Imaginary Numbers

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Christine's Baby

William Borgiac never had children. It was something he regretted. Some mornings he would wake up and imagine for a brief moment that his ex-wife was still lying beside him, and that within seconds the door would burst open and a pair of kids would run in and jump on the bed, nuzzling in between the two adult bodies, exuding a warmth consistent with the deep familial love only a mammal can feel.

Then the truth would rise through his fantasy, and he would swing his legs heavily off the bed, rubbing his eyes, and gradually, he would come to terms with another day of being alone in the world.

Today, he called room service, asked for a cappuccino and a croissant, and started to dress himself, as always, in a three piece suit. He looked out the window onto a cobblestone square, surrounded by narrow Norman-style houses with their whitewashed walls and heavy wooden beams. The sky was silver with clouds obscuring the horizon. It looked like it might rain.

Over his coffee, Prof. Borgiac recalled the day before. He remembered how the girl had cried when he delivered the bad news. He had stood there awkwardly with a hand on her forearm, soaking in the enormous amount of empathy the girl was capable of. Her feelings for Christine were so true that he felt ashamed for not caring enough about the death of another human being—the death of another living thing. Tears ran down her cheeks, her perfect eyes squeezed tightly; she sobbed and her chest heaved. The doctor had come quickly, asking if she were okay. He checked the displays on the various machines she was attached to, and then asked to see the Professor privately.

In the dark barrel vault of the hallway outside the pre-natal unit, he had told the professor that no patient with a punctured lung could cry like that. He wanted to do a new Xray.

Prof. Borgiac stood there silently, nodding his head. Something inside him seemed missing. Measured against this broken, half-erased girl, he was not as much of a person as she.

When the doctor had finished, the professor asked about the baby. The doctor told him that as far as he knew the baby would go to an aunt, since Christine had no husband.

The professor relived this memory as he devoured the last bits of his croissant. He couldn’t stop thinking about the child. Perhaps he would take the girl to see the baby when she got well.

He was tired of calling her ‘the girl’. She needed a name as much for him as for her own identity. And what of the baby? She will also be unnamed—the most basic unit of humanity passed along the branches of her family tree. He hoped that the baby finds a family with her aunt, that she would be happy and raised well.

After breakfast, he packed his briefcase, making sure to load in a bottle of water and the tiny speaker system he’d bought the day before. Usually, his morning routine included watching the news, but today he was focussed on the girl. He wanted to try a different strategy, something that exposed less of his own past.

* * *

Crystal clear water poured out of the bottle, refracting the sunlight streaming in through the arched windows of the pre-natal unit, so that the limestone bricks of the gallery seemed submerged in waves of light flowing around on the ceiling.

“Thank you.” The girl took the cup and drank.

“Any news about the Xray, doctor?”

“Well, our patient here is recovering remarkably well.” The doctor addressed them both, holding the black-and-white photogram of a ribcage up to the light. “She seems to be healing at an unprecedented rate. In fact, we will be removing the artificial lung later today.”

“That’s great!”

“Wow! Really?!” The girl was beaming. “What about my legs?” She wiggled her toes.

“I have scheduled a check up for tomorrow. But right now, please relax, and try to eat some more food. The nurses keep sending back your meals.”

“I will try.” The doctor nodded, smiled, and excused himself.

“Well, that certainly is good news. Soon you’ll be as good as new.”

“I feel a lot better. It’s like every morning when the sun rises, I am renewed. I just wish I could see the sky.”

“Soon, my dear. Soon.” She drained the remaining water in her cup, and he refilled it for her. “I was hoping we could try something different today.”

“Yes?”

“Indeed. Do you like music?” She considered this question, pulling her plump lips to one side.

“I don’t know. I guess so.”

“Well, why don’t we try listening to some music, and you can tell me your thoughts on it.”

“Sounds like fun.” The professor removed the tiny speakers from his briefcase and connected them to his phone.

