Curtis ran his fingernail across the top of the tung-oiled fir table, letting it glide to the edge, where the top dropped over the side. He was trying to feel a tiny snap from his nail catching an edge between layers of veneer. The table didn’t look like it was veneered except for its size. It was massive, a full four inches thick, if not more. It was five feet wide and over fifteen feet long. It filled the center of the conference room with an awe-inspiring presence. To make such a table from what appeared to be a single piece of wood must be an illusion . . . so he thought.
He ran his nail over the wood again—this time with eyes closed to enhance his tactile sensitivity—as if the hard nail was the needle on an old vinyl record player and the table was the spinning LP. He felt the ridges of each salmon-colored grain, but, as he came back up over the edge to the top, he felt no juncture between thin planes of layered wood.
It can’t be solid, he thought to himself, now with some uncertainty. He had been in that room many times and admired the beauty of the table but never imagined it as anything but a thick, pressboard piece encased within a thin laminate. However, he couldn’t remember ever being in the room alone and never having the time to study the table or the room . . . until now.
These days the only place he had the privacy to think about anything except his work was sitting in the bathroom stall defecating. If he could, he would stretch out those minutes. It was unbearable to have to open the stall door and to venture out into the world once more. That world was no longer his friend. Everyone wanted a piece of him, and it didn’t matter to them if this constant picking would ultimately disassemble each cell of his body. They all said they “loved him”; however, he was becoming intimately acquainted with the proverbial concept of “being loved to death.” Even in the personal place of the company bathroom stall—his one shelter of respite—had occasionally been interrupted with intrusive voices. The stainless-steel walls left him feeling vulnerable, being so short that they exposed his ankles and pants piled around his Wallabees. He would see the toes of someone’s shoes just outside the door. Then came the predictable question. “Dr. Eisner? Dr. Eisner? Sorry to bother you, but can I talk to you about my neighbor’s niece? She recently had a spinal cord injury.”
But now he was in physical solitude and had been for—what seemed like an endless—ninety minutes. He didn’t want it to end . . . ever. His cell-phone was off. He wasn’t carrying a pager since he was not involved with clinical medicine at the time. He was alone. He closed his eyes again and fantasied that he was laying on a beach somewhere. Some deserted island where he could dwell in wonderful isolation, feeling nothing except the warmth of the equatorial sun, hearing nothing but the surf upon the sand, and thinking only about the peace of the present.
In the large room was just himself and a black, plastic, triangle speaker in the middle of the big table. On the other end of the speaker, three floors above him, was his boss, Thomas Howell. On the wall was a five-foot-by-three-foot flat-screen. It was dark but could flicker on in a second if Thomas only pushed a button to speak to him.
Curtis was about six foot even, with slightly thinning sandy-blond hair. His facial features, including his prominent nose and olive skin, made some suspect he had a Hebrew or Arab heritage, but his family—as far as he knew—was from Scotland and Sweden. The combination of features, oddly, resulted in a strikingly handsome appearance that seemed to enhance as he aged.
Curtis had been skinny his entire life, but now, sitting at a desk for eighteen hours per day and eating bites of junk food between meetings, he had developed a belly. On such a habitually thin frame, the abdominal protuberance appeared parturient. His morphing body disgusted him; nonetheless, he felt helpless to change the circumstance.
His big bright smile and green eyes was what had seduced his mother in the delivery room. They had always brought her great joy. But the whites of those eyes, now, had a network of red lines that gave them the appearance of the crimson fissures on Jupiter’s ice-ball moon, Europa. The mega-doses of caffeine were giving him no gain over the want for sleep. He drank stronger and stronger cups of coffee—until one of the college students in his lab introduced him to Red Bull. It was hardly an existence anymore. It is so strange. He thought, how you carefully plan the steps of your life, but how easily you are displaced from the helm by strangers. Soon, you become just a passenger on a roller coaster, passively tossed about, while the world casts you into what they want. They all want something.
