The Three Body Problem

Submitted into Contest #228 in response to: Start or end your story in a bustling street food market.... view prompt



Lucas and Harper agreed on exactly one thing. Though they didn't know each other, and were currently refusing to speak to each other, and disagreed about everything else, they both agreed Isabella was an idiot. It was showing in their subtle head shakes and the not so well hidden eye rolls.

The three of them were handcuffed together at the McCarren Park Greenmarket (a greenmarket is just a farmer's market, in New York, they need to give a special name to everything).

It was a three body problem.

They could escape if they agreed on which way to run. But that would be difficult, as Harper believed passionately in liberal causes, and Lucas believed in conservative values. They would have found a way to disagree on the direction to run. The other person I mentioned, Isabella? No one knew what she believed in or in which direction she would run.

Years from now, Lucas and Harper might end up married if they happen to meet each other. But at this stage in their life, they clung to the idea that their specific political beliefs could get them what they wanted out of life.

Lucas and Harper agreed about one other thing.

Transcript of Officer Delgado’s bodycam footage

Officer D.: Are you young people doing ok? Do you need any water?

Harper: Fuck off, you fascist.

Lucas: Fuck off, you nazi.

Isabella: I’m ok. But I have a facial booked at 1pm. I need to leave before then?

Isabella raised the pitch at the end of her sentences, turning every statement into a question. Many beauty influencers on Instagram do that.

Harper flung back her hair and looked at Isabella with disgust

“Why should you get preferential treatment? You were not working to improve the treatment of the underprivileged people of this city.”

“What do you mean?”

Harper stared at Isabella, fairly certain she had a Latino background, and became more specific about the underprivileged. “The treatment of African Americans.”

“Yo. My best friend Donna is African American.”

Isabella didn't like Harper, because Harper had smacked her in the face, accidentally, with a protest sign about ten minutes ago.

Harper and Isabella had been arrested because Lucas had notified the police of an assault in progress. Lucas was arrested as well, after Harper told the police what he was up to in the park, counter-protesting.

Lucas watched the cat fight with contempt. Being a misogynist at heart (or more deep down, afraid of not being in control if he had a girlfriend he really liked), he might have mocked Harper and Isabella. However, Rule #3 of the '7 Methods to Startup Success in 6 Months' said, outside of high performance automobiles, women direct 90 percent of the world's purchasing power. Those who intended to become billionaires should keep an open mind. He would watch and learn.

Harper's gaze shifted to Lucas. “How about you, dickhead? Do you think she should be allowed to leave early?”

“She broke the law. I believe lawbreakers should be punished.”

“You’re just saying that because she’s latino,” she sneered. “Why were you counter protesting, anyway?”

“We need to protect our American Freedoms.”

“By stopping a public housing protest?” she said. “And dude. Freedom? You are in handcuffs.”

“What about freedom of religion?”

“Are you religious?”

Lucas stopped talking.

In fact, although they identified with opposing political beliefs, they both wanted the same thing. A world different from the one we live in. The world of a lifetime of boring jobs, 3% annual pay raises, tax forms, and regular medical checkups.

Let's divert from this story, to pizza. Once you serve young people who believe they have opposing political views good pizza and drinks, they might actually find they really don't have many major differences. So, a couple of years ago, some of their leaders figured out a new way to raise the emotional stakes to something approaching the tenor of the Russia-Ukraine War. 

By moving the goalposts of what is considered a human life by a few months, people who previously had agreed about almost everything now shouted at each other about murdering babies. Their leaders rejoiced at the fact that this would guarantee they would never agree about anything else for a very long time to come.

“Freedom?” Harper scoffed. “What about the freedom for women to have an abortion?!”

Thankfully for this story, Officer Delgado was paying attention and jumped in.

“I thought today’s protest was about public housing. Can you two agree to disagree about everything else right now?”

His gaze laid heavy on Lucas. Lucas’s body was trembling visibly in anticipation of giving birth to well rehearsed arguments about the evils of abortion. Delgado had seen this before. Whatever Lucas said would not be the last word. The format of these arguments had been put in place a decade before, a theatrical back and forth of well honed rhetoric, that about five minutes later, would end with them both calling each other members of a famous 1940s German political party.

