Friday 10 June 2022

The Persistence of Corners - Flash Fiction by Tom Holmes


The Persistence of Corners - Flash Fiction by Tom Holmes

            This Friday night was especially humid and hot. Sweat melted out of people’s backs and bellies. They felt shame for their moist shirts and shorts. Occasionally, a brief breeze bent tree branches and blew across the townsfolk. The relief soon turned to sentimentality and longing. In the fields and lawns, lightning bugs flickered in and out of the world. On the porches, mosquitoes made homes on people’s arms and legs and necks. No one noticed. They felt beads of sweat gain guilty momentums as they rolled down their backs or bellies, or they remembered the last breeze, or hoped for the next. Soon mosquitoes were exploding from drinking too much blood, and the townsfolk didn’t notice. They thought it mere beads of sweat until they saw blood dripping down their arms and legs. They didn’t hurt or itch. To them, it was thick sweat.

The townsfolk began to slap mosquitoes, as one would expect to be done to any annoying or biting bug. They killed them but felt no pain in their hands or where they slapped. One person drew a conclusion and kicked a wall. He felt nothing but was ashamed he scuffed his shoe. Another person punched a tree. He bent his ring but felt nothing in his fist. Another lit a match under the soft-skin, bottom-side of her forearm. She witnessed her skin bubble and turn colors, but she felt not a thing. A woman whose husband recently passed felt okay. Even those with crippling, high-interest debt felt a sense of ease.

When they walked about town, they felt like they were skipping or leaping. They loved swinging around street sign poles at the intersection of streets. They felt like kids climbing a tree for the first time, unconcerned and unaware of the impact of slipping and falling. People smiled, even Mary Boole.

Before moving to Lemaîtreville, Boole earned PhDs in Mathematics and Psychology. She theorized the higher-dimension, color-coded tesseract constructed of cubes, with each cube being an emotion or feeling. She mapped each emotion to a coordinate and each interacted. Pain was near a corner and seemed to vibrate, as if trying to break free. She hypothesized pain is what makes people want to be alone. Next to pain was the expected loneliness, which was a corner cube and essentially boundless. She knew about corners, as there was a man in front of her every approach at turning one and who shook a finger at her like a metronome swinging: No. No. You can’t. You won’t. Tick tock. Tick tock. She felt confined to pacing an academic hallway, a one-dimensional existence, while men of academics and professions froze egress to other dimensional privileges.

After Kaluza Klein read Boole’s dissertation The Five-Dimensional Tesseract and the Emotional Plane, Klein knew to hire Boole as part of the the Lemaîtreville Benevolence Community Organization, which consisted of nurses, a variety of counselors, social workers, psychologists, and security officers. Klein wanted Boole to build her tesseract. Lemaîtreville funded the construction, and Boole completed her tesseract on the night of perspiration and painlessness.

Soon after all the mosquito swatting and tree punching, the Lemaîtrevillians heard machine-like sounds and saw lights enwrap Boole’s tesseract. Then the street lights brightened, then porch lights, and even lights that were turned off glowed. Radios and phonographs blared above and beyond volume 10 settings. Mary Boole smiled from a cubicle.

Mary Boole’s tesseract, or Pain Factory as she called it, successfully siphoned pain through the aether, converted it to electricity, stored it in large capacitors, which slowly released the electricity as needed. The slowly-as-needed took a while to calculate and regulate, but this night, the first night, oh, the happiness of the unregulated. By month’s end, everyone’s electric bill approached zero. The town celebrated Boole with a nighttime parade. Boole smiled.

Boole smiled every day for years. She knew how aether flowed through the fourth dimension and was inspired by the fifth dimension, and she knew the effects of microgravity on the emotional plane. The whole town smiled. No one cried unless they laughed too hard or ate overly spicy food, which didn’t burn the tongue but formed the pleasure of a sweaty forehead and tearing eyes, and then the shivers. A cold shiver on a hot and humid day is a joy.

Boole later wrote a paper about how the fourth dimension fluxes in and out of the three-dimensional world we know. It experiences hot and cold, heavy and light, substance and wave. It is a stable medium between substantial humans and ethereal ghosts. It’s sometimes experienced when a train travels through a mountain tunnel at night, or when you feel a shadow pass over you on a clear, blue day.

Boole’s smile eventually fell. One morning, she felt condensation on the tesseract, and saw lights flicker. In the aether, Boole suddenly realized, temperatures reach near absolute-zero and quantum-dimensions solidify, if and only if the fifth-dimension casts a shadow as the lower dimensions do on ever lower dimensions. If not, as on this occasion, the heat and the eventual spatial humidity thaw the fourth dimension, which melts first from the corners. Boole’s smile melted. Boole’s clock melted. Townsfolk remembered pasts and sighed. They remembered they would die and everyone would die. Lights flickered off. People’s fists, feet, and forearms throbbed. Some thumbed the corners of their checkbooks and measured their time. Townsfolk moaned and cried. Boole began calculations for an invariant space-time thermal conductor.

Alone on her front-porch rocking chair, the widow felt okay, as she experienced the persistence of clear-blue in a corner.

Tom Holmes is the founding editor of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics, and author of four full-length collections of poetry, most recently Material Matters and The Cave, which won The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013, as well as four chapbooks. He teaches at Nashville State Community College (Clarksville). His writings about wine, poetry book reviews, and poetry can be found at his blog, The Line Break: Follow him on Twitter: @TheLineBreak

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