Synaesthesia Magazine Science & Numbers - Page 18

Daniel looked at me and shook his head. “I’m disappointed in you, Clive. I thought I could rely on you. You were always my favourite student.”

I blushed. “I … well, I just …” And then I rambled on about how my family were relying on me and how I couldn’t afford to be diverted from my proper job and that I didn’t have any other time what with changing nappies and reading bedtime stories and all that.

But I was still too much in awe of him to say what I really should have said. And that lacuna was what gave him permission. I realise now that it was all he wanted from our meeting. It wasn’t about asking for my help at all; he knew I’d refuse. He just wanted to know what my reasons would be.

I didn’t see him for another two years. His wife had declined to let me visit him and I could understand why. She knew what part I’d played. But eventually she relented, and on a crisp autumn morning I arrived at their house.

“He’s in there,” she said, barely acknowledging my presence. A nurse emerged from a room at the back, looked at me and shrugged. As I went in, I was met with a wave of disinfectant that failed to mask the foul smell. Daniel was lying on a bed against the wall.

“Hello, old fella,” I said.

He turned and looked blankly at me. Then he gurgled, farted loudly and sniggered.

“I – How are you?” I said.

He put his lips together and blew a faint raspberry, dribbling down his chin. Then he began a vague, tuneless humming, his head lolling from side to side.

I couldn’t think of anything else to say, and my eyes started to wander across the room. His desk and the floor beneath it were strewn with papers. Some of them were scrunched up and some had great gouges scored across them. On the very top was one with the single word “WHY?” scrawled over it several hundred times.

I looked up at the wall opposite his bed. That quotation from William Burroughs was still there: “Language is a virus from outer space”. I took it down. I knew now he was horribly wrong. It wasn’t language that was the virus: it was human intelligence itself. Daniel’s triumph, and Daniel’s dreadful misfortune, was that he had found the cure.

Jonathan Pinnock has written all sorts of stuff and has been published all over the place, including the BBC. His novel “Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens” was published by Proxima in September 2011 and was followed in November 2012 by his Salt short story collection “Dot Dash”. He blogs at www.jonathanpinnock.com and tweets as @jonpinnock.