Curtis paused his thoughts and opened his eyes to look under the immense piece of furniture in front of him. He was eyeing some sign of fabrication, but he found none. He pushed back his chair and bent over, putting his head completely under the table. On the underside was nothing but solid wood. The bottom grains, knotholes, and quirks . . . matched, precisely, those on top. Either it was a very cleaver disguise or, indeed, the table was one monolithic piece of wood. Perhaps from one massive old-growth fir tree from the nearby North Cascades. However, his suspicion was not put completely to rest.
His mother was the first one to try and shape him. He was a shy boy. While he was still in preschool, before he had the chance to decide, his mother began to proclaim, “He wants to be a doctor. Oh, I hope so much he comes back to Jonesborough to be our doctor.” Then she would smile and wink at him. He never remembered telling her he wanted to be a doctor. Maybe, when he was five, his mother had asked him, rhetorically, “You would love being a doctor wouldn’t you?” To which, he gave the projected nod.
Curtis was his mom’s “buddy,” especially after his father suddenly left them when he was only twelve. His father seemed to have suddenly disappeared off the face of the earth, leaving Curtis with an empty room in his soul. He closed that door with the intent of never opening it again. Per his mother’s explanation, his father had found, “greater satisfaction in a younger woman as many men do when they reach middle age.” Curtis became the only man in his mother’s new life—from that point forward. After closing the door to the room where his father’s memories dwelt, he seemed to have locked out his own voice. He became a boy of few words. But time continued to march onward.
Curtis awakened one day in a dorm bunk at the University of Tennessee studying premed. It was a track for his life that he never questioned, as if preordained by something bigger than himself. However, the studies were easy for him, and he seemed to enjoy them . . . but again, it could have been his mother’s enjoyment being channeled into his own emotions. Maybe they were vagrant desires, which she had planted somewhere deep in his reptilian brain.
The video screen suddenly flickered on. There was Thomas Howell’s high-definition face crowned by thick, coal-black hair and his trademark L-shaped hockey scar on his left chin. “Hey Curtis, just an update. Our investor, Mr. Pendleton, is still on his boat. The fog has lifted, but his pilot can’t get clearance from Boeing Field to fly into town on his copter. He’s trying to decide if he’ll wait or take his Zodiac boat to the harbor and then our people pick him up. I’ll let you know as soon as he decides. Uh . . .” Thomas looked around the empty room through the camera above the screen. “Uh . . . it may be another forty-five minutes in case you need to get back to the lab.”
“I’ll wait here.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely!” came Curtis’ confident reply.
“Can I have them bring you some coffee or snacks while you’re waiting?”
“Okay.” Then the monitor flickered back to darkness.
When Curtis entered the University of Michigan’s medical school, he continued to excel . . . to a point. The limitation that governed the spin of his life was his social anxiety. He had never put it into those terms before, but, as he studied medicine, including psychiatric diseases, there was no question that social anxiety was his haunting damper over his entire life. Simply put, people scared him intensely, and he felt judged by them . . . almost to a state of paranoia. He had the insight to know that this was why he had been such a “good boy” because of his constant diligence to avoid giving anyone—including his mother—a reason to be critical of him. His father’s deliberate rejection made this fear of criticism much worse. Would others walk out of his life, too, if they didn’t like him?
The model of medical schools had started to change by the time he got to Ann Arbor. A greater emphasis was being placed on getting exposure to real patients much earlier in their experience. They were expected to take what they were learning over to the hospital during their third week of class, of their first year. Previously they would have darkened the doors of a hospital until their third year of medical school.
Curtis discovered a real quandary in his life, patients made him feel very uneasy. He didn’t like talking to people anyhow, but talking to them when they were in crisis and as an authority figure frightened him even more. Even though his knowledge of medicine was primitive, when he donned a waist-length lab coat, patients and their families looked to him as a medical professional. It was made especially worse by the fact that he—and all the medical students—had to pretend that they knew far more than they did. The sum of all of this was that he grew to loathe his clinical time.
