to 5

    on the 5ives




As many as five Sheriffs would convene, my brother's cronies as he called them, newly obsessed by graphs. They graphed everything including their headaches and once made a model of the state capitol, plotting the movements of their fingers as they worked. The city was meticulously fashioned of white clay and included rivers and hills and streets, but no people. When I asked a busy Sheriff why, he grinned and waved me closer, withdrawing the roof of a building labeled Sensorium. The cramped interior contained a set of blackened elephant fangs. I looked up. Sheriffs of all ages surrounded me.

Grandmother, on the subject of trepanation: It’s pure bliss!

In the past:
When I imagine my grandmother, I picture her in several fixed positions that rotate counterclockwise round the gnomon of a sundial, her shadows trying to penetrate the earth. Before the oceans disappeared, she had a view of them. Her building hunched on buckled legs on the frontiers of a salt flat, teetering in the hot dry air. Here there had once been cool wet breezes blowing along a fringe of white sand. People had relaxed beneath the radiation, happy to burn in proximity to water, which was said to roll to the shore in curling waves—waves that started somewhere in a cloud. Once the whole planet was covered by ocean, Grandmother said, and the waves had traveled in circles without stopping, with nothing to break on.

When water existed profusely, said Father, there were floods. Entire towns were submerged and abandoned, and scavengers floated above the streets. Depending on how tall the water was, they used its mounded height to break into upper stories, hunting through the underwater rooms.

When those cities were covered, new ones were built on pontoons just inches above the roiling fraught surface, and so-called “Irishmen” lived below the platforms and communicated by acoustic pulse, breathing between the slats and bumping their noses on the slimy underside. They held their breath, murdering each other in the dark, searching with sealed eyes for an entrance to the riches above.

Years 377, 5, –89, 1597, –610
We crossed the Great Ranges and toured the grand circuit of building sites, past the mountains and villages of bone, past thousands of circular farming plots, each one monochromatic, some with slices removed, some rimmed with snow. We searched for water and someone suggested that there might be some in a puddle he had found. He planned to use the corners of a torn garment bag to collect the “fugitive juice.” This seemed a waste, so I left them and climbed a bright red hill. From the top I could see a geyser shooting mud. I named the bidet Old Faithful. I saw the man with the torn bag approaching it and watched as he leaned into the spray, trying to collect the muddy water, but at that moment our identities were switched. The geyser made walls around me, following wherever I moved.

Sister, in the future:
We studied the topography of a snowflake. A skirlcock sounded its alarm. Sheriff built a rocket from an artificial log, installing a rat wheel, and we entered the impervious room. We attached the weights to our feet—impedimenta. In the corner sat a rodent preparing to blast off. Someone used his fingers to hit the switch, and this succeeded in delighting the room. The light came; and went.

Note, use your fingers:
The simplest pinhole camera is your crisscrossed fingers. Hold them before your face before the sun. You will notice tiny images of the sun all around.

We sought solutions but nothing worked. I conceived of a bullet that could be shot through time. As the bullet passed through dimensions it would send back information. If one of our doubles appeared, a contemporary lost in time, we could shoot him. We could put a bullet in him. He would think that he had been attacked, but in fact the bullet would be transmitting information meant to help him. Unfortunately, the idea never made it off the drawing desk. The only solution was the impervious room.

And they taught us:
If a cow produces her first she-calf at the age of two, then produces another she-calf, how many she-calves will there be after twelve years, assuming none die?

And they taught:
Seeds, math, flowers, petals, spiral, math, seeds, fruit, pine cone.

In the past, Father:
Did I ever tell you how I met your mother? We lived in a one-horse town. I knew because I brushed its teeth. Your mother and I worked in the snowflake factory, and one day I lassoed her. I figured that I had my work cut out for me, but not so. Within minutes we built a pair of lively snowmen, dressing them in our clothes. We put them to work at our stations and the foreman never caught on, and for the next few weeks your mother and I smooched in the broom closet shivering our nipples off, and before anyone knew what was what, we were married by the mayor. I couldn’t shake his hand because all I had were a set of hooks, along with hyperactive thumbs, but that was okay. I must say, in a lot of ways, a hook is much better than a handle. On a good day, with or without bait, I could drop my arm into the ice and come up with a shimmering live one.

The drought had ended. I was climbing falling snow. One of the flakes sent me in the wrong direction and I ended up in the hospital where I was forced to offer a reward for the recovery of a snowflake. Later, Sister fell into the deep snow to make, not so much angels, as the "impression of angels that have fallen through the earth."

In amphibious time:
I heard a groan to the left. I’m not interested in what happens to the left.

