Drop a length of string that has been knotted into a loop; can you predict the path that takes shape in its lay? Imagine a piece of thread pinched between your forefinger and thumb. Did you imagine it long and limp, grazing the soft, fatty haunch of your thumb? Did you imagine it short and spry, as if it sprouted from the red crevice your fingers formed?
You look downward and upward, downward and up. You nod your head like a neighing horse. And still, the fat, wet tear in the corner of your eye stays balanced like an egg. And as long as you keep your eye open, it will sit there trembling in the corner of your eye, a terrified, unwilling rookie boxer in the ring. Don't close your eyes. You ask yourself: Where on earth did that tear come from?
We already know the answer to every question that we ask ourselves. Just bear with me for a second. Believe it to be true. Every inward question is an answer I do not verbalize, out of muteness of spirit or the complacency of familiarity. Consider the antithetical: When I ask you a question, I am in wonderment of you. My eyes glitter like stars. "Where were you last night?" and "How does an engine work?" and "Does that taste good with tilapia?" and "Why does it have to end?" and other questions I ask out loud are in starry-eyed amazement of the mystery outside of myself, the collective knowledge of mothers and sisters and bachelors I have never known. I am at the top of a tower, sitting firmly in a chair slightly skewed towards a window, looking over a city of a hundred-thousand mothers. If I drop a length of string that has been knotted into a loop, and I overlaid that shape over this city, and took that path by boot or wheel, who would I meet? How thick is the string? How thick is the air? What affects the fall of a loop that transform into the curled eight of infinity? We stay balanced on the precipice of something like fear. A teardrop of unknown source-spring stays precariously balanced by some magic of liquid tension between two brown eyelashes. We ask ourselves a question, "Why am I fearful?" and the lack of mystery in that inward question is the beginning of a flat feeling of fear itself.
Reality is a trough. The earth is a fat teardrop balanced on a sloping gridded edge and we roll with mysterious gravity toward some cosmic chicken feed. A year where the crops don't yield and we will find a few maggots when we sift through the feed with our fingertips. Or... Or the universe is a saddle. Hyperbolic curvature with a chafed ass topping it like a doily, and a great, heaving, slick hot horse beneath. And whether trough or saddle, when that large cosmic horse comes to grip you in its tongue, all you can ask yourself is, "Did I do ok?" But you already knew the answer to that.
He was not good at keeping contact with himself. The New School taught that for once a day, every day for the rest of your life, you must rub your forefinger and thumb together to produce a wafer of network charge and pop it in your mouth, and then press the pads of your index and middle fingers to your eyes and swallow. This would engage the larger internal network charge that would ripple through your body like a miniscule gamma ray burst and lightly upset every nerve in your body. By keeping up with this small series of movements, the New School explained, you will be able to mimic the implied movements of prehistoric human bodies and prevent the subtle muscle memory loss that results from acquiesce of current technologies. Purchase of the network charge-producing device was only four dollars, and installation was fifty cents.
Jolene had coughed up those four dollars two years ago, and opted for self-installation. He kept up with it every day for nine months (skipping a day or two a week in the beginning, doing it a day or two a week near the end) before he grew tired of having an extra daily routine and halted a habit that was never fully formed in the first place. It wasn't that it took too much out of his day. His days were twenty hours long, a bit longer than the average person in America, which were certainly enough hours to fit in a forty second ritual. The practice required barely any concentration or physical exertion. He just wasn't good at it.
When he rubbed his fingers together, the network charge slowly built up into a tacky film, taking shape of the curvature of the pad of his index finger, and would slowly begin to lift up at the edges like a contact lens. Then it would just stop. His fingers would just stop producing a charge. He would rub his fingertips vigorously together for another two seconds if he was annoyed enough, or stare blankly at his hand if he didn't feel like registering the failure. Five times out of ten the charge would never build up to a semi-solid, flat disc pinched between the fingers like it was supposed to, that the New School told you to swallow so that your mortal body would not rot.
Jolene was not accustomed to failure, but he was not well-accustomed to success neither. His last bout of success concerned a date, an area of life where the rift between success and failure seemed the widest and most impactful. This was only biological, of course. It's a matter of birth and death.
The procurement of the date went something like this: Jolene was on his way to work, taking his usual route that went between two large buildings where there was just enough space for a body to pass through sideways. He turned his head to face the direction he was walking and worked his legs like a pair of snapping scissors, going on his tiptoes in places where he guessed there was a chance of scuffing the backs of his shoes. Buildings were no longer made of brick and mortar so there was none of gripping and yanking grit on walls that induced piles on your sweater when you leaned back, but there were the occasional embossed trademark and architectural credit just at foot-level, which you may be inclined to scuff your heels on if you had no space to turn your head to look. So Jolene was walking sideways towards his right, tiptoed at times, head pointed over his right shoulder. It was a short walk, really, the fastest way to get to work while avoiding the pedestrian walkways that dipped and curled over flat hover-only streets.
There was someone walking about ten meters ahead of him. The buildings were tall enough and the sunlight was angled enough at this hour that the only source of light came from the front, a bright blue-white slit like a piece of glass turned to its side. The person in front of Jolene was just a silhouette, and the light was bright enough to wash out the silhouette at the edges and render the person into a dark undulating wisp. Jolene was not in a hurry, so he did not have to worry about having to pass the person up ahead. Work was easy, and the hours of American days were long and languid, and the sun would still be up when work was over and Jolene would trek home on another path with unspoken directionality.