“Let’s begin. Why don’t you close your eyes and tell me your first thoughts for each piece?” She closed her eyes and he took the moment to examine her in detail. He stared at her, while the music started to play. It was Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, played by a lively classical violinist. The strings started off softly and increased in tempo and volume. The small room was filled with the music, which seemed simultaneously invigorating and relaxing. The women smiled, and one of them was swinging her arms as if she was conducting the whole experience.

The girl opened her eyes and said, “Wonderment.”

“Very well. Anything else?”

“It makes me happy. This music seems perfect to me.”

“Do you have any memories attached to it?”

“Not really. I think it’s the first time I’m hearing this, but I like it. A lot.” The professor let the piece run its course, a delightful background music for the bonding husbands and wives. When the music ended, the next piece began. It was a popular children’s song from England, ‘Eensy Weensy Spider.’

“Do you recognize this?” She smiled.

“It makes me happy. I imagine children playing in a garden.”

“What does the garden look like?”

“It’s a great big country garden with flowers in full bloom. There is a pond with fish swimming in it. Rabbits bounce freely, and the children amuse themselves with insects, catching them in their tiny hands. A boy chases a girl in a white dress, and they both squeal and giggle, and end up rolling on the grass under the curtains of a willow tree.”

“Impressive!” The professor was scribbling in his notebook when she opened her eyes. “Are there any emotions connected with this memory?”

“Yes, but it’s not a memory.”

“It’s not?”

“No, you asked me whether I recognize this? And, actually, I don’t. I’ve never heard it before.”

“But the image. Your description. It all seems so clear.” She stayed silent. “Are you sure the girl in the white dress is not you?”

“No, I’m not sure.”

“I will take it into account then, regardless. Perhaps it is a veiled snippet from your childhood.”

The next song was ‘Hey Jude’ by the Beatles. Some of the women in the ward sang the chorus along in accented English. They all knew the song. The girl smiled at the jovial environment in the hospital, but didn’t sing along.

“It’s a nice song. I like it.”

“Do you know who sings it?”

“I’m not sure. It seems familiar, but I can’t recall the artist.”

“Really?” The professor shook his head. “You can’t remember?”

“No. Sorry.”

“Well, my dear, that is highly unusual.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You see, even global fugue state leaves the patient with knowledge of social skills and cultural history. For example, if a soldier suffers head trauma, he is still able to recall nursery rhymes, and the popular songs of his youth. Although he might forget personal details, or even current events, he should be able to recall cultural information ingrained since childhood.” The professor frowned.

“Is that a song from my teenage years?”

“Not unless you are nearly 60 years old. But everyone knows it. It is by the Beatles, from my younger years, in fact. Does the name ring a bell?”

“Sorry.” She shook her head. A woman two beds over spoke up in strong French accent.

Incroyable! Everyone knows zhe Beatles! Zhey arh superbe!”

“Madam,” the professor replied in French, “this woman is suffering from amnesia. She has no memory. None of her own past, and apparently none of the Beatles either.”

Je m’excuse, monsieur. Mais c’est juste...C’est tellement dommage, c’est tout.

“What did she say?” the girl asked.

“She said it’s unfortunate that you cannot remember the Beatles.” He smiled a artificial smile at her.

“Well, I’ll have to get reacquainted, I suppose.”

“I shall leave you with some of their music then. In fact, why don’t I leave you will a variety of music and you can tell me if any song reminds you of something?”

“I’d like that.”

Before leaving the girl, he explained to her that he would have to return to Geneva for a few days. He took her hand in his, and wished her well. He promised that he would return for her, that they would continue her therapy. She squeezed his hand and smiled.

“I hope you do come back.”

“Good luck with your check up tomorrow. The hospital has my number in Geneva if you need anything at all.” And with that he exited the hall of pregnant women to return to his life in Switzerland, a cold life of facts, experiments, and scientific rigor.

