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Authors: Brian W. Aldiss

Report on Probability A

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Report on Probability A

Brian W. Aldiss

For Mike Moorcock

I think you were in the darkness of the garden

If there was a voice I think you heard it

And if neither knows what communication is

We agree on the cost of garden produce

Do not, I beg you, look for anything behind phenomena. They are themselves their own lesson.

Goethe

Part One

G Who Waits

1

The Report begins:

One afternoon early in a certain January, the weather showed a lack of character. There was no frost or wind; the trees in the garden did not stir. There was no rain, although anybody accustomed to predicting rain might have forecast it with a fair expectation of being right before nightfall. Cloud lay thickly over the sky. The face of the sun was not visible. Consequently, shadows had no form.

A single window on the north-west side of the house reflected the light back in a dull fashion, without movement, except once when the reflection of a pigeon, wheeling above the garden, splashed across it. No movement came from the house. No sound came from the house.

G lived not in the house but in a wooden bungalow in the garden, overlooked by the window set high in the north-west side of the house. The bungalow, which contained only one room, measured about five by four metres, being longer than it was deep. It was raised above the ground on low pillars of brick. It was constructed of planks arranged vertically on the front and rear and horizontally on the sides. Its roof was also of planks, covered by asphalt; the asphalt was secured in place by large flat-headed nails which dug into the black material. Cracks ran round many of the nails.

The wooden bungalow had two windows. These were fitted in its front wall, one on either side of a door. This was the only door. It did not fit well. The windows contained large single panes of glass. The window-frames and the door had been painted with white paint. Although dirt had greyed this paint, it was still in moderately good condition and not in particular need for repainting. The rest of the wooden bungalow, excluding of course the roof, had been painted yellow. This paint had proved less satisfactory than the white, peeling off in many places to reveal the bare wood underneath.

Between the two windows was an ill-fitting door. A key remained in the lock of this door on the inside, although the lock would not function because the door hinges had sunk and the wood had swollen. G always shut this door with great force at night; he did not like to imagine that Mr. Mary might enter the wooden bungalow when he was inside it asleep. Sometimes when G shut the door with great force at night, the key would fall out of the lock onto the mat.

Approximately two years had passed since G began living in the wooden bungalow. During that period, the key had fallen onto the mat inside the door on many occasions.

When Mr. Mary had had men build the wooden bungalow in the garden, he said to his wife: “It is for you; you can call it your summer house.” The wooden bungalow had been constructed facing the north-west side of the house. It did not face it squarely, but at an angle of some twenty degrees, in the direction of east-south-east. It stood at a distance of some ten metres from the house. The house dominated the wooden bungalow.

On the early January days when the sun shone, it never rose far enough above the roof of the house to illuminate more than the upper half of the two windows on the front of the bungalow. Even this ration of sunshine was further abbreviated while the shadow of a group of chimneys on the roof of the house made its passage across the front of the bungalow. Since the bungalow faced east-south-east, the sunshine that did reach the windows impinged obliquely into the one room. It shone onto a small section of mat that was stretched over the floorboards and over a portion of the couch on which G slept. G was never on the couch when the sun was.

The couch stood along the northmost side of the room. At the other end of the room to the couch, G had a small stove of an antique pattern which burnt paraffin. By this stove was a chair on which G sat for a considerable period each day. One of the rear legs of this chair was slightly shorter than the others, so that it was possible to make the chair rock a little when one wished it to do so. The chair had once belonged in the house. The style of the chair was the style known to G as wheelback, because the spokes that formed the back of the chair radiated out from a centre in a fashion reminiscent of the hubs of a cart wheel. The back of the chair had once possessed five supports or spokes; one of these spokes had been missing for a long time. It was because this spoke was missing that Mr. Mary had ordered the chair to be placed in the wooden bungalow. The chair had been made shortly before the first world war; it bore on the underside of the round wooden seat the date 1912. G had seen this date and did not forget it.

When G sat on the chair, he generally permitted his gaze to rest only on the objects inside the bungalow. These objects were few in number. He was familiar with all of them. Most of the objects were manufactured, as were a stove with a pattern of circular holes on its upper surface and a galvanized bucket that stood near the chair. Most of them had not been intended originally for the wooden bungalow, but had been brought over from the house by Mr. Mary; some had been brought over by his wife, before they had quarrelled. One or two belonged to G.

