Imaginary Numbers

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The News Broadcast

Upon returning home, Professor Borgiac dropped his keychain into a metal bowl on a narrow table next to the entrance. The clangor was an outcry to the emptiness of his grand chalet; it was his version of “Honey, I’m home,” and it filled the void of familial ritual he has lost ever since his wife, Isabelle left him some years ago.

He removed his jacket and hat, and hung them on the bronze pegs in the hallway. Then he emptied his pockets onto the table: a handful of shiny change; a napkin on which is scribbled a solution for a formula that had been eating away at him; and his ring, which he removed while working in the lab.

He turned on the lights as he goes deeper into the house, and wished that he didn’t have to cook. It was a long day and more than anything, he just wanted to sit and have a meal with someone. Also, he had had his quota of Marius, who he told himself needs to be taken in small doses these days. The professor entered his bedroom and slid open his closet. Inside, his shoes were neatly stacked on shelves below a row of pressed suits. On the opposite side of the walk-in, the side that he still futilely believed to belong to his wife, hung his casual clothes: an assortment of polo shirts in pastel colours, trousers in brown, a few sets of track suits bearing his university’s crest, a lone pair of jeans, and a single abandoned negligé that had fallen off its hanger the night Isabelle moved out forever.

He took a track suit and while moving it, paused to stare at the black lace of the lingerie. It was a small moment, in which he considered first calling her, then throwing away the garment, then hiding it from view. But in the end, he left it status quo and marched into his room where he changed out of the suit and into his pajamas.

He ate a microwave dinner of relative poor quality in front of the TV.

William Borgiac felt incapable of loving anyone except for his ex-wife. He knew where to find her, watching her from a distance, just like every other Francophone does at 7pm nightly on Channel 5.

Bonsoir.” The anchor greeted the viewers with an expression caught between gravity and charm. Her mouth was tucked into the archaic smile of a Greek statue. She was as beautiful as he remembered her. Her golden hair perfect for the camera, her face like a doll.

The television cut to the headlines: clips of strikes in the French capital, war in Syria, some arial footage of an ice-shelf cascading into the cold Arctic ocean, and the French President giving a speech.

Then it returned to Isabelle, who guided the viewer through the stories in the exaggerated intonation of tele-journalists. Some of the domestic topics bore the professor, and when he dug past the hot layer of his plasticy lasagna, he realised too late that the centre was still frozen. With the heat of his body thawing the chunk in his mouth, he retreated to the kitchen to nuke the meal once again. While he was there, he poured himself a cup of tea, and occupied his thoughts with memories of the life he lost, a life of love and dinner table conversations, a life where he had a bathroom filled with the myriad instruments of female grooming, a life where a beautiful woman crawled into bed late at night and snoozed close to noon.

He missed her. Quite often, in fact, he would dream about her. Sometimes these dreams would be pleasurable, other times painful. Today, he wanted her near him. The microwave dinged, but the plastic tray was too hot to touch, odorless steam emanating off the lasagna.

When he returned, the screen showed some footage of Syrian people fleeing down dusty streets where an artillery barrage had destroyed a neighbourhood. Domestic life hangs exposed in dissected living rooms, and telephone cables are draped over rubble like the intestines of city torn up in the abattoir of war.

Isabelle’s voice, emotionless, narrated as a child covered in the fine concrete patina of exploded infrastructure runs, flailing his arms, past the camera. “Despite bombardment from the Assad regime and a number of International violations, the United Nations are powerless to bring and end to the violence. Thursday’s attacks killed over 60 civilians in what is being considered a slap in the face to the cease-fire negotiations. The Security Council meeting next week will address the crisis in Syria, but aid groups have been quick to point out the previous failures of bureaucracy, demanding that action be taken immediately.”

William Borgiac waited for his ex-wife to fill the screen. When she does, he stoped eating. He sighed, and pictured her sitting across from him at a table for a second.