Beyond that very silent and personal distress, he also noticed that other med students didn’t carry his handicap. They seemed to enjoy their clinicals as if they were actors, pretending to be doctors in a hospital-centered soap opera. One of his friends chuckled and remarked how much easier it was to get dates if he was wearing his stethoscope, even if he didn’t have a clue as to how to use it. By his last year of medical school, Curtis started to doubt his ability to be a doctor, especially a very public figure like a small-town family doctor. Then, there was a pivotal experience that changed the entire direction of his life.
One Saturday afternoon he was working his emergency medicine rotation at the St. Joseph Medical Center. About five o’clock, just as his shift was starting, an ambulance backed into the ED (Emergency Department) bay. The medics had called ahead and spoken to the ED coordinator. The senior emergency medicine resident, Dr. Gary Bowen, got the medics back on the radio so he could try to assess the seriousness of the injury. They had a young girl in the back of the truck who had a rollover on her four-wheeler and had injured her neck. She was taped down on a backboard with a hard collar on to keep her cervical spine properly aligned. She was squeezing the EMT’s hand when they left her farm, but she seemed to be deteriorating just as they were arriving at the hospital. Dr. Bowen had already called the CT scan room, across from their trauma bay. He gave them a heads-up to be prepared for a stat, which was another word for urgent, neck view. But it was hard to determine the seriousness of the injuries because she was moving her extremities at the farm but now wouldn’t even squeeze the medic’s hand.
The thoughts going through Dr. Bowen’s mind that this progression of symptoms could be a severed spinal cord, where the bone fragments were gradually pushing through the soft-tissue in route, despite the precautions. That would be unusual because the medics were careful. It could also be a young girl with a simple neck strain who was starting to embellish her symptoms for the dramatic effect. The latter situation would certainly not be the first time he had seen such behavior in a teenager. There was simply no way to tell through a two-way radio.
The role of the medical student was to observe, to learn, to hold things, try new procedures, and to communicate with the families . . . but not much else. Curtis was nervous even though he knew he would not be making the crucial medical decisions.
The two big red doors of the ambulance burst open and the EMTs, who were moving rapidly, but with no sign of panic, gently jerked the gurney until the wheels fell and locked in place. “Where’re we going, doc? I think this one is for real.” They looked directly at Curtis (not realizing he was just an intern) and he wasn’t sure. He was in a panic until Dr. Bowen’s calm voice came from behind him . . . “Let me look at her here.”
Dr. Bowen was a black man, short, about five foot six, but very confident, as most natural-born leaders are. Nothing ruffled his feathers. He walked up to the girl. This was the first time Curtis caught the patient’s face . . . which was sealed in terror. Despite her disposition, the mud on her navy hoodie and tape across her face, Curtis could tell that she was a beautiful girl. Her hair of a confluence of hues of blond and amber suggested it was natural, as were her blue eyes. They were squinting eyes that now held her fear tightly, like a clutched purse.
“Can you squeeze my hands, honey?” asked Dr. Bowen.
There was no movement in either. He quickly did a general survey of her, to look for any life-threatening problems or other injuries. From the bottom of her muddy jeans up to the ruffled hair, he examined her. He asked her questions about who and where she was. He checked her pupil response and looked closely for bruising around her head or scalp. He stuck his stethoscope in his ears and listened to her heart and lungs. He worked his way down to her feet for any gross trauma. He felt his way back up her body, looking for any soft-tissue trauma. He stopped to feel her belly, and it was soft as it should be. He listened to her bowel sounds, and they were fine. The complete preliminary exam was accomplished in less than two minutes in the ambulance bay. That’s all he needed to know. He looked up at the medics, “We’re going straight into our secondary trauma room.”
The major trauma bay (T-1), just across from the CT room, had just witnessed the consequences of a drunk-driver head-on collision. One fatality. It wasn’t the drunk. The ED team fought hard to save the young mother but with great disappointment. Curtis felt fortunate that he had missed the terrible incident because blood still made him queasy. The cleaning team had just started the process of mopping up the puddles and getting things ready for the next case, when the call came in about the girl with the neck injury.