Some of these objects were connected directly or in a more tenuous degree with the passage of time. G's clock had been specifically designed to indicate the passage of time; it was his clock, for he had bought it with part of his wages in the days when Mr. Mary was paying him a weekly fee. On its face, which formed a circle, were the arabic numerals from one to twelve and a pair of hands. The smaller of the two hands pointed at the lower lobe of the figure eight, while the larger hand pointed at the space between the nine and the ten. These two hands had been at these positions, maintaining between them an angle of fifty degrees, for a period of something over eleven months. Although, when his attention encompassed the clock, G entertained the theory that the clock still worked, he was reluctant to test the theory by attempting to wind the clock mechanism.

Also connected with the passage of time was a calendar for the previous year, 19—. It indicated the day as being 9th February. G was aware that this date was incorrect. Above the functional part of the calendar (non-functioning though it was) hung a picture, stuck to the same piece of cardboard that bore the pack of dates. When G turned his attention to it, he saw that it bore a representation of two men in period dress standing on the edge of a gorge. One of these men wore a black beard and was pointing with a stick into the gorge; the other man held his hat in his hand and seemed to be gazing, not into the gorge, but at the end of the bearded man's stick. In the foreground of the picture, the gorge was littered by broken trees and boughs and boulders of large dimension. In the distance, the gorge became purple; over this end of it, a bird with a large wingspan hovered. The scene, though grand, was not harsh, because a gentle afternoon light played across it. This light bathed the two men as if from the wings of a theatre, giving them an air of security although they stood so close to a precipice.

A third object connected more remotely with the passage of time was the front page of a daily newspaper, The Daily——, for a day in April of the preceding year. G had fastened this sheet of newsprint and pictures to the wooden wall by two drawing pins, one at each of the two top corners of the paper; later he had added two more drawing pins at the bottom corners, because the damp emanating from the wall had caused the paper to curl upwards.

G had kept this sheet of newspaper because he found its contents more interesting than the contents of most newspapers. The main headline across the page said SERIOUS BLAZE DAMAGES WARSHIP IN SOUTHERN HARBOUR. The report of this fire, in which nobody was injured, was illustrated by an aerial photograph of the warship with smoke pouring from it. When G was a child of seven years, an uncle had taken him to see this ship. On the other side of the page, headlines announced ZEGENGAIS UNDER ARREST. In the last column was a notice of a strike in a car factory. Lower down the page were items of more domestic interest: MITZI TABORI WEDS FOURTH HUSBAND, FISH FAMINE CAUSES RECORD PRICES, and a report on a day of a big murder trial headed “IN LAUGHING FIT I KILLED HER.” An item which particularly interested G as a gardener was headed HOSE GOES!, and described how a man in the state of New York had watched in amazement while his fifty-feet-long garden hose had burrowed underground, resisting everyone's attempt to pull it back; it had finally disappeared, only to reappear two days later outside the Baptist church in what was described as a dazed condition.

Between the sheet of newspaper, which hung on one of the side walls, and the wheelback chair, stood a galvanized bucket and a paraffin stove of old-fashioned design. A small table made of bamboo stood on the other side of the wheelback chair, nearer the couch.

Also in the room was a cupboard of unpainted wood, in which G kept several small toilet articles; a copy of Hugh Walpole's “The Cathedral”; some neatly folded bandages; a crumpled handkerchief belonging to Mr. Mary's wife; a bowl with a rose pattern in which lay rusting curtain hooks, a penknife, and a pair of spectacles that had belonged to an uncle of G's; a candlestick; some candles; string; several strangely shaped stones found in the garden; a white china cat with the name of a seaside town printed on its stomach; some mending things; a round 1 oz. tobacco tin with holes punched in its lid, in which G had once intended to keep a lizard; and some groceries.

To the left of the cupboard of unpainted wood was one of the two windows set in the front wall of the wooden bungalow. Attached to the left side of it, as G sat on his seat regarding it, was a mirror measuring some fifteen by thirty centimetres and framed in a veneered wood, such as might have belonged at some past period to a small version of a cheval-glass. This mirror or looking-glass was fixed to the window frame at such an angle that, as G sat on the wheelback chair, he could look at the mirror and see reflected in it a part of the garden not otherwise visible from where he sat.

BOOK: Report on Probability A
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