Shorting the Earth (alternate title: Blue Hill) continued
Previously on Shorting the Earth (Blue Hill): An intergalactic hedge fund shorts our planet, alarming its sole human employee.
That’s when everything stopped.
Meaning, we had a “timeout.” Which everyone who knows their Hausdorff knows is—
Oh sorry. I keep forgetting which references have reached the collective consciousness on your planet, and which haven’t. My editor tells me that one is still obscure for you. My point is that we had a cessation, at that point, not of electricity—as in a blackout—but of time-flow. Which took us totally by surprise.
My friend Velda, who’s worked in employee relations all over Andromeda, told me later she could have predicted it, because a slowing of time is very common when employees travel home remotely. In Andromeda, they do it all the time, usually for things like remote attendance at weddings and funerals. Then they see a basic equation of physics come into play: the force of an employee’s emotion, acting over a long distance, generates work, which introduces energy into any system of which that employee is a part. As to how that affects time—well, like I said, this journal’s audience doesn’t have the math for that top-of-mind. But the point is that it was predictable that an employee having extremely strong emotions, because her planet was on the brink of extinction, would introduce so much energy that for us at Galactic Macro, time stood still. And then: you could say we had a collective hallucination; or that we all had the same memory implanted, so that when time got going again and we thought back, it was as if we’d all read the same book. The details don’t really matter. Here’s what went through our minds.
Adele Nimbursky laughed.
“It’s true,” said the girl she shared her tiny dressing room with. “Go see for yourself.”
There was a man at the stage door, apparently, asking for Adele. Holding flowers and looking nervous—just as if Adele were a big star, like Marlene Dietrich, and not just a cabaret dancer like the hundreds of others who were changing their clothes or taking their shoes off to rub their sore feet, or putting their coats on to go home after their shows, right at this moment, all over Berlin.
“I will,” said Adele, and she went. And she never forgot that first sighting, as she sometimes put it to herself. Because Kurt was like a ship on the horizon, or a comet in the sky. Something that appeared out of nowhere, and that you couldn’t be sure would stay.
He had such a round baby face that he looked about fifteen, and he had thick glasses with round black rims. And he was small: meaning not very tall, and very skinny. And when he spoke it sounded like his words were struggling to make it past a lump in his throat.
“Fraulein Nimbursky,” he said, standing up straighter. “I—” he broke off when his eyes met Adele’s and the sentence he’d planned seemed to evaporate. Then he remembered.
“I brought you these.” He thrust toward her a bouquet of lilies of the valley. Adele took it, feeling suddenly warm, mature, and comfortable in her curves.
“Thank you,” she said, her eyes and nose crinkling just a little as she smiled. The flowers were fragrant. Kurt smiled just slightly as well, and shifted his weight from one foot to the other, uncertainly. There was a pause.
“Do you want to—take a walk?” said Adele with a giggle—since she had her coat on, and since it was clear he wasn’t going to make a suggestion. When he beamed in relief and agreement, she stepped out onto the sidewalk, and he saw how the streetlight made her hair gleam.
It was a meeting that was to change not just both their lives—because let’s face it, every meeting between future spouses does that—but the future of how mathematicians see the world.
“She’s clever with her needle,” Adele’s Oma had said years ago, and all the girls knew it was true. Didn’t she prove it almost every night, stitching up ripped fishnets and torn costume hems on the fly? You don’t need to take it off, every new girl was surprised to hear, the first time it happened to her, just call Adele—who’d bustle up, thimble on thumb and thread between teeth, and set everything to rights in no time. And years later, during the war, it was sewing that kept her somewhat sane. She’d rise every morning in the pale New Jersey dawn and cut a pattern. Then choose fabric, trimmings, lace. A little girl’s dress would be finished every day by sunset, day after day, month upon month, for years. There were summer things and winter things, calicos and velvets, cottons and linens and wools, and Adele never wept, though she often wanted to. Thinking of the unconceived daughter she longed for, and her father, dying far away. Efficient and dry-eyed, she sent the dresses off to clothe unknown orphans, and wondered about manx cats, which have no tails. Could you dock regular cats’ tails, she asked once, to make them like that? And they thought she was horrible, cruel, to even think it. Which made no sense, since people docked boxer dogs’ tails all the time and no one said that was cruel—it was just a custom, a normal thing to do. She wouldn’t do it, of course, now that she knew it was wrong. How many people could say that?
The point is: whether she was clever more generally than with her needle, scholars can’t say for sure. Because no record survives.
Cigarettes and champagne were in play, that first night in her hall bedroom, both avant and apres. It’s the during, of course, that made the difference, and set her heart on its permanent course. The course that would take her out of Germany across Siberia to Japan, across the Pacific to San Francisco, and from there across the American continent to Princeton, where she’d live in a house with chandeliers hanging from the walls. The pink flamingos of their future suburbia were not even thought of, however, on the night this skinny young fellow surprised Adele by being with her, right there with her, for every breath and touch and sigh. It made her gasp with pleasure unexpected, with relief, with hot delight. To be with Kurt was to see a person who lived in ripples, always flowing, always hiding-then-revealing—what was it? Himself, no more or less. There is a man who, she seemed to hear him saying, as he introduced a description far too baroque for her to comprehend. And guess what? he asked in conclusion. Know who that man is? It’s me!