Dr. Bowen looked over at Curtis, “Hey Eisner, I want you to stay with . . .” then he looked down at the wristband, the ED clerk was just attaching to the young woman’s right wrist. He turned his head to a perpendicular position to read the words, “Uh . . . Erika, and let me know immediately if she’s having any trouble breathing.”
Dr. Bowen stepped to the side and spoke into a microphone on his lapel to the ED coordinating desk. Again, calmly he said, “Hey Ann, we need the trauma team called with a cervical injury and . . . who’s on call for neurosurgery?”
While waiting for a response, he continued walking behind the gurney across the hall into the smaller trauma room (T-2). A young nurse, with chopped blond hair and a tattoo of a spider crawling up the side of her neck, walked up and followed them into the room. Without any instructions, she put a pulse ox (to measure the oxygen concentration of the patient’s blood) on Erika’s finger. She placed an oxygen tube around her face and under her nose, carefully as not to disturb her head at all. It looked like she had done this delicate maneuver to the point of becoming routine. Then she pulled over an IV tray with the tubing and needles already available. Dr. Bowen look at her, nodded, and smiled, “Great. D5W for now.”
About that time, a woman’s voice came back across the microphone/speaker. “That would be . . . Dr. Gibbs for neurosurgery and I’ve called her. She’s up on the floor and will be down in a minute.”
Despite Curtis’ responsibilities being limited, he was feeling a physical shaking on his insides. His only assignment was to watch her breathing, but he was more aware of his own shortness of breath than that of anyone else.
The monitor in the conference wall flickered on again, jarring Curtis’ mind out of its daydream. He looked at the clock on the wall, and almost thirty minutes had passed since his last interruption. His mind raced back from his Michigan days into the damp Pacific Northwest. This time Thomas was no longer wearing his sports coat. His shirt with bold blue stripes and solid white collar had its sleeves rolled up, showing his well-defined biceps. “Hey Curt, uh . . . he’s coming by boat. But now he’s waiting on some shipping traffic . . . another forty-five minutes at least. Go back to the lab. I’ll call you there.”
Indulging in the tranquility of the setting, Curtis quickly answered, “No, I’ll wait him out here. I can work on things on my laptop.”
“You’re sure you don’t need some coffee? Our barista is one of the best?”
“Any more and I may go into an arrhythmia. I’ve been here all night trying to get the presentation ready for Mr. Pendleton.”
“Hey man, take a nap. I can have a cot in there in two minutes.”
“Thanks anyway but I’m fine.” Curtis allowed the silence to waiver in the air until the screen went blank again.
His mind was drawn back through the narrow years to the girl . . . the Erika that redirected his entire life. He kept one hand on hers and tried to hold it, but she couldn’t reciprocate. It felt like limp rubber, but warm rubber. He vaguely remembers other team members coming and going, in and out, of the small trauma room. But many of the details his memory had set adrift. The trauma team PA came in to look things over. A respiratory therapist dropped by to check on her and then the trauma surgeon. The surgeon had just been in the ED with the drunk-driver victim an hour earlier. He did an emergent burr hole in her skull, in the ED, as the last attempt to save her. Dr. Gibbs, the neurosurgeon wasn’t there, but it was her idea. She felt they had nothing to lose. Regrettably, it failed. The trauma surgeon told them that he was going home and if Dr. Gibbs needed him, he could be paged.
Dr. Gibbs arrived. She did a brief neurological exam, turned to the group, gave them a feeble smile, and dismissed the rest of the trauma team. She then directed them to take Erika immediately to the CT scan. She was going back up to the surgery suite, get his team together, and to prepare. She would look at the images there. Unless there were immediate complications from her injury, like losing the ability to respire, he wanted a cervical MRI to follow. That way the images would be available to her in the OR. She had created a rapid response MRI protocol, which was very helpful in these situations.
As they rolled her across the brightly lighted hall, into the CT scan room, Curtis keep one hand on hers, watching her chest rise and fall, rhythmically and rapidly. As he looked down at her, the checker-board tiled floor of the hallway passed beneath them. The CT room smelled, oddly, of Pine-Sol. From that day forward, every time he smelled the potent cleanser, it brought back vivid images of that room and that night.
