Issue #84

Fall 2022

(Mary)'s Testimony

by David M. Rubin

At a bookstall on the lower level of Edinburgh's labyrinth, Borges described to me the complete map of the city, and how Land Surveyors walk the map looking for the Castle's hidden causeway. He muttered that attainment was parabolic, especially with notions of city (Edinburgh, Heidelberg, Prague, the Great Khan's), castle, and map in doubt.

Borges and I meet in libraries snaking across Europe and the Americas. We discuss Georg (Ferdinand Ludwig Philipp) Cantor's many faces of infinity. He pierces the veil, guessing that I represent an order that is stalking him; though he suggests that he has spent a lifetime looking for me. Two almost-intersecting beings, dancing. I chide him and Kafka for missing the access to the castle using Leibniz differentiation and Banach spaces. He elides the point, "You mean Newton and Frechet?"

"Our lineage learned long ago to extract the names from our maps, and a web of defined measurements and juxtapositions remain."

"Maps, measurements, meanings. Symbols, signs. Shapes as mere arrangements of numbers. Great regressions. Asymptotes."

"Vanishing points as codex. Strip away the details, the adjectives, the angst -- and the castles will appear."

"Or was never needed," the component of Borges that was a Jew continued, "a Messiah is not needed when the lamb lies down with the lion."

Peripatetic Borges breaks the gravity of our dual star system and hurtles off, and I am free again. Mary Kennedy Hart, the 92nd of my lineage, and I wonder what our lineage even is. Muses, mothers, and wives -- means to an end, transactional, a way for 200,000 years of the invisible to gain access to their castles? Mirrors so we are seen, copulations to reproduce ourselves into the future. I search the lineage catalogues. I read and re-read every word in every tome, the addendums, handwritten notes, biographs of featured pairings -- Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, Alma and Gustav Mahler, Clara and Robert Schumann, Sophie Germaine and Carl Friedrich Gauss, Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, Shirley Jackson and Stanley Hyman, etc.…

I rummage notes on thousands of brilliant abstainers and loners. Dive into obscure details on non-pairings: William James, high on his Gifford lecturing, flirted with Mary Eudoria, the 78th of our lineage, outside the bathroom of Rainy Hall at the University of Edinburgh. He enumerated, quite on auto-pilot all of the "Varieties of Religious Experience", as if he was re-organizing the lists of what had been already conveyed and what was coming. Eudoria snapped her fingers to abruptly break his stream, and he blurted out that one of her kind (woman? librarian? did he know of the lineage?) might list out the "measurement heresiarchs" from A to Zed, from year X to year Y like Eratosthenes the Librarian mapping the Iliad to Alexander. The great pluralist, the great pragmatist, the great psychologist and synthesizer, ironically re-directed us to abandon notions of synthesis and focus only on accreting maps and catalogues.

James convinced Eudoria that reality was accessible only in random walks like so many fireflies. (Einstein's Annus Mirabilis was four years in the future – by 1905 James would swap Brownian Motion for fireflies to gain mechanism though it weakened his poetics considerably. In 1905 James mentioned to Alice – sister not wife (!) -- that at first, he thought he had hypnotized Eudoria, though understood much later that he was entranced by what must have been a Succubus and only by the grace of God did he not disgrace the whole family at the moment of his great triumph). He playfully guided Eudoria through imaginary Edinburgh. A "category of entry" must be deployed, such as architecture, and he walked her across George IV Bridge, past The Balmoral Hotel, up and into Edinburgh Castle. Think of food -- and she was back at the origin ready to traipse grocery stores, fruit stands, menus, and restaurants. He ended with a mock prayer that God should not ask them to sample the haggis at tonight's banquet.

Back at the dinner pews, James, the guest of honor, (and a man that Bertrand Russell measured in "The History of Western Philosophy" as "…very democratic, and very full of a warmth of human kindness", before going apoplectic regarding James' metaphysics, stooping to assault via Santa Claus and then parachuting in the pope to attack pragmatism's defense of religion) ignored everyone except Eudoria. They clinked flutes, welcomed the ghosts of Heraclitus and Parmenides. Is not all change and a permanent oneness? Ha! William James and Mary Eudoria picked up and ate that apple of discord so these Greek legends can pace adjacent infinity maps in worn-stone channels in the agora. Ha! William was drunk on Glenmorangie and melding conversation; his final enumeration (and contradiction) was an agora with enough room for Democritus's void.

