Thursday, June 11, 2015

Lesson Number One

Glass breaks. Trembling, coffee-stained hands reach for a dry towel. A black pool spreads out from my bare feet, filling the cracks in my mind with dread. It is morning again. 
I thought.
It's hard to know anything when you are not awake and little more when you are awake. Staring at the ceiling, sweating from another dream about not sleeping. The ceiling is black, pulling away like a lid on a box and a swirl of stars fire up and move into place. It is impossible to sleep when looking at the night sky. The awful noise. Millions of hydrogen bombs, coils of wrath expelling iron planets, sending ionic fire that carpets the north pole. 
I wake up and the stars are fading in and out of view, dodging the focal point like like an electron, altered by the act of observation. I cannot see anything I want to see.
There is a lion in the night, just out of the firelight, hunting, his eyes glowing like the coals in the fire and a shimmering red dot appears on my forehead and moves down to my throat. How does a lion know how to kill?
For that matter, how does a human? The morning spreads too, out from the long cracks forming in the night sky and across my room, the shifting light defined by the dust in the air. It's a night sky backlit by the laboratory behind it all, cadres of scientists fiddling with the math, scribbling with technical pencils on graph paper, gesturing wildly before chalkboards. They have given birth to a hypothesis, a scaly, squirming, wailing hypothesis: If we raise the mass of an electron by one trillionths of a kilogram we just might be able to solve the problem of fear and insecurity. Theory: We believe that the effects of an added trillionth of a kilogram will be negligible and will not contribute to any measurable decline in the quality of life. Prediction: We haven't calculated where we will get the extra mass but we are confident that further study will provide a satisfying scientific basis for confidence in further study.
Experiment. So this light, this hot blue light that comes through the rip in the window curtain each morning, it is leaving a spot on my forehead. Like a welder's burn, a red spot, like the spot on Jupiter, slowly rotating at 384 mile per hour. I wake up dizzy. How far will they go? This light is not welcome, not after a night like this. I tossed and turned like a hog on the spit, a fish flipping in a skillet, a man rolling in his grave, all the while the white canvas curtains blew in the night framing a black ocean and a half of a moon on the horizon, tipping like a glass, pouring cold silver onto the tops of swelling clouds, clouds flashing with jolts of orange from within, firelight, camping in the clouds. Storms are out there, yes, pushing wooden ships filled with shivering, skeletal men toward this black sand shore. For a moment, I dreamed that I stood on the shore barefoot with food and blankets, waiting for the men clinging to timbers to appear in the breaking waves, watching the kegs, masts, and canvas washing up to my feet, but no men. Just their voices, carried on the breeze. Frail words piling up on the sand: don't, don't, don't. That's all I can hear. I can't stop hearing don't. 
I know that voice. But I shrug. There are no more wooden ships. We have giant men in white lab coats passing behind the night sky, brilliant like angels. I can see them through the cracks, chalk dust on their hands, destroying exponents, creating fractions. Move one millionth of a kilogram, one billionth of a volt, one micrometer of distance they say and there is another jolt of electricity and the room lights up that bluish white again and I sit up and this time I can see everything in the night. The whole valley lights up, the cottonwoods and green ash meandering alongside the cream-and-coffee-brown creek that overflows its banks, chokecherry and prairie plum in bloom tossing white petals like confetti, powdery perfumed air. Birds burst from the trees, laughing like schoolchildren, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Bobolinks singing like children's toys. The shamrock green hillsides, swaths of purple locoweeds, dripping sandstone caprocks and red shale banks, tumbling cascades of muddy water pulling away stones and clumps of sod armed with cactus. Bison fill the valley, immense herds all the way to the horizon and beyond, mingling with elk, antelope, and mule deer, the herds tended by wolves. I do not think I exaggerate when I estimate the number of Buffaloe which could be comprehended at one view to amount to 3000. It took three days for the herd to pass. I did not sleep at all. Who could when it looked like this?   
I always was a night person and this is why.
Another billionth of a degree and another blue flash and by God, they did it, this time the cottonwoods and green ash ignite and the winds sweep them up, carry burning logs in the air, dropping them on villages downwind, 13 miles to the east at the next railroad town where the flames leap from paper house to paper house, cooking secure families in their sleep. This happened to 67 cities across the country. Only four cities escaped the fires. So the men in lab coats did what men in lab coats do and did some more math and split the seconds atomically and suddenly a horrific blue flash as bright as a blue star boils the river, explodes rocks, sucks the oxygen out of the air, and leaves shadows of human beings on the stone walls of buildings 70 miles distant. Family photos on granite, hot daguerreotypes, mom and dad posing with the kids, burned into our memory.
The black sand turns to glass. The blue flash fades to a faint red glow, then nothing. Momentary darkness. The last towns are gone. The few survivors emerge from cellars to begin a short life begging for rice, filled with envy of the dead. Now I don't want to sleep. Get up, I must get up. 
It's morning again, but I don't want to face it. The light is pouring through the night sky now, my whole head is hot, throbbing, I can't think, I haven't slept in who knows how long because I think they moved something an hour ahead or I have been taking too many airplane flights or it's another dream about time. I see another giant man tampering with one nucleotide base, one out of 3 billion. Chalk on his hands too. I see another blue flash and this time the whole planet bursts into flames, hotter than the sun, roasting everything I ever knew. He reaches toward my smoldering head and removes the wires. 
If his hypothesis is correct, I will gain confidence, lose fear, and gain security. Results will be replicated through repeated testing proving I had no idea I was right. I can't remember what I was going to say and I no longer care. 

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