Four of them lifted the backboard, with her on it, onto the CT table. The tech positioned her in the white doughnut by moving the table. There was a soft mechanical grind as the table inched forward. On the side of the doughnut was a large G E, in cursive. The tech asked everyone to clear the room. Curtis asked if he could stay. The tech grabbed a leaded apron and handed it to Curtis and went into the windowed-room next door. Curtis put the apron on like a sports jacket. He was starting to tie the closure strings in front. The tech rushed back out into the room with some irritation written across his face “Take it off!” he said sternly to Curtis.
Curtis slipped off the heavy, bright royal-blue apron. The tech spun it around and put it back on Curtis with the open end in the back. He tied it for him and hastily ran back into the CT control room.
Curtis put his hand back on her hand, which she of course could not feel. He continued watching her chest rise and sink, sink and rise. He took his duty seriously. He was not cognizant that the pulse oximeter communicated directly with the nurse station through a wireless signal. There, a vigilant nurse with a spider tattoo was making sure all was well. His assignment, Curtis later realized, was token.
The tech reappeared and told Curtis that Erika’s scan was done. They pulled her gurney from the machine and opened the shielded door were other team members were waiting. Two new faces included the anesthesiologist and a neurosurgery PA. They spoke to her to make sure she was doing well, and she was . . . except for her crescendoing companion of inconsolable terror.
As instructed by Dr. Gibbs, they rolled her toward the MRI room, about fifty feet down the hall. Dr. Bowen rejoined them to check on the status of the process. Things were going per the plan.
As they were rolling her down the hall, she asked Curtis, “Why are they doing another one?”
Curtis was preparing to answer her, but he knew that he would have to be emotionally detached. He wanted to speak in the air of confidence that Dr. Bowen was such a master of. He put pressure in his lungs to keep his vocal cords from shaking, “The CT is quick and better at looking at the bones in your neck. The MRI looks best at soft tissue, such as your spinal cord, better.”
Tears were pooling in Erika’s eyes, as her head was still held in a fixed position by the braces and tape. When her sockets were full, like small tarns, the water eventually spilled over and ran down both sides of her temples into her ears.
They rolled her into the room with the big, tubular machine. The radiology tech said to her, “It will take a couple minutes to set up and calibrate the scanner, but the actual test will be quick.”
They gently lifted her, still on the board, and laid her into the MRI tube table. The technician asked Curtis for his help while he, methodically, kept her neck and head immobilized with foam bars and removed the hard-plastic brace. As the table slid into the tube, Curtis allowed her hand to slowly slip out of his. He rested the itinerant hand on her knee. While socially inept, he carried more than his share of empathy. Patients could feel his concern through his nonverbal graciousness.
“Where’s my dad?” Erika asked while they were waiting, her voice echoing out of the long cylinder, just as a loud banging inside the machine began.
Curtis remembered a man showing up just as they were leaving the T-2 room for the scans. He seemed panicked in his presence. He was talking to Dr. Bowen right outside the room as Curtis and Erika left to go to the CT room.
“Was he wearing running shorts?” Curtis asked in a loud voice, above the thumping of the magnets.
“I’m sure he was. He was out on a run.”
“He’s here. I’m sure he’s waiting for you in the ED. We’ll be going straight back there when we’re done here.”
During a pause of silence, she asked, “Doctor . . . I’m numb. Everything’s numb. I can’t move my arms.” She took in a labored breath, “Am I going to get better?”
Looking inside the tube to the mirror above her face, Curtis spoke to the upside-down image. He tried to pull together a weak smile, to comfort her eyes. He spoke, “We need to wait on the scans to see what happened to your spine. Hopefully it’s just a bruise or swelling. If it is, then . . . uh, then your feeling will start coming back as the swelling goes down. We can use medicines like steroids to help with the swelling.” He stood in silence for a minute, until the banging resumed.
After the MRI was done, and the automatic table moved her back out of the tube, the door to the MRI room burst open. Curtis turned, expecting to see the radiology tech, however, it was Dr. Bowen. Curtis asked him, “The scans are done; are we heading back to the ED?”
