The Endless Game

It was the physicist’s turn to babysit the little boy. He had a long history with the parents, but nobody knew the details. Though not a military man, he arrived in a shabby field jacket, looking like an obsolete mandarin with his shaved head and long queue. The others often whispered of his book debts, one-sided love affairs with coffee shop girls, his useless inventions and his devotion to long streaks of solitide in the forests, where he subsisted on tea and cigarettes. The little boy was intrigued. Today, said the physicist in a conspiratorial whisper, after the parents had left, we shall embark on a great journey and learn the secret of life, if not the secret life of the secrets of life! The boy could have gasped. First, the physicist took him down into the dark cellar that reeked of earth and old vines. Suddenly, he switched on a lightbulb and glorious silver light sparkled on the chrome tools, old casks and bags of rice. Then he switched it off and it was pitch black. Then he switched it on and off rapidly like lightning, making the boy giggle. Then he held it on for a long time and then switched it off. The boy was breathless. The madman took him by the hand and led him upstairs. In the dining room, the physicist had set up calligraphy tools—paper and brushes and three bowls. The first held sand, the second water, the third held ink. The boy was to write his name, using each medium. The sand failed to cling to the brush and did not write anything. The water darkened the paper with the phantom of his name but quickly dried. At last, the boy tried the ink, and his name beautifully appeared and remained. The weather was good, so they went out. The man bought lunch at a street vendor. In a park of red dust and lofty pines,

they ate cold noodles covered in sesame paste and chili oil, washed down with iced coffees. After lunch, they climbed trees, played marbles in the dust, fed the pigeons and listened to an old man play the erhu. Then they played a strange game. The physicist blindfolded the boy and handed him objects. The boy had to say what shape the object was and take a bite. The first was round and it was a very bitter grapefruit. The second was a pomello, also round. The third was a round, golden pear. The fourth was a round blood orange, and the fifth was a mandarin orange. The boy had never tasted so many rinds before, but it was not entirely unpleasant. They finished eating the fruits and then went for a long walk along the river. The boy had to observe the other walkers and invent diagnoses and cures for them. It was clear that the pale woman was a vampire’s thrall. The boy suggested iron supplements, hot baths and playing with magnets. The man with the cat on the leash would turn into a bat if he did not listen to classical music by the glow of a naked lightbulb. The physicist approved these diagnoses and remedies. There were conversations with the water and trees, the counting of pebbles and grassblades, and a recital of the multiplication table backwards in the tones and cadence of a monastic chant. The physicist had also brought along rockets, drones, and an instant film camera. Only after the boy had photographed at least one object for every letter of the alphabet was he allowed to set off the rockets and fly the drones. When they had exhausted these, they sat at a picnic table to make origami animals while exchanging riddles, jokes and word problems. After building their menagerie, they sat by the river in silence. The river lapped the sandy shore and mumured past them in flashes of silver and dark blue. It was dusk when they began their walk back. The physicist explained how the traffic lights and lampposts worked. They ate a simple dinner in a little cafe, where the physicist flirted with the waitress, and headed home. There they played chess while listening to a string quartet on the radio. The boy read to the physicist from his favourite books on ghosts and time travel. They said their prayers and it was bedtime. The physicist turned off the light, ready to close the door behind him when the boy asked why the physicist knew so many games. It is all one game that lasts forever, said the strange man in the shabby coat. What is the game called? the boy asked. Logic, said the physicist, and he bid the child good night.

Advertisements

The Man of Law 

Staring into the sun and stars, at the moon and comets, into straw and paper, through glass and sky, at shadows on sundials and sands upon scales, from towers and from burning ships, the man of law pronounced that light is not heavy. 

The Whip 

Only one shadow of ink splashed into the radiance of the white adobe walls. It was the priest beyond the gate, awaiting the seeker, an insomniac and physicist who wanted to cure his migraines and questions. The priest wore black and his whole head was clean shaven. The physicist thought he looked more like an assassin than a priest. The walls burned the eyes. What would you like? the priest asked kindly, coiling a dark rope. I want my headaches to stop, said the physicist. And I want to know how and what to think. Textbooks, monographs, journals, newspapers, whole libraries and even radio shows contradict themselves and each other. I don’t know what to think anymore. A dark flash and loud crack startled him. The priest slowly rewound the whip that had left a dark stroke on the wall. You are wasting your own time. You will have thoughts whether you want them or not. The world never asked your permission to exist, why do you asks its permission to exist and think? The whip cracked again and another dark stroke appeared on the wall. That helps, the physicist said, but I still do not know what kind of thoughts to follow, or where they will lead me. There are only a handful that really matter, said the priest, and only one that means anything. What is it? the physicist asked. The wind, the explosive sound, and then the dark matter of the third stroke on the wall. Sacrifice, said the priest. The mystery of the stone. Once upon a time, a stone was a word, then an obstacle, then it could spark and make fire, then it was a tool, then a sacred item, then something to study, then industrial material, and then it was garbage. The stone gives itself to the world. The world gives itself to you. The world and the universe was made by sacrifice. You should give yourself. To yourself and to others. Then you will think. The physicist stared at the dark matter on the adobe wall. It looks like a wound, he said, and it also looks like the ancient character for the heart. Possibly, the other murmured. Once more the priest whipped the wall, adding the last stroke. Why do you have a whip? the physicist asked. To buffet the wind, the priest sighed, to scourge my thoughts. 

