Sample: Chapter One
Cruel mocking words.
I have tried to approach you as I might a lover, but always you rebuke me.
I have tried to treat you as a trusted friend, but have come to trust only in your indifference.
I have tried simple honesty, but you weave for me a tangled web of deceit.
I have tried indirection and subterfuge myself, but you feign ignorance and render me impotent.
What am I to do?
Why do I always return?
What manner of chimera are you?
What awesome power is Yours that we, we who live in the very valley in the shadow of death, even we cannot look at You directly.
The end was nigh; the Earth was transforming itself through fire.
The world beyond the clear shell of Margaret’s vehicle was a gray mass. The air inside it was thick with dust. Margaret could see at all only because lightning snapped incessantly.
The soil beneath Margaret’s car bucked up and down. It seethed with energy and expanded outward. For a brief moment, she and the car were lifted into the air, riding like a boat on an ocean of frothing earth.
But the car lost its buoyancy and sank. Margaret must have known that she was descending into the abyss. The soil shrieked and hissed around the protective shell. Margaret lay on the floor, hands clenched before her mouth, eyes shut tight, lungs chocking on the dust.
“We believe in God above us, maker and sustainer of all life, of sun and moon, of water and earth, of all humanity. We believe in God beside us, the Word made flesh. We believe in God within us, Holy Spirit, life-giving breath, the spirit of healing and forgiveness, source of resurrection and of life everlasting. Amen.” Margaret gasped out this supplication between hacking convulsions.
Time did not pause as Margaret asked the Universe to note her passing. The vehicle’s clear shell and layers of muscles were being etched apart by a hot swirling wind of finely pulverized rock. A current in the eddies of flowing grit pulled her down.
A white hot bubble approached Margaret’s prostrate body, still miraculously alive inside the remains of the car. The swirling earth disappeared into the propagating wave-front without causing the slightest variation in the liquid surface. Margaret’s eyes could see an iridescent membrane, one slippery enough to travel through solid rock. As it came closer, she could see herself reflected in the surface of a perfect mirror.
Margaret was a young child asleep in an apple orchard. The day was still fresh and cool. She slept on her blanket in the shade of an apple tree. Voices could be heard in the distance, her father’s included.
Margaret’s dreams were gentle and carefree. In her mind’s eye she could see a puzzle from her day care center. In the puzzle, green rubber pieces fit into corresponding shapes that were cut out of a sheet of black rubber.
Abruptly, this peaceful image was transformed into a frightful one. Flames leapt from the black sheet. The flames came from the portholes of a ship that floated on a black sea. People ran about on the ship’s deck. The only light was the orange light of fire and it danced wickedly. Margaret was in a life boat surrounded by strange people. Gantries lowered the boat onto the black sea where it drifted away from the burning ship on gentle swells.
Still dreaming, Margaret struggled to recreate the peaceful image of the puzzle from the day care center. Margaret thought she could see the puzzle for a moment but could not hold onto the image. Her vision dove into the black rubber and returned through it to the scene of fire reflecting off of black water.
The ship was listing heavily now toward its bow. With the awkwardness of a horse kneeling on its front legs, the bow of the ship sank lower and lower into the calm swells. Slowly, rudder and propeller were lifted out of the ocean. Flames now came only from one portal on the stern. Soon, this last beacon was extinguished as the ship slipped into the water’s dark folds. No light shone anywhere.
Margaret was awakened by a jerk that lifted her head into the air. She wanted to scream but could not. She was suffocating but could not even choke. It felt as though her neck was being pulled through her mouth. Margaret lost consciousness before she could even wonder what was taking place.
Later, Margaret awoke at home with a plastic hospital identification band around her tiny wrist and a sore throat. The story of that day would be retold again and again.
As Margaret slept, a snake had been attracted to her warmth. Margaret must have been sleeping with her mouth open because the snake had slipped into it and then down into her esophagus. The snake could not back up and both child and snake were suffocating.
Margaret’s father, John, returned to find his daughter’s tiny body clenched in a spasm and the tail of the snake whipping around her head. Thinking that the snake was biting Margaret, John reflexively grabbed it. When Margaret’s head was lifted up by the snake he could see that it was coming from her mouth.
“Once I began pulling and it started to come out, I really started to, well, you know, freak out. I didn’t know what was going on. I might have let go, but the snake gripped onto my hand with it’s coils and I was pretty much just flailing around. But I must have been doing something right, cause eventually the serpent came out and, I tell you what, it was hissing.”
“No!” exclaimed Jason’s mother, Kathy, “How dreadful. What happened then?”
“Well, I threw the snake and it hit the ground and it reared back, like, holding its head way up high. It stayed that way for a while, like it was stunned too, and then it slithered off, backwards.”
“No. Backwards. Really?”
“It really was,” said John. “Margaret had turned blue and was gasping like a fish out of water.”
“Did you give her mouth-to-mouth,” asked Mark, Jason’s father.
“Well, I probably should have, but my first reaction was to jump in my truck and drive her to the hospital. The whole thing happened so fast that I just couldn’t think straight. Fortunately, Margaret was crying even before we got into the truck, so I had an idea that she was okay.”
“This story really gets almost funny when you got to the hospital,” interjected Margaret’s mother, Judith. “Tell them what happened next.”
“Well, then I went running into the emergency room. I had Margaret around my neck in a bear hug and I was almost suffocating myself. I tried to explain what had happened but I was trying to speak so fast that they couldn’t tell if it was me or Maggie who had been choking. The nurse sat us down on one of those portable beds to try to figure out what was wrong with us.”
John turned his attention towards Margaret and continued, “Before I knew what was happening the nurse came at you to put a tongue depressor in your mouth and you started screaming like crazy all over again.”
Margaret resisted her father’s implicit invitation to join the narrative.
She did not like this story—the humor was somehow lost on her—and she no longer wanted to be the center of attention; she’d been on display enough that day with the graduation ceremony. Besides, Margaret thought to herself, Jason’s parents, Kathy and Mark, must have already heard this story; the two families had, after all, known one another for the last year. Margaret and Jason had been going out for their last year of high school and now both families were out to dinner to celebrate their graduation.
“Oh dad, I’m sure everybody has heard this story already.”
“Oh no, we haven’t,” corrected Kathy. “What happened then?”
“Well, I finally managed to get out what happened about the time that a doctor showed up. He was completely calm about the whole thing. It was like it happened twice a day. He pointed out that Maggie’s breathing clearly was no longer obstructed—you were still screaming. There wasn’t even any swelling in her mouth, let alone signs of snake bite or poisoning, not that there are any poisonous snakes around here. After it was clear she was okay, the doctor gave Maggie something to calm her down because the poor girl was just so worked up.”
“Tell them the whole story,” broke in Judith, her voice rising with mirth. “He gave you a tranquilizer too. The nurse called me and when I showed up, you were both sleeping it off.”
