Blur

 

10

Knock.

It hadn’t been solid. She tried turning and leaving. Step and tremble. Curled toes anchoring to the floor. She made a fist until knuckles whitened, fingernails threatening to break palm-flesh. One and done. No. Not one and done.

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Knock-knock.

Two and through.            

Her foot breached the threshold. She hunched shoulders and tsked. Maybe it would be six and fixed today. Or eight is great. Maybe ten and then . . . Then thirteen more doors. Perhaps, after, a trip outside.

 

 

9

“Where are you?” Whispers.

Gone — husband, son, daughter. Photos blurred like on television, concealing identity. For a time it had all stopped. The knocking, the invisible lines, gone. No more turning on and off the faucets. No more covering the mirrors or the photos. She discovered structure in no compulsion, an attempt at staving off. Then, the black car. Them.

 

 

8

I don’t want any visitors.

They walked up the footpath and knocked on the door.

Go away. Please. Fingers picking, self-cannibalizing like mandibles of a mutant insect-carpal beast.

Knock-knock.

Through the dining room window, them, difficult to make out their faces. Knit shirts embroidered with the same company logo.

“…worth the time investigating…” “…cold case…” “…drafts and knocking pipes…”

She curled toes. Agreements. Yes. Promises. Yes. Papers filed and signed. Had she? Commiserations. At least she had the house. There was that.

 

 

7

Outside, the little stone footpath, sun and breeze and fresh air. So what if the yard lay unkempt? 

A line of ants crossed, and her shoe touched their invisible track. They followed the chemical trail with such amazing formic fastidiousness. She traced their line back to a dead mouse — its eye sockets a sunken mash, fur tufted from bloat and decomposition. Ripe.

She closed and opened the front door five times. The old crystal doorknob rattled. The ants marched to and from the mouse’s corpse. God, fresh air.

Doorknob jiggling.

What if the door won’t open, stuck outside, and the breeze caught just wrong? The metal doorknob might be magnetic or a glue. Ragged claw-things across the psyche.

 

 

6

She wandered through the house and willed herself out of mirrors and pictures. She scrubbed at the blurred faces in the photographs. Too many crystalline doorknobs smudged. First a general buffing then a swipe and tiny back-and-forth of each facet.

Movement outside the window, them, pausing on the sidewalk in front of the house. A camera, a camcorder, a survey of the property. She could go to them. When was the last time she talked to a neighbor or said hi to passers-by?

Three and free.

 

 

5

Today had to be the day when the compulsions took a break, no invisible lines, and the ants didn’t matter, and it only took four — four! — attempts to close the front door.

More FOR SALE signs. Every other lawn could use a trim. She passed rippling through the dapple-shadows and dust-coated bars of sunlight leeching through live oaks along the street. She’d made it a block before the black vehicle.

No, it’s okay.

The vehicle turned onto the street a few blocks down and she turned and walked home, not looking back. Home again. She shut the door and opened it. Home again. Slammed the door. Home. Slam… On a nail, the old rusty thermometer rattled against the warped, weather-cracked column.

Jiggitty-jig.

They were coming up the walk. “Who knows?” “…told them we would check it out…”

She vanished into the coverts of the house.

 

 

4

Time to go.

 

 

3

Faces no longer blurred in the photos and she flung back the sheet from a mirror. Staring through herself.

 

 

2

Fourteen doors to knock upon. All the doorknobs to clean.

 

 

1

She could offer to help. She monkeyed with the faucets. What would they think if she couldn’t close the door?

Knock-knock.

The kitchen. Come in.

Knock-knock.

The foyer. Come in!

Doorknob jiggling.

She opened the door. She studied the blurred faces, and she eased aside. And as they entered, she drifted past.

 

Berrien C. Henderson lives in the deepest, darkest wilds of southeast Georgia with his wife and two children. He teaches high school English, is a long-time martial artist, and has a big geeky spot in his heart for literature, speculative fiction, and comic books.

 

Sondern als ein Mensch

April 17

He visits a sunset from his childhood. The dollop of flame-hungry orange eats one segment of the horizon and, from his perspective, seems to hang above the distant tree line and wait for the day to acknowledge itself, its end.

It is a slow summer day, the kind that lasts forever to a child.

Such is the memory as he dips the nib of his pen in the inkwell and scratches out another line on another page in the tablet. His hands don’t shake when he writes.

Of that much he is certain.

For now his mind remains clear, and he finds himself bedded between strings of equations and a tumbling set of thoughts for a speech.

But for a little violin. . . Even if the nurse could somehow manage to bring a record player for some Serenade No. 13, oh, that would be nice indeed.

