to·roid noun \ˈtȯr-ˌȯid\
1 : a surface generated by a closed plane curve rotated about a line that lies in the same plane as the curve but does not intersect it
2 : a body whose surface has the form of a toroid
-from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary
A day after the memorial, Gwen returned to Brookfield alone. She parked in the overgrown driveway, the slate gray Victorian listing, ever so slightly, to the left. The dumpsters had come and gone and the furniture, the books and piles of magazines, an umbrella stand filled with a faded turquoise parasol, had all been cleared out. The gallon jugs of wine had been given away, clothing bagged and donated.
She climbed the stairs to her father’s study, where even the brittle shades patched with electrical tape had been tossed away. She stood quietly, as if she could sense Edmund’s life in this room, ideas rising year after year to brush the ceiling, a patina of moments built over decades. Dust motes refracted sunlight through the bare windows, and the pine green, cardboard box that the funeral home had described as an urn stood on the wooden mantle. To Gwen it looked like a gift box that might contain a porcelain figurine or a small vase. It appeared out of place, something crisply foreign and new in a room whose every surface had been burnished by her father’s breath. She closed her eyes, and she was no longer twenty-five but thirteen, her father’s study a light at the end of the hallway.
Gwen put aside her 9th grade math textbook, climbed the narrow back staircase to the third floor, and walked down the corridor. With her mother, Aubrey, and her older sister, Lydia, out again, the house took on an echo-y silence. When she reached her father’s room she tentatively knocked.
“Hello? Yes, who is it?”
She opened the door, and Edmund pushed back his chair over two strips of steel that he had set beneath the legs of his chair so they wouldn’t catch on the frayed, oriental carpet. The runners, which were polished and curled by constant friction, reminded Gwen of the fingernails of an ancient emperor. His study was lined with books, and a page of proofs taped to the wall recalled poems written in some esoteric language.
“What’s that?” Gwen asked, glancing over Edmund’s shoulder at a drawing of what looked like a donut.
“My toroid? That, I’m afraid, is a doodle. Your father was playing hooky.” He picked up his pencil and wrote out the formula for the donut ring’s hole as the sunlight condensed and pooled over the papers scattered on his desk, the breeze ushering in a rapidly chilling night.
“It’s not difficult,” Edmund mused, “but it is rather elegant in its simplicity.” He contemplated his design until abruptly he turned, as if just remembering that Gwen was there. “Was there something you wanted to ask me?”
“No, it’s not important. I’m sorry I took up your time.”
“But did you take my time, or did you give it back to me? True, I still have fifty exams to grade, but your visit gave me an excuse to procrastinate a little longer.”
“I guess that’s a good thing.” With an uncertain laugh Gwen moved towards the hallway, latching the door carefully behind her.
After the reservoir of sun in her father’s study the corridor was dark, and Gwen brushed her hand along the wall until she came to the stairs, which were dimly illuminated from below. If the darkness was a donut, she thought, then the light would be the donut hole. In her father’s study, though, the light had been the donut, and her father had been the donut hole. What, then, was she?
Space itself is not flat, but curved. The curvature of space is responsible for gravity, and at a black hole space and time are so curved they get knotted up.
Back in her own room a mobile of chestnuts twirled idly in the air. Gwen had collected the chestnuts from the ground, prying the silken fruit from their burrs, and even though the nuts had shriveled and dried, she could still see the chocolaty swirls, like fingerprints, over their surfaces. She couldn’t decide, though, whether they were still beautiful, treasures unearthed in a bed of crunchy leaves, or whether they had become dull brown blobs agitating in a drafty room. Restlessly she sat down at her desk and began to work through the rows of algebra problems in her math textbook, simplifying the problems one after the other into neat and compact solutions, as if she were untangling the chords of her own unsettled heart. As she worked, the numbers began to unfold, winding higher and higher in the branches of a mythical tree until they burst through the canopy and flew free.
Toroidal Space has been used to describe our actual, material world as well as our imaginary, potential one.
When she was done, Gwen ran downstairs and pushed open the front door. She filled the watering can at the side of the house and carried it over to her plot. Every year Gwen planted a garden, and every year the seeds that she bought at the hardware store failed to grow. This year, however, something remarkable had happened. The lavender, inexplicably, had flourished, a veritable profusion growing beside the garage. The dusky leaves reflected the rising moon, and she crushed a stalk between her fingers and breathed it in, the scent illusive, like sweat or licorice. If the perfume were a donut, she thought, then the oasis of calm at the center would be the donut hole.