“It must have been a reaction to the excitement, I just collapsed.”
Margaret had heard this story so many times that she could have recited it word for word. Her only independent memory of the event was the dream about the ship and, after so many years, even this had become confused and clouded with doubt. At this point, Margaret just wanted to be free of her family’s mythic stories.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Margaret announced and rose without ceremony.
“Now honey, don’t be upset,” Judith said, seeing her daughter’s annoyance. “There is nothing to be embarrassed about. You were just a little girl at the time. We just want everyone to know that you are our little miracle.” Margaret somehow managed to contain her indignation as she escaped to the welcome anonymity of a public bathroom.
Judith’s talk of miracles referred not only to the snake, she also referred to Margaret’s birth. Thinking themselves unable to conceive and possessed of uncommon charity, Margaret’s parents had been the adoptive parents of more than a handful of orphaned and handicapped children. Margaret had come relatively late in life. A reward, Judith was wont to say, for their life of sacrifice.
“What an incredible story,” said Kathy after Margaret left. “I mean…a snake…”
“Yes it is,” responded John. “We still have the wrist band that the hospital put on Maggie. I don’t think they use them anymore, those bands, but what else is new.”
“It’s funny Maggie never told me about this before,” said Jason. “How many people fight with snakes and live to talk about it? I’ll have to tell everyone about it at Nancy’s tonight.”
“Oh, don’t do that honey. Somehow I don’t think Maggie would like it,” admonished Kathy.
“Are Nancy’s parents going to be there the whole evening? I, mean, cams are one thing, but someone actually there is another,” said Judith. “Oh sure,” responded Jason. “Kit and Larry are cool. They’ve got a pool table and two big Rottweilers.” As soon as Jason let the words out of his mouth he knew that he had made a mistake. Judith had a problem with dogs. Trying to extricate himself, he rambled on about who’s equipment was going to render the event in real time 3-dimensional video, which kids would probably be there, and the incidents that occurred behind the scenes at the graduation. Jason could not help but notice the severe glance which Judith cast John after the slip-up.
“Well, Margaret,” said Judith, enunciating Margaret’s name when she returned to the table, “Jason was just telling us about the Pierson’s delightful animals. Is this party,” she placed special emphasis on the word, “safe?”
Margaret quickly ascertained that Jason let something slip about the dogs and gave him a kick under the table as she settled into her seat.
“Oh mom, would you relax. Of course it is ‘safe.’ They are the friendliest dogs you could ever meet. They don’t know they look terrifying.” On any other day Margaret would have tried to do more damage control. But today was her day, she could not help but goad her mother a little.
“I don’t know if I like this idea anymore. Maybe we have to reconsider this midnight curfew.” Judith was also having difficulty restraining herself.
“Oh, come on Judy,” said John. “Let them go in peace. You forget yourself. They’ve graduated from high school today and now we have to let them rely on their own judgment. We know that Margaret and Jason are good kids, don’t we there,” John said, putting an arm around Judith’s shoulders and giving her a squeeze.
“Thank you dad,” Margaret said, getting up again and dragging Jason with her. “We’re going to be just fine. We won’t do anything crazier than you ever did.” Margaret and Jason left their parents feeling slightly tousled by the wind of freedom blowing through all of their lives.
Margaret was skipping on air as she and Jason escaped into the parking lot. The sun was going down and the late spring air felt warm and soft. An astute observer would have noticed that Margaret’s feet did not quite touch the ground. The swishing back and forth of her legs was all it took to levitate her elated spirit.
Margaret and Jason came together in an exuberant jumble of arms and lips against the smooth shell of Jason’s parents’ car, causing it to jiggle slightly. “I can’t believe her,” Margaret said. “What is she going to worry about when I’m off at school? And you! Why did you have to mention the dogs?”
“I don’t know. It just slipped out. You can’t expect me to catch everything around your mom.”
“Don’t I know it! I am so looking forward to getting out of here.” Margaret said, slamming the car door for emphasis.
By now, the tread on the bottom of the car had firmed up and it no longer jiggled. Beneath the vehicle was the latest in Hydradrive technology. A bed of artificial muscle-fibers controlled a layer of high-pressure bubble wrap that made contact with the road. The muscle-fibers were arranged in vertical and horizontal layers. The vertically oriented fibers created waves which, like drumming fingers, maintained contact with and conformed to the road surface; the horizontally oriented fibers pulled forward and back and side to side to propel the car in any direction. A fuel cell was incorporated into the muscles to supply them with electrochemical energy. Bending the fuel cell pumped fuel and oxidizer through it. At high speeds, the so-called “muscle” cars traveled in clumps to reduce wind resistance. Tough contact pads around the exterior allowed them to rub together. On smooth roads they could exceed one hundred and twenty kilometers per hour; rough surfaces reduced the top speed and increased energy consumption. The cars were also designed to travel at more than three hundred kilometers per hour on the new ice rails. The ice rails were modular plastic tubes, supported from beneath by a bed of sand. Channels in the plastic collected condensation and rain and fed it onto the interior floor. There, the water was turned into ice by solid-state heat pumps. These pumps used electrons to move heat without moving mechanical parts. The heat pumps made the ice and also cooled super-conducting wires embedded in the floor below the ice. The ice insulated the wires and carried some of the weight of the vehicles, relieving the material from having to support the entire load. The wires interacted with magnets on the bottom of the cars to create linear electric motors. There were low friction surfaces other than ice which could have been used, but the ice was inexpensive and the movement of the cars over the ice continually smoothed the rails. This avoided the expense of having to keep the drive surface in precise alignment.
The muscle cars’ inexpensive cost, ability to handle damaged roads and thick traffic, and integration with the ice rails promised to retire the remaining fleet of wheeled vehicles in less than three years. Margaret’s parents did not yet have a Hydra, so the ride was still a novelty for her.
Margaret and Jason were traveling slowly out of town and Margaret was standing with her upper body through the open sunroof—something their parents would not have allowed. She did not notice that Jason was being unusually quiet until traffic brought them to a stop at an intersection. Sitting down she said, “Hey, what’s the matter? Why so glum down here?”
“‘What’s the matter?’ The matter is that you’re just looking forward to getting out of here. It’s like you’re not even leaving me.”
“Now wait a minute. I’m not leaving you any more than you’re leaving me. We’re just going to different schools.”
“I could still go on-line. I don’t need to be there. I could come with you, instead.”
“Hey, I thought we’d talked about this already. You know, everyone wants to go for real. Living in a dorm? Living that old-style college life? It’ll be so much fun. You don’t want to give that up.”
“It’s like, you don’t care that we’re being separated. You only see freedom and I only see the pain.”
“Hey, that’s not true. It’s going to hurt, but it won’t automatically be the end of us.”