I can’t explain it, dear reader; perhaps you can, and will. For now, suffice to say: on that first night there were giggles, there were bubbles, there were heartbeats. Then Adele Nimbursky slept.
The next morning, Kurt watched her lying in the dawn light, nude and placid as an unraped Europa, and he formed the image he would keep of her all his life—through all their struggles and their trials and their changes, all their illnesses and doubt and rage and grief. A surge of joy swept through him, followed by a full-body wave of jubilation—for he had made her happy, he knew he had, and his ability to do so had been anything but a foregone conclusion. For without saying a word, both of them knew that while she was not his first, she was very nearly so; while she, being older and far more worldly, had had her share of men.
“When I compare you to the others, there’s no comparison,” she told him over breakfast in the café, and while generations have mocked her for an inadvertent witticism, she absolutely meant it as a joke. Along the lines of what Norm McDonald, much much later, would bring into American life: the anti-joke, the one that is and isn’t, the phrase that in the telling, subverts itself. When Norm said to Larry King, “I’m not gay—I’m deeply closeted,” he sent Larry’s mind into what Adele, blowing a smoke ring, once called the “shuffle of true-false.” Because if you say you’re closeted, haven’t you just come out? I think that when Norm sent Larry—and Conan O’Brien, for that matter—into epistemic crisis, Adele was smiling in approval from the Great Beyond. And remembering that morning when Kurt first told her about his sentence. It turned out he was considered kind of a big deal, young as he was, for writing, in mathematical symbols, the equivalent of “This sentence is false.” Which is unproveable. ‘Cause if you reckon it’s true, then it’s false, right? And also vice versa, as you see.
It’s proveability that matters, said Kurt as Adele tucked into her boiled eggs, to which she replied ain’t that the truth. Or rather, some German equivalent. And Kurt had chuckled, just as she’d intended. For she knew, as most of us do, that unless you can prove things, no one cares, or believes you. We’ll skip over, for now—for lack of evidence, and lack of interest, since all of our traumas are largely the same—the specific incidents in Adele’s past to which her remark could have referred. Instead, we’ll leap ahead to an afternoon in the twilight of her life, when the tragically widowed Adele came across a book. It was The Function of Reason by Alfred North Whitehead, whose attempt to completely systematize mathematics had been demolished by Kurt (not that Whitehead held a grudge about it, because as Wittgenstein noted, the great thing about mathematicians is that they don’t come to blows.) Adele read Whitehead’s remarks about how the mind is a very shifty, multi-level thing, full of perceptions and feelings and thoughts, and it’s a wonder we can ever get any logic, any conclusions, out of it at all. And then, on that day in the late nineteen-seventies, old-lady-Adele remembered that first breakfast more than four decades before, when she’d watched Kurt nibble toast, beside café windows that were lashed from the outside by rain.
“No matter what, you can always say more than you’re sure of.”
Kurt’s eyes had widened at her summation.
“You could put it that way, yes.”
“But that itself—the fact of that mismatch—that you’ve proved is a sure thing.” He gave a nod.
“That’s really something,” Adele said. She was quiet for a moment, as she noticed new thoughts emerging in her mind. Thoughts that she could not, as yet, have put into words, but that had something to do with mathematics being not just about numbers, but about connections. About relationships, as she would later put it, that will always and forever hold. Kurt had put his toast down, almost uneaten, and his hands were resting in front of him on the table. Adele reached out, and covered his hands with her own.
A waitress, or a busboy, or some one passing by that moment in the street, might have noticed that all four hands had nails that were bitten to the quick; and this tiny aspect of the couples’ physicality might have been tracked, were a consistent observer able to accompany them, through the years and decades that followed, as a sign of changing health. For a link was forged that morning that would soothe them both, lessening anxiety and lengthening nails—except in their few and terribly unfortunate times of separation, of which on that morning, there was no thought.
Time started up again, then; and since we’d never experienced an out-and-out timestop before, we were all pretty disoriented. I talked to upper management immediately and we decided this qualified as the kind of “anomalous event” that would justify lifting our privacy rules and “listening in” on Earth.11’s remote experience, since clearly she was affecting all of us. Really, it was “reading in,” because that’s how it worked—there was no audio, but the IT guys could generate a transcript of her remote perceptions. They warned us it would have some gaps in parts and might seem kind of garbled, but it would give us the gist of what was going on. So we asked them to print it out, and this is how it began.
Ricky and Non had just checked into Room 4.
“Looks just like it did in the pictures,” said Non. Indeed, it was just what they’d seen, huddled together in bed in Berkeley, with Ricky’s laptop on their knees. A high-end, elegant version of the quaint New England B-n-B. There was a four-poster bed made of shiny, cherry-colored wood; a fluffy, white quilted comforter; a fireplace with two comfy armchairs in front of it; and a painting over the mantel showing an old sailing ship on the high seas.
“Home sweet home—for tonight at least.” Non smiled, and sat down on the bed.
To be continued.
~ Kimberly Gladman ~
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