Where It Was
Nobody said that was where it belonged. But the light was exceptional in that little nook by the window, especially at that time of day in that time of year. So we put it there anyway, and we sat around the room staring at it. We repositioned our chairs and sofas and beanbags and barstools, so we could sit comfortably, facing the thing head-on, and not get stiff necks and backaches from sitting in awkward positions in seats that were angled the wrong way, and every few minutes one or two of us would get up and change places, that we might appreciate the thing from multiple perspectives and thereby cultivate a broader appreciation of it in the fullness of its being.
After a while, though, as night began to fall, the thing took on a grim austerity, drab gray, cold and inaccessible in the waning light. And nobody wanted to be the first to say something about it, but it was making us a little uncomfortable, and we sat stiffly, without making eye contact with anybody else, and we were afraid to make the slightest move there in our seats, lest we draw unwanted attention upon ourselves.
Finally somebody got up and turned on a couple of lamps, and somebody else sighed, and two or three of us laughed, and we all felt a lot better about ourselves and each other and about the way the thing looked under that artificial light – different, yes, than it had looked in the sunset, but vaguely familiar and easier to relate to than that apocalyptic gray.
Then somebody asked if we didn't remember seeing a couple of bottles of Cabernet in the pantry when we were looking for bread. And somebody said yes and hadn't we also noticed a Chablis in the fridge when we were after some cheese? And somebody else said all of that sounded correct and let's don't forget the half gallon of Stoli we spotted in the freezer when we were grabbing some ice. And we all agreed the occasion called for a celebratory pour, and we busted open the wines and we tossed back shots of vodka with lemon wedges, and we toasted one another's health and camaraderie and good fortune and hitherto unnoticed attractiveness in the lamplight.
But then somebody mentioned, just about the time the wine ran out and the lemon wedges too, that from the recliner in that corner by the bookcase, the thing seemed to have a faint yellow stain right in the middle, and we all set down our glasses and spit out any seeds we may have been nibbling and jumped out of our seats and crowded around so we could see for ourselves.
It was true. We all agreed.
And also, somebody asked, wasn't that a hairline crack along the edge, that we hadn't noticed before? And there was this little dent, somebody else observed, that we were certain we hadn't seen. And surely nobody, another of us ventured, had been aware that the left side, as viewed from this angle, was clearly a good millimeter shorter than the right.
Of course we were greatly distressed by these revelations and by the dissonance between our perceptions of just a moment ago and those of the here and now. But then somebody astutely pointed out that the fault lay not in our eyes nor, for that matter, in our optical neurons, but in a simple and reproducible variation in light. And somebody else said they were sure Newton, in his classical optics, had mentioned just this sort of conundrum. But somebody else said no, they were certain we were thinking of Einstein, in his description of special relativity, whereupon yet another somebody insisted that the problem lay rather in Planck's formulation of the quantum (which of course had been confirmed by Einstein's other great, if somewhat less famous, 1905 paper – hence our perfectly understandable confusion about the source).
Now we were growing a little tense, and the wine was starting to give some of us a headache, and we couldn't quite remember what exactly we had found so goddamn sexy about some of the rest of us, and before long we were divided into opposing camps: On one side were those of us who said the light of the present moment, while artificial, was the more objective and that only in its soft white banality was the true nature of the thing revealed, untinted by the saccharine sentimentality of a red-shifted haze. While those of us on the other side insisted that the truth lay in our own subjective impressions of those earlier naturalistic moments and that one light was no more or less valid than another – all wavelengths propagating at a universal velocity – and that we were therefore free to choose among diverse potentialities and that only the most narcissistically self-conscious faux intellectualism could compel some of us to insist so dogmatically that beauty was by necessity antithetical to truth.
By this point our voices had grown loud and our faces red and we were on the brink of exchanging blows.
And that was when I found I couldn't stand it any longer and that I had no desire to look at that thing ever again or to elucidate for my own edification the true nature of its being. And that was the moment I left you to yourselves, and I haven't seen you since.
I hope you're all doing well – in a vague and generic way, the way I wish for world peace and universal justice – but the truth is I've found another group in whose company I feel much more like a we than I ever felt with you. It's nothing personal, and I hope you don't take it the wrong way, and I sincerely hope you've found peace with yourselves and with each other and with that thing and its various appearances. And I hope you've had the good sense at last to put it in its proper place.