“In lighter news, let’s go to Beloeuie where the girl who is believed to have fallen from the sky has made a miraculous recovery. The nameless woman, who has a case of severe global amnesia, has become somewhat of a local saint. Channel 5 has acquired information that the injured woman was released from hospital after recovering from nine broken bones, including both femurs, in only one week. Doctors are astonished, but deny making any misdiagnoses.

“The woman, who does not speak French, cannot be found on any databases. Her photo does not register on the French Immigration’s passport facial recognition computer system. And her description does not match any missing person’s report filed in the EU.

“French authorities are working with police in the United States to determine if she is a US citizen.”

An image of the girl appeared on screen as she was after she fell. She was pale and weak in her cot, and the photo was titled ‘5 days ago’. Then, video played of her throwing a child into the air. It was simply captioned ‘yesterday’. She looks happy and strong, standing under an oak tree. There are no scars and no casts. She smiles at the camera, and the little boy runs away shouting at his friends. He points at her and she waves. The group of boys shyly return the acknowledgment.

“Villagers, who have been calling her Vivienne on account of her vivacious attitude, have come to believe that she possesses a healing ability, and thus Normandy’s old and sick have been making their pilgrimage to l’Hôpital des Invalides à St. Anne de Beloeuie.”

There was a video of Vivienne, as she was now being called, laying her hands on an old man in a wheel chair. The sound was muted, but you could see he was asking her something. She laughs and covers her mouth with her delicate hand. Perhaps his heart is beating rapidly in the presence of such a pretty girl.

“Although, this woman has developed a large following, the government is still investigating her past. So far to no avail.”

The broadcast cut to a government official in a suit, standing in front of the parliament; he was clearly ambushed by reporters and in no mood to talk, but decided to answer one question. It was unclear what the journalist asked, but his response is aimed at Vivianne: “We have found no record of the woman in any European database. She does not seem to understand any French, so we are currently investigating whether she might be a refugee from Northern Africa, or the Middle East. That’s all I can say at the moment.”

Back in the studio, Isabelle was staring directly at the professor in his home. She cocked her head ever so slightly and proceeded in her news anchor dialect, “Wherever she might be from, this mysterious girl has made quite the impression.”

William Borgiac had heard enough and turned off the television set, draining the house of any sound except for an evaporating whistle of fading electricity and the leathery chew of his artificial lasagna.

* * *

In front of l’Hôpital des Invalides a crowd consisting of elderly, diseased, and the devout had gathered. A single nun, arms spread wide, held them back, addressing concerns with an strained courtesy and the occasional biblical phrase.

Professor Borgiac pushed his way to the front and presented his card to the fatigued sister.

“Madam,” he stated in a loud voice that barely rose above the din of the desperate pilgrims behind him, “I am here to see the girl. She is expecting me.”

The nun studied the card, then bit her bottom lip.

Désolé, monsieur. I was told not to let anyone through. Orders of the Abbess. The hospital is overrun as it is.”

The professor cleared his throat, collected his thoughts, and arranged in his mind a sentence of rhetoric so compelling that it could move mountains, but before he released his tirade, Vivienne appeared at the window, arousing in the crowd loud gasps of reverence and prayer.

The professor waved and she spotted him.

“See, she knows me,” he explained to the nun, but when the girl returned the wave, the entire mob responded as if she bestowed upon each of them an individual blessing. They all waved back.

The sister was unmoved by this attempt and with a wary face said, “Sir, whatever malady ails you, only God can cure it. I suggest you go to confession and say some Our Fathers instead of betting on rumour.”

William Borgiac had never felt like part of the masses, and yet here he was, standing at their head, a proxy agent voicing the same desire as every one of those weathered and cracked souls who believed that Vivienne was an angel fallen from Heaven.

Perhaps he had to reconsider his approach, so he turned around and waded through the sea of bodies fading slowly out of this world. He struggled to get past an old man in a wheelchair, his oxygen tank powering an airy Hail Mary.