CHRISTINE’s BABY

William Borgiac never had children. It was something he regretted. Some mornings he would wake up and imagine for a brief moment that his ex-wife was still lying beside him, and that within seconds the door would burst open and a pair of kids would run in and jump on the bed, nuzzling in between the two adult bodies, exuding a warmth consistent with the deep familial love only a mammal can feel.

Then the truth would rise through his fantasy, and he would swing his legs heavily off the bed, rubbing his eyes, and gradually, he would come to terms with another day of being alone in the world.

Today, he called room service, asked for a cappuccino and a croissant, and started to dress himself, as always, in a three piece suit. He looked out the window onto a cobblestone square, surrounded by narrow Norman-style houses with their whitewashed walls and heavy wooden beams. The sky was silver with clouds obscuring the horizon. It looked like it might rain.

Over his coffee, Prof. Borgiac recalled the day before. He remembered how the girl had cried when he delivered the bad news. He had stood there awkwardly with a hand on her forearm, soaking in the enormous amount of empathy the girl was capable of. Her feelings for Christine were so true that he felt ashamed for not caring enough about the death of another human being—the death of another living thing. Tears ran down her cheeks, her perfect eyes squeezed tightly; she sobbed and her chest heaved. The doctor had come quickly, asking if she were okay. He checked the displays on the various machines she was attached to, and then asked to see the Professor privately.

In the dark barrel vault of the hallway outside the pre-natal unit, he had told the professor that no patient with a punctured lung could cry like that. He wanted to do a new Xray.

Prof. Borgiac stood there silently, nodding his head. Something inside him seemed missing. Measured against this broken, half-erased girl, he was not as much of a person as she.

When the doctor had finished, the professor asked about the baby. The doctor told him that as far as he knew the baby would go to an aunt, since Christine had no husband.

The professor relived this memory as he devoured the last bits of his croissant. He couldn’t stop thinking about the child. Perhaps he would take the girl to see the baby when she got well.

He was tired of calling her ‘the girl’. She needed a name as much for him as for her own identity. And what of the baby? She will also be unnamed—the most basic unit of humanity passed along the branches of her family tree. He hoped that the baby finds a family with her aunt, that she would be happy and raised well.

After breakfast, he packed his briefcase, making sure to load in a bottle of water and the tiny speaker system he’d bought the day before. Usually, his morning routine included watching the news, but today he was focussed on the girl. He wanted to try a different strategy, something that exposed less of his own past.

* * *

Crystal clear water poured out of the bottle, refracting the sunlight streaming in through the arched windows of the pre-natal unit, so that the limestone bricks of the gallery seemed submerged in waves of light flowing around on the ceiling.

“Thank you.” The girl took the cup and drank.

“Any news about the Xray, doctor?”

“Well, our patient here is recovering remarkably well.” The doctor addressed them both, holding the black-and-white photogram of a ribcage up to the light. “She seems to be healing at an unprecedented rate. In fact, we will be removing the artificial lung later today.”

“That’s great!”

“Wow! Really?!” The girl was beaming. “What about my legs?” She wiggled her toes.

“I have scheduled a check up for tomorrow. But right now, please relax, and try to eat some more food. The nurses keep sending back your meals.”

“I will try.” The doctor nodded, smiled, and excused himself.

“Well, that certainly is good news. Soon you’ll be as good as new.”

“I feel a lot better. It’s like every morning when the sun rises, I am renewed. I just wish I could see the sky.”

“Soon, my dear. Soon.” She drained the remaining water in her cup, and he refilled it for her. “I was hoping we could try something different today.”

“Yes?”

“Indeed. Do you like music?” She considered this question, pulling her plump lips to one side.

“I don’t know. I guess so.”

“Well, why don’t we try listening to some music, and you can tell me your thoughts on it.”

“Sounds like fun.” The professor removed the tiny speakers from his briefcase and connected them to his phone.

