Thursday, April 11, 2019

Flash Fiction: Newton's Needle

Newton by William Blake

It doesn’t really hurt—not really. The trick is pushing past your own squeamishness, the instinct to flinch away.
I will admit, the idea came to me when I saw a group of boys playing at marbles on the road. In my youth, we used to play thus, crouched around our circles like old divinators at their casting sites. We had mostly dull clay pieces worn the same color as the soil. But one lad had a glass piece. How we coveted that perfect sphere-- perfect in our eyes, though now, as I recall, it had a faint greenish hue, its interior pocked with imperfections. I recall how the glass marble caught the light, how it winked in the sun as our taws struck it and rolled it out of the circle, a pale shadow moving inside of a larger, darker one along the ground. I was reminded, also, of the bubbles children blow out of pipes, floating and wavering, iridescent on the air where the light struck it. So many simple pleasures of youth: watching the afternoon sun filtering down through the branches of an elm, turning its rippled leaves transparent, like fingers stringing a harp. You see, color is not inherent to the thing. Color is the interaction between the light and the thing reflecting it. When the world goes dark, everything goes dark with it.
There is only the slightest discomfort as I probe around, searching for the best point of entry. Perhaps discomfort is too strong a word. There is pressure, certainly. But no worse than if I was rubbing at my eye with my fist—which, as I have found, will also produce colored circles in the vision.
I have looked and looked at the sun, considering the light itself. It turns out that this was good practice as I trained myself not to blink so often. After a particularly long stretch of sun-gazing, I needed several days in a darkened room to recover. During that time, I had a searing headache. Anytime I shut my lids, I saw the most fantastic colors, as if they had been permanently imprinted on the eye itself, fiery wheels of red, orange, blue, a vision out of a prophet’s dream. These colors were most clear just after I had looked into the sun and gradually faded as my eyes went back to normal. I meditated on the colors and what they might mean. Is the pain I endure penance, well-earned for my innumerable sins? Or is it a sacrifice, the price one must pay for unlocking His mysteries? These thoughts were never far from my mind, even as I formulated my plans. Finally, when I was able to see again, I opened the windows back up and greeted the light once more. I procured the bodkin.
I make sure it has a nice, dull edge. It wouldn’t do to lay anything sharp alongside the optic organ, to scratch that sensitive, quivering plain. Despite my best efforts, my eye waters when the tip of the bodkin touches the moist flesh of the underlid. I move the bodkin carefully along the socket, undeterred even when it scrapes bone, shaping my eye this way and that with the point, peering up into a beam of light as I do so. The circles appear and disappear, just as before. As I do, I think again of my boyhood, kneeling beside the circle drawn in the dirt, aiming my taw for the glass marble. But I never won it. I never did. At length, I remove the bodkin from my eye with an unpleasant sucking sound.
There was light enough left for me to go out, past where lads were playing—some other game today. Leapfrog, by the look of it. In the market, there is a seller of trinkets who sold me two prisms made of Venetian glass—another child’s toy. The lens I already had in my possession.
Just pieces of glass. Baubles, really. To think that they could reveal so much. I will mount the three pieces, just so, to show how light reflects and refracts, filling the parlor with ribbons of color.
Light has form. It is a thing to be perceived and evaluated. It is a revelatory force. It brings warmth. It dispels dampness. It commands both the planted seed and the trees of the wood. Pagans built their altars to its avatars. It commands the life-bearing seasons.
 Miniscule corpuscles float on the air, beaming from lens to prism. The world is whiteness. Everything is a step in its scale, mounting its way from darkness to violet to red and back again, like a bruise.
Sometimes, to see things, we must suffer certain discomforts. The rain drives the boys from the lane, lest their playthings be lost, swallowed up by the muck. We must be blinded to see, we must kneel outside the circle to understand desire. And yet, to heal, sometimes we must retreat from the fires of fervor and illumination.
The colors merge to make whiteness again, pure in its unity. It is divine. All colors that flow from the Almighty ultimately flow back unto Him and His light. As do we.
When I am finished, satisfied with my experiment, I will close the shutters. I will add to my catalogue of sins: coveting another child’s toy in boyhood.