Monday, August 22, 2011

Look into this light. Now this light. Which is brighter? Which is sharper? Now what about this? Can you smell a sweet smell? Flowers? Can you identify which type? This is sample A, and this sample B. Can you tell me which came from a man, and which from a woman? How old was the woman? The colour of her hair? How long had it been since her last period when the sample was taken? Take these two rods. Which is warmer? The difference between these two rods is precisely two degrees Kelvin. Can you tell me now which is the warmer of these two rods? By how much? Make a guess. To the nearest thousandth of a degree, perhaps. Which of the rods is aluminium, and which steel?

Neither. The left is pure tungsten, the right copper-nickel.” No smell, no difference in the finish, both were hollow. I could tell, even so, the information rising unbidden from hidden pockets of my memory.

Very good. Now, take these two rods. Which contains an electric current? How many milliamps? Open your mouth. Which of these two drops contains ginger, and at what level of dilution? What does the voice on this recording say? How many, how much, which, where, when, who... the questions went on and on, my head stuck in one box, my arms in two others, each part of my body isolated and provided only the sensations I was to assess. Days, months, years later, the box was cracked open, and tidy young men helped me out. Alex was leaning against the wall, arms spread, drinking in the unsegmented sensations available even here in the sterile warehouse. I went over and joined her. Our eyes met for a moment. I think if either of the orderly orderlies had declared we had to go back in to make one last measurement, both of us would have clawed their eyes out.

James was pulled from his box last. Say what you like about him,1 but he can shake off just about anything. He walked over to us on legs that were quivering, but still a lot surer than mine.

Do you think we get dinner?” As he spoke, the two looked up from the work of packing away, and the shorter one spoke in an American accent.

We’ll bring it in to you as soon as possible.”

All three of us ate like wolves, or at least like the wolves of the ancient metaphor are reputed to eat. We probably shouldn’t have, with our stomachs empty for two weeks, but somehow we managed to stuff ourselves without the slightest problem. Perhaps it was another gift from the Professor, like the way I could hear the tiny little moans Alex made as she dug her teeth into a leg of roast chicken, and again later that evening when she was snuggling into her pillow in our little hospital ward.

It took me a long time to get to sleep.

1Please feel welcome to, I’m sure I’ll agree with most of it.

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