A New Cast
One of the best experiences of Tim’s life was getting a new cast on his leg. Not the cast so much as the fact that, having cut off the old one, nurses washed the leg deeply with sponges and some nice white soapy stuff. The leg was already atrophied somewhat alarmingly, but they said it would come right back to strength when healed. Tim believed them.
It was just after Sharon had picked him up that Tim got to thinking. An older man he had talked with in the waiting room had been an infantryman in war, had survived cancer, had been married and divorced three times, and had been involved in various other crises. Now that he felt his own high point to have been having his leg washed, his experience was, to say the least, minimal. He hardly dared to think what might be coming.
Sharon didn’t seem to be the least worried. Looking over at her as she drove with verve and precision, he saw a handsome and accomplished young woman. Despite her years, she was more together than the people around her. She was about to be at UCSD, probably studying science. She would, as always, be successful. It was the science that again scared Tim.
According to Sharon, their warped space, perhaps more accurately their warped field of forces, might be a fragment of an enormous cylinder measured by an impressive number, ten to the sixty first power. Or it might be incredibly tiny, one divided by the same number. It all depended on the way in which one went about measuring it. Similarly, their universe might be expanding infinitely or contracting to a tiny amount from which it might bounce. Great! As if anyone cared. Moreover, there might be alternative universes concealed in black holes. Or there might not.
The numbers were, in themselves, scary. What if Tim and his friends did ten to the fifth power of wonderful things? An impossible number, yet tiny to the point of insignificance. Did it follow that anything they might do would be utterly insignificant? Of course, this was all old stuff. Everyone knew about the huge astronomical distances. But numbers that big that didn’t even make any difference?
Sharon was now negotiating an expressway interchange. The thought of crashing into another car jogged Tim back a little. That wouldn’t be so nice, numbers be damned. And, then, when they didn’t crash, that was good. Then, too, if one simply died and ceased to exist, the size of the remaining existence was hardly to the point. One could get out of it, no matter how large or small it might be.
Instead of talking about big numbers, Sharon said, “I think Helen is happy in our little community. She talks easily with everyone, and she’s anxious to meet Meredith.”
“Is Meredith coming back?”
“Yes. I talked with her just this morning. The medication’s been adjusted, and she’s going back to Harvard.”
“Did she say anything about Jimmy?”
“Yes. She realizes that it could never have been a long-term thing, but that they both learned from it.”
“I’m sure they did. One way or another.”
“She also said that she can now be friends with him.”
“Do you believe that?”
“No. Certainly not yet. Possibily later on. We might then get Jimmy back. In any case, Meredith will be back in June.”
“Just about then, Helen might be anxious to share some responsibility for Wolfgang.”
“So it looks as if we’ve got our ducks all in a row.”
“Knock on wood.”
With that, Sharon knocked gently on her head with her fist.
The next day, Tim, flourishing his new cast at one of the tables outside the deli, was joined by Clint. Clint had just finished giving a kayak lesson, and, when asked how it had gone, he replied,
“Okay. It was part of our winter promo of giving free introductory lessons. This was a middle-aged gent who’d always wanted to get into a kayak, and he obviously enjoyed it.”
“So he’s coming back?”
“I’m pretty sure not. For him, it was almost like climbing Mt. Everest. You do it, and you feel real good about it. But it doesn’t occur to you to do it again.”
“Oh well. I was reading a story by Hemingway last night. The central character is an older man who owns a traveling burlesque company. He catches up with his advance man, a drug addict, in a cheap hotel in Kansas City. The man is asleep, and the owner intends to wake him up and get him moving. But he decides not to because he knows what things in life are valuable.”
“I see. A little period of rest and, perhaps, peace. In the case of your client, a little period of pleasurable adventure.”
Clint then took a long and satisfying swallow of diet-Pepsi.
Tim no longer needed any assistance in getting aboard the boat and assumed his favorite position on the settee with the cast up on it and the other foot down on the deck. Sharon, deciding to put on warmer clothes for the evening, walked past him in her little white nylon panties and bra. He reached out and touched her waist lightly. That was all it took.