Archive for October, 2010

October 24, 2010

Classical Mechanics

An object at rest tends to stay at rest, until acted upon by an outside force.

Fifteen minutes late, still no sign of lights on the tracks. William wipes his runny nose, rubs his hands together to keep the blood flowing. He would put his gloves on, but then he could not annotate the stack of midterms on his lap. Undergraduate Physics, marked in red where the freshmen have forgotten their formulas. Some say red is too harsh a color for grading, but for William no other color will do.

He hates the cold. Cold is a lack of energy, and he prefers energy to surround the moment.

For a man like William, what discipline but Physics could satisfy? Every motion in the world perfectly described, every vector calculated. Nothing without purpose, everything with a specific consequence. To understand Physics is to understand absolute justice.

She never understood that kind of precision, nor his obsession with it. Presumably, that is why she left him for Allen.

A body subjected to force accelerates directly proportionally to the force.

The morning class is almost fully marked when the train comes around the bend. The tracks hum with transmitted vibrations. William carefully slides the papers into his backpack. He stands and slings his pack over both his shoulders. He will need full mobility. His legs are somewhat stiff. He bounces up and down to warm them.

The train screeches to the stop, releasing brake pressure with a piercing hiss. First the conductors debark, then the bundled, still-warm passengers. They descend the stairs from the platform. William keeps his head down in shadow, careful that no light from the orange sodium vapor lamps can reach beneath his cap’s brim. He knows the optics angles precisely; his face is unrecognizable when Allen passes him heading for the stairs.

Calmly, William follows behind Allen. He puts his gloves on before reaching the bottom of the steps.

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

They are alone in the tunnel underneath the platform when William comes up behind Allen. William has measured each of their velocities precisely so they are in the midpoint of the tunnel—the farthest possible point from escape. One hand goes around Allen’s mouth, while the other drives a blade deep into his back. Allen’s eyes widen, but he cannot struggle. His spinal cord has been severed by the wound. He can only collapse to the ground, gurgling against William’s glove.

William feels the heat of Allen’s blood flow over his gloves. Diffusion dictates that warmer air would slow the dissipation of energy from Allen’s blood into the atmosphere. William had hoped the temperature would be higher to lengthen the moment, but it just wasn’t in the numbers. One does not argue with a universe of order and justice.

The knife pulls away from Allen’s limp body as quickly as it entered. William takes a plastic bag from his pocket, and places the knife, one glove, then the other inside. He seals the bag, then swings his backpack off one shoulder to deposit the package in the large zippered compartment. A single drop of blood trickles onto the freshman papers.

But that is alright. William grades in red.

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October 4, 2010

The Ship, Part 2

Illustration by Tim Durning

Cynthia never wears shoes before the first frost.  On the walk from the cabin to the shore—surely one of the last barefoot this season—the dewed stones outside the door chill her awake. She gasps sharp air. Thick grass slides between her toes; the soil keeps its warmth better than the stones. She passes the first trees covering the cliff leading to the water, making sure to touch their trunks. The bark is smoother where her hands have often passed over it.

Moss lines the steep descent, coating Cynthia’s feet in slime. She holds on to chest-height limbs to keep her balance until the cliff eases to a gentle grade by the water. After she emerges from the trees, there is sand, stone, and sea—all gray beneath low morning clouds.

Stone to stone, Cynthia hops across the beach—no footprints—to the water, where the waves rush over her ankles. Her skirt clings to her shins. She focuses on the firmness pressing into her arches.

Where they go must have stone and trees, both old enough to be smooth.

With all the lumber he has accrued, and all the time he spends there, Harold has built a small shack by the jetty. November wind can be cruel, especially on the water. In the shed he keeps his tools, a small generator, a space heater, a chair, a blanket, and a map of the planet. The map is covered with pencil lines marking wishful destinations; the most exciting of them are circled again and again.

Harold’s hammer is nearly silent beside the din of crashing waves. The craft is nearly complete, but Cynthia has not seen it. Down the beach, when she wades into the water, she always looks away from the jetty. At first, Harold invited her every day, hoping she would join him at the gangplank. They could sit together in the shack and admire their vessel as it took shape.

I will see it when we sail, she said. Now he simply wakes before dawn and begins working; the sooner he finishes, the better—and winter’s on its way.

Only the final touches remain. He places another nail in the molding above the helm compass. A clip will go above the flat surface by the wheel to hold maps. Screws…he needs screws for the map clip. And the cleats for the lines. Wax—he needs wax for the lines.

Ten thousand little things, but still in all… He looks out over the twin hulls he has made by his hands alone. As the ship bobs up and down in the shallow sea, he feels trust in the deck. This can work; we can travel someplace fresh. Someplace brighter. Maybe someplace with fewer stones.

Harold looks up from the helm to see Cynthia turned toward him. His heart races, and he waves to her.

She does not wave back, only walks along the stones to the tree line. Harold shrugs, and turns to the shack to find some screws.

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