“But four years…”
“We’ll always be able to visit. And we’ll have the summers together. Just like this summer. Come on, we’ve got three months ahead of us. Let’s not spoil what we’ve got right now.”
“I know you’re right, but it still sucks. I’m going to miss you.”
“I’m going to miss you too.”
Jason paused for a moment before his mood visibly broke. “But what am I going to do? Mope away our summer? Let’s party!” Jason turned on the school’s radio station full volume. In one of those rare miracles, the DJ was perfectly in sync with their needs and had just cued up (for possibly the eleventh time that day) the end of school anthem, traditional since the late 20th century, “School’s Out.” With that, both Margaret and Jason stood up through the sunroof to sing and dance along with the simple lyrics. Just like Margaret, the car scarcely touched the ground as it glided quietly over the roads to Nancy’s house.
Margaret and Nancy had been friends since the beginning of their sophomore year at Hanover High School. Nancy was also the first friend Margaret met at Hanover.
Margaret’s parents brought her to Hanover from their home town of Hartland because Hartland had a grade school but no high school. Because it did not have its own high school, the Town would pay the tuition of any public high school in the state. Most of the other kids home schooled or went to the schools that were closest to their end of town. Margaret’s parents sent her further away because Hanover, dominated as it was by Dartmouth College, was considered to be a good school with relatively well paid and well respected teachers.
John and Judith would have preferred to have sent Margaret to a parochial school. This desire, however, was not realized because they could not, initially at least, afford to board Margaret away from home. Margaret’s parents, well educated in their own right, had chosen a life style and vocations which, while keeping them comfortable, did not make them wealthy. John called himself an arborist, maintaining a few orchards and tree farms for other people, but primarily he grew weeds for carbon sequestration. Judith had been almost entirely occupied with the care of the children they adopted before Margaret’s miraculous birth. Their last two, Larry and Doug, moved out of the house when Margaret reached the sixth grade.
After more than twenty years of child care, Judith was free to take a full time administrative position at the local branch of their church—a rapidly growing Christian denomination which attracted a highly spiritual and sometimes ecstatic flock. The pay was minimal, but jobs were hard to find and Judith found the work relaxing compared to the rigors of child care. Judith’s drive would propel her quickly through the ranks of the church’s administrative bureaucracy. By the time Margaret graduated from high school, Judith would be among the higher ranks of the lay organization. With Judith’s eventual success they could have afforded to send Margaret away to school, though, by that time, it would no longer be such an issue.
In keeping with their religious beliefs, John and Judith led a quiet but busy life. They did not drink or smoke and they felt that screen time was a bad influence. They had retinal projectors, but only watched church sanctioned programming. In addition to two or three church events every month and the activities of their children, they also had a large garden and an old house to take care of. John did not let any weeds grow in his own yard. Part of a rapidly shrinking minority, they read in what little leisure time they had left. Judith read The Good Book, Reader’s Digest, and Christian home and garden magazines. John read The Good Book, but he also liked military histories. Judith did not like John’s “war books,” as she called them, but she did not mind so long as Margaret did not show any interest. Fiction was tolerated for Margaret, but Judith would disapprove if she found Margaret reading material that conflicted with their world view. In grade school Margaret had not known this to be a problem. She had been happy to read what Judith quietly steered her toward. Margaret did not know the vast size of the body of literature and it seemed only natural that nothing she read conflicted with the moral world in which she was steeped. John and Judith had been largely successful in shielding Margaret from the excesses they saw in the world around them.
Perhaps as a consequence, when Margaret went to Hanover High she was thoroughly intimidated by the apparent sophistication of her new classmates. They talked about going to parties at Dartmouth like they were college students themselves. Friendships and cliques had already developed in the primary and middle schools which supplied most of the students to the school; consequently, there were few opportunities for someone as shy as Margaret to make new friends.
Without anywhere else to go, Margaret retreated to the school’s library in her free time. Few other students voluntarily entered this neglected part of the school so she had it largely to herself. When she first walked into the library, Margaret was amazed by the number of books. There were three entire floors that contained nothing but row after row of books. As she walked through the stacks, the lights coming on automatically around her, she would pick out books and read random passages. Early in her explorations she found a textbook on evolution, a topic that Margaret recognized as one her mother did not approve of, though the Church was officially neutral.
Margaret felt both curious and wicked for having found an entire book devoted to the topic. She leafed through it expecting to find the source of her mother’s discontent clearly enunciated. The text only came close in the introduction where it asked the question, “What is evolutionary progress?” Margaret expected the text to describe ascendance toward humanity. Her mother, she knew, objected to placing humans, not God, at the top of the list of Creation.
Instead, the text started with the statement that life uses free energy to maintain an ordered state that is not in equilibrium. Equilibrium was defined as increasing disorder—when the system occupies an increasing number of states and when the components of the system have an equal probability of being in any one of the available states. Systems move toward equilibrium—increasing disorder—unless they use energy to stay at some “distance” from it, distance being a function of the order within the system. Somewhat in the same way that a refrigerator uses energy to keep its interior cold while heating up its surroundings, life uses energy to maintain its internal order while it increases the disorder in the external environment.
The introductory chapter went on to discuss the development of genetic life. Margaret learned that the early rivers, lakes, seas, and oceans contained a thin soup of organic compounds. Some of these compounds—primarily nucleic acids—were enzymes—organic catalysts—that accelerated the formation of other nucleic acids. Some of these nucleic acids reproduced copies of themselves by simply absorbing matching material from the environment and then breaking into pieces, the new pieces going on to do the same. Energy might be involved in breaking apart the halves, but otherwise the products and the precursors were at the same energy level. Other nucleic acids had a longer reproductive process in which precursor compounds were joined together to form other compounds which then reproduced the original. These processes could exploit more compounds in the environment and, through conversion of free energy, generate products with a higher energy level than the precursors. Initially, this stored energy came from the still cooling planet; a short time later, it came from the sun as well. These more complex networks of nucleic acids could release some of their stored energy to perform work. This work would, ideally, further more or faster reproduction or might carry the creature through a period of deprivation.
Millions of years saw the development of diverse reproductive agglomerations. Most developed protective coverings—early cells—while those that did not would later be known as viruses. Some developed the ability to consume or live symbiotically with or in others. Competition for scarce resources created pressure to reduce the minimum amount of raw material that was required to maintain reproduction. This pressure reduced the material to pared down, tightly organized, even elegant double helix assemblies of nucleic acids protected inside a variety of cell like bodies. Anaerobic cyanobacteria would emerge as the dominant form of life. Anaerobic bacteria, however, was in turn displaced by oxygen producing aerobic bacteria. These early plants converted sunlight into carbohydrates more efficiently, but their waste oxygen poisoned the anaerobic bacteria. The change in the relative abundance of oxygen and carbon dioxide set the stage for more temperate global weather patterns. From there, the evolution of genetic life proceeded along the four evolutionary branches: eubacteria, archaea, eukaryotes, and viruses. The common thread throughout was that living reproductive entities store energy in internal order, while they increase the disorder around themselves.