In the past:
Our schoolhouse had a courtyard with a boiler room beneath. One hot afternoon after they repaved the courtyard, Hench sank into the tar up to his waist, then fell through the playground, twenty feet onto the boiler, scarring his legs from his ankles to his thighs, which made him look like he had zippers on the insides of his legs. At the age of ten, he had a mustache and outsized glasses that changed hue in the sun, becoming sunglasses, only they were slow to return, and in the back of the classroom, he appeared to be wearing shades. Once an older boy kicked Hench and Hench flew up and hit the ceiling. A group of girls did handstands for the talent show, flashing their budding breasts, and not wanting to be outdone, Hench climbed on stage and blacked out. He had a river accent as his family had resided for generations in an old mill, his bedroom directly over the water. You could open a trapdoor and piss through the floor. While we were playing in the woods one day, he disappeared for a while, and when he came back, he said that I should see something. It turned out to be a turd that he claimed must have come from a cow, but it seemed doubtful to me that a cow would have come into those woods, and it did not look like cow manure. “This is bull excrement,” I said, and Hench nodded, but a while later he admitted, and somewhat eagerly and with a strange smile, that the turd was his.

Note, try an umbrella reflector:
Attach as many reflective stickers as you can to the underside of your umbrella. During solar flares you will catch the stray energy. For sheer fun, paint the outside of your umbrella with bright images of the sun and moon.

Years –6765, –377, –1, 1, 0, 233, 10946
We were on the long march, the whole family moving with scurrilous expedition. Each morning the sun splayed the day before our feet. Sister kicked stones and gazed skyward, her mouth giving way to tremendous face-splitting yawns, and in the evening, Grandma went out quiet as a bulb. I stayed up and watched the moon spin through webs of tattered cloud. I remained alert and watched the firelight, which seemed the same flickering shape as borrowed dreams. Crossing the mountains and through a jackfruit thicket, Sheriff found a walking stick and named it Martin. He shaffled along, holding it with both hands, but kept falling behind because the stick was too heavy. Eventually we asked him if he needed help, but he said that this would defeat the purpose. He would simply need to find a larger stick to help him with the first one.

Sheriff, on the telephone: If your hands are missing, try lost and found. I looked into the box but the legs were fake.

Sister, other end of the line, then suddenly in the room: Last night I saw a cockroach scuttle across my alarm clock. It paused to check the time, then looked right at me. I shut my eyes and pretended to sleep.

Grandmother, on her death bed:
I recall my last trip to the East, where I saw a few passably ancient things, including a well-preserved wooden man with eyes of quartz that looked out from beneath bronze eyelids. I rode a camel to the Great Pyramid and mounted it in record time. At the top, shiny dark men congratulated me, aware of how large a part my finely developed athletic prowess had played in the speed of my ascent. A parting of the ways. A place of choice. How difficult to know which to choose, liberty or fruitfulness. One would have to consult the Sphinx, wise old guardian, keeper of Time’s secrets.

Inside the impervious room:
Sheriff, wearing a wimple, lying on a gurney and staring at the ceiling.
Me, squatting beside him.
Sister in the corner drinking coffee.
Grandmother in bed.
Me, becoming an old man: What are you doing, Sheriff? What do you see up there?
“Nothing. I’m training to become a catatonic.”
Me: “Where did you get the gurney, chief?”
Sheriff, now a teenager: “I stonewalled some paramedics, then shanghaied it.”
Sister: Quiet please. I’ve had enough of your vapid murmurs.
Mother, entering the room as a little girl: As a child we …
Father, entering the room in a wheelchair, followed by Father on crutches, followed by Father with no hands: As an adherent of your safety, I will stand at the first sign of danger and give my seat to that handicapped man listening in.
Mother, now herself: that’s your mother.

In the end, or perhaps it was the beginning, the years convulsed. And we gathered in the impervious room, but Grandma was dead in the water. She kept coming back, determined to kill herself. Sheriff was on his deathbed too, or so he said, immortality not quite what it seemed. Sister stood in the corner, glaring at us all through crossed fingers. And the light came and went. And we gathered in the room but it was not impervious. Mother had a bullet in her chest and Sheriff died but returned with Grandma’s knitting needles, expressing himself in affirmative hops. Life was doomed to repeat, and the possibility of a beginning had been canceled, an ending just as hard to conceive. Perhaps we had died. It seemed reasonable. Grandma came back and then vanished and Father’s hands grew back and disappeared. The oceans rose and fell and sand blew in waves under the door. The snows came and went and there were bones. And the house was windy. You could barely keep your balance for a while. And every afternoon was an eclipse. And we were together, but not quite there.



fibonacci time, part I


bryson newhart