Subscribe

Gravitation as a Result of Spacetime Being Curved by Mass and Energy

Gravitation as a Result of Spacetime Being Curved by Mass and Energy

There is no place to hide anymore. She stands in the emptiness of her studio, looking over her shoulder at the door and then back to the windows that overlook the dirty sidewalk below. Sunlight scratches through the streaks in the windows, cutting across the hardwood floor.

Thinking. Composing in her head. She needs to set up the shot, dragging the one wooden chair to the door. She arranges the tripod and the studio light in the middle of the room, pointing the Rolleiflex TLR camera at the chair. She is naked.

Setting the timer on the camera for five minutes, she walks back to the chair. But this isn’t the shot she wants. She uses the chair to reach up to grab hold of the trim around the door, lifting herself up, body toward the camera, face turned away, Jesus on the cross. She strains to hold the pose until she hears the click and drops to the floor.

Standing once more in the middle of the room she looks around, scheming, pacing, pondering. She walks to the windows, wishing she had a balcony. The sidewalk is seven stories below and she strains to glimpse the passersby. Alone in her small studio, she feels more connected with her emptiness than with the thousands of people below on the street.

Next shot. She straddles the wooden chair, head tilted, hair tangled. She goes to the camera, positions it, sets the timer, and resumes her position on the chair, staring wildly into the camera lens. Click. Another shot.

She drags the full-length mirror over next to the door. Hanging on the wall to the right of the door is a poster of the Einstein field equations for the general theory of relativity that describe the fundamental interaction of gravitation as a result of spacetime being curved by mass and energy. She smiles at the genius of Einstein, a true artist. Or con artist. But what artist isn’t running a con game? Einstein you sonuvabitch. You had all of them fooled. Spacetime? What a crock of shit.

She positions the mirror at the precise angle that bends her image into the poster of the field equations for the general theory of relativity. A work of art, her nude image in the mirror in bent spacetime. This is good. She sets the camera, positions the light, and resumes her place in front of the mirror, her hair falling down across her face. A faceless nude bent by light and deception.

She returns to the camera, looking around the empty space of the studio. The light streaking through the row of windows is fading. She walks to the windows and looks down into the street. The dirty street. Across the way, nothing but the rooftops of buildings as far as she can see. She can’t see the sun but knows it is going down. The light is fading into darkness. This is her world, a world of light and dark, a world of streaks and shadows.

She takes the film out of the camera and retreats to the closet in the corner. Her darkroom. Her sanctuary. The black and white photos show the streaks of shadow that sneak in with the sunlight. Hints of despair bent in spacetime. The world is inexpressible. By the time the scientists fit one theory into place, another one comes along to replace it. What kind of world is this? How does one live in it?

She thinks about Einstein in his world of despair, trying to justify his notion of gravity with the expanding universe. How is it gravity keeps tugging things inward when the universe continues to expand outward? Like streaks of shadow that sneak in on the whisper of light.

She positions each negative into the enlarger, after which the print goes into the developer solution, stop bath, and finally into the fixer. In the eerie red light, she steps back to look at the three photographs hanging above the table, hesitating before she flicks on the bare bulb dangling above her head. Done. Illusion and deception. A magic trick. The whole universe is a con game. Nothing is real.

She walks back into the studio and turns on the floor lamp in the corner and turns off the studio light. The room seems smaller in the light from the floor lamp, the single bed pushed against the wall lonely. While the universe is filled with dark space, her tiny studio is filled with a camera, a studio light, a floor lamp, a chair, a poster stuck to the wall, and her lonely bed pushed up against the wall. There is the row of windows that let in light from the streets and the ugly buildings across the way. Across the way. She stands in front of the windows looking out at the buildings, the strange mix of lights escaping their windows and the steam from the rooftops rising into darkness.

Looking around her tiny studio she wonders about the sanity of art. What drives anyone to make art? Make art? The phrase itself is insane. Art is the fight against science. It is like gravity being pulled in on itself. Nature tugs at us with all its strength and the artist resists, ripping her arm away, turning in scorn, screaming let go of me.

Why resist? Science isn’t the enemy. Science is just another way of trying to make sense of a senseless world. Einstein finally left it in the hands of God, that unknowable, unutterable notion of hopelessness. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations.

