Mind Over Matter

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Silver
Eleanor Ingbretson

the vacancy project.
Photo Credit: Jason Saul

Calm yourself, Juno, I told myself as the option to panic here and now entered my thoughts. This steel is your friend and is now part of you. I slowly began again to move through the metal’s molecules. You are the master of your mind, Juno, and of all the inanimate atoms around you. More relaxed, I remembered what Oscar would say as he lectured the class on matter and its properties: mass, weight, volume and density. Of the molecules, atoms and the more elementary particles, from which everything on this earth, and for that matter, ha ha, everything in the universe is formed. In this class, he said, we will learn that we can and will blend with any matter: animal, vegetable or mineral. Our minds are the blenders. Oscar. I felt myself smile and shifted the molecules of skin, bone, muscle, and blood, of the steel and, what’s this, a flaw in the construction? Shoddy materials? Rust?

Oscar says to keep a good attitude and working relationship with whatever you are moving through. So, while I moved cheerfully through the rust as well as the high-grade steel of the bank vault, the force of my will kept my particles from bonding with the ambient matter of this potential prison. I had become dangerously close to becoming another flaw.

I extricated myself from the steel of the vault, turned and ran my hand over the wall. Almost completely smooth, hardly a particle out of place in the wake of my emergence. Oscar would have chided me for the infinitesimal roughness of the surface, but hey, really, who cares.

In Oscar’s lab classes we had learned to walk through water vapor first, blending our molecules with the vapor, as I did just now with the steel molecules of this vault.

After vapor came water. That was more difficult as the molecules in liquids are more tightly bonded than in vapors. And after water came you know what. Same atoms, different form. Ice.

That was my first experience mingling with a solid and, successful, I became overconfident. I lingered too long and froze in panic. Oscar came down through the ice to get me, and he doesn’t like to go through ice any more; it hurts his bones, he says. The tips of my two pinkies had to be amputated, but I didn’t give up. And Oscar didn’t give up on me. I had potential, he said. But, as he had pointed out before, transit should be as rapid as possible through the more inhospitable environments.

In the dark I located the wheels and gears on the inside of the vault door and searched with my hands until I found the light and ventilation switches nearby. Then I found my stepmother’s safe deposit box. I’d once had the key to her box in my hand but when I heard her sneaking up on me, I quickly tossed the key back into the drawer and shut it. I told her I was looking for what? Gum, I think I said. The key wasn’t there next time I’d looked.

So, I enrolled in Oscar’s class. There seemed to be no other way to retrieve my mother’s jewelry. The jewelry my mother said would be mine one day. The same jewels my besotted father handed to his second wife. This is your new mother, darling, he’d said to me. Call me Mom, she gushed, and wasted no time locking up my jewelry.

Oscar ran only word-of-mouth classes as they were highly illegal, and everyone was sworn to secrecy. He charged an awful lot, but he was so sure I’d successfully perform a very lucrative withdrawal that he permitted me to give him an I.O.U. He knew I’d be able to do it. He believed in me. He also knew where to find me or anyone who would dare stiff him. He could turn up anywhere, anytime, he said, to get what was owed him. But he also inspired us, urged us on, laughed at us, and made us laugh at ourselves. And, if a class went awry, he took the injured to his doctor.

I plunged one hand into the safe deposit box, assimilated the matter at hand into my own, and then drew it all through the locked door. Man, was I good.

Never get cocky, Oscar told us over and over. Look at me, do I look cocky to you? I’m never cocky, he said, though I certainly have reason to be. I’ve never lost a student, and none of you want be my first. So don’t get cocky. You’ll end up stuck forever in some dead-end position. And he’d laugh while we sweated at the thought. We’d hear Oscar repeating that, and his other maxims, while we assembled and disassembled our molecules in class and on field trips. If we ever got stuck he always came back for us. I was not as good as Oscar, but I was best in the class.

I gazed at my mother’s necklaces, her bracelets, and her rings. The beautiful pieces with which we would play dress up when I was a child. I wondered if she would be proud of me for doing this. If I were to be arrested I’d be able to walk out of any jail. Oscar can, and has, all over the world, before he retired to teach.

A slight whirring came from the wheels and gears of the vault door as they slowly turned. I could hear muted voices coming from the other side.

“Harry, come into the vault with me, would you? I get the creeps every time I go in there by myself.”


The thick, heavy door swung out on silent, overgrown hinges. Two employees came in, pulled the door closed, and locked it behind them. One I assumed was Harry, the other was a young woman about his age.

From my hiding spot behind the doors of the safe deposit boxes, I watched them. I kept moving so as not to bond with the metal.

“Some one left the lights and ventilation on,” said the young woman.

“Well, I can fix that,” said Harry.

“Not yet, I have to bring Old Lady Washburn’s box out to her.”

“She can wait. It’s been days since we had vault time.”

The young woman smiled and laid Mrs. Washburn’s key on the table.