In my home library in Washington D.C., is an addendum to the mountain surveys and triangulations of George Everest, whose destitute niece studied under George Boole, the great mathematician 17 years her senior, eventually accompanying him to Edinburgh sans chaperone to receive a Keith Medal in 1855 for his "Probability of Judgments", a logical treatise on the ability of human juries to try their peers. George Boole marries Mary Everest and they produce five spectacular (accomplished in literature, math and chemistry) daughters at a time when women were not afforded such career opportunities, e.g., Alice James. George reckoned the natural probability of five girls and no boys was two to the fifth power (or ~3%), and he didn’t live to see the sky shattering of these women as guided by Mary Everest.

George had ambled three miles in freezing rain and gave a lecture on symbolic logic in wet clothes, returning later that evening febrile, coughing, and sneezing. Mary, who believed in treating like with like, wrapped George in cold wet blankets and muscled him into a bath. She called, "George! George!" when he seemed to be slipping away, and George replied, "Speak, your servant is listening." Back and forth, Mary as God, George as the prophet Samuel. Mary nursed him sternly but lovingly in ice as George continued his lectures on elective symbols, meandering to transformation of shape to number. Mary imagined cutting those shapes into knitting toys to express Euclid and other complex ideas to the girls, which would later become "The Preparation of the Child for Science". She poured more ice into the bath and hastened George's death from pneumonia.

I am with Mary in the kitchen making cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches for the girls, as they wrestle with this absurd loss of Poppa, never able to truly forgive Momma. Alicia, a four-dimensional geometer, teased through the Keith Medal lectures to determine the likelihood, of not whether mother meant to kill father, but whether the girls would be correct in their conclusion should they form an ad hoc jury. Lucy blamed the tragedy on a misplaced "ism", i.e., Mary deployed a homeopathy that was not well-tested and backfired spectacularly. Hubris and a bit of bad luck. Ethel Lily didn't need her Marx to surmise that raising five girls alone was an unwanted burden. Mary Ellen and Margaret, who married and mothered mathematicians, debated how integral Mary was in the creation of father's great tome "The Laws of Thought" and wondered if she was seeking attribution.

Mary Everest Boole was appointed librarian of Queen's College London. She chronicled her own exploits and measurements, like Eratosthenes, harboring only modest jealousy of men like Archimedes, who wound up center stage in places like Syracuse and "The Lives of Plutarch". Mary pushed "Lives" to her clientele, stressing that Mary Shelley complemented it with Goethe's "Sorrows of Young Werther" and Milton's "Paradise Lost" to educate her monster. Mary was extracted from her librarian appointment when the Trustees read her treatises on parapsychology, the occult and math as anthropomorphism. But isn't the universe math, and math as we understand it psychology?

If you mapped a serpentine path through spacetime that listed all the heresiarch pairs who probed the eddies and edges while barely managing their sanity, it would not be dissimilar to predator prey graphs. An ecology. As the hare goes so goes the lynx, but where a lynx evolves with its fortunes tied to the hare, the watcher chooses its unique prey. Rainbows of light -- Annunciation – on which God sent Gabriel to the first Mary. I run into Borges kneeling in front of the Fra Angelico testimonial in the Prado, and then again at the Van Eyck in the National Gallery in DC.

I am Mary Kennedy Hart of a lineage labyrinth that catalogs other-worldly souls who map and measure -- heights, widths, times, relations, transformations, conceptions, emotions… transcendence. The universe suggests that maybe there is nothing left to measure. Borges asks me if I really am his mirror and suggests I am too astoundingly beautiful for him, another Elsa, or Gabriel or Rilke's terrifying angel. He laughs that maybe he is unattainable Fanny and I am the consumptive poet Keats. I mutter that it is just my luck to draw a copulation-questioning prude. We agree that as there is no infinity, there will be one final roll for Sisyphus accompanied by trumpets when he announces, “Enough, I am done. I have outlasted cruelty and abomination.” Enlightenment.

Author Bio


David M. Rubin has a Ph.D. in biology. His stories, poems, and essays have appeared in After Dinner Conversations, Brilliant Flash Fiction, ffraid, Ginosko Literary Journal, Last Stanza, Maudlin House, Moss Piglet, The Nabokovian, Spinozablue, and The Smart Set. He is looking to create connection and dialogue @Six18sFoundry.