Story for the Day: Doing Science -- Part 2
Peppone is a great mystery of human composition. He is double-jointed, slightly imp-like in appearance, and can compress himself into very small spaces with almost no effort. According to Bartleby, he is semi-mycological, and considering his cell make up and fungal prowess, Bartleby might actually be right.
Presently Barlteby turned to Peppone and returned to his question. “This is a microscope,” Bartleby cooly replied. “And before you should ask, because I know it was at your tongue’s end, because none
“I didn’t touch the slide,” Peppone kindly insisted. “I couldn’t have done it. I’m too far away. You touched it when you turned to me just now. Your sleeve caught on the corner of the stage and pulled it.”
“Oh, pbtth!” Bartleby jutted his lower lip at him. “You presume to tell me what I’ve done, you shiftless shadowfogger. I know how to mind my own sleeves.”
“One of them is caught right now on the corner of the desk.”
Peppone pointed to the corner of the desk, and Bartleby instantly pulled his sleeve away from it.
“It wasn’t caught,” Bartleby persisted. “It was simply hanging there, to keep the fabric off my wrists. And stop simpering this moment, Rannig, or I will let my night beetles out to visit you.”
The soft chuttering from without instantly stopped, and the psithurism of the brush passing along the wooden slats above continued.
“If you are just going to linger and make unwanted commentary,” Bartleby flouted, speaking to Peppone from the side of his mouth, “you may go away and try to work out the physics of your throwing knife by yourself, or you may lurk about the galley and keep the mice away, or quinch and fester, or whatever it is you campernoylean assassins do.”
“Don’t worry about him insultin’ ye, Mr Vase Imp,” said Rannig’s voice, his head appearing from the hatch above, his copper hair flouncing. “If Bartleby insults ye, it means he likes ye.”
“No, it does not,” the old man contended. “It means the person won’t be got rid of and I want them gone, and by verbally pointing out their failings, they might take themselves off and throw themselves down a well instead of coming to bother me whilst I am busy making scientific discoveries.”
Rannig looked askance. “But I won’t fit down a well, Bartleby.”
“No, but this hapless latibulater might.”
Peppone glanced at Bartleby and then Rannig, whose eyes were peering at him upside down from the hatch above. “Does the scientist often use complicated words?”
“Aye,” Rannig chimed, his eyes smiling. “He thinks we don’t understand him ‘cause Bartleby’s a genius and all.”
“Ha,” the old man snuffed, and staring into his microscope, he quietly added, “Genius in that context is just a pretty word for unmarriagable.”
Peppone smiled and folded his arms. “Now I understand why you’re so surly. You’ve never been with anyone.”
“What? What?” Bartleby cried, looking up from his work in sudden vexation. “Who said that? Did I say that? No, I did not. I have been with a significant other before, and now chose to be agmous and productive. I said that geniuses are umarriageble because they are. Nobody likes to be with someone whose life is devoted to the improvement of the world. Relationships are selfish things, made for those who do not know how to spend their time usefully when alone. I am happily employed now—well, I am when I am not being absolutely plagued by a giant and bodycarver—and who would not be happy with my books and my desk and my skin samples—do not say ‘who would’, Rannig. Do not say it, because you know the question is rhetorical and does not need answering.”
Rannig’s eyes narrowed and sunk behind the hatch, whispering to himself, “….Who would?”
“They can’t really comfort you,” was Peppone’s answer.
Bartleby snurled and humphed to the side. “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course they can. Your skin samples are so irregular, they will leave me with days worth of study and research—weeks, possibly. Only think of how long I will be able to sit at my desk studying them—and do not say how long!”
Rannig’s muffled voice said he would not ask how long, though in saying it, he realized he just did.
“I meant your books,” said Peppone, shaking his head. “They can’t give you the same comfort that a companion can.”
“Codswallop! Books are better than any dratchel draping over you when you are trying to sleep. Two pages open onto your chest is better than any set of busy limbs moving at all hours. No one wants another body in the bed when they might have a book. Literature cannot kick the blanket away. Books may do for anybody what bookends do for them: furnish the world with knowledge and promote education. The redemancy of reading, the limerance of the written word, are the only real comforts anyone needs in life. If more people spent less time pretending to care about one another and more time being in love with books, like any sensible person would be, we would have fewer natalitious mothers and more resources to go around.”
