The Inﬁnitesimal of the Third Order
From Under the Forehead
Over the Railing
There in the strange corridor lighted by the dotted line of dim little electric lamps . . . or no, no, later, when we had already reached one of the nooks in the courtyard of the Ancient House, she had said, “Day after tomorrow.” That “day after tomorrow” is today. And everything seems to have wings and to fly; the day flies; and our Integral, too, already has wings. We ﬁnished placing the motor and tried it out today, without switching it in. What magnificent, powerful salvos! To me each A of them sounded like a salute in honor of her, the only one — in honor of today!
At the time of the ﬁrst explosion about a dozen loaﬁng Numbers from the docks stood near the main tube — and nothing was left of them save a few crumbs and a little soot. With pride I now write that this occurrence did not disturb the rhythm of our work for even a second. Not a man shrank. We and our lathes continued our rectilinear or curved motions with the same sparkling and polished precision as before, as if nothing had happened. As a matter of fact, what did happen? A dozen Numbers represent scarcely one hundred millionth part of the United State. For practical consideration, that is but an infinitesimal of the third order. Pity, a result of arithmetical ignorance, was known to the ancients; to us it seems absurd.
It also seems droll to me, that yesterday I was thinking, even relating in these pages about a gray blot! All that was only the “softening of the surface” which is normally as hard as diamond, like our walls. (There is an ancient saying: “Shooting beans at a stone wall . . .”) ‘
Sixteen o’clock. I did not go for the supplementary walk; who knows, she might come now, when the sun is so noisily bright?
I am almost the only one in this room. Through the walls full of sunshine I see for a distance to the right and to the left, and below strings of other rooms, repeating each other as if in a mirror, hanging in the air and empty. Only on the bluish stairway, striped by the golden ink of the sun, a thin, gray shadow is seen rising. Already I hear steps, and I see through the door, and I feel a smile pasted to my face like a plaster. But it passed to another stairway and down. The click of the switchboard! I threw myself to that little white slit and . . . an unfamiliar male Number! (A consonant means a male Number.)
The elevator groaned and stopped. A big, slovenly, slanting forehead stood before me, and the eyes . . . They impressed me strangely; it seemed as if the man talked with his eyes which were deep under the forehead.
“Here is a letter from her, for you.” (From under the awning of that forehead.) “She asked that everything . . . as requested in the letter . . . without fail.” This, too, from under the forehead, from under the awning, and he turned, looked about.
“No, there is nobody, nobody. Quickly! the letter!”
He put the letter in my hand and went out without a word.
A pink check fell out of the envelope. It was hers, her check! Her tender perfume! I felt like running to catch up with that wonderful under-the-forehead one. A tiny note followed the check from the envelope; three lines: “The check . . . Lower the curtains without fail, as if I were actually with you. It is necessary that they should think that I . . . I am very, very sorry.”
I tore the note into small bits. A glance at the mirror revealed my distorted, broken eyebrows. I took the check and was ready to do with it as I had done with the note. “She asked that everything . . . as requested in the letter . . without fail.” My arms weakened and the hands loosened. The check was back on the table. She is stronger than I, stronger than I. It seemed as if I were going to act as she wished. Besides . . . However, it is a long time before evening.
The check remained on the table. In the mirror — my distorted, broken eyebrows. Oh, why did I not have a doctor’s certiﬁcate for today? I should like to go and walk, walk without end around the Green Wall and then to fall on my bed . . . to the bottom of . . . Yet I had to go to Auditorium No. 13, and I should have to get hold of myself, so as to bear up for two hours! Two hours without motion, at a time when I wanted to scream and stamp my feet!
The lecture was on. It was very strange to hear from the sparkling tube of the phono-lecturer not the usual metallic voice but a soft, velvety, mossy one. It was a woman’s voice, and I seemed to have a vision of the woman: a little, hooklike old woman, like the one at the Ancient House.
The Ancient House! Suddenly from within me a powerful fountain of . . . I had to use all my strength to control myself, so as not to ﬁll the auditorium with screams. The soft, mossy words were piercing me, yet only empty words about children and child production reached my ear. I was like a photographic plate: everything was making its imprint with a strange, senseless precision on me; the golden scythe which was nothing more than the reflection of light from the loud-speaker of the lecture apparatus: under the loud-speaker a child, a living illustration. It was leaning toward the loud-speaker, a fold of its inﬁnitesimal unif in its mouth, its little ﬁst clenched ﬁrmly, its thumb squeezed into the ﬁst, a light fluffy pleat of skin at the wrist. Like a photographic plate I was taking in the impression of all this. Now I saw how its naked leg hung over the edge of the platform, the pink fan of its ﬁnger waved in the air. . . . One minute more, one second, and the, child would be on the floor!