“Let’s begin. Why don’t you close your eyes and tell me your first thoughts for each piece?” She closed her eyes and he took the moment to examine her in detail. He stared at her, while the music started to play. It was Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, played by a lively classical violinist. The strings started off softly and increased in tempo and volume. The small room was filled with the music, which seemed simultaneously invigorating and relaxing. The women smiled, and one of them was swinging her arms as if she was conducting the whole experience.

The girl opened her eyes and said, “Wonderment.”

“Very well. Anything else?”

“It makes me happy. This music seems perfect to me.”

“Do you have any memories attached to it?”

“Not really. I think it’s the first time I’m hearing this, but I like it. A lot.” The professor let the piece run its course, a delightful background music for the bonding husbands and wives. When the music ended, the next piece began. It was a popular children’s song from England, ‘Eensy Weensy Spider.’

“Do you recognize this?” She smiled.

“It makes me happy. I imagine children playing in a garden.”

“What does the garden look like?”

“It’s a great big country garden with flowers in full bloom. There is a pond with fish swimming in it. Rabbits bounce freely, and the children amuse themselves with insects, catching them in their tiny hands. A boy chases a girl in a white dress, and they both squeal and giggle, and end up rolling on the grass under the curtains of a willow tree.”

“Impressive!” The professor was scribbling in his notebook when she opened her eyes. “Are there any emotions connected with this memory?”

“Yes, but it’s not a memory.”

“It’s not?”

“No, you asked me whether I recognize this? And, actually, I don’t. I’ve never heard it before.”

“But the image. Your description. It all seems so clear.” She stayed silent. “Are you sure the girl in the white dress is not you?”

“No, I’m not sure.”

“I will take it into account then, regardless. Perhaps it is a veiled snippet from your childhood.”

The next song was ‘Hey Jude’ by the Beatles. Some of the women in the ward sang the chorus along in accented English. They all knew the song. The girl smiled at the jovial environment in the hospital, but didn’t sing along.

“It’s a nice song. I like it.”

“Do you know who sings it?”

“I’m not sure. It seems familiar, but I can’t recall the artist.”

“Really?” The professor shook his head. “You can’t remember?”

“No. Sorry.”

“Well, my dear, that is highly unusual.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You see, even global fugue state leaves the patient with knowledge of social skills and cultural history. For example, if a soldier suffers head trauma, he is still able to recall nursery rhymes, and the popular songs of his youth. Although he might forget personal details, or even current events, he should be able to recall cultural information ingrained since childhood.” The professor frowned.

“Is that a song from my teenage years?”

“Not unless you are nearly 60 years old. But everyone knows it. It is by the Beatles, from my younger years, in fact. Does the name ring a bell?”

“Sorry.” She shook her head. A woman two beds over spoke up in strong French accent.

Incroyable! Everyone knows zhe Beatles! Zhey arh superbe!”

“Madam,” the professor replied in French, “this woman is suffering from amnesia. She has no memory. None of her own past, and apparently none of the Beatles either.”

Je m’excuse, monsieur. Mais c’est juste...C’est tellement dommage, c’est tout.

“What did she say?” the girl asked.

“She said it’s unfortunate that you cannot remember the Beatles.” He smiled a artificial smile at her.

“Well, I’ll have to get reacquainted, I suppose.”

“I shall leave you with some of their music then. In fact, why don’t I leave you will a variety of music and you can tell me if any song reminds you of something?”

“I’d like that.”

Before leaving the girl, he explained to her that he would have to return to Geneva for a few days. He took her hand in his, and wished her well. He promised that he would return for her, that they would continue her therapy. She squeezed his hand and smiled.

“I hope you do come back.”

“Good luck with your check up tomorrow. The hospital has my number in Geneva if you need anything at all.” And with that he exited the hall of pregnant women to return to his life in Switzerland, a cold life of facts, experiments, and scientific rigor.

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