In 2002 I lived in the city over a boarded up bakery, on a street of failing businesses. At night the neighborhood was as deserted as Mars. On the corner across from me was a so-called medical clinic, but the doctor was in full retreat. There were never any patients, and he lived in his office, apparently sleeping all day. At night he came out, and sometimes just sat on the back step for hours--maybe all night, because once or twice he was still there at six thirty when I got up. Sometimes though, he came out in a hurry, looking around, his whole body agitated. This was when he had the counting mania. He would rush down to the high-rise part of the city and count windows in buildings. He had favorites, he told me later.

   We first met on the corner one evening when I had missed the last bus and had had to walk the ten blocks back to the apartment.
   "There you are," he said, as I started to cross from his side of the street to mine. "I feared you were the victim of an alien abduction."
   "I'm in a hurry," I said.
   He followed after me. "Not crazy, my dear," he said. "Only somewhat enigmatic."
   I stopped. He was a small, rounded man, very pale in the light of day, with dark circles under his eyes, but at night he looked like an agreeable nursery animal, Mr. Opossom perhaps, or Mr. Vole.
   "I noticed you have day and night reversed," I said. "I thought you might be senile."
   "How kind of you not to suppose I am some miscreant in hiding. No, I simply do not care for the rays of the sun. I prefer the stars. More than one of them you know. Seemingly, an infinite number. We apparently live in a multiverse."
   "I'm really tired. And hungry. It was nice to meet you."
   "Wait, please wait another moment. I have something for you. When I saw you were not on the last bus. Wait."
  He came back out of the clinic with a pizza box, not entirely cold.
   "How did you ever find anyone to deliver here?"
   "I traded something to one of my patients."
   "I thought you didn't have any patients."
   He didn't respond to this, just pressed the box into my hands, "Please." There was writing all over the pizza box. "What is this?"
   "The effects of waiting, anxiety, secrets of the universe, numbers."
   "Did you have some pizza?"
   "Yes, I did have a piece while I was scribbling. I hope you don't mind. I hope it doesn't devalue the gift."
   "No, it's very kind of you."

   Later, after I had the pizza and I sat by the open window, wondering what I was doing there and how I found myself in this particular strange place, I saw the little man come outside, look this way and that, and hurry off. I wondered where he went when he seemed anxious like that. I looked at the pizza box with numbers written all over it, vaguely curious, but that night I did not turn on the light and look at it closely. I even threw that first box away. I did not notice the numbers were all prime.

   Fortunately, there were more pizzas and pizza boxes to come. By summer, we were sitting together on his back step, searching for stars in the city sky.
   "I think that is the Milky Way over there," I said one night.
   "The Indians call that the spirit path."
   "Where did you pick that up?
   "I was on a bridge one night--an old iron bridge out on the desert, over a dry river, existential really. Anyway, I was counting things on the bridge and this shadow came toward me, and stood next to me. It was an old Indian. So we stood there, looking up at the stars--you know, the sky has a radiance on the desert you wouldn't believe--and he just told me that. He was very old, so perhaps it was on his mind that night. It's nice to believe that, isn't it? To look up and see our great final road, someplace to go when our bodies are through. We come from the stars and I like to think of returning there, don't you?"
   "I don't know what I believe," I said.
   "At least believe this," he said. "The secret of the universe is numbers."

   By this time I was saving the pizza boxes, even copying the numbers out.
Here is the second pizza box, which I call radiant primes, from the mind of a friend to you.

Return home      Next ->