At the end of the introduction the text returned to the question, “What is evolutionary progress?” Progression toward humanity was explicitly disclaimed as the end state. Evolutionary progress could only be defined as the survival over time of a reproductive entity in the context of scarcity and competition for resources. Humanity was significant, the text remarked, because humanity’s socially constructed language was relatively efficient at storing energy. It could, using relatively little energy, reproduce and change itself much faster than the genetic and chemical energy storage languages in which it originated. Other creatures also developed socially constructed language, but they were in the earlier stages of development or, like the whales, did not have hands or other flexible ways to exchange matter and energy with the external environment—a key to the development of complex language. The success of humanity could be measured by the increase in its internal order and consumption of energy and by the increase in disorder external to it. Given a finite planet, humanity first began to confront this externalized disorder in the late 20th Century, though they did not take any serious measures until the 21st Century.
Though she did not yet understand everything she read, the text gripped Margaret. She thought better of bringing it up with her parents and, being unfamiliar with her classmates and their social milieu, she also did not pursue the topic with her peers. Instead she poured through it again and again by herself, sifting meaning from the words.
Still in the early weeks of school, Margaret’s first year English class was learning about the way the library was organized and how to use the reference materials. It was interesting for Margaret because prior to this time it had not occurred to her that antique libraries of wood fiber books were organized in a way related to the technological limitations of paper. By this time, retinal projectors had eliminated most printing. What little that remained was done with electric ink on re-useable paper substitutes and even then it was augmented with projectors. A printed piece of “paper,” for example, might contain a coded network address; the viewer’s projectors would detect the address, access data at the indicated location, process it, and overlay the resulting image onto the piece of paper, another object in the scene, or, if the viewer could afford it, the viewer’s entire field of view.
While touring the periodicals with her class, retinal projectors on, Margaret found herself embarrassed by the sexual character of so many of the unfamiliar magazines. It seemed as though there were at least fifty titles devoted to entertaining or making oneself attractive. Even before she had gone through puberty, Margaret had followed her mother’s example of trying to minimize her sexuality. Margaret walked down the row of gaudy magazines, the covers shifting and flashing in a bid for attention. Out of this chaos, what drew her eye was a scene of a starry sky slowly rotating against a black background. Margaret picked up the magazine, thinking that it might be for Christians.
Instead, Margaret found herself looking at a scientific periodical whose lead article seemed to be discussing nothing less than the age of the Universe. Her interest piqued by her studies about the development of genetic life, Margaret looked into the starry sky—which now surrounded her—and at the magazine’s section titles, ‘Advances in neutrino communication,’ ‘Possible identification of further sources for the missing dark matter,’ and ‘The fractal scale of the Universe’s foamy lattice structure.’ As with the evolution text, the biblical interpretation of the age of the Universe was entirely absent. Strange and complex formulas were illustrated with examples drawn from the heavens and scene’s from automated laboratories. Though it was largely incomprehensible, Margaret’s mind heard a resonance with what she was learning from her studies about genetic life.
Later, after school, Margaret returned to the magazine and read as much as she could understand. Then she turned to the reference materials which they had also been introduced to on the library tour. Most of these had a surface of high-level fluff that lead too quickly to bewildering detail; intermediate material was lacking. Leaving these aside, Margaret turned to the stacks of books where librarians filed similar topics in physical proximity based on the Dewey decimal system. Here, Margaret found that serendipity was a more reliable companion than the directed searches offered by the electronic reference materials. It was here that Margaret chanced across a book titled, “Great Thinkers of the Western World”. In this book, various biographers summarized the lives and ideas of one hundred philosophers, scientists, and theologians. Margaret started with the first names she recognized, Plato and Aristotle.
Except for their names, the Greek philosophers were unknown to Margaret. She first read about Plato’s problem of recollection. Plato knew that humans can recollect experiences. Plato also observed, however, that humans can discover entirely new things—things which they had not known to even inquire about—simply through contemplation. Where, wondered Plato, did this new knowledge come from? Was it a recollection of something already present in the human body?
Plato solved this problem by believing that souls are in touch with a universe of immutable ideal forms. The soul knows all and knows it perfectly; it is the imperfect senses which create a world of transient and imperfect particulars. The soul, through contemplation, can recognize the ideal forms despite the fallible senses. Therefore, thought Plato, truth is best found through contemplation, not experience. The more universal something is, the more removed it is from the senses, the more true it is. People can see the true universals when reason controls the other two forces of the soul, spirit and desire. Because philosophers train reason to control their souls, said Plato, then philosophers should rule.
Margaret read at the end of the article that Saint Augustine believed that Plato’s ideal forms were the fundamental characteristic of the mind of God. This religious stamp of approval notwithstanding, Margaret made a conscious decision not to talk about her studies with her parents.
With her family’s busy schedule, Margaret had always been largely responsible for entertaining herself. Now Margaret discovered she could do so with her thoughts. Judith once found Margaret laying on her bed, fully clothed and in the dark, a full two hours before she usually went to sleep. Judith thought that Margaret had just fallen asleep on top of her covers; she was, in fact, wide awake, thinking.
This journal entry was typical: “Yesterday, I thought I got a glimpse of it. I was up to the usual, you know, considering my pet phrase, ‘Everything is relative,’ and its two meanings. One meaning is just the straightforward definition, that everything must be defined according to its context. The other meaning is that the phrase, itself, if it is true, contradicts itself—the phrase, if it is true, would never be relative to anything, it would always have the same meaning. I was thinking about these two meanings—I am always thinking about them—and wondering about the source of the contradiction. For a moment I swear I had the answer, the real answer, the true answer. It was like the air cleared and I was seeing the world fresh, for the first time. Each part described the whole, and the whole described each part. If I could only have held that pure thought in my lungs I would never have needed to breath again. But I put it down in words and they made no sense at all. The more I rearranged the words, the worse it became. Had I seen anything at all? Was I just deluding myself? I started to get depressed, but I realized that even if I hadn’t seen anything at all, I was no worse off than where I had been before and maybe, just maybe, I had seen something, so maybe I was getting somewhere. So I’ll keep trying.”
In her private studies, Margaret went on to learn that Aristotle was Plato’s student and that he went on to become Alexander the Great’s tutor. She was saddened to learn that after Alexander died, Aristotle was accused of being an atheist, was exiled from Athens, and died a year later, in 322 BC.
Aristotle, Margaret read, found meaning in the structure of argumentation. He placed great importance on the fact that the particular is deduced from the universal. The text went on to say that Aristotle accepted the idea of Plato’s universal forms but Aristotle believed that the particular was just as real as the general. Aristotle observed that Plato’s universal forms were the answer to the question, ‘what is it?’ when applied to a particular thing.