The Oubliette 

A physicist was punished for various intrigues and thrown down the interminable shaft of a modern day oubliette. An oubliette was originally a type of medieval dungeon, dug into the lowest depths below a castle and only accessed by a one-way entrance—a hatch through the ceiling above without a ladder or stairs leading back up to it. In other words, it was a cellar for permanently disposing of human garbage and forgetting about it. It was oblivion. The shaft the physicist entered was so deep, they gave him a second hand parachute. After an eternity of falling through darkness, the blue parachute blossomed just as the floor of the oubliette opened up and darkly glimmered below him. Slowly, he drifted down and landed on dark sand and stone. To his surprise, the ceiling was still very high and vast, and the floor appeared to be a plain of scatteted dead trees and adobe huts. The light came from gaping holes in the ground that revealed a deep sea of stars and planets. Curious, the physicist whispered as he knelt by the edge of one hole and looked down. Clouds drifted by now and then, but the golden and silver stars continued to blaze into an infinity below. The silence was magical, and the physicist relaxed as he entered an adobe hut. Through the entrance and windows, he could still see stars. And lying down on the dry, warm earth in that great quiet, the physicist decided to make his home within his punishment. 

The Formula

The formula having been written on the blackboard, the distinguished professor wiped the chalk from his hands and said that you must never press the button to hold the elevator door open if you hear footsteps in the corridor. This not only adds unnecessary wear to the console, but it also interrupts the intentionality of the machinery and the rhythmic flow of destiny.

The Minefield

In their travels, the wanderers encountered a sunlit, dry planet of scattered clouds, snowy mountains of stone and rolling plains of golden grass and scattered trees. There were soft seas that washed the semi-arid deserts and steppes. It looked like a good planet to cultivate. One day, as they walked through a plain, explosions of dirt and smoke fatally dismembered several comrades. The rest of the crossing continued uneventfully until they came to the coastal mountains where it began to rain what could only be described as bombs coming out of both clouds and blue sky. After a deluge of phosphorus fire, naptha, and other deafening fireworks burning the ground and leaving black, smoking craters, the land had rest for another thousand days. The wanderers came to discover that these unpredictable mines and bombs were organic, though inanimate, and really no different than weather. The silence was not friendly, though sometimes preferable. It is difficult to safely study an explosion one cannot define or test. In time, there was only one wanderer left intact, a lone shadow walking slowly and thoughtfully over the strange landscape.

The Corrie

There was a corrie of stone and ice where the travelers would gather by the light of certain stars, ambiguous solstices and unthought eclipses to pass through time and space and harvest the good light, the good water, the good wind and the good fire, for with these the sons and daughters of men and women were healed and built into great giant cities of stone and strength. One opened the gate through speaking the old language. One traveler loved the language; he loved and spoke all languages and remembered the times, but the old language was best and was like a fountain within his body and soul. They called him the bear, for bears have big jaws and love rivers. As time went by, the bear noticed that fewer and fewer travelers could speak or revere the old language, and took no precautions as they traveled. They brought illness into the corrie and spoke deplorable words. The gate of stars would often not open. Pilgrims who came to the travelers for guidance and healing became increasingly lost and sick. At times it seemed as if the very stones of the corrie were shifting and crumbling. The travelers still came in the seasons of traveling, but instead of speaking the old language, they forbid others to speak it, and sat around discussing the beauty of their sickness as if it were a gift from heaven. They were dying from their deplorable words and killing others as well. One day, the bear fell sick from an ordinary disease, and wandered into the high peaks to cough and sleep in solitude. While convalescing in the high land, he spoke the old language to himself and found himself traveling high roads through stars and black holes he had not thought possible. In those heights and depths he found great worms of stone, oarfish of mists, and krakens of water. There were silver trees of lightning and golden whirlpools of fire. The earth drew light and strength from the heavens, through his body, and he felt well again. On rising, he surveyed the sad earth from which the old words were vanishing, and knew now that every broken stone and dried up river is a forgotten word, an irreverant grammar, a deplorable sentence, a blasphemy. When he went back down to the corrie, he found that more than half of it had crumbled into a glacier, and the other travelers sat oblivious on a shifting precipice, reading their sores and scabs as if practicing divination, and cursing everything above and below heaven. It was then that the bear realized that he had been transformed into a real bear.