Episode 2 - The Concept of Infinity

Today is different. The difference between night and day. It’s as if the dome we walk into has collected all the morning’s sunshine for safekeeping and has stretched it out along its maze of long corridors. Each offshoot of bookshelves is illuminated. Where you saw only five tunnels yesterday, today you see at least double that.

You step forward and spin slowly three hundred and sixty degrees, your arms not quite by your sides, they give you the shape of an A (if you were really looking).

You know where Angelina is, or at least where she was yesterday, and your eyes linger on that tunnel for a few extra seconds.

But you don’t want to go there just yet.

This smell, the scent in your nostrils, of greenery, of fields and flowers and spring, makes you feel like you’re outside.

George is sat exactly as he was yesterday – behind the desk in the entrance way. He could be a mole part-poking through the dirt, still for minutes on end, just letting the fresh air waft over him. He holds up a sign. You don’t know if he can see you because his eyes are fixed straight ahead, but you know he knows you’re there, though you couldn’t explain why if I asked you, which I don’t.

Though everything around you feel new today, George remains old, even older, and despite the sun he is bathed in, his skin is still grey and speckled. You wonder if he’s blind and you wonder if he can speak.

‘Did he speak yesterday?’ you think to yourself.

The sign he holds close in, just in line with his scored forehead, is written in a child’s handwriting. It looks very much like your own. It’s in green pen and the letters are those of someone who usually writes neatly, usually with small characters that on a normal day could be mistaken for the amputated legs of a thousand spiders. Except they’ve been stretched to make them fill the cardboard sign so they’re more like sparrows’ legs, sparrows who are sometimes struggling to keep their tubby top half from tipping over.

But you start to take your shoes off even before you’ve understood what the letters say. The sign merely affirms what you had thought to do already.

You hunker down over your right foot. You pull at the shoe lace and lift the tongue of your running shoe before pulling your right foot out. Before you repeat with your left, you notice the excess cloth of your sock bunched up above the heel like a pair of fish lips sucking in air from the surface.

You decide to take your socks off too. As you do that, you see the grass beneath your feet and are shocked because you don’t know whether the grass was there before you started taking off your shoes or whether it magically grew just now as you finished taking the sock off your left foot.

You look back at the sign.

‘Please take off your shoes,’ it says. The child, and you still don’t know if it was you, has drawn a smiley face underneath the bird-leg words.

Just like the simple drawing in the bottom right corner of the cardboard sign, you smile. You look at George with your smile but he is busy. ‘Perhaps he is reading,’ you think.

You are about to walk to the right, along the cool, soft grass towards the tunnel labelled: philosophy. The earth feels dry but spongy like rain fell the day before yesterday. As you walk, you see another sign, and maybe it’s the same piece of cardboard but this time it says: ‘Go to literature’. Again, there’s a smiley face under the words.

I’ll wait for you here, I say, I’ll be sat over there with my nose in a book.

Literature. That’s where your steps take you.

When you get to the tunnel, the grass along the book walls is wilder, overgrown to the knee cap. Like, they (the library keepers) haven’t managed to trim the sides yet.

You let your eyes drift along the line of books. One catches your eye. It’s shinier than the others. The deep red cover almost looks liquid. As you touch it, it feels wet. But when you look at your hands there is no trace of moisture, red or otherwise.

You peel back the cover. A note falls out. ‘It’s a poem,’ you think to yourself.

 

“Fee fi fo fum,

I smell the blood of an Englishm’n.

Be he alive or be he dead,

I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.”

Come find me.

Where could I be—?

An imaginary character, I could be.

Perhaps you’re a stalker, is that to be?

The question is: where will you find me to be?

 

You re-read it. It’s a clue.

You recognise the words of the giant immediately, but you’ve read a lot of books about giants recently. You look at the words intently. Each word has its own shape. A shape you investigate once, twice, thrice. By the fourth time you zoom your vision out and look at the clue as one, as a collection of words. It’s only then that you know for sure which book this is from. The words be and An shine at you.

Bean, you say out loud. Bean stalker. Bean stalk. Jack and the bean stalk!

You run down the aisle of books, searching for shelf labels that describe in more detail which books are contained here. ‘Modern literature’, ‘Romantic literature’, ‘Women in literature’. You stop at the end of the literature tunnel and your eyes run along an arch. It’s another hand made sign – it’s sparkly with rainbow coloured glitter. Each letter is like an Orion’s Belt of stars.   ‘Children’s literature,’ the sign says.

‘That sign must have been great fun to make,’ you think.

You’re in the right spot. The books feel all the more special here. They’re big and boldly coloured. Your hand touches one and you feel it come to life – it vibrates beneath your fingers so you carefully release it from its space on the shelf.