She sits on the edge of the bed and smokes a cigarette, the smoke from the cigarette stirred by the lamplight. The smoke and the row of windows press in on her. Stubbing out the cigarette on the hardwood floor, she stands and slips a dress over her head and walks back into the darkroom for a bar of soap, a bath towel, and a toothbrush. Exhausted and disheartened, she wants to soak in the tub. But that’s not it. What she really wants is for the world to go away. Even if it is only an illusion, it is smothering her.

Stepping out into the hallway, she reaches for the switch to turn on the light, a bare bulb that dangles from a cord from the cracked ceiling. Before she takes two steps, she remembers her cigarettes and goes back. She looks around the tiny studio, turns off the lamp, and steps out into the hallway.

As she makes her way to the door at the end of the narrow corridor, her melancholy clashing inside her head. When she reaches the bathroom door, she throws it open and immediately slams it behind her and locks it before turning on the bathroom light. Another bare bulb dangling from a cord. What the fuck? she says out loud. What the fuck? Empty corridors and bare bulbs and gloom. Nothing but gloom.

She hangs up her towel and turns on the faucets in the tub. Lighting a cigarette, she steps into the tub and slides down, exhaling the foul matter of the day. For the first time today, she is able to let go. Her muscles relax. The world can go fuck itself. Why does she bother? Her photographs bring barely enough money to pay the rent. She lives on cabbage and potatoes. And once in a while, a can of beans. But it is enough. She is driven to shape pictures, to shape light and shadow into some form, because when she thinks about it, she is making magic. Light and shadow only exist in conflict with one another. They don’t exist alone. So she mixes them together to make something else. This is her science. Her magic. Her illusion. So what if she doesn’t follow a theory? If she did, it wouldn’t last long before it was replaced by something else. And that is the illusion of the universe. This great big mixing bowl of light and shadow.

After finishing her cigarette she reaches for another one and turns off the faucets. She floats inside a cloud of steam and cigarette smoke, wishing she’d brought a candle. The glare of the bare bulb blinds her.

A knock on the door awakens her from a dream. She listens, thinking it was in her dream. Another knock.

“Go away,” she yells at the closed door. And she listens.

“Can’t go away. Nowhere to go. I gotta use the can, lady.”

“Go piss out the window, why don’t you?”

“That’s your solution? Piss outta window?”

“Yep, it’s the best I got,” she tells the voice on the other side of the door.

“Ain’t good enough. Come on, let me in. I won’t take long.”

“I’m taking a bath in here,” she tells the voice. She tries to put a face to the voice. She’s lived in her studio for six months and in all that time has never met anyone else in the building. How is that possible? She has become a hermit.

“I’m dying out here, lady,” he says. “Come on, be a human being.”

“A human being? What the fuck is that? In this city, humans are extinct.”

“Not quite. And I have needs, very human needs.”

“Don’t you have a can or something?”

“Jesus, lady, I’m standing outside the toilet and you want me to piss in a can.”

“Yeah, if you don’t want to piss out the window. I thought men liked pissing off high places.”

“Well, I wouldn’t know anything about that. I’d prefer pissing into a toilet.”

“The bathwater is perfect and I’m not about to sacrifice it for your convenience.”

“It ain’t convenience, it’s necessity,” he says. “Listen, you stay in the tub, I promise I won’t look.”

“Yeah, right. I wasn’t born yesterday. It’s human nature to look. And you already said you were human.”

“So what if I look? It ain’t something I haven’t seen a million times before.”

“A million times? Wow, mister, you get around,” she says with a laugh.

“A million might be a slight exaggeration, but I’ve seen women’s bodies before. Besides, I’m the one whose dick will be hanging out for everyone to see.”

“Everyone? Who do you think is in here?”

“Well, for you to see then. No big deal, okay? You have to get out of the tub to unlock the door, just stay covered up with your towel.”

“There ain’t room in here for both of us unless I’m in the tub. Haven’t you ever been in here before? Which leads me to ask, do you even live here?”

“Sure I live here. In 721.”

“How come I’ve never seen you before?” she asks.

“How do you know you’ve never seen me before?”

“Well, I don’t recognize your voice,” she says.

“That’s ‘cause I’m quiet. You don’t hear me, you don’t see me, I’m considerate that way. Don’t like to raise a ruckus,” he says.

“Listen, I’ll unlock the door, but you have to give me time to get back in the tub before you come in. Deal?”

“Deal.”