She turned to go back inside, the house opaque against a mazarine sky, the only sign of life a goldenrod glow beaming from her father’s study tucked beneath the eaves.
A toroid is a coil of insulated or enameled wire wound on a donut-shaped form made of powdered iron.
Gwen closed the front door and was startled to find her father standing in the gloom.
“Where is your mother?”
“She said she was picking up Lydia from track practice. They might have stopped by T.J. Maxx’s…” Gwen’s voice trailed off as she recognized the alacrity with which her father’s mood could shift. She felt it, now, like a heaviness, an impending rain emanating from his tall, spare figure standing in the shadows.
“Do you know if she plans on cooking any dinner tonight?”
“I don’t know.” Gwen could just make out the hands of the clock reading seven-thirty when the headlights of her mother’s Celica arced through the front window and across the wall before being extinguished.
A moment later she and Lydia bundled indoors, their arms laden with Star Market bags, a T.J.Maxx bag and the tell-tale brown paper-inside-plastic Chinese take-out, a yellow smiley face printed on the front.
Flicking on the light switch with her elbow, Aubrey started when she saw Edmund standing in the kitchen doorway.
“Edmund! What are you doing here?”
“As a matter of fact, I live here.”
“Well, I know that,” Aubrey replied with an awkward laugh. “I picked up dinner from that place you like, Lucky Palace? You know, the one on Huron Ave?” She moved past him and started to unpack the take-out cartons while Gwen and Lydia put away the groceries.
“Ah yes, dinner,” Edmund echoed. “From that place I like. Lucky Palace, is it? I should know the name, given how often they’ve been cooking our dinner lately.”
In the sharp lick of silence that followed, Gwen paused, tuned to the high pitched hum of her parents’ words. Aubrey, however, did not reply, and Gwen reached up to retrieve plates from the cabinet.
They all sat down to eat, but no one had very much to say, and in the rhythmic scrape of a knife or fork over ceramic, Gwen was reminded of the desultory motion of clothing agitating in a washing machine, the drum steadily filling with water around the space that was Edmund’s mood.
“I’m going to run a bath,” Aubrey said. She had barely eaten.
A moment later Lydia rose, also, mumbling that she had to do her homework as she carried her plate to the sink. Then she, too, was gone.
“Well Gwen,” Edmund said as he took a sip of wine, “I guess that leaves you and me.”
Gwen nodded, her voice stuck like something solid in her windpipe.
If their family were a donut, she wondered, would the donut hole be the half eaten cartons of take-out food in the center of the table, or the space left where her mother and sister had been?
The theory of relativity introduced the idea of matter-energy equivalence, which led to nuclear power, and the atomic bomb.
-from http://harmonicaresolution.com, “Toroidal Space.”
The next afternoon, as Gwen walked up Stonyhill Lane on her way home from school, she could see her father mowing the lawn in steadily narrowing circles until one tuft of grass remained. Gwen breathed in the sweet, slightly acrid scent of fresh-cut grass as Edmund guided the lawnmower over to the patch between the garage and driveway, and she suddenly realized that he was heading in a direct path towards her lavender.
“Daddy!” she cried. “Dad!” Her knapsack lurched from side to side as she ran, but he could not hear her over the roar of the engine, and she could only watch as he drove the mower straight through the lavender, the blades grinding the stalks into shreds, spitting the pieces out over the grass.
“Daddy!” Gwen screamed, finally reaching him and grabbing his arm. He turned, his hair disheveled.
“You mowed down my lavender! You plowed right through it!”
He bent over to shut off the engine.
“That was my garden,” Gwen said quietly. “Why did you cut it down?”
Edmund stared at her blankly.
“Dad? Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Your mother is gone. She moved out this morning.”
When it comes to designing gravitational environmental habitations, the torus has been realized as the preferred shape within which to enclose a space station or star colony.
The summer after Aubrey moved out, Lydia left for college. When she came back, which was rarely, she stayed with their mother, whose place, she told Gwen, was not big enough for three. With both her mother and sister gone, Gwen and Edmund circled each other through the hallways, whorls of dust rising as they passed. Sometimes Edmund would glance at his daughter, distracted and vacant. Other times he would rage. Occasionally she could appease him with a question about his work, each query a meticulously crafted offering.
“I got my paper back,” she began one afternoon, dropping her knapsack by the front door. “About Murray Gell-Mann? Remember you were telling me about him? I argued that his prediction of quarks was actually a mathematical theory, not a question of physics.”