Lucas, feeling the obligation of bro-code (even with a policeman who grew up in Queens) stayed silent.

They were young and passionate (or stubborn and opinionated) and they both made a list of talking points for later.

It isn’t until someone is over 50 that they realize the futility of arguing about social justice, or about American values and the principles of the founding fathers. People of that age knew, if things have been this unfair for themselves up until now their entire life, it's bound to be unfair for someone someplace no matter how many OpEds are written and protest marches are marched. And the values of the Founding Fathers? Back in 1776, people were definitely arguing and disagreeing about everything as much as they do now, probably more, since their clothes were full of fleas, and they drank ale from morning to night to dull the pain of unresolved dental problems.

Since there was no one over 50 in this group, the political arguments weren’t going to be resolved today. He might look old, but Officer Delgado was just 34 (a decade of being called to intervene in domestic disputes made him feel like 50).

Delgado fidgeted with his bodycam. He wished he could turn it off, especially since they didn’t allow him to play Taylor Swift songs anymore (that stopped the Gen-Z kids from uploading him to YouTube and making him look stupid.)

“You know you shouldn’t be protesting public housing policy at a farmer's market?” he asked Harper.

“I disagree. And I was protesting for social justice, I don’t know what he was doing.”

“Counter-protesting,” Lucas said.

“What about me?" Isabella asked. "I was just taking video for my Instagram channel when her sign smacked me in the face.”

Isabella flung her water bottle at Harper, missing her and hitting Delgado in the face with high elevation Jamaican spring water.

“This job is funking bullshit,” Delgado exclaimed, after wiping his face.

“Ha! You swore,” Harper said, laughing.

“I said funking.”

“You said funking bullshit.”

“Fuck you.” Delgado was reaching the end of his tether detaining these three. He had been continually heckled by the young people of Williamsburg as they passed by. He was still waiting for the precinct to decide what to do.

Delgado’s objective each day was simple: not getting written up by Sargeant Brown. Having these young people leave now seemed to be a safer path to the desired outcome.

Transcript of Officer Delgado’s bodycam footage:

Officer D.: “What do you think about the New York Police Department?”

Lucas: [Undecipherable]

Harper: [Undecipherable]

Isabella: [Undecipherable]

The transcriber couldn’t make out all the curse words. All three of those detained shouted insults at Delgado all together at the same time. 

That was exactly what Delgado wanted. 

“The police department has decided to let you go today,” he said. When he pulled out the key to the handcuffs and started unlocking them, they stayed quiet. He told them they were free to go. When they were a few feet away, they started cursing again.

Delgado recorded it all. Abusive citizens helped the police look good in any courtroom (in case this came up later because of TikTok or whatever).

Harper, Isabella, and Lucas ran off together. Their brief moment of camaraderie was about to be broken when Isabella asked, “Do you want to try huitlacoche quesadillas? There’s a place here.”

Harper thought passing up the chance to learn about a Latin American cultural tradition would be insulting to Isabella.

Lucas couldn’t find anything un-American about Quesadillas and he was hungry.

Isabella paid. At first, they refused to let her pick up the tab, but when Harper heard about Isabella's 200k followers on Instagram, and Lucas about the six figures she was earning from product placements, they changed their mind. At the end of lunch, they both gave her their socials.

December 15, 2023 07:52

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17:27 Dec 17, 2023

Like this style Scott. The omniscient narrator. Really worked here in turning the focus on each individual character and their personalities and opinions. Flowed really well. Enjoyed this!


13:26 Dec 19, 2023

Thanks Derrick. I got into the gear of the all knowing narrator reading Anxious People by Fredrik Backman recently (that book is so quirk & funny). I picked up in a writing course the omniscient narrator needs to be a little bit more distant so that the jumps between different people aren't too jarring.


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Michał Przywara
21:52 Dec 15, 2023

A neat idea, zooming in on this one event and all the things orbiting around it, and an interesting perspective. Our narrator also has a distinct voice, and is a disembodied guide, showing different things and suggesting how they might be connected. The content is very relevant to now. Though, it could also be very relevant to every moment of human history, as the story even points out that squabbling is nothing new. “It isn’t until someone is over 50, that people realize the futility” - I'm not convinced, looking at the news and local p...