George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl.

‘This is next on my reading list,’ you say out loud. ‘I am going to read this when I’ve finished The Twits.’ But for some reason you feel compelled to open it up and when you do the buzzing turns into popping and bubbling. It’s the illustration of George on the inside page. It has come to life!

You sit down. The ground has risen to meet you in a wonderful pillowy curve. There’s no time like the present, you think and you start to leaf through the pages. This is no ordinary book. As you read the words, you feel them, you hear them. You hear the clink of the teaspoon as George makes his Grandma a cup of tea. It’s like you’re there because when she grabs George by the shoulder, you feel like George, and your shoulder feels like George’s shoulder. George’s grandma’s grip feels too tight and her nails are too pointed – they dig into your skin.

You rush through the pages, experiencing George’s excitement at his idea, the smell of his curious cocktail. You smell the paint as it’s poured into the medicine. You hear the glug of the engine oil as it sloshes into the mixture. The words in these books pop out of the page, they don’t just look like words, they feel… real. With one hand cradling the book like the neck of a baby, with the other you rub the grass around you to bring you back into the real world. You laugh because you realise that the real world doesn’t feel that real either. Or at least, not what you are used to. I mean, you’re sitting inside a library but also outside in the grass. Here, in this library, the outside is also inside.

You read and read. You can’t stop yourself – you’re having such fun.  

By the time you close the cover on the last page, your fingertip as buzzing and you can see little spots of colour in your vision. Blink, blink, blink. A few flutters of the eyelids bring you back to the ground on which you stand. You can feel the soil beneath the sheaths of grass.

The sun seems to have shifted, it feels like late afternoon now. The space around you feels stiller, like the soft breeze blowing about you this morning has slowly petered out. Instead it’s calm, warm enough without a jacket but cool enough with your knitted jumper. You poke your thumb into the sweater’s cuff and flip the book between each hand to look for clues of the experiences you’ve just had. Like the air, it’s still now.

A bird tweets somewhere in the distance. You wonder if it’s a real bird or a recording of a bird, like one of those songs your Mum plays sometimes as she sits cross legged in the living room with her eyes closed and her thumb and forefingers touching.

 Your mouth is dry. You need a drink. As you turn the book over in your hands again, a piece of folded paper shoots from within as if spat out by George’s great pot of poison or burped out by the mutating chicken. You pick it up where it lands a few metres away and brush at smouldering corner.

The crisp sound of thick paper unfolding makes your skin tingle for a second. You’ve never received a letter before. This one has been placed here – in this book that you love – for someone to find and that someone happens to be you. ‘Who might have sent this?’ you think.

In seconds, your mind is sailing between pirate ships and adventures. ‘What if the person who wrote this was stranded at sea? Did they make it back? Are they lying on a white-sand beach, their t-shirt around their head to protect them from the weighty sun, thrusting their self-crafted spear at shoals of fish decorating the shore with their synchronised wriggles? Has this note been written with the last page from her notebook and a pen that is all but dried up?’ All these thoughts wrestle each other between your ears.

You inspect the writing. The lines made by the pen are definite. They’re vivid in their blueness. This was not written by a sun-scorched pen. Unlike the other signs and prompts you have received in the library so far, the writing looks similar to your own but rounder, more characterful – there are small circles above the letter i instead of your simple dots.

It says:

I bet you’re thirsty by now.

I bet you’d like something to eat.

No doughnuts this time.

Come find me.

You know who I am.

We’ve met before.

But where am I?

Are you north from me or am I south from you?

 

You press your feet into the grass and pick up your bones from the mound. As you do so, it melts away, becomes flat again. It smells less like wide-open fields now and more like the thinly spread scent of burning wood. If you listen to the trees, you’ll hear the crackling of a wood fire to the south.

She sends you smoke signals. You wade through tall grass, over a felled tree trunk, you crawl like a commando through wide pipes wallpapered with book spines. This place is vaster than you once thought. If you are under or over ground you don’t know but a few metres away you see a stall with the words ‘Fresh Fizzy Lemonade’ written on a red and white striped table cloth.  

‘You made it. I knew you’d find me,’ Angelina says as she hands you a frosty glass. The cold beads run onto your skin. Three deep gulps leave the glass empty. It refills once more.

‘Thank you, that’s delicious.’

When you return your glass, Angelina hands you a book.

Everything goes cold immediately. The lights go out. Above you, the stars are twinkling just as they are in your hands. You don’t know if the book you hold is a mirror, reflecting each twinkle from each star above or whether in your hands you hold the universe.

‘BANG!’

