Gone Lawn
a journal of word-things
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Gone Lawn 54
worm moon, 2024

Featured artwork, Capitol Reef Wash, by Kathleen Frank

new works

Katherine Plumhoff

The Lesser-Known Corollary to the Second Law of Thermodynamics

They wouldn’t let us into the sex museum because we had a baby with us.

“This baby came from sex!” I said, which wasn’t technically true.

“No babies,” said the security guard. He had a long Modigliani face, all sunken cheeks and ski-slope nose I wanted to punch.

“He won’t understand anything,” I glowered, willing his features to morph into the ruddy Dutch ones I’d seen in portraits that morning.

We were in Amsterdam because my wife, who stayed home with the baby, got to pick our vacations. She liked art cities: cobbly streets cluttered with groups of young people smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and drinking cloudy orange wine. I would’ve rather been in the countryside, watching cows lick themselves.

My wife wanted to see Rembrandts and Vermeers. We’d seen them. Now, at 5 p.m., with art museums closed and smoke choking the canals, I needed respite, air conditioning, and to exert one hour’s worth of bodily autonomy. I had decided I wanted to spend it in the Sex Museum, surrounded by the eroticism neither my body nor my relationship had been able to provide me in a year.

“No babies,” repeated the guard. He gestured at the sign on the window, then read it aloud, in case we were illiterate as well as obstinate: “16 Jaar. 16 years.”

I grabbed the travel pram, which had cost more than our plane tickets and came with more add-ons than our car — unfoldable and pushable with one hand, with all-terrain tires and a SPF 50+ sun canopy, perfect for lesbian mothers with something to prove — and moved to the side.

I vibrated with anger. The minor disappointments of the last months had accrued like back taxes. Each time I hadn’t slept through the night, recognized my body, been touched. Now, at the hour of this particular rejection, my body was calling in the debt.

But my wife would handle this. I saw her mouth open, and I waited, shimmering with rage.

Bringing things into existence was my wife’s domain.

She’d done it for us, when I was a physics TA sleeping my way through Barnard’s art history department.

She’d done it for our baby, whose genome was a split between me and an unnamed rower with no family history of heart disease who jacked off into a tube we’d paid $2,000 for.

She’d done it for this trip to Amsterdam, which was meant to celebrate the double-barreled accomplishment of me getting a tenure-track job despite Notre Dame’s institutional homophobia and us keeping a kid alive for an entire year, but which felt less like a celebration than like a series of minor tortures technically Geneva-Convention-legal but still effective in driving a prisoner into madness: “continental” “breakfasts” of stale bread and watery yogurt; an overcrowded itinerary; drunk tourists squawking at 4 a.m., their voices seeping through the transom windows cracked so we wouldn’t suffocate in the July heat.

My wife, her mouth still open like a fish hoovering flakes, turned away from the security guard. She inhaled, moved her lips around the shape of her argument.

“You should go in,” is what came out. “I’ll stay with the baby.”

“We can both go in,” I said. “Fuck Slenderman over here.”

“You go.” She was already pushing the pram down the street. “I'll wait for you at the dinner place. It’s in your phone.”

Before I gave birth, I taught entropy. Energy floods a system, bouncing off its confines until it wears them down, dissolving everything: you, me, South Bend, Amsterdam.

After I gave birth, I understood entropy. Everything decays. Disorder is invincible.

Raging in front of the Sex Museum in Amsterdam, I became entropy.

Energy shot out of my body and through the doors into the museum, ricocheting off the floor-to-ceiling penises flanking the stairs our pram couldn’t have climbed.

I blew up the white crêpe skirt of the replica Marilyn Monroe.

I bounced through the rooms named after famous sexed-up figures.

I sped through the Marquise de Pompadour’s bedchamber, pinging off her cantaloupe breasts. I split into infinitely smaller pieces in the hall of the Marquis de Sade, shattering further with each scream piped in through the ceiling.

I looped around tourists taking pictures with ball gags. I ruffled the hair of the security guard who wouldn’t let me in with the baby my body had made.

I kissed the stars painted above a life-size version of Oscar Wilde’s canopy bed, kissed them a million times over, knocked my energy into their chipping golden paint.

The kisses felt like walking in tune to music without meaning to, your body the backbeat — and that memory of a body, of my body, sucked my energy into itself like a sinkhole, sent me swirling back down the stairs, through the floors, out the doors, onto the hot sidewalk, and into my body, with its hand still on the door.

Stars only exist because of the opposite of entropy.

Stars exist because of negentropy, or the theory that sometimes things are hotter and more organized than their surrounding space. Sometimes energy does move toward order.

Life exists for the same reason.

Once, a star exploded in a big, messy kiss. Smaller stars hung on, lined up in planetary systems, kept burning. On one of those stars, things started to grow — moss and mushrooms, birds and babies, sometimes but not always by accident.

As those babies grew up and developed language and built roads and designed planes and went on trips they’d planned on the internet, order kept increasing. Despite being dragged toward disorder, we make houses and hospitals. We make more babies. We erect museums honoring sex and we make rules about who can see them.

When I told my undergrads that entropy always wins, I wasn’t lying. It’s predestined. Our fall into chaos is promised.

And yet despite our inevitable decay, we keep creating: rules, sidewalks, families.

I took my hand off the door handle and walked down the street toward my wife.

Katherine Plumhoff is from the Midwest, lives in Valencia, and likes canned cranberry sauce better than the real thing. Her story "The Body of Life" was chosen for Best Small Fictions 2024. Find her work in Flash Frog, Litro, Off Assignment and Heavy Feather Lit Review. Reach her at katherineplumhoff.com or @kplumhoff on X and Instagram.