She has not bothered to draw the curtains. Outside, above the waving tree branches, she can make out a few stars in the night sky. A mere dozen in a galaxy of a billion or a trillion stars. Perhaps death, she thinks, is like one of those stars - a star that can be seen only backward in time and exists in an unobservable state. While life, she has heard said, was created from stars - the stars' debris.
What did he say to her exactly?
I am a bit tired, I am going to lie down for a minute before supper.
I am going to lie down for a minute before supper, I am a bit tired.
or something else entirely.
She is in the kitchen. Spinning the lettuce. She looks up briefly.
How was your day?
She half listens to his reply.
We had a faculty meeting. You should hear how those new physicists talk! They're crazy, Philip says, as he goes upstairs. She makes the salad dressing, she sets the table. She takes the chicken out of the oven. She boils new potatoes. Then she calls him.
Philip! Dinner is ready.
She starts to open a bottle of red wine but the cork is stuck.
He will fix it.
Again, Philip, Philip! Dinner!
Before she walks into the bedroom, she knows already. She sees his stocking feet. He has taken off his shoes. What was he thinking? About dinner? About her? A paper he is reading by one of his students, arguing that Kronecker was right to claim that the Aristotelian exclusion of completed infinites could be maintained?
Infinites. Infinite sets. Infinite series.
Infinity makes her anxious.
It gives her nightmares. As a child, she had a recurring dream. A dream she can never put into words. The closest she comes to describing the dream, she tells Philip, is to say that it has to do with numbers. The numbers - if in fact they are numbers - always start out small and manageable, although in the dream Nina knows that this is temporary, for soon they start to gather force and multiply; they become large and uncontrollable. They form an abyss. A black hole of numbers.
You're in good company, is what Philip tells her. The Greeks, Aristotle, Archimedes, Pascal all had it.
No, what the dream stands for.
The terror of the infinite.
But, for Philip, infinity is a demented concept.
Infinity, he says, is absurd.
Excerpted from I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck. Copyright © 2011 by Lily Tuck. Excerpted by permission of Atlantic Monthly Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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