Your ears ring. You feel dust settling around you. It’s hot now. A thick, vibrating heat that you hear as well as feel. You recall a smell you’ve smelled before. Eggs. Mixed with the gas from a just-ignited match. Clouds surround you, making you feel weightless. ‘Where is Angelina?’ You think.

 

***

 

Before we start I need to tell you about something that will be quite difficult to get your head around.

Knock, knock, Scorpio, it’s me talking to you now. Don’t worry, Angelina is taking a break. You’ll see her soon.

You can’t see me but you nod.

Don’t worry. If you have questions, I’ll try to answer them. And also it may take you a few times of my telling you before you get it. Okay?

You nod again. You look intently at the book as if you’ve switched your concentration dial up to one hundred per cent. Your eyes are bright, showing your interest and intent to try to get your head around this thing that is difficult to get your head around.

Okay, let’s begin. Lean back. Look at those stars up there. How many do you think there are?

‘Millions,’ you whisper.

Okay. Any advances on millions?

‘Trillions?’

Any advances on trillions?

You don’t know what the next number after trillions is, so you say a google, even though you don’t really know how many that is.

What if I told you, it’s even more than a google? You might not believe me because numbers like that are so so so very big – too big – for you to think about. But the number of stars in the universe isn’t a number at all. It’s something called infinity.

‘To infinity and beyond!’ You mouth these words but only breath escapes without sound.

Yes! Exactly. The thing about infinity is that there are no limits to it. There is no point at which there are no more stars. For example, you don’t get to a road at the very edges of the universe where the stars suddenly stop. That’s because the universe is thought to have no edges – because it just keeps going forever – and because the universe doesn’t stop, the stars don’t stop.

‘The earth was a star once,’ you say.

Yes, it was! Exactly. You know more about this than I thought. So, I’m going to take this idea of infinity one more step again. And don’t worry if you don’t follow, just remember that infinity means there are no limits. Everything is possible, because everything can and does happen.

Infinity. So. Imagine there’s another Scorpio Smith. This Scorpio Smith is tall, likes mathematics but doesn’t like learning languages. Likes football and netball but doesn’t like tennis. Has a friend named Poppy and one named Joshua. They live on another planet in the universe called Wind where they live in sand caves in homes inside an underground network that to you looks like an ant colony. Then imagine another Scorpio Smith who is the same in every way as you, same parents Suzie and Andy, has the same coloured hair, but he lives under the sea. He’s the same but different. There are an infinite number of Scorpio Smiths except they live light years away, on different planets. You see?

You look puzzled, and that’s OK.

Now I want you to open the book.

You do.

There is a blinding light.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Episode 1 - The Order of the Alphabet

For Scorpio Smith (son or daughter of Suzie Lane and Andrew Smith)

Last time I saw you, you were the size of a peanut. That’s how big your mummy said you were anyway. I use ‘see’ loosely. I can’t see through your mummy’s belly because sadly, I don’t have X-Ray vision. Maybe you will. Maybe that will be your superpower. You might be able to see through people. Anyways, I’ll be on holiday when you’re born but I’m very much looking forward to meeting you, Scorpio Smith, son or daughter of Suzie Lane and Andrew Smith.

Your Dad said to his friend, my husband, Chris Coleman: ask Aimee to write about why it’s ABC (in that order) and not ZFE, for example. Until today, I’ve never paid any attention to the order of the alphabet because, well, who cares? Well. Your Dad cares. It’s because he’s curious and he likes to have answers. It’s this question that has led me on a treasure hunt into another world. A world I’d like to share with you in good time.

What’s funny is that on the day I embark on this little story telling adventure, a magpie gave aerial chase to me as I was minding my own business walking along Beach Road in Melbourne (four and a half months before you’re to be born). It’s a sign that I need to write you this. You see, during my friendship with your mummy and daddy, both of their experiences with magpies have been a source of both fear and laughter – for all of us. Today, that was a sign to me, that this little task was going to be a funny and perhaps a scary one at times. Don’t worry though, we’ll figure it out together

I hope when your mummy or daddy read this to you, you are sat comfortably. Actually, I’ve just turned on my magic vision and I can see you. You’re in your pyjamas, lying in bed, smiling. See, I told you.

Anyway back to the story I need to tell you. It’s not just about ABC. It’s about all the others letters too. Why they’re in that order. Because you see, they might not be in that order for much longer. There’s a power struggle going on. Hopefully, the battle can be solved peacefully.

To tell you the story, let me take you to the place I visited once. It’s an enchanted place. A place I spent all of time and no time at all. Take my hand. I’ll open the great wooden doors for us…

The doors creak. The sound echoes in the giant circular room. We’re in the very middle of a spider web – a big dome with tunnels heading in all directions. The air is cool and dusty. I don’t think the doors have been opened in a while.

