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"The Science of the Thing," short story excerpt

Wednesday 8/2/23

There’s a scientific explanation to why there’s dew on the grass in the morning, but even though someone could explain exactly why it happens, you can probably get away with saying it’s a beautiful mystery and people would weigh the idea in that fleeting way novel ideas are often weighed and agree.

If someone knew they were going to be stoned, it’d likely be because stoning was a regular practice at the time. It’s also likely that they couldn’t help but think what that would be like. When we think about what something is going to be like, it’s inevitable that we want it to go a certain way, no matter how awful any such way is bound to be. There’s still one way we would prefer, for lack of a better term. A person sentenced to be stoned could actually hope that the first rock goes through their eye and into their brain and kills them and it only takes that one rock.

There could be a scientific explanation to why it’s almost always men who saying that annoying line, “Hold my beer.” Women don’t do it much. Most say it to be funny, though it never has been funny once. There’s also probably a scientific explanation why people say things that they know are not funny but still hope that people will find them funny.

Never would a parent be faulted for telling their child to just do their best unless the conversation pertained to torturing cats or starting forest fires or being a bully. The “just” is not a lessening, but a form of personalization. It carries the implication that that person’s best will win the day in the sense of the days of a life over time. The advice is sound. But nor could one fault the child who said, “What if my best isn’t good enough?” or who suspected that it wouldn’t be, which is a safe bet. Where would that leave them? What is that discussion like? Personally, I’d admire this child and be likelier to believe in them and the sufficiency of their best or that they’d find an honorable way forward regardless.

In my early twenties, I had a coeval who said things like, “If her pussy was any wetter, it would have been dry again” as if he was a Himalayan sage who came out of his cave once a day to send his paradoxical wisdom out into the world, though he made remarks of this nature with frequency. He was a bit like Yogi Berra in his way. You know, “It gets late there early” and all of that malapropism jazz. One was free to think about what he said, if one preferred, in the manner of riddles. “Okay, everything wet eventually dries, unless it’s a body of water, and a person isn’t a body of water. He could be saying that all that could possibly come out had come out and the drying process had started, though it might not have been recognizable right then as such.” I asked him what he wanted me to do with this information. I hadn’t even met the woman. “I just wanted you to have it,” he said. He was also the only adult I’ve ever known who ate Skittles. He targeted them at the store, as in, “Wait, do they have Skittles?” and also said that the second Jesus and Mary Chain album was better than the first, so he was correct there.

Hypothesis: If the men who said “Hold my beer” as some would-be punchline were told that doing so would result in them being stoned, then they would say it anyway, incapable of stopping themselves, and a great wall like the one in China could be used to line them up and serve as a backdrop. No one is stoned against the air, which is curious. People are always put in front of something, usually a stone wall. The stones themselves aren’t going to ricochet off the wall on the missed throws and do damage to the back of someone’s head or body. The effect is metaphorical. “There’s nowhere to go,” makes for a debilitating message. If the wall wasn’t there and a person ran, they’d simply be caught easily anyway and the process would repeat. Maybe it’s to save that time, but I also don’t think those inclined to stone someone else care or even want the process to be over quickly.

If a parent and their toddler were to be stoned together with the parent holding the child, and this was the last parental act, what would be the parent’s responsibility? To wrap the child as best they could within their arms so that it wouldn’t be hit? But then the parent would die first and the child would have to die alone. Or to hold the child outwards and angle it towards a particular stone so that it would die instantly and not have to suffer longer than necessary?

Dew on the grass in the morning is like birdsong, save that every day of the year starts with birds singing and when it’s cold there’s no dew but rather frost. I wonder how many people on earth know with certainty which occurs first on a spring or summer morning, dew or birdsong? Are the birds singing when the dew is already there or is the grass still dry then? If you’ve ever come home late at night and walked across a lawn barefoot you’ve maybe been surprised that the grass was wet already, not that the dew was cheating, necessarily. I’ve never had an interest in making snow angels, but I would make a dew angel if that was a thing, though arguably it is and you can’t see a dew angel which makes the dew angel the more legitimate angel because no one can see an angel.


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