“I’m well aware of who Gell-Mann is,” Edmund said sharply. “He was at MIT shortly before me, only he won the Nobel Prize.” He continued up the stairs, the floorboards whispering his creaking ascent while Gwen remained in the empty hallway, contemplating this new thing that she had said to upset him.
As the leaves swirled down and the season of rattling wind began, Gwen spent more and more time in her room working her way through proofs that she had found in books from the library. One afternoon, the sky already dark at four o’clock, she put down her pencil, a cross-hatch of symbols etched across the page, and she was amazed by the realization that such purity could exist within the world, each labyrinthine structure revealing a startling truth.
When the forsythia finally bloomed in a ricochet of sun, she did not replant her lavender. She was surprised, then, when a sturdy shoot poked through the ground and continued its gnarled ascent skyward. She picked and dried the flowers, and when she was stumped in her work she would rub a bloom between her fingers and breathe in a hint of the sublime.
In this way several years passed until Gwen, also, left home to study math at college. When she returned after her freshman year she found that the house had fallen into progressively greater disrepair, vines overgrowing the porch and hanging in pendulous swaths from the drainpipes, grass growing up through the gravel on the drive. Her father had retired from teaching, and as they prepared dinner around the kitchen table, the yellow paint tenaciously vibrant through the years, she would try to lure him with quirky topics that she had saved up like presents to bring home to him.
“I don’t know if you’ve heard,” she said one evening as she chopped garlic, “but the Kepler Space Telescope has discovered stars in distant galaxies that pulse at frequencies almost identical to the Golden Ratio.”
“Is that so? Fibonacci strikes again.”
“Yes,” she smiled, carrying the garlic to the stove.
Edmund added a handful of chicken to the wok, plumes of smoke shooting skyward, the stove crusted with the blackened residue of past meals while recycled plastic bags hung up to dry like jellyfish on a row of hooks on the wall.
“Dad, did you ever think that maybe it’s time to move? The house needs a lot of work, and it isn’t going to get easier.”
“I’ve thought of it,” Edmund said. “I barely use half the rooms, but where would I go? This is my home. This is where I raised my family.” He sprinkled cayenne pepper over the sizzling meat, and Gwen realized that he didn’t notice the grime on the stove, or care if the back issues of Mathematics Monthly had been stacking up in Lydia’s room for years. Their family was something that both Aubrey and Lydia had fled, and yet, in his own inscrutable way, Edmund had never stopped believing in this notion of their home and the family they had been.
The topology of a torus folds in upon itself and all points along its surface converge together into a zero-dimensional point at the center called the Vertex.
-from The Hara Dimension, http://haradimension.wordpress.com/the-torus-the-zero-point-energy-field-and-the-creation-story/.
After graduating, Gwen got a job analyzing wave patterns for an energy start-up company in Chicago. She met a philosophy postdoc with hair as silky as espresso and hands that were the answer to every want. When they stayed up late into the night, Edmund never crossed her mind. She was surprised, then, when she came home that winter to find her father gaunt, his slender frame emaciated.
“Dad,” she asked as she carried the curried vegetables to the table, “are you okay?”
He reached for the plate, brushing her question aside.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been home for a while. I told you that I met someone. James—” Gwen dropped her gaze, feeling a hot smile spread across her cheeks, but Edmund was busy forking a piece of broccoli onto his plate.
“Who knows with these doctors,” he said. “It’s all a bunch of gobbledygook.”
“You went to the doctor? What did they say?”
“Well, dear, what they said is that I have lung cancer.” He dipped a celery stalk into the spicy sauce that he made out of mustard and herbs. The turmeric stained his beard yellow, and Gwen felt herself grasping over frayed carpets, her own chipped fingernails so unlike those of an emperor as she scrabbled for the equation to an answer that stuck like a hard, dried chestnut in her throat.
“I—I’m sorry,” she stammered.
“Yes, so am I.” He took another bite of celery.
“Is there something I can do? Do you need—”
“I need nothing! What I need—” He swept his arm outward— “is to wake up, to make myself a poached egg on toast!” He started to laugh, but the laughing turned to coughing, and Gwen rushed to get him a glass of water.
As spring arrived, and the trees shed their pale citrus flowers, Edmund was admitted to Mount Auburn Hospital, and Gwen took a leave of absence from her job so she could be with him.
James drove her to the airport, and as they stood on the curb, cabs and limos weaving in and out of the drop-off lane, he took her face in his hands.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you?”
“You will be with me.” She lifted his palm to her lips.