Do you see the gentleman behind the desk over there? That’s George. He looks scary but he’s not. Those wrinkles are deep with wisdom you see. George has seen them – all of the letters, I mean. He knows. He knows their history, what they’ve done to and for the world. He doesn’t see them like they see themselves. They see themselves in relationship to each other, a comparison. But he sees them exactly how they were intended – equal. All twenty-six of them, all gods in their own right, lined up next to each other. He sees them in their youth, when they held hands in one long daisy chain, smiling. 

When they started out.

I want you to go and pick yourself a book. Go ahead. Run along. 

You stand still for a while. There’s something about this place that feels different. There are things that look like a library but behind the desk, down one of the rabbit holes, you can see bright colours. You walk. Small steps at first. Your shoes are your compass.

The smell of sweet popcorn and jam doughnuts leads you past George and down one of the stacks. His face is so still you’re not sure if he’s real. You’re not sure, but you think he winked at you. There’s movement in the distance but you don’t see or hear anyone.

You walk slowly, looking around, taking in first purple then blue. The higher you look, purple blends with black. It’s a rich midnight sky bright with fairy lights, stars that twinkle. You feel like you’ve walked into space. A warm silence collects you, you can’t work out whether the sky is moving or you are. Whether you’re inside or out. What’s real and what’s not. Are you above or underground? You can no longer tell. Is that the universe, you ask yourself? Or is it someone’s story of the universe?

This stack is built with books. Instead of bricks, the walls seem to be made of books. Spines that are thick, thin, hard, soft, pink, brown, orange, tan, leather, plastic, paper, aged and wilting like old bones ground down over time, untouched and sturdy and shiny.

You can barely see your shoes any more, there’s a soft mist carpeting the floor, like the stars and sky have started to drop and you’re walking amongst the clouds. Your toes are toasty. You look down at them and wiggle them against the cloth of your running shoes.

Something in between the books to your right catches your eye. It’s the light of the stars reflecting in a train of mirrors that appear to be floating between the shelves. You look closer. The mirrors have moved now. They no longer look like mirrors. They look like plain glass behind which are rows and rows of books.

I’m watching you pick one. Your hands stroke the spines, as if by touching, you’re feeling whether or not it’s the right story for you in this moment.

You’ve never been here before have you? Have you a library card?

Who said that?

Me.

I can’t see you.

You can, you’re looking straight at me.

No, I’m looking at a book called Alpha Beta

Yes, that’s me.

You look around. You wonder who is playing this trick. You wonder if you’ve fallen asleep already and are curious about whether this is a dream.  I can assure you, it’s not.

The book is still but the golden foil of the book title is sparkling, glinting as the voice whispers around you. When the voice stops, the foil becomes dull, solid, just words on a hardback spine.

Though you can’t really believe the book is talking to you, the warmth from the carpet cloud is keeping you calm. There are thoughts buzzing around in your head, each flying and reverberating against each other so you can’t see anything clearly.

Do you like doughnuts?

Yes, you say.

Would you like one?

Yes, please, you say.

Walk down to the bottom of this row and Angelica will be there, she’ll get you a doughnut and some warm milk. Once you have your treats, come back to me. I’ll have the beanbags laid out. I have a story to tell you.

What is it about? It’s about alpha beta.

What’s that?

You mean: who are they? They are the letters of the English alphabet, each a god in its own right. They’re not at peace right now, but perhaps by the time you get back peace may have been restored. You look confused.

I am, you say. I’ve never been to a library like this before.

That’s what everyone says.

Run along. Hurry back. I may only have time today to introduce you to one or two of the gods. We may have to delve more into the story in your next visits.

You hurry towards the sugary scent. You can feel your mouth getting warmer and wetter with each step you take.

Angelica is a child like you but she doesn’t act like one. She stands quite straight. She smiles like your Mummy. She seems to know things that you don’t yet. Don’t worry, you might one day, it just takes time.

Angelica passes you a thick papery bag that’s hot and a little moist with oil from the doughnut. It’s curved sugar dusted doughiness peeps out from the top of its pouch. You lick your lips.

Thank you, you say.

You’re welcome.

Angelica gives you a couple of napkins to hold under the bag. Once in place, she hands you a cup of warm milk with two marshmallows bobbing on the surface.

Thanks.

No worries. Enjoy yourself. And don’t be frightened, it’s going to be fine.

When you turn back, the floor reconnects with the tunnel you came from. A few metres ahead, you see a chair. It’s more like a sofa chair. Except it’s not solid, like the one you have in the living room at home. This one is gaseous, it’s seems to be shaped out of cloud. There’s a footstool too.

