Where, finally cleansed of Comfort, our hero learns how even the observer can disturb our reality
When he came to, a true silence had descended. In the half-light he registered that the crowd had gone home and that the pulpit was now empty. The church stood immemorial, vast, enclosed, sombre. He made for the large double doors at the end of the building and pulled the handle. It did not budge.
Ah, the other way.
He pushed the heavy door. It did not budge.
This was ridiculous, churches did not close their doors, they had to be open all day for the faithful to use. He looked around for an employee.
Verger, his mind went.
The place was empty.
Slightly panicked, he tried to remember if there had been an announcement. Surely they would have made an announcement? Closing time in fifteen minutes, that kind of thing, but he had no such memory. He stared across the void.
He thought he could make out a light under a small door in the North wall and hastily made his way over. The daylight was fading. He supposed he would have to sue them for damages if he fell over a chair and broke his leg.
Sure enough, there was a faint glimmer coming from behind the door and he pushed it open. A windowless room with some apparatus in the corner. Looking more like a lab than a vestiary.1 And wasn’t that a Geiger counter? He did not notice the door shut as he made his way over to inspect the arrangement. Yes a Geiger counter, of all things, clicking faintly. Alongside was a hammer, poised over a green flask on which were placed a skull and crossbones. It looked as though the hammer was attached to an electric motor mounted on the wall. Curious.
A scratching noise.
He looked up.
The ceiling was being lifted off like a lid and he made a dash for the corner.
A face peered in like some great moon.
– As I thought, simultaneously alive and dead, said the Young Woman.
Beyond the head, as the sides of the box fell away, Oldman could make out clouds, or maybe it was just a bank of fog coming in from the sea?
He felt the top of his head go back on.
– Apologies, a voice said. A little experiment in Participant Observation. You know the style: everything really happens but how do we know it?
– I was trying to show that we can only truly perceive reality at the point of observation. Before that, anything could be going on. The other side however might have been that your own state could have been drastically changed by me looking in on you, but somehow this time that has not been the case. Yet there is no other possibility in the world of objective measurement, for I alter the state of things as I measure them.
– Now, do you consider yourself a lucky person, for by my measurements you should be either dead or alive but not both? No? Curiouser.
Oldman felt he recognised the Young Woman talking to him. Suddenly he felt he must apologise for his earlier behaviour and made to open his mouth.
– For pulling me out of that library like a milk tooth? Ha.
And the Young Woman laughed a hearty laugh.
– What a way to make a first acquaintance! giggling some more.
Oldman had made as if to reply but the other’s delivery was too fast.
– Why, here is the book I found there. An early seminal work, rambling, confused, but out of the mouths of babes and sucklings and all that…
Oldman took the slim tome he was being offered.
…hast thou perfected praise2, Oldman finished in his head as he sat down to thumb it through.
The book was printed on bible thin paper and bound in soft red faux leather covers. All this made it agreeable to the touch; a flexible volume, light and airy, easy to carry around. Not a municipal library book at all surely, but more from some private collection.
At first glance it seemed to be a book of aphorisms printed in an old font to give perhaps a semblance of age. He blew the accumulated dust off the top of the text block and found on opening it that the binding had remained supple. A superior product, he thought.
What he observed next caught him out: the content was in French. Well not quite, more bilingual, for after each section there followed an English translation in square brackets. At first glance this seemed to be of miserable quality, more a mechanistic rendition of the French text into the words of English but retaining the sense of the French. Obviously some in-house translation into English by a French language national which had never been checked, a small publishing house no doubt. The sense of some words was distorted but paradoxically in some way revealed another truth that perhaps having only one word available might have compromised. There were some interesting truths in these mistranslations and a strange poetry within.
All somewhat tedious but he began to read to make sense of what lay before him. And were it possible, behind him.
2 Psalms 8:2 but significantly requoted by Jesus in Matthew 21:16