A female’s scream, a wave of translucent wings, her unif on the platform! She caught the child, her lips clung to the ﬂuffy pleat of the baby’s wrist; she moved the child to the middle of the table and left the platform. The imprints were registering in me: a pink crescent of a mouth, the horns downward! Eyes like small blue saucers ﬁlled with liquid! It was O-90. And as if reading a consequential formula, I suddenly felt the necessity, the naturalness of that insigniﬁcant occurrence.
She sat down behind me, somewhat to my left. I looked back. She quietly removed her gaze from the table and the child and looked straight into me. Within again: she, I, the table on the platform — three points. And through those three points lines were drawn, a projection of some as-yet-unforeseen events!
Later I went home through the green dusky street, which seemed many-eyed because of the electric lights. I heard myself tick-tocking like a clock. And the hands of that clock seemed to be about to pass a ﬁgure: I was going to do something, something that would cut off every avenue of retreat. She wants somebody, whom I do not know, to think she is with me. I want her; what do I care what she wants? I do not want to be alone behind the curtains, and that is all there is to it!
From behind came sounds of a familiar gait, like splashing in a ditch. I did not need to look back, I knew it was S-. He would follow me to the very door, probably. Then he would stay below on the sidewalk, and he would try to drill upward into my room with his boring eyes, until the curtains would fall, concealing something criminal.
Was he my Guardian Angel? No! My decision was made.
When I came into my room and turned on the light, I could not believe my eyes! O-90 stood at my table, or, to be more exact, she was hanging like a creased empty dress. She seemed to have no tensity, no spring beneath the dress; her arms and legs were springless, her voice was hanging and springless.
“About my letter, did you receive it? Yes? I must know your answer, I must — today.”
I shrugged my shoulders. I enjoyed looking into her blue eyes which were ﬁlled with tears as if she were the guilty one. I lingered over my answer. With pleasure I pricked her:
“Answer? Well. . . You are right. Undoubtedly. In everything.” ‘
“Then . . .” (She tried to cover the minute tremor with a smile, but it did not escape me.) “Well, all right. I shall . . . I shall leave you at once.”
Yet she remained drooping over the table. Drooping eyelids, drooping arms and legs. The pink check of the other was still on the table. I quickly opened this manuscript, We, and with its pages I covered the check, trying to hide it from myself, rather than from O-.
“See, here, I am still busy writing. Already 101 pages! Something quite unexpected comes out in this writing.”
In a voice, in a shadow of a voice, “And do you remember . . . how the other day I . . . on the seventh page . . . and it dropped. . . .” –
The tiny blue saucers ﬁlled to the borders; silently! and rapidly the tears ran down her cheeks. And suddenly, like the dropping of the tears, rushing forth, words:
“I cannot . . . I shall leave you in a moment. I shall never again . . . and I don’t care. . . . Only I want, I must have a child! From yon! Give me a child and I will leave. I will!”
I saw she was trembling all over beneath her unif, and I felt . . . I, too, would soon . . . would . . . I put my hands behind my back and smiled.
“What? You desire to go under the Machine of the Well-Doer?”
Like a stream her words ran over the darn.
“I don’t care. I shall feel it for a while within me. I want to see, to see only once the little fold of skin here at the wrist, like that one on the table in the Auditorium. Only for one day!”
Three points: she, I, and a little ﬁst with a fluffy fold of skin there on the table!
I remember how once when I was a child they took me up on the Accumulating Tower. At the very tap I bent over the glass railing of an opening in the Tower. Below, people seemed like dots; my heart contracted sweetly. “What if . . .” On that occasion I only clenched my hands around the railing; now I jumped over.
“So you desire . . . being perfectly aware that . . .”
Her eyes were closed as if the sun were beating straight into her face. A wet, shining smile!
“Yes, yes! I want it!”
Quickly I took out the pink check of the other from under the manuscript and down I went to the controller on duty. O-90 caught my hand, screamed out something, but what it was I understood only later, when I returned.
She was sitting on the edge of the bed, hands ﬁrmly clasped about the knees.
“Is it, is it her check?”
“What does it matter? Well, it is hers, yes.”
Something cracked. It must have been the springs of the bed, for O-90 made a slight motion only. She remained sitting, her hands upon her knees.
“Well, quick . . .” I roughly pressed her hand. A red spot was left on her wrist (tomorrow it will become purple), where the ﬂuffy, infantile fold . . . I turned the switch; my thoughts went out with the light. Darkness, a spark, and I had jumped over the railing, down. . . .