As She Climbed Across the Table

As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem Read Free Book Online

Book: As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jonathan Lethem
Tags: Contemporary
with bits of egg, jam, and mustard. Briefcases full of braille were unpacked across the couch. Conversations rattled away over my head.
    “What would you do if you found out I’d been lying to you?” said Garth suddenly.
    Evan turned. “What do you mean?”
    “What if I’d been lying about the precise location of certain objects?”
    “Have you been?” Evan sounded a little panicky.
    “What if I had? You’d be living in a world of my imagination. Huh. Think of that.”
    “We already discussed this. Ms. Jalter had a word for it.
Delusive conditioning
. It’s not fair.”
    “I didn’t say it was fair.”
    “Well, it’s not.”
    Evenings Evan usually dug in with a braille physics textbook on the couch, while Garth sat on the guest-room bed and listened to his portable radio on headphones. I washed the dishes and paced onto the porch, to contemplate the night. I couldn’t relax with them in the apartment. The blind men listened too hard. It made me too aware of my sounds, the scuffling of chair legs on hardwood, the flutter of turned pages. Each visit to the bathroom was a disaster, urine pounding into the bowl, ear-shattering flush.
    If I’m lonely, I thought, I should at least be alone.
    Lack, that week, refused a ski cap, a conical washer, and a pair of pinking shears. A curly lasagne, a twist of macaroni, a strand of nonskid spaghetti. A volume of Plutarch and a postcard of Copenhagen. A Robertson-tip screwdriver, a ball peen hammer, and a sundae spoon. Blueberries, oysters, calamine lotion. A photograph of the Rosetta stone, a gold-leaf cigarette case, and a concrete block. A lens cap, a hat tree, and a slice of chocolate cake.
    He did, though, accept a slide rule, a bowling shoe, and an unglazed terra-cotta ashtray. A felt hat, a fountain pen, and a pomegranate. A Heritage Press reprint of
The Hunting of the Snark
, and an onyx replica of the Statue of Liberty. Pistachio ice cream in a porcelain dish. A bead of mercury.
    Also a spayed female cat—a grizzled lab veteran, piebald from scratching at taped-on electrodes, named B-84.

B-84 had friends. They were massing angrily at the entrance of the physics complex, clogging the pathways, spilling out onto the lawn. The day was one of those California sports, summer in November, and I’d been strolling, avoiding my work. Then I met a student carrying a hand-lettered placard reading WHERE’S LACK’S HEART ? I followed him to the rally.
    The students who were only curious littered the fringes, exchanging disinformation. I pushed past them, to the front. The most defiant and outraged protesters were clustered under a bed-sheet banner, unreadable except in fragments. UNIVERSITY, DOLLARS, RESPONSIBLE, DEATH . I threaded my way deeper into the crowd, to the base of the microphones. The grass under my feet was already torn.
    The speaker was stringy and angular, his blond hair pulledback in a ponytail, his plaid workman’s shirtsleeves rolled up around his pale biceps. Journalism major, I guessed.
    “We’re obligated to demand an answer, to question this thing in our midst now. By all appearances it’s a rampant scientific development, and we have to develop some consciousness, some overview, because it isn’t being provided. We have the responsibility to ask some questions.”
    He stopped and peered out over his audience.
    “The Lack is just a raping, uh, gaping rent in the fabric of the universe. It’s been opened up right under our feet. The scientists can’t even agree on it, there’s disagreement in the scientific community, yet the experiments just go on. I for one think that maybe it’s time we said wait a minute, let’s have a serious look at this thing, decide what we have on our hands here, before we go throwing any more cats into it!”
    Jeers of support from the crowd.
    “The earth is just a small oasis in an endless desert of nothingness,” he went on, encouraged. “We don’t need more nothingness here on earth. There’s plenty in outer

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