“Shorting the Earth” (Blue Hill)


Previously in “Shorting the Earth”: employees at Galactic Macro have a collective hallucination prompted by the sole Earth employee’s remote trip home to her doomed planet.

“Come here.” Non’s tone was warm, full of the safety Ricky craved and seemed to be always chasing. In a moment, Ricky’s black curls were nestled on Non’s shoulder, mingling with Non’s straight auburn hair.

Non breathed in, thinking back. Had it really been only six months since they met?

Non had been heading to a class on Lie groups when suddenly, Ricky was in the middle of the hall.

“Wanna go to the movies?”

Ricky had tickets to a screening of an old movie called The Blue Angel, which Non had never heard of but Ricky swore was great. The person Ricky was meant to go with had canceled, and for Ricky, stepping into the middle of a crowd of people rushing to class and randomly inviting one of them to a film was a what-the-hell-why-not thing to do. Which is why Non, right that second, had started falling in love.

The film was in the early evening, but it was late by the time they were done talking about it and all the things it reminded them of. Marlene Dietrich, the hot androgynous star of the movie, had been central to Ricky’s undergraduate thesis on the history of sexuality, and Dietrich had fled the Nazis, just like Emmy Noether and a bunch of the other mathematicians Non was into, because the Nazis thought Cantorian set theory and measure theory and a bunch of other stuff Ricky had never heard of but Non knew all about was decadent, too abstract, too Jewish. Which was bizarre, of course. How could math have a religion?  They’d laughed. Then Ricky had gone on about Wilhelm Reich, who coined the term “sexual revolution” and was central to Ricky’s dissertation, and who, as a matter of fact, had also fled the Nazis, and wound up in Maine. The whole Nazi-provoked diaspora of German intellectuals and artists to the US was a fascinating phenomenon, they agreed. Moreover, the tiramisu at the Italian coffee shop by Ricky’s apartment really was to die for, and no, neither one of them had to be anywhere too early the next day, and so somehow—although both of them were ordinarily very, very cautious about relationships, really slow burn types when it came to romance—somehow the next morning, Non woke up in Ricky’s bed.

“Let’s nap,” Ricky murmured now, and soon they were nestled under the coverlet, side by side. As they drifted toward sleep, Non wondered if there were, in fact, energy currents running through the pretty hotel room and through their mattress now, laden with other people’s memories.

Non dreamt.

A man and a woman are bustling around their kitchen, getting two kids off to school.  A jumble of dishes, then sandwiches, lunchboxes.  The man checks his watch:  too late! 

“Oh never mind, I’ll drive you,” he says.  He helps with a coat zipper, checks for a backpack—then he ushers them out.

“Go get in the car,” he says, and they do, while he lingers right inside the door.

“You know I read this article online this morning,” he says, while the woman notes the smile in his eyes. “It said men who kiss their wives for at least ten seconds before they leave the house are five times less likely to get in a car accident.” He slips his hand up her back, inside her shirt, and rubs the muscles between her shoulder blades. She moans: it feels good.

“Safety first,” she says, leaning in to him. They kiss, gentle and deep, for a count of 10. . . .11, 12.  Then the kids honk the car horn, and they break apart.

Non and Ricky woke up at the same moment, and their eyes met.

“Did you just. . .”

“Ten second. . ?”

There was a nod. Then a meeting of lips, and of bodies, for much longer than ten seconds.

“Maybe Reich was right,” said Non. Ricky, on a monthlong soujourn to the Harvard archive containing Reich’s extensive private papers, had finally located what some of his kookier devotees had always claimed Reich had written: a theory of human sexuality’s relationship to evolution, physics, and the cosmos.  Basically a “theory of everything”, through sex. “Notes Toward a Biomagnetic Elucidation of the Orgone,” it was called—orgone being Reich’s word for the life force Eastern religions called prana or chi and that Reich thought humans connected to through sex, among other means. And maybe it wasn’t quite as kooky as all that.

“He didn’t believe in ley lines—not exactly,” Ricky had said, referring to the alleged straight lines of energy stretching across the globe and whose existence Non highly doubted. Instead, Ricky said, Reich thought the Earth had irregular, twisty-turvy energy channels, kind of like the twelve meridians through the body that underlie Chinese medicine. Those made sense to Non:  they were just ways of understanding the connections of sinew and bone, of lymph, tissue, and nerve that Western medicine studied too, in terms of mechanical and electrochemical interaction. Meridians are just a way of seeing all of that at a higher level, a different lens of resolution, Non had told Ricky—and acupuncture had made Non’s once-fierce migraines a thing of the past. So earth meridians—channels through rock and swamp, through rooty forest soil and peat bog and sandy coastline—why couldn’t they exist?

And if they existed, there would be special points along them, just as there are along the meridians. Pressure points where if you stimulate them, something starts to heal.

They’re portals to the energy system, Reich thought.  And if people made love in those points—

“Just exactly what is it that’s supposed to happen next?”

Ricky sat up.  There was a toss of curls, a smile.


The rest of the night was quiet. They both had a feeling, as they discussed, of satiety and peace.

“It’s a serene settling,” said Ricky.

“Exactly.  Like we’re layering ourselves in,” said Non. Meaning—as they’d discussed often by now—that there were layers of the soul, or energetic body, or whatever metaphor you wanted to use for the energy beings that humans are. And that when you get somewhere physically you aren’t necessarily totally there, energetically, at first.  Maybe it takes a while to arrive.

“Maybe ‘layering in’ should be a term of art,” Non went on, waxing mathematically philosophical in that way that drove Ricky crazy—and not only with desire. Because Non was an expert, supposedly, in the things Ricky had loved in college but not pursued.  Because there seemed no future in it for Ricky.  And there hadn’t been, until Non.

Ricky remembered the first-year calc’s teacher’s words.

“You’re not interested in mathematics—you’re interested in the philosophy of mathematics!” He was outraged that Ricky came to his office hours week after week to nerd out about how cool the idea of a limit was—the idea of getting closer and closer and closer to something but never ever reaching it, ever struck Ricky as pretty riveting—or the fact that you can measure under a really irregular lumpy-looking curve and figure out exactly, precisely, what the area of that thing is. The conversion of blobby confusion to clean sharp digits seemed very obviously a thing at which one might marvel—but in doing so, Ricky felt quite alone. But now there was Non, who liked to say things like “term of art,” and also to go off on defining them in real time, which was hard for Ricky not because the definitions were a distraction—indeed, they were absolutely the point—but because of the timing.  TOAs (as Ricky was beginning to think of them) are things you just use.  With definitions, if needed, to follow.

“Let’s layer in,” agreed Ricky as Non’s definition concluded.  Lamps were clicked off, sheets were pulled up, bodies curled together like spoons.

To be continued

~ Kimberly Gladman ~