Bartleby peered into the microscope, determined not to concede to Peppone’s ideas—famigerous nonsense as ever he heard talked, books not being to give as much comfort as a companion could do—it raised his mesentery to hear him speak of the powers of literature so slightingly, it offened all the books in his library—but while he was rapt in his own musings, adjusting his slides and decrying the importance put on relationships nobody should be having, Peppone sidled him and said, in a softened voce, “But don’t you feel lonely? I know I would.”
“Fah!” Bartleby scoffed, looking into his microscope.“Lonliness is what people have when they have no purpose. It is also what happens when people give way to feelings. I am a scientist, sir. We do not have feelings. We have facts. We all begin with emotions and slowly replace them with reason over time. There is no time for lonliness when the wonders of the universe are before us-- By my microscope,” he suddenly exclaimed, “your skin cells are positively bacterial.”
“Oh.” Peppone’s eyes darted about. “What does that mean, according to Science?”
“That you are either a walking spore lurk, ready to sprout new fungal life at any moment, or you have new microbiota never yet recorded.” Bartleby saw that Peppone looked as though he were trying to work it out, and said, “Your epidermis and follicles will probably sprout mushrooms very soon.”
“And that’s not usual?”
“Not unless you are made out of arboreal material. Anything may be infected by a fungus, but your epidermal cells are so fraught with yeasts and moulds, you might as well be a walking brewery. If you were not standing before me and someone told me this sample came from a human being, I should think you were some mythical creature made entirely from cheese.”
“Well, I’m not mythical,” said Peppone complacently. “I’ve now been Scientifically proven.”
“Yes,” Bartleby mused, thrumming and rubbing his chin. “I cannot rightly understand it. Usually those with this amount of noxious microbes have some sort of serious fungal disease, but you appear perfectly unharmed. You should be a harbinger for ringworm or dermatitis, but you skin when I look at you has not a rash anywhere.”
“I can remove my pants, if you want to give me a thorough examination.”
Bartleby’s brows thrunched, and he spied his subject from over the rim of his spectacles. “I don’t think that will be necessary, thank you,” he decided, somewhat hesitantly. “I am almost tempted to ask you for a bone sample, merely to see whether your ostial structure is made out of fungal stalks.”
“They do bend easily,” Peppone observed, looking down at himself and bowing his legs.
“Of course they do, sir. They have joints that make them bend.”
“I meant the bones bend where they aren’t supposed to.”
He wiggled his legs, and his shins seemed to arch, though Bartleby knew that was entirely impossible.
“Move about,” said Bartleby, removing his spectacles and narrowing his gaze. “Let me see that again, please.”
Peppone proceeded to walk in a circle, forcing his leg down with every step, pressing hard into the floor to bow his legs. His shins and thighs arched slightly, and then straightened.
“Remarkable,” said Bartleby, scratching the side of his head. “Some sort of osteomalacia, I suspect, but you are in no pain, and your bones rather bend than break.”
“How come his bones bend and all?” said Rannig, canting his head to look at Peppone right side up.
“Some sort of inherited condition rather than any type of mineral deficiency, I believe. Tell me, were your parents afflicted with the same complaint? Were you ill much as a child?”
The strange and unusual condition had subdued the old man’s fractious spirit, and seeing him in his domesticated state, all examination and wondering, Peppone could not but like him.
“Actually, I wasn’t ill at all growing up,” Peppone admitted. “I don’t know about my father, but my mother was always unwell. I don’t know what she had, because we never talked about it, but it was difficult for her to move around. She died when I went into the guilds.”
“Oh, that is a pity. It would help if you could remember anything about her condition, any symptoms other than generalized pain and so forth. And your bones have always bent like that, you say? And they have never caused you any difficulties? There is no joint pain or muscle soreness?”
Peppone shook his head. “It’s actually always helped me get jobs. I can fold myself and hide in small places for long periods of time. Even my joints are flexible. Here, I’ll show you.”
He stood beside Bartleby’s desk and opened the bottom drawer, which was mostly empty, save a few loose papers, and after he had carefully stacked the papers onto Bartleby’s desk, taking care not to touch the microscope, he stepped into the drawer and sank down, pressing his calves to his thighs and forcing his sitting bones down.
“No, no, don’t wedge yourself in there,” Bartleby began, “you will warp the wood and ruin the shape of the—oh, yes, I see. You simple bend that way and you fold your limbs over like that. Quite interesting.”
It was not two minutes before Peppone was completely lodged in the drawer, his toes sticking out from the face, his fingers draping over the cradles, and his head sprouting from the back. He was perfectly creased, his knees bent over themselves and jutting up to meet Peppone’s chin, the rest of his carriage having vanished into the base of the drawer, and Bartleby was in scientific raptures.