However, a few minutes into the walk, the silhouette began to fatten and achieve certain definition. Jolene realized that the person had stopped. He continued his splayed walk, head registering forward, body registering sideways, until he was a mere three meters away from the body ahead.
"Ho, there," Jolene called, "Why have you stopped? Is there something troubling you?" The silhouette did not make any gesture to communicate. Jolene edged closer. "I am in no hurry, friend, but there may be others who are in the path we were taking. Let us be considerate and continue on."
By now, Jolene was close enough that if he wanted, he could straighten his right arm from its crooked lizard bend and touch the body. The sunlight ahead still washed out the color of the clothes attached to the body, but the person was no longer a thick hair on the rotated horizon. Jolene could make out fuzz on the shoulders of what looked like a long sweater, and the glint of buckle on the side of the pants, and pale hair that curled around the ears like a seashell. He could not make out the person's face, since it was turned towards the same direction his was facing.
The body spoke. "I'm sorry," the body said. "I think my network charge is malfunctioning. I feel a numb tingling in my legs. It feels as if my leg hairs are bending over and inward and are softly piercing my skin." Jolene then noticed that the person's left hand, held aloft slightly lower than his eye-level, was rubbing its fingers together furiously. No doubt the other hand was doing the same, desperately trying to correct an imbalanced network charge by forcing it into overdrive.
Jolene felt bad for the person. "I'm sorry to hear that. How long ago did you stir up the network charge this morning?"
"Only an hour or so has passed. I charged up at my usual time, and proceeded with my day at my usual pace."
"Did you experience anything unusual as you were charging up? I know I have had days where the charge up has failed me, it's not an uncommon occurrence."
"No. I have never failed to bind my personal network."
At this Jolene took pause. Although it was uncommon to fail to create a network charge half the time one tried, it was even more unusual to succeed every time. A person's mood varied from day to day, the weather changed, and the body reacts quietly and without warning to changes in its environment. A sound of a glass that slipped and fell from the loose grip of an acquaintance’s hand, shattering on your hardwood floor, could affect you weeks later. You could have dreamt of its demise last night, tossed and turned, unnerved by the invisible speckles of glass that lay undiscovered and ominously passive on the floor of your apartment, and woke up in complete ignorance and practiced forgiveness of your acquaintance’s loose grip. However, as soon as you tried to come in contact with your network charge...
"I admire your success in the matter," Jolene continued carefully, "But it is not unusual to have a malfunctioning network charge and remain unaware. Perhaps you pressed upon your eyes with too much force this morning. And that invoked the memory of some forgotten dream where your legs were fish legs."
At this the person laughed. It was not an unpleasant laugh. "Perhaps you're right. I'm just not accustomed to feeling my legs this way outside of a controlled environment. My movements are always precise. They promised me that when I was born."
"The world. The world collectively gathered up all its knowledge and put an effort into my birth and upbringing. They said, your movements will be careful and precise. Love will come to you freely and in the most genuine forms. Keep your heart open and your mind clean. They said, we offer you the best education, a hundred-thousand years in the making. There is no need to move your hands in that way, to rock your body in that way. No more sitting cross-legged. No more shaking out of fear."
"They did not lie. Even now our movements are like clockwork. We do not know if we are going forward, but we are always heading towards the sun."
"Yes. The sun rotates and we rotate with it. Our faces are always upturned towards the light, like little green potted leaves."
"So you must not be in shock when an unexpected feeling comes over you. Rotation seems to be such a stable thing. A dreidel is unstable until its top is pinched and the fingers rub a spin into it. It does not stop until you blow on it or the table rocks. But that slight bump of a hip to the table, that slight force you calculate into your breath... That force will attach to the rotation, and even though you are pinned to the light as a kite to the spool, a wobble may wash over you like an earthquake."
A hitch in the throat echoed between the two buildings. What was at the top of the buildings? More apartments, more offices, a few restaurants. Every person traveled vertically up and down every day. There were no one-story buildings anymore. Every person traveled vertically every day, like a fish expanding and releasing its air sac to sink to the bottom of an ocean dune.
Jolene heard distant shuffling to his left, the sound of someone else coming up on the narrow path. He hurriedly said, "Listen, friend, we must continue. We may cause an inconvenience to those that wish to continue on the path. Don't be afraid of what you have forgotten. There is still a residue of human doubt in this day and age. We all experience doubt, when the confidence in others fail us, when the social nature of our biology overtakes these thin attempts at social sobriety. We all feel shame in poor decisions. Memories of passing remarks make us flush at the wrong moments. But we are human, and we can rotate every which way on our personal axis. We are lightly pinned, but we are not stuck on a stake."
The person abruptly exclaimed, "I wish I could kiss you!" Jolene flushed. A film slipped over his eyes like liquid poured from a thimble and his dormant personal network notified him of his upcoming days off of work. "Well, then, how about a date this Sunday?" he boldly spoke. When the person began to shuffle toward the light, Jolene took this as confirmation. He became aware only then that he had been on his toes the entire time.