She steps out of the tub and hurries to unlock the door and rushes back to the tub, thinking how crazy it is to be so bashful now when she makes her living selling nude photographs of herself. But her photographs are art. She is the subject of her photographs, not a real person. When she is back in the tub she yells for him to come in.

“I appreciate this,” he says, hurriedly lifting the lid on the toilet. “Jesus, it’s so steamy in here, how’d you think I was going to see you anyway?” He stands over the toilet. A minute goes by. And then another minute. “Dammit. Now’s not the time to get bashful,” he says to himself but loud enough for her to hear him.

She watches him intently. “Is there anything I can do to help?” she asks, letting out a short laugh.

“Very funny,” he says. “I can’t piss with you looking at me.”

“Well, you wanted to look at me,” she says.

“I didn’t want to look at you. I never said that. All I said was I needed to take a piss. And now I’m so turned around I can’t even piss. This is a fine mess.”

“Exactly,” she says. “It’s what I’ve always said, a fine mess. We’re living in a fine, fuckin’ mess and there’s no way out.”

He turns toward the tub and stares at her. She slides down.

“What apartment are you in?” he asks her.

“Down the hall. It’s my studio.”

“You don’t live there?”

“Yeah, I live there, but I also use it as my studio,” she says.

“You some kind of artist?” he asks.

“A photographer,” she says.

“Hmmm…you make a living at that?” he asks.

“Kind of,” she says.

He puts the toilet lid down and sits down, peering through the steam and smoke. “Are you there,” he asks.

“Where d’you think I’d be?”

“I thought maybe you’d drowned,” he says.

“You want me to drown so you can piss?” she asks.

“No, I don’t want you to drown, but you were just so quiet.”

He looks down at the pack of cigarettes on the floor next to the tub and asks, “You think I might have one of those?”

“Like borrow? Like you intend to return it later?”

“No, I meant could I bum one?”

“Sure. Help yourself.”

He takes a cigarette and lights it, exhaling a stream of smoke. “Might as well add to the fog,” he says.

“How’d you end up in a dump like this?” she asks.

“It’s a long story, but the short version is I presently find myself unemployed,” he says.

“What do you do?”

“Well, as I said, I’m presently unemployed,” he says.

“Okay, then, what did you used to do?” she asks.

“I was a musician, a drummer in a band, but the band broke up,” he says.

“Disbanded?” she laughs.

“Very funny,” he says. “But yeah, disbanded, and now I’m here, looking for a new band. It ain’t easy. Drummers are a dime a dozen.”

“Too bad. Wish I could help, but I scrape by myself. It’s hell trying to express yourself, trying to find the edge of things. Always on the verge of toppling over the cliff, if you know what I mean.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” he says. “Sometimes I wished I’d listened to my old man and stayed in school. But music was calling to my soul. Now, it’s my stomach that’s doing all the screaming.”

“A pair of starving artists, a sad story,” she says.

“Hey, you up to going out to get a bite to eat?” he asks. “I think I can scrape together enough for a couple bowls of chowder – or saltines and water, at least, with a little ketchup for flavor.”

“Sounds delightful, but no thanks. Not much for going out.”

“It ain’t exactly a date, just wondering if you’d like to get the hell outta here for a while,” he says.

“I appreciate the offer, but I don’t think so,” she says. “Really have a phobia about crowds.”

“Shit, I’m not saying Grand Central Station. There’s a quiet little restaurant down the street. You must get out once in a while.”

“Not really,” she says.

“How do you sell your photos?” he asks.

“I show in a gallery. The owner comes here. We have an arrangement.”

“Well, how about this? I fix soup at my place and you join me later?”

“Sorry, I’m busy later,” she says.

“Busy? An hour, that’s all. I’m not asking you to marry me,” he says.

“Sorry,” she says.

“Suit yourself,” he says. “Just a friendly invitation, nothing more.”

“Thank you,” she says.

He finishes his cigarette and stands, lifts the toilet lid, throws the cigarette butt into the toilet, and turns his back to her while he pees. “You know, maybe you’ve been alone too long, it might help if you got out once in a while. It ain’t healthy spending all your time alone.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right, but my health ain’t exactly what worries me,” she says, reaching up to turn on the faucets. “A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy, Einstein said.” She hears the door open and close and turns the faucets off and settles back in the tub, wondering if she should get up to lock the door. Fuck it, she thinks. Fuck it.

