THE TURING MACHINES OF BABELApex Magazine, issue #98 (2017)
most respects, the universe (which some call the Library) is everywhere the
same, and we at the summit are like the rest of you below.
Like you, we dwell in a string of hexagonal library chambers connected by
hallways that run infinitely east and west.
Like you, we revere the indecipherable books that fill each chamber wall,
ceiling to floor. Like you, we
wander the connecting hallways, gathering fruits and lettuces from the north
wall, then cast our rinds and waste down the consuming vine holes.
Also like you, we sometimes turn our backs to the vines and gaze south
through the indestructible glass toward sun and void, considering the nature of
the world. Our finite lives, guided
by our finite imaginations, repeat infinitely east, west, and down.
unlike you, we at the summit can watch the rabbits.
rabbits! Without knowing the
rabbits, how could one hope to understand the world?
rabbit had entered my family's chamber casually, on a crooked, sniffing path.
We stood back, stopping mid-sentence to stare, as it hopped to a
bookcase. My brother ran to inform
the nearest chambers, then swiftly returned.
Word spread, and soon most of the several hundred people who lived within
a hundred chambers of us had come to witness the visitation -- Master Gardener
Ferdinand in his long green gown, Divine Chanter Guinart with his quirky smile.
Why hadn't our neighbors above warned us that a rabbit was coming?
Had they wished to watch the rabbit, and lift it, and stroke its fur, in
rabbit grabbed the lowest bookshelf with its pink fingers and pulled itself up
one shelf at a time to the fifth or sixth level; then it scooted sideways,
sniffing along the chosen shelf, fingers gripping the shelf-rim, hind feet down
upon the shelf below. Finding the
book it sought, it hooked one finger under the book's spine and let it fall.
rabbit jumped lightly down, then nudged the book across the floor with its nose
until it reached the reading chair in the middle of the room.
It was of course taboo for anyone to touch the reading chair or the small
round reading table, except under the guidance of a chanter.
Chanter Guinart pressed his palms together and began a quiet song -- the
same incomprehensible chant he had taught us all as children, a phonetic
interpretation of the symbols in our sacred books.
rabbit lifted the book with its fingers to the seat of the chair, then paused to
release some waste gas that smelled of fruit and lettuce.
It hopped up onto the chair, lifted the book from chair to reading table,
and hopped onto the table. Its
off-white fur brightened as it crossed into the eternal sunbeam that angled
through the small southern window. Beneath
the chant, I heard the barefoot sound of people clustering behind me, their
breath and quick whispers.
rabbit centered the book in the sunbeam. It
opened the book and ran its nose sequentially along the pages.
When it reached maybe the 80th page, it erased one letter with the pink
side of its tongue, and then with the black side of its tongue it wrote a new
letter in its place.
task evidently completed, the rabbit nosed the book off the table, letting it
fall roughly to the floor. The
rabbit leaped down to chair then floor, then smoothed and licked and patiently
cleaned the book with tongue and fingers and fur.
Neighbors continued to gather, clogging room and doorways and both halls.
When the book-grooming was complete, the rabbit raised the book one shelf
at a time with nose and fingers, returning it to its proper spot.
It leaped down again and hopped toward the east door. People
stepped aside to give it a clear path. The
rabbit exited our chamber and began to eat lettuces in the hall.
firm voice, my father broke the general hush: "Children, you may gently pet
the rabbit. One child at a
time." He looked at me, but I
no longer considered myself a child. I
waited for the neighbor children to have their fill of touching.
We lived about a hundred thousand levels from the summit, but even so
impossibly near the top of our infinite world, one might reach old age only ever
having seen a couple of dozen visitations. By
the time the last child left, the rabbit had long since finished eating.
rabbit hopped toward where I sat, about twenty paces down the hall, near the
spiral glass stairs. I intercepted
it, lifting it up and gazing into its eyes.
continued here (or email eschwitz at domain: ucr.edu for a copy of this story).
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