“Fred’s Theory of Relativity” and “Heaven’s Rules”

“Fred’s Theory of Relativity” and “Heaven’s Rules”

Photo by Guillermo Ferla on Unsplash

Fred’s Theory of Relativity

“Stupid is as stupid does,” said Forest Gump. So true.

Like the time nine-year-old me, batting eighth,

squared around to bunt and took a Larry Broerman

fastball in the groin that dropped me to the ground,

where the coaches and umps huddled around

and unbuttoned my pants so I could breathe.

A button I forgot to button before trotting,

halfway, to first base.

Ten years later, I leaned my pale neck

from a car window and yelled at every

white person I passed in downtown Birmingham.

If only I had shouted, “Roll Tide” or “War Eagle”

or sung, “Sweet Home Alabama”

instead of shouting, “Red neck, red neck!”

the BPD officer might have let me pass through.



The only thing that got me through college

was an average ability to write papers.

So, when my roommate and I

were assigned a paper for Philosophy 101,

I got busy. A week later, around midnight,

the night before the paper was due, Fred began.

My paper: C

Fred’s Theory of Relativity: A-


Last Friday, as my wife, DeeGee, and our friend Va,

canvassed for city council candidates

in a neighborhood filled with No Soliciting,

No Trespassing, and Beware of Dog signs,

I followed in the car, providing muscle.

Me: brave

Last Sunday, at Fred’s funeral visitation,

after telling his wife, Cathy, and her son Frederick

about Fred’s paper, I asked Frederick,

whose job at SpaceX is to formulate a fuel

from Martian ice, soil, and/or air for the return trip,

“Have you come up with a way to get us back?”

“Maybe not the first guy,”

said Frederick with Fred’s grin.

Astronauts: braver


You were a good guy, Fred. Remember those nights

when I finished studying and I’d say,

“Let’s go have a beer”?

“There’s nothing you could say that would convince me.

Not one thing. I have work to do,” you’d say.

“Fred?” I’d argue.


Remember jumping on the trampoline

in your family’s living room,

leaving handprints on the ceiling?

You were a smart guy, Fred—

you with your law degree.

Me with my real estate license.

You with that A-.

My guess is that you return for Cathy every day

in every room of her house. Hey, Fred,

next time, help Cathy look for your paper.

She said you kept a lot of stuff from school.

She said she’d like to read your theory. Me, too.

I’d like to see what you knew then—

and know what you know now.

Heaven’s Rules

Sometimes, I imagine my mother and dad

sitting around a Heavenly table with their friends,

some old—Hi, Ruth. Hi, Walt—some new. No

cards. No board games. No scoresheet.

But every so often, one of them smiles,

licks a finger, and makes a mark in the air.

First to ten wins.

My dad never shied away from competition.

Mother counted Christmas cards each year. So,

I thought I’d help them out, put smiles on their faces,

marks in the air, by thinking about them

and telling you this:

It’s 1960-something. My dad is in our dining room

with one of those pump-action sprayers

and a bucket of water. He’s wetting down

flowery wallpaper before stripping it. Meanwhile,

one wall away in our pink bathroom, my mother

is taking a bubble bath. Dad is spraying,

Mother is bubbling, when Dad gets an idea.

Knocking on the bathroom door, sprayer in hand, he shouts,

“Jeanne, I’m about to burst!

Pull the curtains. I’m coming in.”

By Heaven’s rules, before starting a new game,

each player has to scoop their points from the air

and offer them to someone who hasn’t been thought of in a while,

like Mohammad Arif, an Iraqi sheep herder who died in 1653

and was last remembered in 1697 by his grandson Baba,

who told the story of Mohammad driving off a pack of jackals

with Great-grandfather Jafar’s crook.

Or Constance Stillwater, a Cherokee teen

who died on the Trail of Tears

and hasn’t been thought of since 1889.

Why would points mean anything to someone

who hasn’t scored them, you might ask.

But think about it, you can’t very well give your points

to someone without thinking about them, can you?

And to quote Christian mystic philosopher/theologian

Emanuel Swedenborg, All in Heaven take joy in sharing

their delights and blessings with others.

(One point to Swedenborg.)

By now, Dad is in the bathroom. And though

you’re probably way ahead of me on this,

he’s pumping water from the pink toilet

and spraying it back in while audibly sighing.

For minutes on end, pumping . . . sighing . . .

until my mother, grown increasingly silent,

shouts from behind the curtain,

“My gosh, Paul!”

And lest you think my parents

might be embarrassed by this low drama, know

that another one of Heaven’s rules is:


GUILT, ANGER, SHAME, et cetera. Also,


the kind of laughter my mother and father shared

each time the wallpaper-stripping story was told.

This time, my mother is first to ten.

A Heavenly trumpet blows RHA-RHA, and Mother

scoops her points and offers them to Mohammed.

My mother used to offer chocolate candy (the good stuff:

Hershey Nuggets Special Dark with Almonds, Werther’s

Original Caramel Chocolate Dark, and Rollo

Chewy Caramels in Milk Chocolate)

to every waiter and waitress who served her,

and when they accepted—as Mohammed

accepts Mother’s points now—

their smile made Mother smile, too.

Dad hands his points to Constance Stillwater,

and Ruth and Walt give theirs to Zhang Wei,

a fourteenth century Buddhist priest,

and Shomari Abimbola, a Bantu healer, respectively.

Then Mother, Dad, Ruth, and Walt

float back to the table and start a new game.

About the Author

Mark Williams

Mark Williams' fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in "The Write Launch," "Indiana Review," "The Baffler," "Eclectica," "Cleaver," and the anthology, "American Fiction" (New Rivers Press) as well as other journals and anthologies. His poems have appeared in "The Write Launch," "The Southern Review," "Rattle," "New Ohio Review," and "The American Journal of Poetry." Kelsay Books published his collection of poems, "Carrying On," in July, 2022. He lives in Evansville, Indiana, just downriver from where the raid on Newburgh occurred.

Read more work by Mark Williams.