Twenty Inches Above the Carpet Near Bare Toes*

The ninety-six-year-old American theoretical physicist and mathematician, a Fellow of the Royal Society, a physicist known for his work in quantum electrodynamics, solid-state physics, and astronomy, lay flat on a fully reclined Eames chair in the living room, reading the latest issue of The New York Times. Winner of a Heineman Prize, a Lorentz Medal, a Hughes Medal, a Harvey Prize, and a Wolf Prize, an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, one of twenty distinguished Old Wykehamists at the Ad Portas celebration, the highest honor that Winchester College bestows, and the recipient of numerous awards, but never a Nobel Prize, rests, in a neatly pressed white Ralph Lauren Purple Label Tailored Fit shirt, in a black leather chair near the corner of the room, tilted slightly to the right, at 9:36 A.M. on 28 February 1996. The physicist who discovered that the potential for the quantum harmonic quantum oscillator is given by Hermite polynomials which correspond to the energy levels that are the sum total of all quantification for bound states in which superpositions for left- and right-moving waves with coefficients X and Y and co-determined by boundary conditions by imposing a continuous derivative on the solution vary; a physicist who, using a pinky finger and forefinger, grabs a glass of lemonade off the oval, tray-like top of his 17th c. Guéridon side table with gold leaf frame finish, and lifts it towards his chest, wetting the top right paragraph of page twenty-five of The New York Times with condensation, before bringing the rim of the glass to his lips. The physicist’s head, shiny and hairless, sprinkled with a mix of dried sweat and perspiration, tilts back and rests on an embroidered Turkish pillow, measuring 17×17 inches. He falls asleep. Outside the home, behind the chimney, runs a strip of follies, pergolas, and strumperies along a burnt-umber fence, connecting to a gazebo in the far-right corner of the backyard, where two deck chairs lie on top of October’s upswept leaves and clippings. It is the dead of winter, and you can hear squirrels and stray cats chasing after live animals and looking for things they might have lost underground, and as the nearly silent blow of negative ten degrees Celsius air—with windchills of up to negative fifteen—brush up against the physicist’s home, small drafts rush through the unsealed slits of the back-patio door, slowly making their way into the living room, only to settle twenty inches above the carpet near bare toes. Nothing but the droplets of water slowly merging into one another, thus, forming larger droplets which spread from the top of the lemonade glass to the bottom of the octagon-shaped cork coaster sitting on the tray-like top of the 17th c. Guéridon side table, can be heard inside. As he lies motionless on a fully reclined Eames chair, in the living room, with the latest issue of The New York Times folded in half, placed neatly to his side, the ninety-six-year-old American theoretical physicist and mathematician receives a text message, and his phone, which is set on vibrate, beats twice, and then twice again two minutes later, causing the napkin placed next to the glass of lemonade to fall off the side table and glide toward the floor.

*The following is an homage to “Death Is Not the End,” by David Foster Wallace.

Jordan Walters is a Philosophy PhD student at McGill University.

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