02:39 Dec 16, 2023

Thanks for the great feedback. Changed the start of the story. A grandiose opening is something I see more often in novels, short stories are usually very clear and immediate. The character of Isabella was a bit inspired by Shark Tank, and seeing so many people who just enjoy doing something become amazingly successful with sort of simple ideas. While being an IT guy I'm trying to create the next facebook and never really getting anywhere haha. Reading "Sapiens" also made me think the news cycle and politics are really all just a flash in ...


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Marty B
01:14 Dec 20, 2023

Very True! 'Once you serve young people who believe they have opposing political views good pizza and drinks, they might actually find they really don't have many major differences.' I love the 'Book 3 Body Problem', and the physics problem. three energized and politicized teens sounds even more challenging! Thanks!


01:44 Dec 20, 2023

Thx Marty! Yes, that was the original premise. 3 bodies that are constantly at risk of colliding and never in stable orbit. I read the scifi book, it was interesting, but remember it had this sudden massive transition in the middle which was a bit jarring. I heard the English translation was condensed and organized differently than the original so maybe that was it. I've known so many young people who've had really strong passionate belief about something and then they make new friends.. and suddenly they forget about it or believe somethi...


Marty B
07:05 Dec 20, 2023

I agree political beliefs are built from a person's surroundings, their friend groups, which can change significantly as their life circumstances change. The 'chattering classes' on news, in the papers, are generally from elite colleges, speak from privileged perspectives, so worrying about jobs and taking care of their relatives - isn't even on their radar. Showing up everyday for family, those are true heroes!


07:44 Dec 20, 2023

yeah, agree. i'm sort of on a 1-person campaign for both sides to have more empathy for each other.


Marty B
04:55 Dec 21, 2023

I 'll be on your campaign! Empathy 4 Everyone! (Maybe need a better marketing team)


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02:18 Dec 20, 2023

Interestingly, its ok to use the same title as another book. Those aren't copyrighted even though the text is. I did a bit of research.


Marty B
06:49 Dec 20, 2023

Interesting, I didn't know that.


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Hi, Scott. I hope you're well. [a greenmarket is just a farmers market] Should say {farmer's market} [The other person I mentioned, Isabella, no one knew what she believed in or which direction she would run.] This doesn't read right. Maybe instead {The other person I mentioned, Isabella? No one knew what she believed in or what direction she would run.} [Lucas watched the two women's cat fight] I believe this would read better {Lucas watched the cat fight between the two women with contempt.} [By moving the goalposts of what is conside...


13:27 Dec 19, 2023

Thanks Guadalupe, those edits were super helpful, I read my stories over and over and still miss a lot of little things you pick up. Got them all in!


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AnneMarie Miles
14:22 Dec 16, 2023

Ha ha - this was satirical and fun! You've got politics down and your characters epitomize our current political climate, especially among the younger people. The Instagram influencer was a nice addition, and I like how she remained mostly silent throughout but then goes on to tie the three together in the end. "Lucas couldn’t find anything un-American about Quesadillas and he was hungry" :) "Since there was no one over 50 in this group, the political arguments weren’t going to be resolved today." :) Thanks for a fun read!


13:29 Dec 19, 2023

Thanks Anne! Happy you found it fun. Three people usually work well together in real life, or like Only Murders in the Building. And, an astute reader could probably guess the writer of this little story is over 50;)


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Mary Bendickson
14:38 Dec 15, 2023

Seems relevant and hits on so many flaws in funny way.


15:15 Dec 15, 2023

Thanks for the fast feedback, Mary! I try to write these as if i'm observing it all from 50 years in the future;)


Mary Bendickson
15:21 Dec 15, 2023

I am old enough now to look fifty years in the past and much of the same protesting was happening then. Some of the same issues.


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Philip Ebuluofor
05:14 Dec 22, 2023

Fine work. Fredrik Backman the name doesn't ring a bell.


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07:53 Dec 15, 2023

Last minute story idea I had that I'm still unsure about.


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