Aristotle went on to ask this question of “what” itself. What is “what”? What is the idea of “idea”? But the answer to this is circular, “what” can only be “what.” There is no greater generalization, no greater universal, to be found. “What” only has meaning when it refers to something else. For Aristotle, the universal is a potential that is only experienced when it becomes an actuality. Aristotle understood that everything contains both the potential and the actual. The soul is a universal making an unfolding impression upon a particular body of matter. The soul and the body, the universal and the particular, cannot be separated from one another. The realization of potential in actual occurrences is a motion, a kinesis, common to all of existence.
Aristotle believed in a hierarchy of motion which started at the bottom with non-living things. Non-living things have the basic motion required for existence. Above the non-living are plants that can grow and reproduce, another layer of motion. Animals seek out food and so add to the hierarchy the ability to physically move from place to place. Humans, thought Aristotle, stand above all others as moral beings because humans could use reason to control their motion.
Margaret was learning that philosophy had, ever since the ancient Greeks, been concerned with the question of communication. What was communication? How could people talk to one another and understand each other? Words could not have fixed, singular, and immutable meanings (Plato’s ideal forms) for the simple reason that people often misunderstood one another, even when the meaning of the words appeared to be plain. Words appeared to be Aristotle’s creatures of the particular, of circumstance. But if meaning was completely malleable, subject to infinite variety of circumstance, how could any understanding take place at all? Perhaps Plato’s ideal forms had a role after all. This, it seemed to Margaret, was the tension at the heart of life.
By the end of her freshman year, Margaret’s journal entries indicated that she had fully grasped that living creatures are caught between two seemingly contradictory fundamentals, the universal and the particular, similarity and difference, relativity and the fixed reference, energy and matter. Living creatures try to isolate one fundamental from the other but the project is bound to fall short of the absolute goal. The fundamentals can only be experienced when found together, converting from one into the other. When isolation is approached, like the phrase “everything is relative,” the amount of meaning—the rate of conversion—is reduced. A perfect isolation of either fundamental would, therefore, be completely meaningless and unrecognizable.
The price for this knowledge was high, in part because Margaret had yet to discover how to effectively communicate her ideas. Margaret had successfully isolated herself from her peers at school and she was afraid to talk with her parents about such seemingly radical notions.
The resulting changes in Margaret did not go unnoticed. Judith saw that she never did anything of her own volition with other children. At church, Margaret participated with a minimum of communication and then it was always directed at adults and not toward her peers. Once, when Judith asked Margaret what she was thinking about, Margaret smiled and replied that she was thinking about thinking. Judith assumed Margaret was being flippant and banished her to her room.
Margaret finished her freshman year with good grades but a positive aversion to anything social. When instructed to find a summer job, Margaret found work at Hanover’s municipal library. Judith became friendly with the librarians and learned that they, too, never observed Margaret with any friends her age.
In August, Judith found Margaret talking to herself in her room. “When I look at this,” Margaret was holding a souvenir snow globe, “It means a trip on the cog railway, but someone else looks at it and it means something different…”
“Hey, what’s going on in here,” asked Judith, walking into the room.
“Oh, hey mom. I’m just talking, recording some thoughts. You know.”
“No, I don’t. What kind of thoughts?”
“I’m just trying to understand things, everything, you know.”
“Everything? People can’t understand everything. Only God understands everything. What do you mean, you want to understand everything?”
“I don’t mean it like that. I mean, I don’t know, I’m just trying to understand what I can, it’s no big deal.”
“Margaret, Maggie, I’ll be honest with you. It is a big deal. Your behavior concerns me. I think you need to talk to someone, to someone who can help you sort things out. I’ve spoken with Pastor Sven. He’s willing to talk to you.”
“Mom,” Margaret began. She was afraid of the Pastor.
“Margaret,” interrupted her mother. “I won’t take no for an answer. It is a great honor and I want you to take it as such.” The Pastor’s large and growing flock meant he seldom had time anymore to minister to individuals. Most of his ministry was done in a group setting. The fact that Judith could arrange a personal meeting spoke volumes about Judith’s ascendance in the church.
By the time of their meeting, Margaret had read about many of the theologians in her “Great Thinkers” book. Their conversation was not recorded, but Pastor Sven would later record that he was surprised at the depth of their exchange. He concluded that Margaret’s problem was not spiritual. To the contrary, for someone her age she seemed excessively interested in truth, morality, and spirituality. Once, he might have been alarmed by Margaret’s intellectual curiosity. But now, perhaps after the mellowing influence of his own children and burgeoning public role, Pastor Sven just recommended that Margaret take chorus in her sophomore year at high school—it might encourage her to be social. Otherwise, he thought that she was just a very intelligent young woman who was going through an adjustment phase.
Margaret did recognize that she had a problem. Her self-imposed isolation had begun out of fear; fear of her classmates’ sophistication and fear of rejection. Through this isolation Margaret had discovered the rewards of a self-contained world of thought. But now she felt as though she understood the complexity of the world and the contradictory limits under which all life labors. By the end of the summer Margaret was feeling the compulsion to reach out to others. She found herself overcome by tears of gratitude at the kindness of a stranger. She felt a new compassion toward her parents and her mother’s devoted religiosity.
Judith was not entirely sure that Margaret only needed to enroll in chorus. She could sense, however, that her daughter was beginning to open up. Chorus it would be, for the time being, but if Margaret continued to talk to herself and not have any friends, additional steps would have to be taken.
In chorus, Margaret was assigned to share a music stand with Nancy. Nancy was a popular student; she was attractive and self-assured and she lived to organize events. She was involved in everything—soccer, swimming, chorus, and theater—and thought of herself as everyone’s friend. A few were jealous of Nancy’s popularity, one or two outright disliked her, but, in the rough democracy of adolescence, most were willing to accept her leadership. Margaret was nervous when she found herself sharing a music stand with Nancy.
Sensing Margaret’s disquietude, Nancy ducked down behind the music stand when the choir director paused to rehearse the basses over a difficult phrase. “Hi, my name is Nanc,” she said under her breath. “We haven’t met before. You must have just started chorus this year.”
Margaret was slightly taken aback by the formality of this introduction. Having overheard her classmates talk about playing tricks on one another, she would later admit that she was even a little suspicious. “Ah…yes,” replied Margaret, and froze.
“So what is your name,” asked Nancy after a short pause.
Margaret realized that she had not responded with her name after Nancy had introduced herself. She ducked down behind the music herself and said, “Oh…Margaret. I’m sorry, I’m just not thinking.”
“Oh?” Nancy first replied before she seemed to catch on. “Oh, don’t worry about it, the first day of chorus always makes me nervous too. So where do you live?”