Go on, sit down, says the voice.

I… Erm… is…? Will…? You can’t produce the words you need so you use your hands to work out whether the cloud sofa chair will take your weight. It’s strange. You can feel it and press it and yet your eyes tell you it isn’t solid. You try putting your mug of milk on the footstool as a test. It works. It rests comfortably against it. You turn and lower yourself into the chair. Your whole body feels toasty like your toes.

You retrieve your milk and take a sip. You try to get of the marshmallows but it’s slightly to big so you take a bit of the doughnut instead. Delicious. It feels as soft as the clouds.

Sitting comfortably?

You nod, enjoying the doughnut too much to be able to say anything.

I’ll begin. You can ask questions at the end.

You nod, the strawberry syrup is now at your lips making them sticky.

I need to explain a few things to you before we go in. You no doubt understand by now this is no ordinary place and this is no ordinary book. In it are the Gods responsible for all stories written in the English language. However you come to think of them, remember that these Gods may not be the Gods you are taught about at school or in the old religious books like the Bible, the Torah or the Quran for example. We don’t pray to them, though we respect them and we expect a lot from them. We expect them to lead us to places we hadn’t imagined.

These Gods are like people – with strengths and weaknesses. They are special but also ordinary. They aren’t perfect. They are the blueprints for all other letters that you see everyday in every book. You see these Gods are called Gods because they are the originals. They are the leaders of the letters. All other letters being clones of these originals. It is the job of the Gods – Alpha Beta – to make sure their clones are being used correctly. They are the almighty readers and editors. They try to make sure the humans – you people use their clones correctly and tell the stories that need to be told in sentences that expand the mind, touch the soul and connect you to those other humans you don’t yet know.

Each God is a she and a he. They are just one ‘person’, although they shift beyond people or animals, beyond, solid and liquid and gas. But I know this is a lot to take in so for ease, let’s call them people though they are not human like you.

Where was I? Ah yes, they are but one, but they are both girl and boy, masculine and feminine, yin and yang. This is how it will be in the future of the humans I think. You will not know yourselves as either girl or boy. You will be you and only you. A unique blueprint, made up of all the letters, all the words, and all the experiences the Gods gave you.

Some humans place too much value in being either a boy or a girl and they have attached meanings to each of those words, those identities that the Gods did not intend in the beginning. Before they started to bicker and then the power struggle, they were talking about how they might address the problems in the world that had arisen recently since the expectations attached to male and female had slowly, steadily began to take away the uniqueness of the human children. The Gods believed that as a boy or a man, you should be able to cry freely, express sensitivity and vulnerability without being judged or feeling silly. A girl should be able to build a house with her own hands – apply her body, her strength, her mind to the physically and mentally demanding task of constructing something from bricks and mortar, a team she directs, and her own labour. She should be able to build something, influence others, bring resources together to create a structure a symbol of protection and security, in an environment where she too is protected and secure. An insider not an outsider. When you’re fully grown, I know you’ll help them in their crusade.

The Gods they have power but not absolute power. Yet. They are all neither all good or all bad.

Except one.

It’s not a god at all. Like the rest, it’s neither male nor female, just an entity. But unlike the rest it is wholly bad. It’s an outlier, an outlaw, and an outsider. Always wanting more, more, more.

Its name is Ampersand and it looks like this:

&

We don’t know where it came from. There’s a myth that he arose out of a desert storm. It’s not an alpha beta. He and she is twisted like a desert beast, like a snake in your world, perhaps, entangled in his own wretchedness. She and he is used to represent ‘and’, always more. The Gods have tried to imprison him between their letters but he keeps trying to get out. For she and he is greedy.

Oh no, I see you must go now. She’s waiting for you. The lady you came with. Look.

You turn to look behind you. The sofa chair becomes more gaseous, more dense, it’s almost like it is inflating to become bigger and straighter, upright so it supports you to a standing position before you have even decided to get up.

Sorry Scorpio, I’ve not yet had time to introduce you to them. Will you be back tomorrow night?

Yes you say. There are some sugar specks around your mouth and a few on the tip of your nose.

Meet me here. Angelica will make you some doughnuts if you wish. Goodnight Scorpio.

Goodnight, you say.

See you tomorrow.

The letters on the spine are dull. It looks like every other book you’ve seen before.

You turn around. The clouds have disappeared. You walk out into the cool fresh air. It’s dark and you’re tired. Close your eyes. The library will still be here tomorrow. I can tell you’re going to make some great friends there.

(c) Aimee Coleman 2017