Fortgang, who lived alone, craved communication. Oh, sure, he knew people, had relatives in various cities, and friends, some nearby and some far away, but it wasn’t friends or family he desired communication with. Fortgang was rather shy, and very much a private person, and on this particular day he was overcome by the pressing need to bare his soul, and, furthermore, he knew he could only bare his soul to a neutral observer. He wanted to confess things he’d never be able to say to someone he knew.
He decided a molecule was the answer. He may have lived alone, but he was surrounded by molecules, molecules of all sorts, billions if not trillions, he assumed. Having an audience of one molecule, the right molecule, could surely help him focus his thoughts. But which molecule among the multitudes in his surroundings? He ruled out his own molecules, the molecules that, in the aggregate, comprised Fortgang. Too close to home. It was an external molecule he sought, a molecule without a vested interest.
Fortgang realized a molecule of an inanimate object wouldn’t do. Talking to a molecule on the wall, for instance, would be like talking to the wall.
He was thinking it had to be a molecule of something animate, of something one could call “life.” He kept his apartment fairly clean, but once in a while he did see a bug. Maybe a cockroach molecule, he thought. But he’d have to keep the roach, if he could find one, captive. Surely a roach wouldn’t stand still to listen to his spiel, especially if it was only addressed to one molecule of the bug. That wouldn’t do. Besides, though he intended to address a single molecule, the idea that the rest of the insect would also be privy to his most intimate thoughts disturbed him.
A microbe was the answer—life, but small life, too small to see and therefore too small to distract him from his laser focus on a single molecule. He assumed there were bacteria all over the apartment, but just how would he address the molecule of a bacterium? There would certainly be bacteria on the rim of his toilet, especially since he had last cleaned it about a week ago, but did he really want to bare his soul to the rim of a toilet? Besides, there was the question of whether he should address the toilet molecule from above, standing, or rather kneel, get down on his knees and approach the molecule at its own level. But kneeling was out of the question because he didn’t own a kneeling pad, not the kind one finds in a church or the kind one uses for scrubbing the floor, and even if it was only a mere molecule, he was sure he wanted something in a more dignified setting. Maybe the kitchen counter? But where on the counter would he direct his words? A small food stain would be a likely prospect, Fortgang thought. There’s bound to be bacteria in a food stain. But even a food stain seemed to lack the proper gravitas.
Then Fortgang had a brainstorm. Yogurt! Yogurt was teeming with microbes leading active lives. Yes, he’d sit at the kitchen table and bare his soul to a molecule in the half eaten quart of Stonyfield Farm plain whole-milk yogurt.
So he took the container out of the fridge, set it on the table, pulled the lid off, and sat down in front of it. He looked down into the container and chose a section to focus on. His molecule was somewhere in his field of vision, even if he couldn’t see it.
He realized the molecule couldn’t hear him, of course, he wasn’t delusional, but still he thought he ought to introduce himself before starting his talk proper. “Hello, molecule,” he said, “my name is Fortgang. I’d like to thank you for being here.” He paused for a few seconds, then began to unburden himself.
He started at the beginning, childhood. He spoke of his youthful joys, figuring he should start on an up note, though joys were few, but he quickly moved on to the fears and the sadness—actually the misery, the self-loathing—that permeated his early years. It felt good to have a molecule to talk to, a molecule that wouldn’t judge him. He worked his way through his teens, the suicidal ideations, the feelings of isolation and persecution. Then adulthood. The jobs, the indignities of work, the asshole bosses. And then it all came tumbling out, a farrago of words and feelings. The terrible things he fantasized about and the ways he actually hurt people, though, honestly, he couldn’t remember if they were all actual hurts or just fantasized hurts misremembered as the real thing. He confessed to all the misdemeanors of life and the true crimes—even if they may not have been crimes as far as the law was concerned. It was liberating to get it all off his chest. Fortgang looked into the container of yogurt that contained his molecule. “Well, I guess that’s everything I wanted to say,” Fortgang told the molecule. “I’d like to thank you for listening.”
Fortgang imagined the molecule nodding, or whatever the molecular equivalent of a nod is, whether in sympathy or simply to assure him, “You are heard,” he didn’t know. But he was sure of one thing: that minuscule molecule, in a bacterium, in a container of yogurt, understood.
Called “one of the innovators of the short short story” by Publishers Weekly, Peter Cherches has published six volumes of fiction and nonfiction since 2013. His writing has also appeared in scores of magazines, anthologies and websites, including Harper’s, Bomb, Semiotext(e), and Fiction International, as well as Billy Collins’ Poetry 180 website and anthology. His latest book is Things (Bamboo Dart Press, 2023). He is a native of Brooklyn, New York, and boycotts all journals that charge submission fees. Peter recommends the Jazz Foundation of America.