Margaret groaned inwardly, feeling ashamed for coming from such a rural area. “You really don’t want to know…” Margaret began, but did not know where to go.
Fortunately Nancy pitched in, “Oh, of course I do. Why, I guess I want to know where everybody lives, so I ask all the people I meet. Some people, I might wait longer to ask them, but eventually I seem to ask most people this question.”
Margaret did not get the sense that Nancy was trying to act out an elaborate hoax concocted by a conspiracy of her classmates. She relaxed a little and responded, “Hartland.” Margaret expected Nancy to let out an involuntary gasp of horror or to be quiet with shame for having forced Margaret to admit such a fact.
Instead, Nancy responded, “Oh cool, I live out in the boonies too. I live out in Lyme. I think it is so cool to live out in the woods.”
Margaret did not live out in the woods. She lived in an old house in the center of town. “Yeah, well…” began Margaret. Her house was not dilapidated by any stretch of the imagination, but Margaret strongly suspected that it would not compare with Nancy’s. “I don’t exactly live in the woods.”
“Oh? I though everyone in Hartland lived in the woods.”
“I wish I did, but we live down in town. Most of my friends live on dirt roads in the woods. But then everyone always wanted to live somewhere with more going on. That’s why I’m really glad to be going here, even though I haven’t really met anyone yet.”
“Well, how can you when you spend all your time in the library?” asked Nancy, giving voice to a widely observed phenomenon.
“I can’t help it, I didn’t know that there was so much there. Besides, everyone already seems to know everyone else.” Margaret was already feeling more confident.
“Yeah, isn’t that the truth,” said Nancy with a thoughtful pause. “Almost too much so, at times. But now that we’ve got our own lockers, I think we’re doing a lot better.”
Margaret replied, “Wow, you didn’t have your own lockers before high school?”
“No,” said Nancy. “In Lyme they claimed we had to double up because there was some kind of wave of students, but we all knew it was mass punishment because our class was so rowdy.”
Margaret said, “I knew some boys at Hartland who found an empty locker where they kept beer.”
The situation with the locker came to a head when the three boys, the school’s three most rebellious, put a picture of a naked woman inside the door of “their” locker. Before long, they were standing around in the hall flashing the picture at everyone who walked by, including Margaret.
Naturally, all the commotion attracted the attention of a teacher. The boys, their locker, the picture, and the beer were discovered. The three received an in-school suspension. For the rest of the year, another three months, they had to spend all of their library time, time after school, and anytime they misbehaved, sitting in separate offices with the school’s administrative staff. They could delete emails, do homework, or sit without moving, their choice. The staff, entirely women apart from the principal, brooked no nonsense from anyone.
“I think Jeff and Spam probably have beer in their lockers right now,” said Nancy.
“Don’t the sniffers get them? Don’t they get in trouble?” asked Margaret.
The new friends were interrupted by the director bringing the whole choir to attention again. Later, when the tenors were being rehearsed, the girls continued.
“Are you going to take Ms. Whitney’s English Lit. class?” asked Nancy under her breath.
“I don’t know. Is she good?”
“Is she good? She is the greatest. I haven’t had a class with her yet but she’s also in charge of the Outback. She went to all the soccer games last year and is so cool. Everyone loves her. You should try to work on the ‘zine too.”
The director was done rehearsing the tenors and interrupted Nancy and Margaret’s conversation once again.
After chorus, Nancy insisted on taking Margaret to meet Ms. Whitney. Ms. Whitney was one of the younger teachers and Margaret did like her. She was happy to accept Ms. Whitney’s invitation to work on the student paper. Margaret would have to take time after school, but this was not a problem as she had no shortage of time. Margaret started doing layouts to get the ‘zine ready for posting.
After just one afternoon Ms. Whitney recognized that Margaret had a grasp of extremely profound issues—Margaret wanted to discuss how indexing related to Plato’s ideal forms—but she also recognized that Margaret needed to learn how to write and interact socially. Another two weeks of layouts and Ms. Whitney switched Margaret to the sports beat where she was forced to socialize and describe tangible events. By her senior year, Margaret had risen through the ranks to become student editor.
“When I drove to Nancy’s house that night,” Margaret would later record in her journal, “I could feel the curvature of the Earth. I could see its mass spinning through space and the magnetosphere leaving a turbulent wake in the ionic gas streaming off the sun. I was not just on top of the world, I was beyond it. Watching it from some blissful, peaceful, place.”
Driving to Nancy’s house with Jason, Margaret felt all powerful—a beneficent ruler of the Universe who granted the illusion of free will to her surroundings. The moon had just risen and still lingered above the horizon. It waited, shyly perhaps, for the sun to go down before completing its appearance. This coy behavior did not fool Margaret; she knew that the moon once had a fiery relationship with the Earth. It was a molten drop of the Earth’s crust knocked into space by the impact of an ancient meteor.
Margaret and Jason arrived to find about ten cars already parked along the road leading to Nancy’s house. Drew’s Volkswagen “Thing”—a real antique that had been converted by the shop class to be electric—was first in line and set the standard for everyone else to follow. The rest of the automobiles were a mixture of plain electric and the newer Hydradrive cars. A hand-me-down from his parents, Jim’s electric Subaru was parked behind the Thing, doubtlessly coming to a rest only moments after Drew. Squid had her mother’s Hydradrive Volvo—most of today’s graduates were still borrowing their parents’ vehicles. One car was a much anticipated graduation present, another was purchased with hard-won wages. One car was made available grudgingly, another was given willingly. One had to be returned by midnight, another could make it home two days later without even a questioning eyebrow raised. There were approximately six times as many kids at the party as there were cars. Most had carpooled or, for those that lived closer, taken their gingers.
Jason’s parents had made it clear that he should think about returning that night—they would not have to drive, after all—but they also told him that if he absolutely could not leave, then that would be his choice. Jason had stashed two sleeping bags in the car, though Margaret had no plan for what she would say to her parents if she did not make it home by midnight. Until this night her curfew had always been no later than ten o’clock.
The last of the red light of sunset was fading from the sky as Jason instructed the car to park at the end of the row of automobiles. The dirt drive was overhung by slender birch trees whose white bark glowed a delicate luminescent orange in the dim light. Through the lacy canopy of new leaves a few bright stars could be seen to shine in the sky’s darker corners. Close by, a brook gurgled and splashed out a drunk melody while bats swooped through the dusk air, collecting their airborne meal.
Nancy’s parents were the only ones who could hold a graduation party that any number of kids would actually show up at. They treated Nancy and her friends as though they were adults, though, still, the event was also going to be rendered in 3-D and broadcast live. The drum session might find a few hundred joiners, but, for the most part, the viewers would be parents. Two glasses of wine or two beers were allowed for the kids whose parents gave permission. Surprisingly, Margaret’s parents said okay, so she would not be left out.