“Professor!” He heard behind him, and suddenly the crowd cheered—even the old man with the tubes in his nose. When he turned around, Vivienne, surrounded by two nuns, was walking towards him through a hundred arms reaching at her, pleading and determined to touch her skin in an attempt to grasp a sliver of the divine. She was the centre of a nexus that sucked out the snake-bite venom of old age, illness, and misfortune.

She extended her arms, trailing her bronze fingers over desperate hands as far as she went. The nuns held back those pushing hard and they struggled against a tide that was hungry for the girl.

She stopped in front of the professor, who was stunned at the unfolding scene.

“Hello,” she said in English.

“Hello.” Next to them, the old man in the wheelchair was panting from excitement. He reached his leathery, shaking hand towards her, and much to the professor’s surprise, she tangled her fingers into his.

William Borgiac regarded the geriatric, who had started convulsing with delight.

This woman, he though, was glowing. She smiled at the old man, then pulled her hand away.

“I have been waiting for you.” She grabbed his arm above the elbow and guided the professor towards the entrance of the hospital.

The tension and excitement of the crowd expeled them into the garden of the romanesque building as if they were merely breath of a much deserved sigh. The air felt lighter, and despite being early in the year the plants were in full flower.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t come earlier, my dear, but you see, I’ve had a major breakthrough in my research.”

“I’m so happy to hear that. And I’m glad you could make it, too.”

“You’ve become quite the celebrity.” Once inside, the professor removed his hat, carrying it in his free hand.

“I guess so.” They walked through the lobby of the building past a Roman arch which led them back outside. They found themselves in the quadrangle of the old nunnery, where the ancient oak tree stood. There was a bench surely used by nuns in thought and patients who were healing.

“I’m glad to see you’re all better.” As they sat down, a tiny bird glided to the earth near their feet. “I have to admit, your recovery itself is rather miraculous.”

“It is, isn’t it?”

“In fact, when I last spoke to the doctor, he told me he had never seen anything like it before. Not only in his own career, but in any journal.” She smiled, and the birdie hopped onto her foot. She was wearing sandals and rather conservative clothes, most likely donated by a good samaritan. They were hopelessly too big for her, and smelled of mothballs.

“Well, professor, that’s why I’m glad you came back to see me again. You see, my body has recovered, but I still don’t remember anything from before the fall.”

“I see.” The bird seemed fearless and fluttered up to her hand, perching on her finger. “It likes you.”

“What a cute little thing!” Then with a few giddy chirrups and tweets, the bird flew away, back into the branches of the oak.

“I remember you mentioning that you might be able to help me. I wonder if I could come with you.”

“You want to come with me?” The professor looked at her to gauge her feeling. “Well…”

“I’m sorry to be so brash, but I can’t stay at the hospital much longer. And I have no money. Nowhere to go. To tell you the truth, I’m completely at a loss. I feel like a grain of sand drifting around in the breeze.” William Borgiac coughed and cleared his throat.

“Of course, my dear. I will do my utmost to help you recover your memory. But…” He considered the many obstacles of this arrangement. Where would she stay? How would he begin the retrieval of something so fundamental to her being? And who was she really? The only thing he could be sure of was that she had no malcontent. Somehow all the objections melted away and he couldn’t finish his sentence. There was nothing beyond his tentative ‘but’.

“Very well,” he said. “I shall make arrangements with the hospital shortly.”

“Oh! Thank you so much!” She stood up and clapped her hands together. Her excitement made the professor smile. It was contagious.

When he signed her out, the nuns all seemed a bit suspicious, demanding from her in broken English if this was really her wish. Ultimately, they decided against recording her name as ‘Jeanne Dupont’, the norm in France for an unidentified female, and instead wrote down ‘Vivienne de Beloeuie’, which is what she had become known as to the many pilgrims.

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