A blot of ink, a cough blurted over coffee. Beads of tarrish black gleam on a white page. No sunlight, not for days. The woman that owns the house thinks I’m crazy, coming in every two hours trying to feed me. Hot buttered muffins and crumpets. Flung out the window for the cats to pick at.

I keep a kettle in the room and drink only coffee. I use my shirt sleeve to blot the ink spill, grateful for the containing safety of my margins. I blow upon the paper. I hold it to the window to catch the soft breeze. Later, I will shut the window and close the curtains. I can hear the wheels of the milk van trundle on the cobbles, the commuters clacking to work in well-polished brogues, wielding unnecessary umbrellas.

The numbers unfold before me, aligning and realigning in perfect exactitude, moving in tweaks of nerves and synapses. It’s as if they anticipate me, as if each figure waits in a state of becoming; in the ever-near sense of the next line, the next scrawl added to an equation. The mistakes aren’t a frustration. I allow their implications to form for me, like geometric shapes that can be lifted and refitted into a new pattern. I fill up page after page, while downstairs the woman hums and clatters, sends food-smells up through the floorboards.

This kind of work doesn’t make you hungry. It’s a kind of permanent suspension, a voracious anticipation that propels fulfilment. For every knock on the door, I grunt at the distraction, sink back into the pool of numbers. A cycle, an eddy of sums shifting through infinities of figures.

You can go back, but once again you will be swept up in the forward logic, the oceanic pull of rationality that comes in waves.

Amber streetlight now glows through the closed curtains, as if waiting for me. I hear the murmurs and the swish of furs, the little clicks of heels. The kettle whistles from the grate, its steam rising thin and twisting from the charcoal smoke of the flames.

The problems continue to open for me, slowly, like a flower blossoming for a patient god.

Thumbing my notebook I flick through previous leaves, fingertips tracing pages filled with equations. Occasionally I pick out particulars, circling them with confident ink. They raise themselves from the paper, luminesce in the air, blend together. I follow them through an axis of logic, of physical pattern. My soul seeps into the beauty of these hieroglyphics, as they melt from meaning and back into atoms. It is a sign of tiredness.

More coffee, and the sounds of drunks spilling out of pubs. Those days at the university, sodden days of mildewed books and dank libraries; but ah, the ale in the evenings! The kind small barmaid with her look of curious pity. How strange, that one cannot forget the peculiar emerald of her eyes, the arch of her eyebrows a pleasing violation of my rectilinear vision. I saw almost everything else in boxes and parallels, blank space and straight lines. And how strange, that I never really spoke to her, and yet she knew me entirely. Ale on week-days, whisky on Friday. I knew the way she used to watch how I changed when I drank with my peers and professors. Our hands touched, brushed, as I handed over change. She disappeared into the shadows, polishing glasses and crushing mint for cocktails. Queer, how now I cannot recall her face, nor her hair. Only those jewel-eyes, those brows, the lingering scent of mint.

The ale in the evenings. Soothing. But numbers too have their pleasant effect, their mollifying smile of symbol and clarity. As good as any narcotic depressant. Now I’m slurping my supper from a tin of peaches. I like the combination of circle and straightness, and the ruptured disorder of the jagged edges. The fruit slices are syrupy, plastic, sliding off the taste of metallic.

There’s the muffled thrum of music from the pub across the road. Drips of juice trickle onto the desk, leave sticky marks on my notebook. This is why it’s easier not to eat; to be fleshless.

I’m closer now, closer than ever. I taste the equation on my tongue before it comes to me. As I write, I consume its ravishing sweetness. The drunks are sniggering outside, smashing glasses like they were fireworks. My hands move fast, etching out figures, graphs, shapes and lines. I feel the points arrange themselves, a constellation, a diamond cut of sharp numbers, sparkling to perfection. The problem bursts from me, through me, a sequence of eloquent letters on the page. And I look up to the dark, all-encompassing ceiling.

Tears spill on the paper, and mingle with the still-drying ink. In my ecstasy I remember her name.

by Maria Sledmere

prompts: physics, sublime, tinned food


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