Margaret and Jason held their mortar-boards to their heads as they ran up the drive to the house. Excitement shot through them like electricity. The pent up energy would have shattered their bones if they had stopped running. They could hear music and smell a bonfire as they skipped, flew, and tore up to the ground floor entrance.
The house was a heavy square built into the slope of a hill. The walls of the ground floor were field stones mortared with cement and buttressed by heavy wooden pilings. The pilings continued up to the main floor where massive lintels supported an equally heavy log cabin construction. Jason went up the hill and around the back side of the house to where the bonfire had been set while Margaret went in through the ground floor to look for Nancy.
The ground floor was essentially a large cellar with a double sliding door opening onto the driveway. A large wood and debris pile occupied almost a quarter of the space while the chemical furnace which burned this fuel hulked darkly against the back wall. The cellar was used to store the fuel and, in winter, heavy coats and muddy boots.
Margaret followed the sound of voices up the stairs to the kitchen. The main floor was decorated with odd pieces of old textile manufacturing equipment and several old wooden mannequins. The mannequins wore an assortment of shawls, hats, and shoes. Nancy’s mother, Kit, was an historian who worked for a large fashion company. As she explained it to Margaret, the company kept a record of the past so that it could be both repeated and avoided. Nancy’s father, Larry, prepared user guides for computer programs. He had been there earlier in the day for the graduation ceremony, but was already on the road doing another social media promotion.
“But I always know what I want to say when I’m writing. I just can’t get the words on the page to match the thoughts in my head.” Nancy was talking over her shoulder to her mother and a small group of graduates. Nancy was shelling Nulife shrimp in the sink while Kit and the students skewered more vegetables for the barbecue.
“All right, Margaret!” Nancy exclaimed, leaving the sink to give Margaret a hug, her shrimpy hands dangerously close to becoming entangled in Margaret’s long curly hair. “Congratulations to our valedictorian,” Nancy said, giving her cheek a kiss. “We’re just getting ready for a barbecue, grab a stick.” Nancy gestured to the team with the skewers and vegetables.
After a chorus of enthusiastic hellos and hugs from the skewering team, Margaret responded, “Oh thanks, but I had to go out with Jason and my folks already. That’s why we are so late in getting here. Can you believe that they made us go out to dinner with them?”
“If only my daughter were so good. The only way I can see her is by throwing a party for her friends,” Kit spoke with a tone of practiced resignation. “But I love her so much, no price is too high.”
“Oh thanks mom, insult my friends and embarrass me.”
“My long suffering child will be free sooner than I care to admit,” Kit said, approaching Nancy to pinch her cheek affectionately.
“Not soon enough!” retorted the indignant Nancy, fending off her mother.
“‘How sharper than a serpent’s tongue,’” quoted Kit, holding the back of a hand to her head in mock pain.
“I was saying,” Nancy said in an exaggerated tone, trying to talk over her laughing friends, “that even when I know what I want to say I can’t always get it down on paper that way. But you don’t have that problem, do you Maggie?”
“Sometimes. But usually the problem is that I don’t know what to say.”
“No way,” exclaimed Mark. Mark was on the imaging staff for the school’s paper and felt that he ought to know. “Margaret at a loss for words? A physical impossibility. You are words.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment, I think…”
The night unfolded quickly, though not quietly. Dancing started after the barbecue and drumming started not long after that. Conversation had died down, the night was cool and Margaret was huddled by the fire, staring into the glowing coals, her thoughts spinning after two unaccustomed glasses of wine. Soon she would have to make a decision about leaving the party. But not yet.
Margaret’s consciousness had slipped its moorings and only floated close to shore. Someone was speaking but Margaret could not marshal her attention enough to identify who it was. Her gaze was fixed on a point somewhere deep inside the fire; her mind was quiet and focused on nothing at all.
Everyone but Margaret was occupied with the drum session. They had an extensive collection of instruments to choose from. There were bongos, two banged up kettle drums, a hollow wooden box with resonant tongues cut in its sides, maracas, cymbals, steal drums, and even an old snare drum from a junior high marching band. The rhythm chased itself around the drumming circle, cyclically speeding up to a crescendo and then collapsing to a slow regular beat. Pairs developed over certain instruments and periodically people changed stations.
The tide of rhythm washed around Margaret. As it tumbled and turned, Margaret also felt herself spinning into space. Now she was the flow of ionic gas coming off of the sun. At first the flow was hot, rapid, and cohesive. All of the charged gas particles were moving outward at high speed. But as distance increased and the density of the gas decreased, the energy dissipated. In a moment turbulence was everywhere and the common direction of travel was harder to discern. The gas no longer flowed like a river; now it drifted slowly off into a vast spherical ocean beyond the bright perimeter of the sun’s hot exhale. Everything was dark and cold.
The drumming reached a final crescendo. Experimentation with new rhythms had reached a limit; each person was reduced to simply banging away as loud and as fast as possible. Following an unspoken cue, everyone came to a halt at the same moment. Slightly embarrassed by the chaos they had produced, everyone exchanged glances over the gulf of silence. The dim firelight danced furtively over their faces, revealing demons in the shadow of a jaw or behind a screen of eye-lashes.
The silence was broken by a loud pop which attracted everyone’s attention to the fire. As they looked, Margaret leaned heavily to one side. Springing to his feet, Jason reached Margaret just as she slumped completely over onto the ground.
Everyone crowded around. The demons were no longer in evidence, only concern reflected from their faces. Margaret stared blankly up into the sky, her eyes open but unfocused.
“Margaret, Margaret,” everyone called at once. “Give her some space,” said Jason.
Kit chose this moment to appear. “What is going on here?” she said, rushing up to the crowd of young adults.
“Oh mom,” said Nancy. “Margaret just fainted and Jason just caught her but I think she’s okay. You’re okay Margaret, aren’t you?”
Margaret was still reorienting to her surroundings and was surprised by the sudden change. “I think so,” she said weakly, staring off into space. With a shake she rubbed her eyes and tried to sit up.
Kit put a stop to Margaret’s efforts, “Well, here, Margaret, stay down. Kevin, put that log under her feet. Here, give me that coat to put over her. We’ll just keep your feet elevated for a second or two, Maggie, until you feel better. That’s the best thing to do if you’re feeling faint.”
Kit turned to her daughter and the rest of the onlookers and demanded, “Now what was going on out here?”
“Nothing mom. We were just drumming and Maggie was just sitting by the fire and then we all looked and she was falling over and Jason just got to her before she hit the ground.”
“But what was going on before that? Did she have too much to drink? Have you been doing anything else? Eyedrops?”
“No,” protested Nancy. “You’ve seen us the whole night. Everybody has. I don’t think Maggie’s even had two glasses of wine. You’re okay, aren’t you? Did you just faint or something?”