 ***

1902

Sun and moon and stars dance with precision and certainty. It is a most Swiss trait, and the clocktower at Bern, the most Swiss of clocks. He has counted the paces on his way to work at the patent office. Converted them to meters. In his mind’s eye he views the interconnected cogs and gears and springs. Because of these and his measured paces, he knows how fast he walks. Hands move against an implacable face, and he imagines, yes, as the face of God could be as the universe spins against His own.

***

April 17

His eyes flicker-flutter beneath heavy eyelids. A lifetime of dreams populates that inner darkness and illuminates it in bursts and winks like so many stars and spiraling galaxies.

In this sleep, knit up from care, he smiles. Somewhere must be a single equation for this all.

His hand traces weak signs over the bedsheet.

The memory will be there when he wakes.

***

1902

Some things are not predictable such as getting a university teaching position. Some things are predictable such as a shift in a cold office, looking at patents. Numbers for them all. Strings of them.

He will write later, much later. But his mind finds liberty in the monotony as images gyre through it. Gamboling Gedankenexperiments. For now, though, it is to review patents. Outside, light slants and slices in perilously slow arcs. He checks his watch. What rides the caesura between seconds?

The clock face doesn’t move. He checks his pocket watch. All stills. He has become the space and breath—the breadth, even—between each tick. He turns his face like a flower following the sun and squints under the spray of light eight minutes in its flight to his eyes.

He cannot get home in time to write the equations, so they stream through his mind’s eye, and he holds them, covetous of them as he was with the compass as a boy.

***

April 17

The day has gone fast and slowly. Page after page—scritch of a pen’s nib. The ubiquitous tick of the clock. Swish of another tablet-page turning. Could he reconcile all theories? Unify all in one point?

He could.

One atom.

Yes.

A planet.

Even position and speed, elusive and illegitimate dice that they are.

Perhaps there was absolution or reconciliation, like the price of one of four papers, or a prize.

One good paper. One last. If only another annus mirabilis.

Not yet.

He continues writing, but for a time the dance of mathematical certitude escapes him for a bastard child. He leaves off the conjecturing and returns to another piece of work.

If not the equations, then the speech.

***

1904

Music draws him out, helps him find the resonance in himself to reach out, even embrace the sounds. Their waves. He thinks it fitting that he finds comfort and inspiration at the curious intersection of his thoughts in some violin. Fixed beats within the metronomic arc. He could allow himself immersion during play. He has latitude for Gedankenexperiments during this time. His mind enters a fugue state of churning clock faces and arrow-straight compass needles while time stands still.

***

April 18

The heart strains. Thoughts unspool. An infinity of positions reveals itself, and he allows himself a chuckle, “Ah, Werner, you rascal.”

A universe spins out of a strange dance of speed and position and bleeds from all things in all times with the cyclic power of quanta against the face of the outer darkness. . .

Time now?

“Yes.”

Now.

“Time.”

Write against the face of the deep while vision dims and thins to a single point stretching. . . Pointing true. . . Falling happens while standing still. Falling up with a gasp.

***

1884

“Papa, danken Sie für den Kompass Ihnen. Danke. Danke.”

That invisible yet confirmable dance of magnetic fields fascinates him as he holds the new compass in his palm. No quick turn or spin or tumble would ever disturb the constancy of the poles and that waggling needle, so soon calmed. He feels there are only so many concepts upon which one might depend. But what pulls the compass needle from across the whole world?

For most of that day he loses himself in the compass and the world.

“Albert, Zeit für die Violine Lektion!”

He turns to go in, and the compass needle quivers. It realigns. The motion reminds him of the awaiting metronome. He wishes he could practice the piano today, but the violin will suffice. Perhaps some Mozart.

***

April 18

Light enfolds him like the sheets. His hands have become too heavy, limbs dense in a fissile life wrapped in plumbum.

It would be like this, he thinks. This. And today has come and gone like all our yesterdays.

It persists.

***

April 18, 1919

The light dims by degrees, and he finds himself falling backward, grabbing the bedsheets and hoping the equations might slip onto them and provide him certainty in these upended moments.

It could have been 1919.

The corona fluxed and bent and, yes, he proved to himself and to everyone via a parade of integers and coefficients arced from old Newtonian darkness what even such constants as light must obey near the greater bodies of space. 

The nib goes dry, the inkwell nearly empty. 

Time for just one last Gedankenexperiment. 

And . . . 

Danke, Vater. Danke. 

What slips the cogs of gravity save some spray of breath, some quanta loosed from behind glazing pupils in a light-dance across the edge of one final eclipse? 

For against the face of the deep, there is but one end amid all these beginnings. 

***

–In memoriam A.E.


Berrien C. Henderson lives in the deepest, darkest wilds of southeast Georgia with his wife and two children. He teaches high school English, is a long-time martial artist, and has a big geeky spot in his heart for literature, speculative fiction, and comic books.