by Jane Doe
Strange how reoccurring patterns have minute differences that scatter the whole meaning of the repeat. Winter is winter, yet, the hours and the days, the length of the red line in the thermometer, the direction of the wind, the wooliness of the caterpillar, can make two winters so unlike.
This year the river never froze solid enough for ice skating. Instead it snowed soft, wet snow that clung to every surface to turn the world into a plane of emphasized horizontals and eliminated sky-colored verticals. The smallest surfaces were edged with blue and purple shadows under and behind the dazzle of the sticky snow. Barren trees branches stopped being streaks in the sky to be transformed into exercises in contrasts. The wet, dark wood creaked and groaned under its frigid flowers. Evergreen bushes around the house looked like exotic, tropical blossoms, each with a dark green calyx. Dead weeds by the mailbox were reconstituted with snow-blind blooms. Leaking roofs were patched
On such new snow mornings, everything that had been left outdoors pretended to be something else. It was a pure white Halloween until the winter sun appeared like a fat pumpkin in the sky to gobble up all the magic with wet plopping sounds.
Such snows were perfect for making snowmen. I made snowmen my specialty. Instead of eating lunch, (I was dieting like mad), one or more girls would join me to roll the biggest, grandest snowman we could in the lawn before the school. We had borrowed an old hat from the janitor. Each time the snow melted he rescued the hat, hung it on a peg in the boiler room beside an old broom so we could make our snowman reappear as if he had never gone away. Our snowmen became such a personalities to the students they put our picture in the local newspaper and saved one photo for the yearbook.
I wished they would let me out of the school, give me gloves that didn't get soaking wet and cold, so I could people the whole playground with snowmen. Outdoors I felt I was totally swathed in white gauze as if I had been seared in a fire or had a terrible accident. I hurt. I knew there were words to describe what had happened to me. There were names for it. I had some vivid memories of it. Yet, there were great gaps in my understanding of it.
An event had to push me over the edge of pain so I could know I had been there. My disbelief let masses of whirling nothingness amputate and cut away that which was too destructive to bear. Only while making snowmen, who, perhaps also had frozen wounds, made me happy.
Then one night, I had a talk with myself. I was taking me too seriously. I was making a melodrama out of me. It was a waste of theater. I wanted to be more than a melancholy figure flitting through the halls of the school, mourning a lost love. It happened to others. They looked normal while they mended. Why couldn't I forget about Dave? Why couldn't I forget about boys? I wanted to take a vacation from desire. Grow up in peace and quiet. Peace and quiet. Peace and quiet in which to pull myself together. The picture of Mrs. Fisher's dining room table with the Persian carpet on it floated before my mind.
I resumed my work on magnetism, knowing that should do something to solve my problems. Mrs. Fisher seemed delighted to have me back in her fold, studying again. From out of the blue came a scientific journal describing the Barkhauser effect, telling how Mr. Barkhauser, in the University of California, had proved that it was chunks of molecules which were polarized. With sensitive sound equipment he demonstrated how one could hear iron being magnetized. I wanted to hear that sound.
Here was a force that we as humans couldn't feel. Only iron acted on this pull. Iron sensed the magic that moved through solid objects. To watch an iron bar being energized, nothing appeared to be happening. Afterwards, that bar was no longer the same. Alike pieces of metal that came into contact with the bar, if the contact was long and strong enough, received the passed along power. Once they had received that power, they were either strongly attracted to their power object or similarly repelled by it. I felt a parallel in my life. People influenced me, attracted me, and yet, pushed me away. I wanted to be with certain people and rejected others. I didn't know what was happening within me. I reasoned that if I could understand magnetism, I would understand me. Hearing the sound could cement another bit of reality into place.
For the experiment, I needed an amplifying system. There was one person in the school who could help me – Scotty, the electronics wizard. He was solely in charge of the school's sound system that brought Mr. Day's voice to us each morning with greetings and announcements. Scotty treated those black and silver boxes as if they were his own person. When it worked, Scotty was the proud papa of it all. When it had fits and squeals or played dead, Scotty neither ate nor drank until his soul was healed. Significantly enough, Scotty rarely spoke above a whisper. He was so shy in classes, the teachers never called on him for answers knowing that he knew as much, and often more on the subject, than they did but would not be able to say it out loud.
Mrs. Fisher wheedled Mr. Day into letting us use the physics lab and the school's sound system after school hours. She stayed right there with us, grading papers or making up tests while Scotty removed the amplifiers from the secretary's office, carried them down into the lab where he put it all back together again.
The work went slowly as we had only the barest description of how the experiment was organized. Time and again we set up different speaker combinations, different ways of magnetizing different sizes of different kinds of iron. We heard a lot of silence for our efforts. I wanted to give up, or write to Mr. Barkhauser for advice. Scotty enjoyed the thrill of experimentation. He thrived on all the extra work I caused him. Not only did he lug the equipment back and forth each day from the office to the lab and back again at night, he started taking me home.
When an experiment would fail after so carefully considering and controlling every process, I tended to want to cry or hit something or give up. Words like that I used at least ten times every evening. If I began ranting and raving, Scotty would withdraw into a shell of his own making, without an opening. He stayed there, safe and secure, until my storm blew over and I was calm and thinking again. He was never up. Never down. Like the steady hum of the amplifiers he was. I couldn't have asked for a better person to work with.
If we could work so well together, were there other activities in which we could be equally well matched? Was Scotty, in his shy way, thinking the same thing? When he first offered to take me home, I expected him to make some sign of what he had on his mind. It was either nothing, or a loose connection, as I never seemed to get any message. Often I felt he was uncomfortable riding home with me and very eager to get me out of his car to be on his way.
As we started having some successes, adjusting the proper amount of electricity for magnetizing a certain sized metal bar, I would throw my arms around Scotty's neck, kiss him on the ear out of shared joy, and the desire to see if Scotty had any desires, and to make him blush.
One day when I gave him such a playful kiss he whispered to me, "If you ever do that to me again, I'll electrocute you!" I didn't know if he was kidding me. Reviewing Scotty's behavior, I decided not to tempt him. I felt him capable of carrying out his threat so it
As long as I didn't bug Scotty with my frustrated female feelings, we got along just fine. The whole set up was spread over two tables, blocking off part of the physics lab. The store where we were constantly buying parts had loaned us a used system so we could leave it connected up all the time without robbing Mr. Day of his booming voice.
Mrs. Fisher was proud of her two children. The rest of the kids in the class referred to us as her science freaks, but she loved us anyway. Publicity came and went. There didn't seem to be anymore refinements we could make with the equipment we had. The stream of students coming from other schools to hear a special thin sliver of iron clank it's clumps of molecules into place was slowing to a dribble. It seemed time to dismantle the project, so we did, unwillingly. After returning the sound equipment to the store, Scotty drove me home.
Unable to resist any longer I asked, "Scotty, when you bring me home, you always are in such a hurry to leave. Where do you go?"
As if answering a child he said in a loud voice, "I'm seeing a married woman."
I didn't believe him.
Copyright © the Estate of Jane Doe 2010