Dr. Bowen hardly made eye contact with Curtis, while ignoring his question, looked directly at the girl. “Hey, Erika, hun, how’re you doing?”
Tears continued rolling down the sides of her cheeks. “I’m thirsty.”
“Well, I’m going ask you to take your mind off drinking for a little while, sweetie. It looks like we’ll try to get you into surgery as soon as we can.”
“Surgery?” asked Curt. “Have you seen her scans?”
“Yeah, I was looking at it as it was loading as did Dr. Gibbs.”
Erika began to sob, “What’s wrong with me. Why am I numb all over? Is my neck broke?”
Dr. Bowen answered, “Erika, it looks like you have a fracture of your third neck bone, and it is pressing on your spinal cord.”
She was sobbing uncontrollably, “Am I going to be paralyzed!”
“Erika,” said Dr. Bowen. “No one knows at this point. But you’ll be in the hands of a damn good neurosurgery team who’ll do his best to make you whole. Dr. Ashley Gibbs, is one of the best.” Then he flashed her a big, confident smile. “She’s the one I would to want to operate on my daughter.” He patted her on her lifeless hand and turned back down the hall.
Crying uncontrollably, she said more in a screech than a voice, “If . . . if . . . if they can’t make me whole, please let me die!” She looked directly into Curtis’ eyes and said again but in a directive, “If they can’t fix me . . . make sure I don’t come out of surgery alive! Do you understand?” Then Erika began sobbing so hard that she wouldn’t have heard a response even if Curtis knew what to say . . . and he didn’t. However, strange words appeared out of his mouth, and he seemed to overhear his own words as a third person, “I promise, you’ll get better and walk again.”
Dr. Bowen, who was down the hall, but still within ear-shot, quickly turned and gave Curtis a very displeased look, then continued walking away shaking his head.
The burden on Curtis to react with follow-up words was suddenly relieved, when Ericka’s father came running down the hall, passing Dr. Bowen. He came right up beside her face and looked at her, “Oh, Erika. Baby, are you okay?” He pushed her muddy hair out of her eyes. He looked sternly at Curtis, “Can’t you clean her up . . . at least a little? What’s wrong with you people!”
“Dad . . . I’m paralyzed, and they are taking me to surgery,” she interrupted.
Both were sobbing, and her father stooped down beside her stretcher, laying his head on her chest as if to feel her beating heart. Then he looked back up. “Why in the hell did your mom let you go out with those boys? They’re always are so reckless. I’m going to chew their little asses out! That Pearce boy. He’s nothing but trouble. I don’t know why the hell your mother . . .”
Erika, seeming to get some control of her own emotions interrupted again. “Dad, it doesn’t matter now! Just stay with me.”
Curtis returned his attention to the massive fir table in front of him. Confluent areas of pink and white wood. He laid his face down on the top surface of it and looked down to the other end. Then he rested the corner of his right eye against the top edge for a clear line of sight, as if he was aiming a gun. He was looking for a flaw, somewhere. Just one small bubble in a thin veneer would give it away, proving it was a fake . . . but there was none. Sitting back up, he noticed something quite peculiar. The table, which he had always assumed to be a rectangle, now seemed to be a bit askew. Two opposite corners appeared to be less than ninety degrees. The other two opposing corners appeared to be slightly greater than ninety degrees.
Curtis jumped up and slid his closed laptop down the table to the end. He positioned the computer in the corner overlying the edges up precisely. The right angle of the laptop corner made it clear the table’s corners weren’t ninety degrees. The table was indeed a parallelogram. But was it a carpenter’s error? Curtis didn’t think so. Being a little obsessive-compulsive himself, he couldn’t imagine that a craftsman would produce such a beautiful table but neglect such an important detail as right angles.
