Gone Lawn
a journal of literature
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Gone Lawn 22
Summer, 2016

New Works

Nels Hanson


For a month now I've had to restrict Roger's movements to the monitored suite just off the main laboratory. My assistants in shifts watch closely the video feed of all his activities and his sleep. Three times a week Dr. Stevens provides therapy via free associative conversation, and our senior Jungian on staff arrives each morning to discuss Roger's dreams, both approaches garnering no positive results.
Since January, Roger's computations have stopped — he has ceased all work on his revolutionary Cat's Cradle Hypothesis. His notebooks and hard drives have been removed to ensure their safekeeping, while our analysis of their arcane logic and mathematics continues, slowly and fitfully, our subzero central computer overtaxed and under repair.
In short, the root of our dilemma — and related problems resulting from Roger's malaise — remains difficult to identify and appropriately address. Every day Roger naps several hours and on waking consumes only small portions of his meals.
Why should an individual with the DNA of an Einstein, Bohr and Schrodinger — a moral genius who combines the human insight and empathy of Reinhold Niebuhr, Dag Hammarskjold and Martin Luther King, with the selfless grandeur of Gandhi and Mandela, not to mention the athletic prowess of Muhammad Ali and Jim Thorpe, and the pleasing appearance of such well-loved actors as Sidney Poitier and James Garner — abruptly fall into a prolonged listless depression?
The staff here has been in daily consultation, but all attempted strategies have failed to alleviate Roger's acute despondency.
Although not one of Roger's surrogate parents, I am in a sense "his father" and have been especially discouraged at his changed state, which may be worsening — I assembled his genetic material, oversaw his development and birth, and served as his steward and confidant for 32 years.
We discussed the possibility that Roger's difficulty is somehow religious or metaphysical in its origin, and only yesterday I spoke privately with Roger, who remained essentially silent but pliable and willing to take direction. I suggested he might like to peruse Aldous Huxley's "Perennial Philosophy," the autobiographies of Saint Teresa and Saint Augustine, and the Upanishads, as well as the Gnostic Gospel of Daniel.
Roger nodded his agreement and in my presence read one volume after another but at their completion 10 minutes later he seemed more morose and distant than before.
His recurrent nightmares perhaps suggest at least one buried kernel of the crisis. Red sunrises, sunsets, scorching red days, receding oceans and lakes, rivers that never reach the sea, boiling estuaries and incinerating trees, animals and sea life congregating in crowed narrow zones of surviving forest and un-poisoned water, make up the common apocalyptic theme.
Roger's passionate love affair with Dr. Newcome has ended, at his tearful insistence, and the gifted and quite attractive doctor's intense disappointment. His communications with her have stopped, after a final missive warning that he was "a barren stone falling through endless space unshaped by the hands of gravity."
We considered that a disturbing incident during childhood, a buried hurt or frustration, had escaped our notice and become active in its aftereffects, but an in-depth review of his recorded home life with the Taylors revealed only a happy and loving environment, full of laughter and constant affection.
The young Roger joyfully took part in games and sports at which he naturally excelled, even after he left his grammar school to enter the university.
His active sexual life began normally in his 20th year and Roger formed two long- term heterosexual relationships that appeared mutually satisfying and warm despite his immense mental superiority to his partners, before the intensity of his work required a constriction of his attachments and he formed the excellent bond with Dr. Newcome.
In the last weeks, Roger's only apparent intellectual activity turned to art, a series of self-portraits that brought to mind the work of the Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch, known for his painting titled "The Scream." His graphic art quickly stopped after the fifth completed picture, when Roger assembled canvases, brushes, palette and paint tubes and stacked them by the entrance to his quarters.
For several days following, Roger began working with paper and pencil, hiding his work under his mattress.
Of course, we were hopeful that he had resumed his researches in theoretical astrophysics and cosmology and creation of Cat's Cradle, and while he slept the manuscripts were silently removed, before their clandestine return the next morning.
Roger had begun composing poetry. The literary efforts offered no new clues to his present emotional state: his words only further described the atmosphere of his dreams, as can be seen by this representative example:
I woke from a dream of a red boat
on a red sea and the room
was red, the television, the floating
morning dust, my clothes
on the chair, and I dressed and hurried
outside and my house was red
and all the neighbors' houses, lawns,
the sidewalks, and above the roofs
the new red sky and I ran to
my car that now was red like all
the other cars and drove down a red
street across the red town, faster,
past red suburbs toward the lush fields
and grassy hills also gone red and
a red rabbit crossing the road and sped up
toward the east, the pure high mountains
as the red hours passed and I climbed
country of red oaks and then red pines
until I saw red flanks, the red snow
on the red granite peaks and realized
