultrasound test (at approximately 325 kHz) looked very good. I was somewhat concerned because some medical journals had suggested that the more optimum wavelength for an ultrasound would suggest a 350-375 kHz, but the kid was over eight months along, for heaven’s sake, looked perfect.

I worked at my new theory. K-Theta (pi times the speed of light) = E (as in Einstein’s E) times the Cosmological Constant divided by the molecular weight of gold (196.97). Gold is a damn heavy molecule. K would be the flesh-colored matter of the universe, with blond hair, or red or brown or black. It would contain the energy emitted by the collected souls who had inhabited, were inhabiting, and would inhabit, the universe. It’s easy to see by this theory that a woman kissing her child has more power than almost 26 million stars, as regards energy, that is.

“Herb, you’re overstating things. Be more careful with your decimal points.”

She was right. It should have been 260,000 stars. People with gray hair or white hair or no hair would count as well. If you substituted the molecular weight of Palladium for that of gold, it would shrink to 259,000 stars. Big deal.

There are three types of neutrinos. They might all want to kill me but they could not, if my wife’s love wanted to keep me alive. Neutrinos have traditionally been designated by the n=1/w(2) equation. That means that Susan’s love wins out all of the time. Neutrinos are wimpy. It’s a classic wave formation. L=MC3. I took a deep breath and I could smell a Nobel Prize, but then again, that stroke might have damaged my olfactory nerves.

Still, Susan, I asked, what’s God got to do with all of this?

“You know about all of these waves, Herb. They pulse through the universe, like electricity through a copper wire. Someone’s at the switch.”

Then a quark hit me, right between the eyes. Well, it hit the proton in an atom in my frontal cortex. This atom was part of a very important cell in the brain that causes a person to straighten up and fly right. It didn’t hurt, just caused me to lighten up.

I’m sorry. I still slur my words. It caused enlightenment. 

Susan went into labor at the cashier’s station, in the convenience store. I could drive by then. I picked her up. Customers were cheering for her, waving, giving a thumbs-up sign.

Susan got into the car. She threw them a kiss.


This entry was posted in Short Stories. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s