Nell’s mind just worked that way and there was nothing for it. Dot knew it. Anders knew it. Even the guy at the newsstand knew it. Especially the guy at the newsstand. Just ask the poor S.O.B. about that time Nell got going about Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle with him on a Sunday when she had the time to stand around and talk. But this was getting ridiculous.
“Is she still on about that?”
Dot was over for the evening and asking Anders about his wife’s latest pit. That’s what they called Nell’s obsessions, and she was deeply entrenched in this one.
“Are you kidding?”
“It’s actually an intriguing concept.”
“You’re telling me! I just wish she’d kept this one to herself. Now I keep wondering about all those fucking numbers.”
“I know.” Dot sighed and put her coffee cup down, looking out at the dreary evening.
Anders went on. “I mean, it’s not as if she can actually do anything with this.” He tossed Nell’s well-worn copy of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” back onto the pile by the couch, rousing Anjou from her perennial catnap.
“Ok, yes the number exists.” Anders took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “They exist independent of anyone’s knowledge of them. Yesterday a precise and absolute and finite number of grocery carts hit the sides of cars in parking lots in suburban St. Louis.”
Dot chimed in. “Last week X number of taxicabs ran red lights in Mexico City, a definite and exact number. And even though no one will ever know what that number is it still exists. I guess.”
“So we’ve got those number piling up on all sides. What good is there in knowing this? Why even acknowledge that they do exist?” Anders shook his head.
“This is worse than when she got going on that one about how we are enveloped by generations of the activity of human hands. Christ, I went around for weeks almost seeing the blurred motion of all those hands lifting and hammering and setting and building. It made me feel queasy!” Dot wrinkled her nose.
“At least with that one there was a germ of something that could be, I don’t know, used in a poem or a story or some damned thing. What the hell is there in this? And, sweet baby Jesus, it’s all she talks about anymore.”
“Well, if anyone can come up with something, it’ll be Nell.” Dot was comfortable, even smug.
“Where is she anyway? She’s got a stack of term papers to go over tonight.” Anders reached for the telephone, dialed and waited a moment before speaking.
“Hey, it’s me. Where’re you at? Dot’s here, we’re waiting supper til you get here. Gimme a yell.” He hung up and shrugged.
“Yeah. Who knows. Wanna try some of this merlot? It’s not bad.”
“Sure.” Dot grinned wicked. “You do know that there is a precise number of grapes that went into the production of that particular bottle of merlot and no one, not anyone anywhere ever will know that that number is.”
“Bitch. Stop it.” Anders was laughing when the phone rang.
Dot listened, frowning as Anders leaned into the call. Dot found herself leaning forward, too. The possibilities of all those precise numbers of events unfolding, clicking into place and falling apart on every side lent tension to the one-sided conversation. Dot squirmed and Anjou stretched, jumped off the end of the sofa and stalked out of the room.
“What? Are you all right!”
“Ok, ok, but you are all right? I can be there in ten, no fifteen minutes.”
“I’m on my way.” Anders hung up and turned to Dot. “That was Nell. She says there’s a number. No, wait, that there was a number.”
He went over to the foyer closet and got his coat before continuing.
“There was an exact and precise number of people who died in the city today. Not that she’d know or anything, but Nell’s floating the idea that that number was 41 until about 20 minutes ago.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Dot rushed to grab her coat.
Anders paused by the door with the air of someone accustomed to grand and world-weary gestures.
“Well, think about it for a second. Who but Nell would be in the cab that hit the 42nd person to die in New York City today?”
He pivoted on his heel and walked out.
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