by Yvette Schnoeker Shorb
The two professors might as well have been talking in another language, for their conversation was most definitely beyond the interests of those who considered themselves ordinary. The Comparative Literature and Philosophy department, as the rest of the university, was closed for the holidays. Not that the two elderly men needed a reason to indulge their cravings for multiple gin and tonics at the nearby tavern. By late afternoon, like on many afternoons over the past decade, they were quite drunk and engaged in argumentative discourse.
“My relativistic friend,” Professor Randy Realsom sloppily slapped his glass down on the bar countertop as to emphasize the point he was about to put forth. Wisps of his gray hair flopped over one of his shaggy eyebrows as he quickly looked down to wipe up, with the edge of his untucked white shirt, drops of liquid that had bounced out of his glass. He then resumed, “Human nature and values being what they are, still there are certain, well, ‘facts,’ shall we say, that accommodate the laws of nature—gravity, for instance.” His glaring eyes captured the dim lights of the tavern as he intensely stared down his colleague.
His friend but philosophical nemesis, Clarence Allearned, a small man in a brown suit coat that seemed mismatched to his red and black flannel shirt, countered, “How do you know that? How do you know for sure?” His eyes squinted into slits, mostly due to the drooping of the lids caused by inebriation. “Oh, Realsom, you still worship at the temple of Positivism, but how do you know, for instance, that I am actually here.”
Provoked, Professor Realsom leaned over sideways to his companion and playfully tapped Professor Allearned’s shiny, bald head. Aware that their loud voices had attracted a small audience, Professor Realsom concluded that entertainment was in order. He was particularly pleased that Professor Allearned seemed irritated by the first tapping. So he impishly tapped his friend’s head again, but harder. Upon retreat of his hand, he flatly stated, “You feel substantially real to me,” adding wryly, “although I must admit that, without actually seeing it, I can only assume there is a brain in there.”
To which Professor Allearned responded, “You think you’re so clever, but how do you know we are both not payers . . . players in your dream?” It was obvious that certain sounds were becoming an effort to produce. Then, “Another round, bartender!”
The two men downed the new drinks and then switched to bourbon. The conversation continued. “You see, Realzoom,” Professor Allearned’s slurred his words before catching himself and making an effort to reclaim his vocal dignity, “Everything is in relationship with everything else; in other worgs . . . words, it is all relative.” Pleased that he was able to pronounce L in the words of his last sentence, he became more confident in both his speech and his conviction. “There is no absolute troof . . . truth. I, for one, find that a relief—not to be trapped by our arbig . . . arbitrary assumptions. It is the culture that designs . . . defines us, not what we perceive as the physical world.” And for a moment, he did not seem drunk.
This is why Professor Realsom underestimated how drunk his colleague really was.
“Perhaps you are right, my dear Allearned. But I need some proof. So I dare you to do something, anything, to help persuade me of your point of view.” Had Professor Realsom not been drunk himself, he might have seen the danger of his sarcastic suggestion, given Professor Allearned’s state of mind.
Without hesitating, Professor Allearned got up, wobbled, and stumbled to the staircase in the corner of the tavern. Curious, Professor Realsom followed him up the steps until they both staggered through a door leading out to the rooftop balcony, where they were greeted by a fading pinkish sky and the pungent smell of exhaust from five o’clock rush hour traffic. The two professors pushed past some scattered chairs and potted plants until they reached the edge. While Professor Realsom wondered what his friend was going to do to promote his point of view, Professor Allearned stepped over the foot-high safety railing and kept going.
As his body fell, he thought to himself, “Now I will end this debate once and for all.” He landed on a passing car before rolling onto the street, but indeed he felt fine, better than ever, not even drunk. It was simply mind over matter. Professor Allearned, shortly after, noticed the horrified Realsom and some other younger men leaning over him. Professor Allearned chuckled out loud, or so he thought, and attempted to comfort Professor Realsom—and a little gloating would be in order later, he decided, as well. “You see, Realsom, it is all in the way you perceive things. I’m fine.”
Outside Clarence Allearned’s head, the world went on and on in the way it had always existed. The paramedics carefully loaded him onto a stretcher and carried the downed professor past the police who were keeping curious onlookers at bay.
A startled-to-sober Professor Realsom walked along with the young men in dark uniforms and spoke as they hovered around the deathly still body on the stretcher. “He just walked off the roof. We had been drinking, but I had no idea he would . . . he would . . . You must tell me, do you think he’ll survive?” he asked the nearest paramedic.
“I don’t know, Sir. He appears to be in a coma.”
About the Author:
Yvette A. Schnoeker-Shorb’s prose and poetry have appeared in About Place Journal, Serial Magazine, Clockhouse, AJN: The American Journal of Nursing, Watershed Review, The Conium Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Eastern Iowa Review, Into the Void, Terrain.org, the anthology Talking Back and Looking Forward: An Educational Revolution in Poetry and Prose (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group), and elsewhere. Her work received Honorable Mentions in 2016 from both Port Yonder Press and Erbacce Press. She has been an educator, a researcher, and an editor, and is co-founder of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit natural history press.