The Wild Man with a Barometer
Until today everything in life seemed to me clear (that is why, I think, I always had a sort of partiality toward the word “clear”), but today . . . I don’t understand. First, I really was assigned to auditorium 112, as she said, although the probability was 500 to 10,000,000 or 1:20,000. (Five hundred is the number of auditoriums and there are 10,000,000 Numbers.) And second . . . But let me relate things in proper order.
The auditorium: an enormous half-globe of glass with the sun piercing through. The circular rows of noble, globelike, closely shaven heads. With joy in my heart I looked around. I believe I was looking in the hope of seeing the rose-colored scythe, the dear lips of O- somewhere among the blue waves of the unifs. Then I saw extraordinarily white, sharp teeth like the . . . But no! Tonight at twenty-one o’clock O- was to come to me; therefore my desire to see her was quite natural. The bell. We stood up, sang the Hymn of the United State, and our clever phono-lecturer appeared on the platform with a sparkling golden loud-speaker.
“Respected Numbers, not so long ago our archaeologists dug up a book written in the twentieth century. In this book the ironical author tells about a Wild Man and a barometer. The Wild Man noticed that every time the barometer’s hand stopped on the word ‘rain,’ it actually rained. And as the Wild Man craved rain, he let out as much mercury as was necessary to put it at the level of the word ‘rain’ (on the screen a Wild Man with feathers, letting out the mercury. Laughter).
“You are laughing at him, but don’t you think the ‘European’ of that age deserves more to be laughed at? He, like the Wild Man, wanted rain — rain with a little ‘r,’ an algebraic rain; but he remained standing before the barometer like a wet hen. The Wild Man at least had more courage and energy and logic, although primitive logic. The Wild Man showed the ability to establish a connection between cause and effect: by letting out the mercury he made the ﬁrst step on the path which . . .”
Here (I repeat, I am not concealing anything, I am setting down everything) I suddenly became impermeable to the quickening currents coming from the loud-speaker. I suddenly felt I had come here in vain (why in vain and how could I not have come here, since I was assigned to come here?) Everything seemed to me empty like a shell. I succeeded with difﬁculty in tuning my attention in again when the phono-lecturer came to the main theme of the evening — to our music as a mathematical composition (mathematics is the cause, music the effect). The phono- lecturer began the description of the recently invented musicometer.
“. . . By merely rotating this handle anyone is enabled to produce about three sonatas per hour. What difﬁculties our predecessors had in making music! They were able to compose only by bringing themselves to attacks of inspiration, an extinct form of epilepsy. Here you have an amusing illustration of their achievements: the music of Scriabin, twentieth century. This black box” —a curtain parted on the platform, and we saw an ancient instrument —“this box they called the ‘Royal Grand.’ They attached to this idea of regality, which also goes to prove how their music . . .”
And I don’t remember anything further. Very possibly because . . . I’ll tell you frankly, because she, I-330, came to the “Royal” box. Probably I was simply startled by her unexpected appearance on the platform.
She was dressed in a fantastic dress of the ancient time, a black dress closely ﬁtting the body, sharply delimiting the white of her shoulders and breasts, and that warm shadow waving with her breath between. . . . And the dazzling, almost angry teeth. A smile, a bite, directed downward. She took her seat; she began to play something wild, convulsive, loud like all their life then — not a shadow of rational mechanism. Of course all those around me were right; they were laughing. Only a few . . . But why is it that I, too, I . . .?
Yes, epilepsy, a mental disease, a pain. A slow, sweet pain, bite, and it goes deeper and becomes sharper. And then, slowly, sunshine—not our sunshine, not crystalline, bluish, and soft, coming through the glass bricks. No, a wild sunshine, rushing and burning, tearing everything into small bits. . . .
The Number at my left glanced at me and chuckled. I don’t know why but I remember exactly how a microscopic saliva bubble appeared on his lips and burst. That bubble brought me back to myself. I was again I.
Like all the other Numbers I heard now only the senseless, disorderly crackling of the chords. I laughed; I felt so light and simple. The gifted phono-lecturer represented to us only too well that wild epoch. And that was all.
With what a joy I listened afterward to our contemporary music. It was demonstrated to us at the end of the lecture for the sake of contrast. Crystalline, chromatic scales converging and diverging into endless series; and synthetic harmony of the formulae of Taylor and McLauren, wholesome, square, and massive like the “trousers of Pythagoras.” Sad melodies dying away in waving movements. The beautiful texture of the spectrum of planets, ‘ dissected by Frauenhofer lines . . . what magniﬁcent, what perfect regularity! How pitiful the willful music of the ancients, not limited except by the scope of their wild imaginations!
As usual, in good order, four abreast, all of us left the auditorium. The familiar double-curved ﬁgure passed swiftly by. I respectfully bowed.
Dear O- was to come in an hour. I felt agitated, agreeably and usefully. Home at last! I rushed to the house office, handed over to the controller on duty my pink ticket, and received a certiﬁcate permitting the use of the curtains. This right exists in our State only for the sexual days. Normally we live surrounded by transparent walls , which seem to be knitted of sparkling air; we live beneath the eyes of everyone, always bathed in light. We have nothing to conceal from one another; besides, this mode of living makes the difficult and exalted task of the Guardians much easier. Without it many bad things might happen. It is possible that the strange opaque dwellings of the ancients were responsible for their pitiful cellish psychology. “My (sic!) home is my fortress!” How did they manage to think such things?
At twenty-two o’clock I lowered the curtain and at the same second O- came in smiling, slightly out of breath. She extended to me her rosy lips and her pink ticket. I tore off the stub but I could not tear myself away from the rosy lips up to the last moment, twenty-two-ﬁfteen.
Then I showed her my diary and I talked; I think I talked very well on the beauty of a square, a cube, a straight line. At first she listened so charmingly, she was so rosy; then suddenly a tear appeared in her blue eyes, then another, and a third fell straight on the open page (page 7). The ink blurred; well, I shall have to copy it again.
“My dear O-, if only you, if . . .”
“What if? If what?”
Again the old lament about a child or perhaps something new regarding, regarding . . . the other one? Although it seems as though some . . . But that would be too absurd!