Crème Brûlée

creme-brulee

Crème Brûlée

Life had once been defined by linears and absolutes, moving forward at a steady pace. Just the way I liked it. But then we hit the loop and everything changed.

I became a chef because food makes sense. You add the right ingredients, get the temperature just right and your results are as predictable as they are tasty. I signed up to be the chef on the SS Eclipsion for similar reasons. Meals were three times a day at the same time every day and the freezer was well stocked. In my spare time, I planned menus, went to the gym, and stargazed. I liked the predictability of my routine and I really was happy in my role as an innocuous crew member.

The first time we hit the loop, I just thought I’d had a bad dream. After all, the reset point happened to coincide with the moment right before I normally woke up. And besides, getting trapped in a loop on the space-time continuum was the sort of thing that happened on Star Trek, not in real life.

The second time around, a feeling of déjâ vu overshadowed my entire day and I knew something wasn’t right with my routine. The third time, I realized what was happening—I had no idea why it was happening, but it was obvious we were stuck in some sort of loop. So I started paying more attention to the passing time, trying to figure when the loop went back to the reset point. Turns out it happened about three hours after the dinner rush.

The next time around I skipped my normal pre-bedtime aperitif and made my way down to the observation lounge, hoping I would find out what was causing the loop. Along with a handful of other innocuous crew members, I stood and watched as the Eclipsion approached some sort of anomaly. It was easily as big as the ship and its shape was impossible to describe. But the colours were something else. Incredible swirls of sparkling blue and gold light. Mesmerized, I watched as the anomaly pulsated and expanded toward the ship. The last thing I saw was an incredibly bright light. And then I was back in my bed, caught between sleep and something else.

The trouble was that no one else on the ship seemed to realize we were stuck in a loop, forced to relive the same day over and over again. They went about their business, blissfully unaware. After seven days of this, I began to envy them. After all, the Eclipsion was no Enterprise. There were no holodecks to help pass the time, just a Playstation 12 in the lounge. Let me tell you, playing the same game every day without being able to save your progress is a guaranteed exercise in frustration. And I won’t even bother trying to explain the insanity of a chef being forced to prepare exactly the same meal day after day. I just couldn’t live like that indefinitely.

So it was up to me to fix things. I tried to tell the captain about it at breakfast, but he looked at me like I was crazy. And when I spoke to his first mate, I was sent to see the ship’s therapist for a stress evaluation. The good doctor’s solution was to give me some pills to help me sleep. I tried befriending other people who worked on the bridge, but everyone thought I was nuts. Not cut out for the long trip through space.

You have to believe me when I say that I tried to fix this the easy way. I really didn’t want to hurt anyone. I liked being innocuous. I liked my life on the ship. But I was meant for straight lines and defined endings. I was not meant to go in circles until I became completely unhinged.

So, yes, in the end I poisoned everyone. It was the only way to be sure. I tried just poisoning just the captain first, and then the other commanding officers, but it didn’t change the outcome. I had to poison them all.

I see you writing in your notebook. I know you think I’m crazy. I really do feel bad about killing everyone, but I couldn’t spend another day inside that loop.

Thank goodness no one ever skipped dessert.

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This is my submission for this week’s speakeasy #151. We had to write a piece of fiction or poetry under 750 words that started with the line “Life had once been defined by linears and absolutes” and made some sort of reference to this photo:

You should come and check out the other submissions—and maybe even submit your own piece!

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Crème Brûlée image credit: Google Images

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Semantics vs. Pragmatics

Space-time continuum

Whenever someone mentions semantics, the following scene from one of my favourite movies, Grosse Pointe Blank, plays in my head. Martin has just ordered an egg-white omelette at a diner…

Waitress: What do you want in your omelette, sir?
Martin: Nothing in the omelette, nothing at all.
Waitress: Well, that’s not technically an omelette.
Martin: Look, I don’t want to get into a semantic argument, I just want the protein.

Recently, I wrote about the difference between diction and syntax. Today, we’re going to look at the difference between semantics and pragmatics, two sides of a linguistic coin.

Semantics is the branch of linguistics concerned with the meaning of words and their meaning within sentences. Pragmatics looks at the same words and their meaning, but pragmatics also considers context. Consider the following sentence:

  • Calliope saw the tear.

So was someone crying or did something rip? Semantics can tell us that a person named Calliope was looking at one or the other. Pragmatics goes a step further by looking at what else surrounds those words. If you are in the same place as Calliope, you would hear the difference in the way tear was pronounced—and you might see the same thing she does. If you are reading about it, then the context has likely been set for you. For example:

  • Maximilian turned his head away, but not fast enough. Calliope saw the tear.
  • Deirdre stood in front of the space-time continuum, but it was no use. Calliope saw the tear.

For most of us, semantics and pragmatics are instinctive. We process the conversations we hear and the words we read automatically. But we usually notice when the meaning isn’t clear, which can be the result of a poorly worded sentence, an ambiguous word choice, or unclear context. Headlines are usually the worst culprits. Here are some fun examples:

  • Man helps werewolf bite victims.
  • Kids make nutritious snacks.
  • Sexist toys protest.

And for people learning a new language, semantics without pragmatics can lead to all kinds of confusion, especially when using idioms. For example, telling someone who is learning English to break a leg might get you in all kinds of trouble. So be sure to keep your audience in mind when choosing words and phrasing.

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Image credit: Olga Sapegina / PhotoXpress.com