great interiors, those of cathedrals, industrial assembly
buildings wherein small aircraft could fly, and huge
country-size extraterrestrial structures such as those
imagined in Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama
and John Varley's Titan.
As with distance, so with duration. At one time ofhis
life he was greatly interested in clocks, and if he'd had
more money he might have become a collector and
ended up with a house full of tickings and chimings.
But in the long run he was more drawn to the
commoner and more ordinary aspects of timekeeping,
the adjustment of watches and alarm clocks, the calls to
Time of Day, the counting out of seconds accurately,
the estimation of the duration of a moment of
awareness (that vital surface which patches together the
subjective and objective, the mental and material, the
microcosm and the macrocosm), and the slow circling
march across the sky of the time-keeping stars.
"He never cared for those new digital watches and
clocks," Dr. Lewison remarked, "especially the kind
that show a black empty face until you press a button.
Neither do I for that matter. For a wrist watch or clock
he preferred the simplest kind of face: upright black
numerals evenly spaced, minute markings around the
rim, and all three hands."
"I know," Joan Miles agreed. "He said you could see
the face of time that way, judge its expression, and
sometimes guess what it was up to."
Jack Penrose lifted his eyes. "He once told me a
desert dream he had," the young man reminisced. "He
was standing on this perfectly flat expanse of fine
silvery sand. The illumination was general but he knew
he was in a desert. He could feel on his back the
infrared rays of a very hot sun beating rhythmically
down through a thin cloud layer. And as if in time with
the beating of those rays he could feel the hard-packed
sand vibrating very rapidly - about five or six tight
tiny shakes to every one ofhis heartbeats, as if the earth
beneath were quaking constantly. There was mist all
around him, but it was slowly dissipating upward. Yet
as it rose, he could at first see nothing but the endless
silver (and invisibly vibrating) plain extending out in all
directions. He felt terribly lonely.
"Then, as the mist continued to rise by slow stages,
there came into view - about two miles away, he
judged - a squat dark tower of considerable width -
more like a fort, really. Then he noticed two rather thin
dark aerial wings jutting out from the tower for miles
and miles - an impossible job for cantilevering. He
could barely make out the end of one of them in the far
distance. And then as he swung his eyes back to the
other wing, the longer one, and continued to watch it,
he got the impression it was very slowly moving toward
him over the silver sand.
I "At that point the mist rose another stage. He
noticed a shadow rapidly travelling across the plain
toward him. He looked up and saw the tower's third snd
highest-set wing slicing through the misty air a quarter
of a mile overhead like a gigantic revolving dark scythe.
He glanced down at his wrist to time the scythe's speed
. . . and as he saw the skinny sweep second hand ofhis
watch crawling rapidly in infinitesimal five-a-second
jerks around the silvery dial, he realized where he was."
"Trapped under a wrist watch crystal," Joan heard
herself say. "Its ticking the vibration of the sands? Did
the mists clear all away? Was it his room outside? Did
he peer down?"
"He woke up feeling the watch band gripping his
wrist oppressively. He'd forgotten to take it off the
night before. He said you became more aware of tiny
pressures like that as you grew older." Jack's eyes
widened a trifle and then frowned as faintly - as
though what he had just said had reminded him of
another memory, one more difficult to disentangle.
"A wristwatch does tick five times a second," Dr.
Lewison observed, "though it's harder for me to hear it
these days. That compulsion to count . . .the concern
with small numbers - you know, somewhere Guy
picked up the habit of segregating his coins in different
pockets according to their value (some joke about
putting a use to all the pockets in a pair of pants) and
then he found he'd acquired the additional habit of
reaching in and counting them by touch - "
"A test of tactile acuity!" Mr. Sarcander put in
sharply. "The elderly reassure themselves that way,
filling their empty time with little tasks, so they won't
have to think unpleasant thoughts about what's
"He had another habit involving small numbers and
counting," Dr. Lewison pressed on. "He'd read or
been told by someone (he told me) about how people
have been traced down by the characteristic pattern in
which they tear matches out of matchbooks. That
inspired him to experiment with different patterns of
tearing out matches when he smoked his pipe - every
other match in a rank, every third one, from in front,
from behind, from the sides in, from the centre out,
sometimes (he said) he'd give each match a weight from
its position and try to tear them out in such a way that
the two sides continued to balance without being
"Anyone tracing him would have thought he was a
dozen different people," Jack couldn't help
interrupting, relieved to be able to grin at something.
"He told me about that too," Joan Miles said rapidly.
"Eventually he came to think of the matches mostly as
people - or actors on a stage, rather, with the
matchbook cover their backdrop. The trick was to tear
them out in such a way that you'd always have an
effectively balanced stage, though that consideration
only became apparent, mostly, when they'd got
thinned down in numbers -"
Mr. Sarcander's small brusque shrug gave his
evaluation of such matchbook charades.
Dr. Lewison leaned forward a little. "But the
strongest indication by far," he said, "of Guy's
obsession with counting and the fascination small
numbers held for him, was when he gave up chess for
backgammon. In that game you're constantly counting
and you're always juggling small numbers in your
head, combining and recombining them as you hunt
your move. In a way the largest number you work with
is six, because there is none higher on a single die.