She smokes a couple more cigarettes and the bathwater grows cold. It is time. She wraps the towel around her and with her dress thrown over her arm and clutching her cigarettes, the soap, and toothbrush, she scurries back to her studio. Moving through the darkness she finds the lamp, turns it on, and steps to the row of windows and looks down into the empty street and across at the steam exhaled from the rooftops. The world is filled with emptiness and smoke, she thinks. And then she thinks about the stranger in the bathroom. He was just trying to be friendly. It wouldn’t kill her to socialize. But it is too much trouble. Life chewed her up and spit her out a long time ago. She feels like a piece of gristle.

She turns away from the windows and walks back to her bed, sits down and lights a cigarette. It tastes foul and she puts it out. The pain of creativity oozes from every cell of her tired body. She goes into the darkroom, takes down the photographs hanging above the processing table, and returns to the bed. Absently, she lights another cigarette and exhales a stream of smoke. She spreads the three photographs on the floor in front of her, looking at her nude body in disgust. What is she trying to say? What is anyone trying to say?

The one thing that catches her eye is the poster of Einstein’s field equations. She looks up from the photographs to the poster on the wall. There is a symmetry to the equations, a logic, whether one is looking at the poster through the lens of the camera reflected in the mirror or the actual poster on the wall. A mirror image through the lens of the camera is the opposite image seen by the eye, but with Einstein’s equations, which are hieroglyphics to her, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. This is what Einstein was trying to say. Curved space is still space, it all depends on one’s perspective. If she wants to fill her space with nude photographs of herself, no one else should care, not even the stranger in the bathroom. Let him fill his space however he wants. She’ll fill her space in whatever manner she wants. It’s her space.

She stubs out her cigarette and stands by the row of windows. She opens up a window and sticks her head out so she can see the street below. The street is empty. As far as she can see up and down the street, there isn’t a soul. Not one. And this strikes her as the most meaningful thing she has ever discovered in her life. Maybe the last thing she’ll ever discover. But it is something. One thought. Maybe not Einstein’s field equations for gravitation as a result of spacetime being curved by mass and energy, but a thought nonetheless. She thinks Einstein would be proud of her. And if he was right, her energy will mix with his one day. One day. And this alone brings her comfort.

 

 

4 Comments
  1. Hi David,

    I like your story, as bleek as it was to read, but I totally get how one can think like “she”.

    Is it the life as an artist, or can anyone feel so defeated about life? At least she has the photography to capture some kind of meaning, if they’re not felt as real.

    You have a compelling writing style, I like that.

    Lovedy

    • Thank you so much, Lovedy,

      I truly appreciate your comment. First off, I appreciate your reading the story and then taking the time to comment on it. This means so much to me. The life of an artist can oftentimes be lived in solitude and doubt. Whenever I hear from a reader, I don’t feel so alone. As an artist yourself, you have firsthand experience with the creative process. When we should be bold and fearless, it is easy to fall into a sense of uncertainty, to doubt the meaning behind what we do, to doubt ourselves. I am working on this in myself. I want to live a fearless life, to live with bold self-assurance, to live as if today is the last day of my life, and to live fully, to live with no regrets.

      Thank you again, I really loved hearing from you.

      David

  2. I enjoyed reading your story. Thank you, a brief glimpse to an artist
    World. Perhaps a commonality of all artists. I found parts of me in the story.
    I so love this line-“A mirror image through the lens of the camera is
    The opposite image seen by the eye,”
    I write poetry and sometimes as I read what I’ve written feels like
    A camera’s snapshot. I hope this makes sense.
    Again thank you.

    • Thank you so much for your lovely comment on my story, Manuela. As a writer, I work in solitude, so it is always nice to get feedback, nice to know that someone out there is reading what I’ve written, and not only that they are reading it but that they’ve gotten something from reading it. And I know precisely what you mean when you say that what you’ve written feels like a camera’s snapshot. Words rattle around inside our heads and if we are able to get some of them on paper, we have to tilt our heads, examine them, read them, reread them, and then compare them to that snapshot of what they looked like inside our heads before we glued them to paper. Often times they don’t look anything like what we imagined them to be, but that is true of a snapshot. The image transferred on to paper is somehow different than the picture in our heads. Similar but different. A mirror image. Real but not real. Thank you again. I truly appreciate your comment.

Leave a Reply