I must still be asleep as I checked
the mirror and beyond my red face
I saw a setting red sun and red Venus
rising in the west. Through the windshield
I saw a red glow up ahead and seconds
later a red full moon, a blood moon,
ascending the reddening dusk.
Drug therapy only increased Roger's apparent apathy, sluggishness and chronic napping.
A regime of physical exercise produced at best mixed results and was discontinued. Roger can run a three-minute mile, swim 30 lengths of our Olympic pool without rising for breath, and drive a golf ball more than 1,000 yards, but afterward he was teary and asked to return to his rooms.
He sat quietly on his bed, watching a moment of the evening news, and collapsed into a sleep so sound it was hard to wake him for his dinner — he was able to eat a few bites, over a period of an hour, and is losing five pounds a week.
Hope temporarily flared when Dr. Rice suggested Roger might be in the midst of a "regenerative regression," a retreat from intense cerebral activity and mature behavior to a prior stage of development, a kind of "hibernation" to prepare for a sudden leap forward, but no such event has shown a sign of occurring.
The possibility that Roger was engaged in self-hypnosis or meditation, perhaps to cope with the vast challenges of his investigations into a subtle and evolving universal order organizing itself from apparent chaos, was briefly entertained, but an EEG of his daytime slumbers showed the erratic activity of the nighttime dreaming.
Why should the most brilliant man on earth, physically beautiful, compassionate and considerate, eager for meaningful romantic love, and wholly absorbed in the most abstruse and important theorizing, descend suddenly into what can only be described as the deepest funk, just as his involved theorems gave every indication of their ground-breaking completion?
In a few words, why was Roger so sad, tired and unresponsive, just as his work was going so well?
A service dog was introduced but after a day of shared affection both man and animal isolated themselves at opposite ends of the apartment. The dog whined and roamed along a far wall until it lay down, refused nourishment and our efforts at consolation, and was removed, unfortunately too late. The golden retriever died the next morning from indeterminate causes.
Of secondary but growing concern is the disappointment and anxiety spreading throughout the institute, causing many members of our team to seek their own therapy, as I have recently done.
One could almost imagine that we had been working on the cure for some terrible, contagious disease that has escaped its insulated control room and infected researchers as it threatens to spread beyond the confines of our facility.
Therefore, to take the necessary precautions, we have restricted our entire complement of scientists and support staff to the premises and shut off all contact with the outer world, while we await a solution to the disability affecting otherwise intelligent, well balanced, and carefully chosen participants.
Our present situation is unparalleled in my experience or in that of my colleagues. A theologian who conducted an interview and assessment returned crestfallen after his brief and fragmentary dialogue with Roger. The reverend doctor mumbled that it was "as if God Himself had fallen into a dark and deepening distress."
The prevailing atmosphere I describe has required that Roger be put on a 24-hour suicide watch, a safeguard that has also been extended to several of my fellows. The inhabitants of our institute have become reminiscent of aristocratic refugees who remove themselves from a plague, as in Poe's "Masque of the Red Death," or Boccaccio's "Decameron," only in reverse.
The plague is inside, and the so-called "healthy" if endangered world is beyond our walls, which must now be reinforced to prevent the escape of our strange malady.
Our Noah who had been expected to carry us to a new Earth has become the captain of a ghost ship drifting toward the spiraling waters of a whirlpool, our father of a better race a somnolent Ahab at the rudder of his spinning ark.
In all truth, we have reached a dead end at all levels of thought, and now are waiting for nothing less than a miracle, a predicament the psychologist Carl Jung found himself in when analysis reached a roadblock and the only alternative was to await a healing dream from the collective unconscious.
Tomorrow morning, will Roger suddenly rise from his bed, his old optimistic and energized self, resume his relationship with Dr. Newcome, begin to eat and once more build his grand theory of ever-entangled particles with its vast theoretical and practical ramifications?
Or is Roger's sickness the sickness of the world, Roger the world's victim rather than its savior?
If Roger can't save the Earth, can the Earth save Roger, like the darkening Tinkerbelle in "Peter Pan," when the disappearing fairy lights up again as the children in the audience clap to express their faith in her?
Please pray for Roger and all of us, for those here and for yourself and all others beyond the borders of what has become our prison and future tomb, so that all of Earth may rise reborn, refreshed and sure of its salvation.

Nels Hanson grew up on a small farm in the San Joaquin Valley of California and has worked as a farmer, teacher and contract writer/editor. His fiction received the San Francisco Foundation's James D. Phelan Award and Pushcart nominations in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Poems appeared in Word Riot, Oklahoma Review, Pacific Review and other magazines and received a 2014 Pushcart nomination, Sharkpack Review's 2014 Prospero Prize, and 2015 and 2016 Best of the Net nominations.