This Graceful Suspension Of The World

keys and lock

He had a secret wife once whose marriage to they nobody told. Even when her family all journeyed on a five-day ocean cruise together to celebrate her maternal grandparents’ fiftieth anniversary, the husband in name, he stayed at home. That’s how secret she was. Once, another time, she had returned from taking exams upstate. And the exam she took was computerized (not on paper), and while she took it, it learned her learning rate. It gave her very quickly, she told him afterwards, more and more difficult problems to solve, and each ‘one more’ difficult problem submitted on the screen to her, she got right. The testing program recalculated itself, and, with the secret wife’s having rapidly solved correctly such difficult problems as which the program could ever propose, it released her from the testing grounds in twenty minutes with an “800”—a perfect score. Almost ninety minutes had been shaved off her testing time, her sitting time, her being there. That’s how time and testing and the algorithms had worked.

The spatial reasoning his brilliant secret wife could perform with ease at astronomical rates of speed is not the way, in general, anything else works in life. The massive hero Ajax, for instance, that great, lumbering Greek warrior, battles and battles everyday, fighting off the Trojans. And before he rejoins the battle, Achilles sulks in his tent for months, unable to convince Agamemnon to give him back Briseis, his war booty, in all that time. And who can really tell how long, how many decades and years of accident and misfortune, how much lasting grief it will take and all the many dead there will be when spacecraft really do fly and land to colonize the desiccated, lifeless planet Mars.

Today an argument could verily be made that the man who’d had that secret wife long ago, far away, is one day close to his death. His wits are down. His love forsakes him. His cat is gone. His cupboard in nearly bare. His pile of winter wood is wet. For him, all the world’s diseases and sicknesses and misfortunes have fled buzzing like flies into the air. The only saving grace the world has ever known, however, is not “hope”—that miscreant’s negative creed of dissatisfaction, of being against the way reality actually is—but “anticipation”—which, though syllabically awkward, is the better translation of the Greek word “elpis,” of what actually remained in Pandora’s opened picnic basket. It means to simply wait for, and to be able to wait for, the next thing to come. And that, the love-broken man knew, trembling in fear asleep and living in a perfect equation of anxiety awake, by the multitudes of stars which over the span of all eternity shall have opened their eyes at night and closed them during the day, was all there ever was.

Sunstones & Sagebrush

sagebrush and dirt

At night, silent military jets dropped slow blue flares from the sky. These lights would fall gently in slow downward curves, eight or nine flares falling from the sky at once. Soon afterwards, more jets would pass silently through the airspace and more falling blue flares would glow in the night sky like the first ones. This maneuver might occur a third time and then the sky was black again as if nothing had happened. All was silent that night and any other night. Sometimes, too, in an enormous “V,” blue lights would hover overhead, too huge and moving too slowly to be any known, or even any imaginable, human aircraft, for sure a top secret military program no one outside of the military would ever know about.

By daytime, the campers camping in the aluminum shell of an abandoned trailer would sift through sifters looking for sunstones that would be caught in between the grates of the wire mesh. The boy and his father took turns sifting in the heat all day long. Later in the afternoon, the handful of stones they had caught sifting would be handed over to one of three men who lived six months out of twelve in trailers that had not yet been abandoned there. After the sunstones the boy and his father had collected had been weighed on a scale and examined under a jeweler’s loop, and then rated and priced, the father paid for the stones they had sifted out of the dirt and wanted to keep; those the boy and his father did not, the men swept into one of the four bins, according to their weight and quality. The best of these stones flashed brilliant copper from the inside. The three bearded men whose mine this was allowed the boy, as was their custom, to allow the youngest member of any team, to pick for free any one sunstone from one of the four gray plastic bins filled with them laid out on folding tables among the pale sagebrush and barren dirt. The boy’s pick was the very best sunstone in the bin. It had the most shiller, the bearded man told him. It was worth more than the total sum of all the stones they had bought together.

In the evening, after making supper and cleaning the dishes with as little water as possible, the boy and his father played chess outside. The boy always won, trying game after game to make his father a better chess player, however mediocre the father’s mind was in this. They played until it was nearly dark, just before the jets returned. For the son and his father, it would well be said, many years later, that these indeed were the best times in the best of times.