“I guess so,” Margaret said from the ground, a hand covering each eye.
“Maybe it was the fire,” supposed Jason, who was stroking the hair off of Margaret’s forehead. “You feel really hot.”
After a few moments of letting Margaret recover, Kit said, “Well, you poor thing. It must have given you quite a fright.” Kit could have been talking about her own heart’s rapid pounding. “But it is chilly out here. Do you feel well enough to go inside and lay down?”
Margaret said, “Oh, I think I’ll be okay.” Opening her eyes, she started to rise but then staggered and collapsed to the ground, her eyes and mouth wide open. Margaret sat on her knees, one hand cupped over an eye while the other reached out into space.
Jason and the others bent to inspect her. “Are you okay? What’s the matter?”
“I can’t see,” said Margaret plaintively and then again with panic rising in her voice.
“You can’t see? Did you get something in your eyes? The fire popped…” Jason said as he knelt in front of Margaret.
“No!” Margaret half howled, her eyes wide. “Where is the light? Bring me to the light.” Margaret was standing now, blindly using Jason as a support.
“Here, let’s bring you inside and check you out.” Kit only succeeded in keeping her voice calm because she was too confused to do anything else.
Margaret was encircled by her friends and practically carried into the house. “Here,” someone said, “here,” said another, “lets get her under this light.” They held Margaret before the only lamp which burned in the room.
Margaret’s mouth hung open and her face was ashen in the artificial light. All of them could see that her eyes looked whole and unharmed.
“No,” she said quietly. “No, I can’t see anything.” Margaret began to faint again. Her phalanx of friends held her up and laid her on the couch. Kit asked everyone to back up and give them some room. Everyone dispersed somewhat, leaving Jason and Kit to share the couch with Margaret.
Kit addressed the dark room and said, “Help, help. Emergency. I have a young woman who can’t see.”
An emergency operator immediately answered and formed a conference call with a doctor. Kit spoke with Margaret in her arms. “I have a young woman who fainted or something and now she can’t see.”
“Did she injure her eyes? Poke something in them,” asked the doctor.
“Oh, no. I don’t think so. Look at her eyes. You can see they look fine.”
“Let’s get one of those cameras in closer,” said the doctor. A flycam detached from the wall and came to land on a nearby lamppost.
“Margaret, did you get anything in your eyes?”
“No,” Margaret wailed, “I just can’t see.”
“Someone said she fainted. Did anyone see her strike her head?”
“No, no,” a chorus of “no’s” came from the group. Nancy piped above the others, “No, Jason got there and laid her down.”
“How about disorientation? Do you have a headache? Did you feel one before?”
“Were you dizzy before you fainted?”
“No, I don’t think I really fainted. I was just listening to the music and I think I sort of fell asleep, but I don’t remember.”
“You fell asleep. Hmm.” The doctor thought it might only be something in the eye but could not rule out the possibility of a ruptured blood vessel placing pressure on the optic nerve or brain. “Do you have a flat field nearby? Someplace to land a helicopter?”
Kit responded, “Yes, the top of our hill is clear. Do we need a helicopter?”
“It may not be necessary but we can see that your address is far away. Time may be of the essence. Now, quietly lay her down on the floor. Support her head as she lays down and prop it up a little higher than her body. Don’t prop her feet or cover her eyes.
Kit turned to Margaret and said, “Okay, honey, you’ve got to help me. Do you think you would mind laying down on the floor?”
Margaret responded automatically, shock was beginning to set in. “Good girl,” said Kit as Margaret began to lay down. “Take it nice and easy.”
By now, everyone was back out of the shadows and into the lamp’s pool of light. Kit addressed everyone, “Here, help Margaret lay down… Put something under her head.”
Nancy ran up with a richly embroidered wool blanket, borrowed from one of the mannequins,and tucked it under Margaret’s head. Margaret was, by now, breathing in short sobs.
Meanwhile the doctor asked, “Now, did anyone see anything?”
“She was sitting there just fine,” said Jason, “and then she started to lean over and I got to her just before she hit the ground and then she seemed okay but then she said she couldn’t see. You can see the 3-D yourself if you want.”
“Okay, okay. We’ll get someone to go over it right away. Now, young lady, I’ve got to ask you some questions that may seem basic, but I just need to see how you’re thinking, okay? Can you tell me what your name is?”
“Who, me,” asked Margaret.
“My name is Maggie.”
“Good,” said the doctor. “That sounds good. Now what day of the week is it?”
“Today is Wednesday, graduation day,” replied Margaret in between shaking breaths.
“Okay, now do you know where you are right now?”
“I’m at Nancy’s. Our graduation party.”
The tension had risen so high in the room that everyone let out a little nervous laughter when Margaret was able to answer these questions without any problem.
“You’re okay, aren’t you Maggie,” Jason asked in a plaintive voice. Kit said, “You saw, she knows what’s going on.”
“This is good,” replied the doctor, “it may not be so serious after all, but the helicopter is already on its way. Only for heaven’s sake stay clear of that too, we don’t want any more eye injuries.”
“Yes, of course. We have a bonfire burning by the house but the top of the hill is a safe distance up from there.”
“Good. The helicopter should be there in a few minutes. Now, do you think Margaret can talk with me until they get there?”
“Of course, but what can it be?”
“Well, it’s difficult to say if there really is no injury to the eyes. Maybe it could be a head injury.”
“But there isn’t any sign.”
“It could all be internal. Stroke or cerebral hemorrhage are possible, but unlikely because she’s young and sounds lucid. It would have to be unusually localized. It really is difficult to say. We have to take a conservative approach.”
In what seemed like an hour but was just a few minutes they could hear the thumping of a helicopter’s blades. A bright spotlight briefly lit up the back door and then swept up the hill to the flat area on its top.
The helicopter circled once and landed. Three EMT’s came out carrying a flat board and boxes of equipment. A contingent of students led them down to the house.
At first it was the same questions all over again. What had happened? Did she hit her head? Did she get something in her eyes? Was there any numbness, dizziness, or partial paralysis? Was she in pain? Were there other things that she could not do? Margaret sobbed and told them that she felt fine but just could not see. They inspected her eyes and looked her head over for injuries but did not find anything either. After bracing her neck with a collar and setting up an infrared scanner around her head, they slid Margaret onto the board and securely strapped her in place. The EMTs carefully carried Margaret up the hill to the waiting helicopter. They slid Margaret inside, jumped in themselves, and then were gone as quickly as they had come.
There is a kind of dye that is passed down active neural pathways, staining the path of information flow. When put in just one eye, the dye flows back through the neural circuitry of only that eye. The visual cortex is where the pathways for the two eyes merge to produce 3-dimensional stereo vision. Unfolding the visual cortex, it is possible to see how the stained and unstained pathways mix together. The result looks like a magnified picture of a fingerprint.