Issue #70

Spring 2019

Freefall

by Carolyn Levi

N. imagines, as he steps on the braided wire (one foot, then two) that a cord runs from his feet, through his body, to a Lucite bead in his scalp. The cord ascends to secure anchor on a space elevator circling the Earth, its gears and engines in geostationary orbit at 35,800 km. Or is held lightly between two fingers of the one hand of his G_d.

Below, at 157 meters, so it is 86% closer to ground than to his present position, is a faintly luminous net. The net's warp is a single-walled carbon nanotube, tensile strength 63 GPa. Its weft is pink silk, the color of one held breath.

Midway between the two towers (that is to say between M. building and L. building), N. falls.

A rubber O-ring at 0 degrees C, well within the atmosphere of N.'s walk across the Chicago skyline, shatters. In low-earth-orbit an O-ring shatters into 3.14X10 to-the-sixth fragments. Or his G_d's attention is drawn elsewhere (to one sparrow, perhaps). N. falls (initial velocity = zero).

As N. falls the weft below wavers; its fibers, like the 117 silken seeds in a dandelion head, disperse.

Carbon nanotubes (N.'s net’s taut warp) are four nm in diameter, so when N.'s body meets them at approximately 127 km/h, warp threads neither slow his acceleration nor reduce his velocity at terminus.

The speed of sound in air (20 degrees C) is 343 m/s, so N.’s silence strikes the sidewalk before he does.

N. is now arrayed on the sidewalk like so many microtome sections, or deli slices, or like the woman displayed for more than 40 years in the grand stairway of the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, whom he never saw, and who is now hidden in any case, the shame of displaying a mutilated, naked, nameless black woman finally dawning on curators and trustees; but supine.

K. takes slowly the thirteen steps to where N. has fallen. He grasps the Lucite bead in two hands and draws it towards himself with a force of four dynes.

"Pull yourself together," K. says. N. totters, stands. "Next time," says K. "Next time," replies N.

Author Bio

a scene


For a long time Carolyn Levi was a scientist, then for a different long time she wrote about science. Now she explores poetry, mostly. And lives in an old house, which has its own preoccupations.