When she turned around on the other side of the revolving door, though, he had become a wavery reflection in the glass, and she continued towards check-in alone.
Once the plane was airborne, Gwen lay her head against the porthole window, watching as the Boeing 727 cleaved the clouds, catapulting her home.
She landed at Logan Airport, where Edmund was not waiting for her, as he had so many times before, his khakis cinched up with the same weathered, leather belt that he had worn since she was a child. She hailed a cab to take her to the hospital.
“Are you okay?” she asked quietly, the vinyl hospital chair crammed between Edmund’s bed, his IV and a small sink beside the door. “Are you in pain?”
He tried to lift his oxygen mask. “I want to go home,” he gasped, holding tight to her gaze, his irises lucid and blue where they surrounded the deep twilight of his pupils.
“I know. I’ll see what we can do. I’ll ask the doctor.”
He motioned her closer, and she leaned towards him.
“I need you to help me,” he said. “There are plastic bags in the cabinet. Take one and help me get it over my head. It won’t take long—”
Gwen recoiled. “Dad,” she said. “I can’t do that.” She shook her head as if trying to dispel something toxic rising up inside her as Edmund was overtaken by a fit of coughing.
“Everything okay?” a nurse poked her head in the door.
“Yes!” Gwen replied, jumping up to put Edmund’s mask back on. He did not resist, and the nurse withdrew.
“I’m sorry,” Gwen said. “I –”
Edmund mumbled something she couldn’t hear as his breathing deepened, and she was grateful that he was asleep. The skin on his cheek had wrinkled where the elastic band wrapped around his head, his nose fine and straight, and she tried to quiet the sense that there was something terribly wrong, something beyond even his illness or his impossible, heartbreaking request.
“I love you,” she whispered. The words felt gritty and unfamiliar on her tongue, but then his hand was grasping hers, as if he had heard her from a place beyond where either of them had been, his touch warm and surprisingly strong.
The biophysical manifestations such as the human heart and DNA have toroidal configurations.
-from The Hara Dimension, http://haradimension.wordpress.com/the-torus-the-zero-point-energy-field-and-the-creation-story/.
When Gwen came to the hospital the next morning she was told that Edmund had become agitated and had tried to rip out his IV. He’d been sedated, and his blood pressure had plummeted, so he had been rushed to the ICU.
Her heart racing, Gwen walk-ran through the tiled corridors. She pushed through the pneumatically sealed doors of the ICU and was surrounded by the beeping of machines. A nurse showed her to Edmund’s bed, and she knelt beside him. She sought out his face, but his body was swollen, pumped full of fluid in an attempt to elevate his blood pressure. He looked like a recumbent Santa Claus, his piercing gaze and combative spirit shorn. This was not the Edmund that she knew. It was not how he had lived, and she knew that it was not how he wanted to die.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I couldn’t do it, Dad. It was too much to ask.”
She stared out the window. The sun glinted off the rippled surface of the Charles River like needles, like mathematical symbols or cayenne pepper, smarting her eyes.
Edmund died that night.
“In the beginning was the word and the word was with God.” John 1:1
Gwen lifted the cardboard container that held her father’s ashes off the mantel and carried it downstairs. It was late afternoon, the sun viscous and sweet. When she came to the protected enclosure between the back door and the garage she paused below her father’s window. The ground beneath the maple tree was covered in leaves left over from last fall, and she brushed them away with her sneaker. Setting down the box, she found a stick, and she crouched down to turn over the soil, loosening it until she had created an irregular plot a foot or two in diameter. She removed the plastic bag from the box, untwisted the clasp and poured the ashes onto the ground. A powdery dust whisked away on the breeze, leaving a pile both larger than she imagined it would be, and heartbreakingly small.
As she reached into the earth it pressed tight to her hands, lodging beneath her fingernails, and she breathed in the loamy moistness. She folded the ashes into the dirt until she could no longer tell them apart, and then she rose, carrying fistfuls of leaves to scatter over the makeshift grave. She had prepared no eulogy, no poem or final thoughts, and now words failed her. Giddy and uncertain, she raised her arms to the sky, encircling all that was and had been, and for a precarious moment she felt as though she might surge into the transcendent light of an April afternoon. She closed her eyes, tethered by the knowledge that she had done at least this.
Tania Moore’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Foundling Review, Cleaver, The Madison Review, The Flexible Persona, St. Sebastian Review, and many others. Having earned her MFA from Columbia University School of the Arts, she teaches creative writing in the Bronx and lives along the mighty Hudson River. Find out more at www.taniamoore.me.