Great, they’re going to have some quality trysting time while I’m working. I rolled my eyes. One I left partially exposed on a door, to keep watch. I began to get uncomfortable, my molecules bisected here and there by the vertical and horizontal dividers of the boxes. My attitude was not good. Particles in air, in metal, in water, and in wood, hay or stubble, all work the same way. It’s a matter of mind over matter, Oscar said, to be able to meld and mingle with anything you choose. Just make sure you’re choosing to mingle with whatever matter you’re in at the moment. Love the one you’re with. Keep your mind in control and keep control of your mind.

I readjusted myself, altering my position, and attitude, behind the doors of the boxes. I had almost begun taking out my annoyance with these two on my host molecules. I changed to sublime acceptance of steel and inch-thick safety glass, embracing those atoms as my own, just as the happy couple in the opposite corner embraced each other.

“G—L—O,” Harry began singing between osculations.

Gah! I tried to keep my atoms fluid and, at the same time, keep a pleasant working relationship with the ambient atoms and particles.

“R,” Harry breathed sing-song into Gloria’s ear.

Make a fast transit, I thought. Now. My concentration was becoming compromised. The jewels in my hand threatened to bond permanently, displacing some of my molecules into the steel.

Nature abhors a vacuum, Oscar said. When your molecules move between those of more tightly molecularly bonded areas, the foreign atoms will insinuate themselves into the interstices that are left behind. Never forget how it works, class. And keep moving. Keep those atoms rolling.

He said that while homogenized in the whiteboard, his hands making an appearance now and then as he waved them for emphasis.

“I,” whispered Harry.

Guys, please, Mrs Washburn is waiting, and I haven’t finished in here. I had only gotten half of my jewelry, and still needed to find something with which to pay Oscar. I shifted and shrugged, I stretched out my arms to keep the atoms circulating. I hit air. Then the molecules of jewels embedded in my hand separated from mine and clunked against the wall of boxes as I tried to draw my hand back.

“A,” Harry finished, breathlessly and off-key.

“Harry, did you hear that noise?”



My jewel-embedded hand extended from the wall like a stuffed specimen. I kept perfectly still.

“Harry! What’s that thing?”

“What thing?”

“That, sticking out of 1312.”

I tried again to pull my hand back but couldn’t. I had lost control. The shelving of the boxes began to bi-, tri- and quadrisect me as they also began to bond and solidify.

Harry and Gloria screamed at the moving, waving, disembodied hand and without feeling the need to adjust their untidy selves, they pushed against the door, remembered to unlock it, and fled screaming into the bank.

Mrs. Washburn asked for her box as she waited at the door.

A familiar voice spoke in my ear. A calm and assuring voice. “What exactly do you think you’re doing, Juno?”

Oscar’s face had moved into my safe deposit box. His hand reached out and enveloped mine. The force of his mind commanded the melanged matter of my jeweled hand and it all slowly merged into his. He gently, slowly, pulled it all back behind the doors of the safe deposit boxes.

“Well?” he said, his eyes inches from mine, his breath on my lips in the box below.

“Oscar,” I said. My mouth moved to answer him. The familiar feeling of my atoms and the atoms of my environment moving together in harmony returned.

“I’m sorry. I got stuck.”

“You got cocky.”

I nodded. “And scared. I panicked.”

“Why didn’t you just get out? What have I always said in class, from day one?”

“Move quickly through inhospitable environments?”

“Are you asking me?”

“Move quickly through an inhospitable environment,” I said, with more conviction. “I wanted to get the rest of my mother’s things, Oscar. I was interrupted.”

“I noticed.” Oscar said.

His voice relaxed me, I was able to focus my mind on assimilating my molecules with the steel that had solidified throughout my body. I felt I could move through them again, that they were no more difficult to work with than water vapor, or air.

“I should just leave you here, but that would reflect badly on me,” he said. “Which box is your stepmother’s?”

I told him and, hidden from the eyes of bank guards and curious employees who thronged the vault, he emptied the box. When he returned it was to guide me out through steel, cement and bricks, trash and dumpster, to his limousine. We opened the doors and got in, waited and watched for a moment, behind tinted windows, while Gloria was loaded into an ambulance. “Chinese?” Oscar asked me, tapping the glass behind the driver. “Or Mexican?”

“Mexican,” I said, and watched as my jewelry disconnected from my molecules and dropped from my hands into my lap. The tiny gold ingot that I’d palmed on the way, I passed to Oscar.


Now retired, Eleanor has taken up traveling, Mah Jongg, cooking gluten-free, writing, and too many other things to list. For her, as with many writers, the hardest part of writing is to SIT DOWN AND WRITE! Once beginning a story however, things usually flow; sometimes like molasses in January, but sometimes like ice cream in July. The Toasted Cheese 48 hour contests give her the kick to get started, and finished. She lives in New Hampshire with one husband, two cats and three ducks. Email: s3misw33t[at]gmail.com

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