“This is a story from before,” the squirrel said. “I was there, and owl was there, and I remember, but owl does not.”
“I object,” the owl said. “If I don’t remember it, then I obviously wasn’t there.”
The bat laughed. “This is obviously going to be good. Keep going. What happened?”
“As I said…” The squirrel paused and yawned. “I said that the owl was there.”
“I was not,” the owl said.
“Keep going,” the bat said.
The squirrel blinked sleepily. “The owl was there, and he lived in a hole in a tree. The tree was on an island in the middle of a lake. My cousins and I visited the island in the fall, to gather nuts for winter.”
“What kind of nuts?” Isaac asked.
“Whatever kinds we could find,” the squirrel said.
“What kinds could you find?” Isaac asked.
“Whatever kinds were there,” the squirrel said.
“But…” Isaac began.
“Hush,” the bat said. “You’re interrupting the story. That’s rude.”
“I don’t remember when I last met someone so rude,” the owl said.
“You don’t remember anything,” the bat said.
“I remember…” the squirrel said. The owl and bat looked down at the squirrel. “I remember that we took boats to the island. And we carried empty sacks for the nuts. We used our tails as sails and the wind pushed us across the water…”
The squirrel stared off into the distance. The bat scowled. “What happened next?” he asked.
“I used to like riddles,” the squirrel said. “The trickier the better.”
“That’s nice,” the bat said. “But I wanted to hear the rest of the story. Tell us a riddle later.”
“You’d better know the answer to the riddle before you ask it,” the owl said. “The bat always forgets. It’s irritating.”
“I do not,” the bat said.
“You do too,” the owl said.
“I remember…” the squirrel said again. Once again, the owl and bat stopped arguing and looked down. “The owl lived in a hole in a tree.”
“You already said that part,” Isaac said, trying to be helpful.
“Stop interrupting,” the bat said.
“You interrupt too,” Isaac said.
“I do not,” the bat said. “I have more manners than that.”
“Is the story over, then?” the owl asked.
“No, it’s just started,” the bat said. “Keep talking, squirrel.”
“The owl lived in a tree, and the tree was on an island,” the squirrel said. “And my cousins and I would come to gather nuts for the winter.”
“Is that the whole story?” Isaac asked.
“Hush,” the bat said.
“My cousins and I would visit the island, and I remember…” the squirrel looked off into the distance. Isaac opened his mouth to say something, but closed it when the bat hissed at him.
“We would ask the owl permission to gather nuts,” the squirrel said at last. “And I would tell him riddles. But he never answered them. He never answered.”
“This story is obviously not about me,” the owl said. “I am very good at riddles.”
“What happened?” the bat said, ignoring him.
“He bit off my tail,” the squirrel said.
“But you still have a tail,” Isaac said.
“It was longer,” the squirrel said. “I remember.”
“Is that the end?” the owl asked.
“My tail is the end of me, but the end of my tail is not the end of the tale,” the squirrel said.
“I’m suddenly remembering something,” the owl said.
“What do you remember?” Isaac asked.
“I’m remembering that I hate riddles,” the owl said. He clicked his beak ominously.
“The tale is done,” the squirrel said, and he disappeared back into the hollow of the log.
A decade after sharing his famous marble theory, Dr. Frederick was once again waiting backstage with a nervous MC. The young man was pale and pacing, obviously upset. It had been a long time since he’d seen someone this nervous.
Dr. Frederick had been very shy as a child, due to his stuttering. People were always so impatient, and few had been willing to wait for him to form words. They’d finish his sentences, or worse cut him off completely and walk away.
He’d learned to answer his own questions, as much as he could. But the questions he couldn’t answer on his own piled up. He’d ask the few people he knew were patient enough to listen.
Sometimes, they’d help him find the answers, and sometimes they’d direct him to someone who could help him. Then he’d have to build up the courage to try to stutter through his questions with someone new. Dr. Frederick knew what it felt like to be nervous.
He’d grown out of the stutter for the most part. Speech lessons had helped with the rest. The joys of scientific discovery had helped with the nervousness. He had so many questions saved up that he’d wanted to ask. And not all of them had easy answers.
So, he’d gone looking for answers, as he’d always done. He’d persist until he found answers, then move on to the next question. Some people said that this made him a genius.
Dr. Frederick knew better. On the inside, he was still the same shy child with the stutter, filled to bursting with more questions than he was able to ask. He didn’t have more knowledge than everybody else, just more questions.
He was delighted to share the joy of finding answers with anyone who would listen. The joy of satisfying curiosity was one of the greatest delights in life. He was happy to share it. Yet, even as he told of the twists and turns of research and experimentation, his mind was already turning over the next question.
But now, in this liminal space between answering the question and sharing the answer, he was watching a young man pace and remembering the past. What had he said, the last time he watched a young man suffering from building anxiety before public speaking?
“You look nervous,” Dr. Frederick said. “Are you not used to speaking in front of large crowds?”
“No,” the young man said. “Not crowds this big.”
What the young man needed was a distraction. Ah, he had just the thing. “I have a new scientific theory to announce today,” he said. “I’m looking forward to sharing it.”
“Really?” the young man asked. “Like the marble theory?”
“Yes, like the marble theory,” Dr. Frederick said.
“Wow.” The young man stopped pacing. “You’re announcing it today, for the first time, here?”
“Yes,” Dr. Frederick said.
The young man looked at his watch. “Maybe we can start a little early,” he said.
And so, very quickly, Dr. Frederick once again found himself in front of a large crowd announcing a silly theory that everyone was taking very seriously. It was one of the odd perils of being considered a genius.
“The galaxy,” he said, “is dust swirling in the wind. Billions of years to us is a millisecond to the outside world. On our tiny earth, in the breezes that blow, galaxies form and die that we never see.”
And then he continued on to discuss the lecture he’d prepared on his research into anti-antimatter. After the lecture, and the questions, and the photographs and applause, it was time to go home. He was already planning a series of experiments that he needed to write down somewhere. Did he still have a pencil in his coat pocket?
The young man was waiting backstage. “Do you really believe that there are a series of realities of comparative sizes like that?”
“Hmmm?” He tried to focus on the conversation and finding the pencil.
“The dust theory,” the young man said. “It’s amazing. I can’t wait to hear more!”
Dr. Frederick smiled and thanked the young man. He didn’t have the heart to tell him that it was a joke meant to give him something else to focus on so that he wasn’t as nervous. He just hoped that this newest theory didn’t inspire any odd Broadway musicals. The last one was enough.
Ah! He’d found the pencil and an old envelope. He started to scribble as he waited for his assistant. This next question was really interesting. He couldn’t wait to try to answer it.