FathomOnline

 

 Fathom 1995

Cover

 

Inside Cover

 

Poetry

Graham Touchie (4)
Jay White
Jacob Towers
Peggy Apostolides
Erica Spenser
M.M.
Kathy Mac (4)
T. Gaoh
Rob Hutten
Guillaume van Moorsel

Prose

Karen Smith
M.M.
C.A. Garbutt
Urs Frei

[PDF]

Urs Frei

 

 

Mutilation Imagery

     My friend, Lottie McNall, an astrophysicist, manages, it seems to me, to escape the entanglements of everyday life in the esoteric language of her profession. At any rate, she tries. She makes her living doing research and calculations for a man in Palo Alto, California, but her own real work, about which she speaks vaguely, concerns the origin and structure of the universe. She is small and lovely but vagueness is her abiding trait, and at anyone time her circle includes between three and seven men, not suitors exactly but not just friends, some of whom probably believe that her air of uncertainty holds out the possibility of love. Also, she is said to sleep around. This may be true, because refusal pains her, and among so many admirers a few must have been willing to put their desire into words. I’m not one of them, but perhaps I’d feel repaid if, in addition to friendship, she would take me into her confidence.
     But if it weren’t for casual gossip I’d know almost nothing about her. I wouldn’t know that she supports a mother in Denver, Colorado who is in the early stages of death by senility. I wouldn’t know of her brother who abandoned his doctoral studies and now spends his time on communes in Oregon, Israel and South America and telephones her twice a year with hard-luck stories and requests for money. I wouldn’t know of her childhood in Italy, Paris and California, but I wouldn’t lack the impression that she had chosen this city, Halifax, randomly out of all the cities of the world, and that at any moment she might choose to leave.
     Six years ago, on a bicycle tour, I came across her sitting at the end of a manmade spit near the campground at Risser’s beach. It was a calm evening, and she was staring into the water. “Did you lose something?” I said.
     Without taking her eyes from the water she said, “You can’t tell now, but it’s amazingly clear and very deep. You can see a long way.” In fact the sunset was streaking the surface, and noth­ing was visible except the outlines of our faces. Then she said, “I’m hoping to see a proton decay. That happens so rarely that no one’s ever seen it for sure.” It happens that I had recently read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, which was then on the best seller list, and had some idea what she was talking about. Nonetheless, this seemed, coming from a stranger, remarkably eccentric, almost intimate, though what I took for intimacy I might later have taken for mockery. I left her and resumed my walk. The beach had become dark when I returned and the tide had come up, covering the stones behind her. I called out, but if I had in mind a rescue, or at least some gallant assistance, her nimbleness quickly disappointed me.
     “Would you see a flash?” I said.
     “Maybe.”
     “But a flash could come from many things.”
     She smiled. “Anyway, it’s a waste of time.”
     Each year, in July or August, we spend a weekend together at some beach on the province’s Atlantic shore. We plan it several weeks in advance, and she has never reneged. But this year there is a sadness upon me I can’t explain. The beach we’ve chosen is called Crystal Crescent and is the nearest to Halifax, which is why we’ve avoided it before now. It consists of three beaches, two of them near the parking area, a third a twenty-minute walk fur­ther on. This third beach is notorious locally as an enclave for nudists, and as we approach it, taking the shore path, through the boulders and bracken and raspberry brakes, and the women with sunhats kneeling in the blueberries – it is the first weekend of August – we catch sight on the sand of an immense man who turns out, as we come nearer, to be in fact naked.
     “A beached man,” says Lottie.
     We’d forgotten its notoriety. It’s the middle of the afternoon but the only others are a man and a woman and their two white­rumped children. The woman is pretty and I find it hard to keep my eyes from her breasts. We put up our tents in the long grass behind the beach, then go to sit on the granite outcropping that protects it from the sea. We say nothing, watching the waves crash on the rocks. In the evening we gather driftwood and dead branches for the fire. Everyone else has left, and the night arrives huge and clear. Now and then from one of the other beaches comes women’s laughter, like birds taking flight.
     “I’ve been getting e-mail from one of Hawking’s people,” Lottie says. “It sounds like they’ll ask me to come to Cambridge.”
     I pretend enthusiasm, my mouth full of frankfurter.
     “I sent them my paper. They seem to like it, the dears.”
     This is the first I’ve heard of a paper. Naturally, I inquire.
     “The idea is very simple.” She holds her wiener like a pointer and jabs it toward the stars. “If we had powerful enough telescopes, we could look almost anywhere in the sky and see our­selves.”
     “Ourselves?”
     “I don’t mean us. But our galaxy, maybe, a few billion years ago. Imagine a spherical room made entirely of mirrors with a light bulb in the middle. Because the room’s a sphere you’d get a kind of faraway haze of light, and that would look like the outer limits of the room to you.”
     “Like the background radiation,” I say, pleased with myself.
     “Exactly. My idea is that the curved shape of space would eventually have to make light return the way it came. So every way you look there would be light coming toward us from the Milky Way, and all the other galaxies, and that explains why the universe looks the same in every direction. Everywhere we look we see ourselves.”
     I have no abiding interest in astronomy and only the most cursory knowledge of the constellations, but on this one night every year I try to give myself over to the marvels of the night sky. Nothing that I hear about the universe surprises me any more. Lottie has told me before this about black holes, singularities, finitude without boundaries; about dark matter and extra dimen­sions, the possibility of other universes and the reversal of time. The world we see is not the world we are coming to know, and my lack of surprise feels remarkably like comprehension.
     “Do you want to work with Hawking?”
     “Oh god yes.”
     “He’s mad, you know.”
     She colors a little, frowning.
     “He thinks he’s the reincarnation of Galilee. And didn’t you tell me he says he likes being diseased? He’s a monster.”
     “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lottie flashes.
     “Just because he puts a brave face on it–”
     I’m silent for a minute, because we never quarrel. Then I say, untruthfully, “I’ve been thinking about writing a paper on mutilation imagery in his book. Do you know how many times he uses that example of an astronaut falling into a black hole and being torn apart like spaghetti? Six times. After the second or third, there’s no point to it, except sheer relish. He gets a kick out of the thought of a body being destroyed that way.”
     “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything so unkind,” Lottie says. “And you’ve never even met him.”
     She is astonished and furious, and I have mixed feelings, but relief, curiously enough, is among them. After a long silence she says that she is going to bed, gets up ceremoniously and walks to her tent. I let the fire die down, then take off my clothes and go for a swim, and go to bed.
     Very early in the morning a sound from Lottie’s tent wakes me. A strong wind has come up, and I listen carefully but in vain. I’m uneasy. What if she’s decided to leave without me? I put on my glasses and put my head out of the tent, and there she is, coming from the beach, carrying a towel but quite naked. She looks at me evenly but indifferently. Instead of breasts she has two vivid dark scars. How strange, I think, how strange that I hadn’t known this.

 

last updated August 17, 2007 | © 2007 Fathom Publishing
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