He stood up and looked around the room and back at the table. Was the room itself a parallelogram? He walked over to the corner of room where the wall apron of exterior glass met an interior wall. He laid down on the low-pile tan carpet and pushed his laptop up to the corner. A small gap appeared between the corner of the computer and the corner of the room. Yes, so he thought, I was right. The table matches the floor area of the room, both being parallelograms. That’s why the table looks like a rectangle. It was an optical illusion.
The speaker buzzed and the screen on the wall flickered on. Curtis felt embarrassed as he was still sitting on his belly, on the floor in the corner. He sat up. Thomas Howell’s voiced blasted across the room, “Dr. Eisner . . . Dr. Eisner are you still in there?”
When Curtis rose from the floor into a standing position, Thomas asked, “Uh, Curtis, are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine . . . just taking a nap.”
There was a hesitation and then Thomas continued, “Uh . . . okay. Hey, Mr. Pendleton is in the building. My staff’s showing him around Lab 3, and then he’ll be up to my office. I’ll bring him down . . . say in about fifteen minutes.”
Curtis, now fully standing in front of the monitor answered, “Okay, I’ll see you then.” The screen went black.
Curtis walked over to the wall of windows. It was now sprinkling, lightly, from just one puffy cloud directly above them. The remaining sky, a true azure. The drops hit the window with a glance. Here and there, small, clear ovals formed, which—after a brief hesitation—would coalesce and streak downward. He could still see clear skies all around and even Mount Rainer to the south. The snow-capped Olympics were visible to the west, rising above a blanket of fog in the lowlands. He was still baffled as to why this room was a few degrees off from being a rectangle? Was the answer written in those distant escarpments?
He looked straight down the outside wall of the building, from his twentieth-floor perch. He thought his eyes were deceiving him, but they were not. The shape of the building was simply conforming to the shape of the city lot, which itself was a parallelogram. He’d always assumed that Seattle’s streets were set up on a perpendicular grid, but maybe not. He looked north and south, east and west. For the first time, he noticed that all lots were a few degrees off, being parallelograms and not rectangles or squares. Why? He asked himself that question again. Curtis was a fool for answers especially when it came to questions of patterns. He could leave no query left unexplored. Maybe it was this drive that led him to his great success as a research scientist.
As he continued to study the layout of the city, he noticed that even the streets had a superior reference point. The streets and alleys followed natural ridges. It was hard to make out the primeval geography of the land beneath the man-made super structures, but he could see it. The hills were parallel to each other but not to the shore of the Puget Sound. His eyes carefully followed the hills southward toward the big volcano. He recognized, for the first time, that the north-to-south streets followed the lay of the land. However, the east-to-west streets intersected with the harbor at right angles. This is what caused the deviation at the corners. Curtis considered that the orientation of the south-to-north grid was the natural lay of the land, which itself was the result of subsequent lava flows starting over 500,000 years ago. Then they were ground down and polished by revolving glaciers over epochs of time. The glacier silt then washed away, intentionally, by water cannons around the turn of the last century.
Curtis opened his laptop and pulled up on Google maps the state of Washington. He had a hunch. With his stylus, he drew a line down the apexes of the Pacific Northwest volcanoes, starting with Mount Hood in Oregon and ending on Mount Baker just south of British Columbia. Then he drew a line perpendicular and stretching to the west. Next, he drew a line down the eastern shore of Puget Sound, creating a drawing like a big H. He copied and pasted his lines into his CAD program. He clicked on the sides of the lines and used the program to measure angle of interception. The angle of where the line perpendicular to the volcanoes met the line of the sound was ninety-eight degrees and eighty-two degrees on the opposite corners. This corresponded, as best as he could gather with his eye, the exact degrees of the corner of the table. An epiphany fully embraced him.
Curtis closed his laptop, just as the door to the room was opening. He tried to capture his thought before the coming disruption of visitors. So, the shape of the table was determined by the major geographic features of the region, whose shape in turn, was determined, by the tectonic plates of Earth itself. The tectonic plates were shaped—perhaps—and moved per the rotation of the earth, which was controlled by the gravitation of the Sun and previous asteroid impacts. He knew that there was something to that deduction. A philosophical message was secreted there, but he didn’t have the time to ponder its depths.