Venko Andonovski

PROSE: THE EXPERIMENT OF NAUM MANIVILOV
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Ddevice_video still by OPA
Translated from the Macedonian by Zoran Ančevski and Richard Gaughran

That night the bed would not receive Isaac for rest. It rejected him from under the covers, and the next moment the great scientist stood barefoot in his night shirt holding a half-full oil lamp in his hand. He searched for something in the pocket of his neatly folded clothes by the bed and then, murmuring, started for the lab in the basement of the cold castle.

He was trembling with cold; however, his intention was to test an intuition that would not let him rest at ease. He could imagine the envious, flushed face of General Moren, crying: "Impossible! Black magic! A devilish device! The devil itself!" The light of the lamp descended with him, dancing with the shadows on the stone walls and stairs; then Isaac, still murmuring to himself, stopped before a wooden door with a heavy padlock and rummaged in the pocket of his night shirt for the keys. He unlocked the door and entered, slamming it behind him as if fearing that the miracle would fly out, like a bird, taking with it the wager to the pompous physicist, a toady with the rank of a general.

The next morning, the air in Isaac Newton’s guest room was suffocating. The guests, nobles and lovers of science and the arts, created a din in the parlour while dipping snuff. They talked vividly in small groups, eagerly anticipating what was to be revealed – the latest discovery of the great Isaac. At any moment they expected the appearance of their host from behind the curtain that divided the hallway from the parlor.

And surely, soon a servant came to announce the genius, who appeared, followed by two assistants. He entered with dignity and ease, wearing a well-groomed wig and a festive costume, beaming. In one of his hands he held a long glass tube closed with a metal lid on one end. He proceeded to the middle of the room, laid carefully the glass tube in the outstretched hands of one of his assistants, and ceremoniously clapped his hands several times in the air. The din ceased.

"Gentlemen," he said. "We are gathered here to witness the fact that the stone and the bird are not at all different as is commonly assumed. Some time ago, General Moren and I were discussing poetry wherein a stone can become a bird and a bird a stone. We wagered that this fact can be scientifically established. I then stated that science is also poetry, that it can fashion a device in which objects of different weight will fall at the same rate. General Moren declared it impossible. Well, gentlemen, here is that device!" cried Isaac, pointing at the tube in the hands of his assistant.

A spirit of excitement spread through the guests. They whispered, murmured and chattered. Some of them put on their monocles and looked at the glass object, shaking their heads doubtfully. They were taken by the simplicity of this supposedly miraculous device. However, Isaac would not permit any doubt. He approached the tube, placed it upright on a small table and produced from his pocket a feather and a rather large black stone. He then dropped them simultaneously into the upper end of the glass tube. An instant later the stone landed at the bottom, whereas the feather hovered in circles for a long time before resting by the stone.

"That’s the law," said Isaac. "And now the miracle!"

Then, at his signal, the other assistant brought in another glass tube. It was closed on both ends and contained a stone and a feather. Isaac took it in one of his hands and calmly announced: "Here, the stone and the feather are within, but the air has been removed."

He inverted the tube. Inside, in that miraculous space of complete emptiness the stone and the feather fell, slowly, equally. After the objects came to rest, Isaac reversed the tube several times, repeating the experiment.

Applause broke the silence. Isaac could say no more, for the crowd flowed towards him yelling congratulations and flattery. In a moment he noticed the reddened, jealous face of General Moren, who was trying to compose himself while approaching. "Congratulations, colleague," he said. "You have won the wager. You have managed to remove the weight from the stone. However, I fear that much blood will be shed because of this. Poetry has lost its sense, as have the birds."

That night the bed would not receive Naum for rest. It rejected him from under the covers, and the next moment the poet stood barefoot in his night shirt, trembling excitedly. He walked from one end of the room to another, sighing and rubbing his eyes. Then he sat with a sheet of paper in his hands and started writing:

"I, Naum Manivilov, have had a strange dream: I turned into a large feather, a big bird, and fell through an abyss of glass, weightless like air. I rotated and swooped in a circle, I, Naum Manivilov, a mere feather, and after an eternity I reached the bottom of a huge glass tube. At that moment I felt that I had regained my weight. I had turned into a big black stone. I awoke in fear and I could not calm myself until I stood before the mirror. My reflection peered back at me."

Then Naum went back to bed with a vague, peculiar thought on his mind. While falling asleep he felt an inexplicable, heavy sadness: as if departing from himself and, at the same time, from the whole weight of the world, gathered in a huge black stone.

* * *

The morning came suddenly. It was the day of the Great Experiment and he could not let himself be late. Naum hurried running up Vodnyanska Street, towards the newspaper offices. He climbed the stairs of the old building, which smelled of lead. He bumped into familiar faces that greeted him with surprise. He ran away; when he reached the last floor, panting, he looked around, and once he was sure that the only witnesses to his experiment were the old, empty corridors with musty carpets, he climbed to the railing at the top of the staircase. Beneath him was a black gaping square space, with a chute wide enough for his experiment. He felt a strong excitement as one feels before the great fulfillment of intuition. Below, in the darkness, he could see the abandoned shovels in the coal bin. The experiment was to begin: he lifted himself upwards, stretched his arms like a bird and dived. While falling towards the bottom of the huge black chute, he understood that it was too late to record this: I, Naum Manivilov, a large, black stone, as heavy as the earth, fell long into a dreadful chasm. And I saw this: I, a large, black stone, crashed against the bottom and instantly became a large feather, an unusual bird. And I tell all who remain: a bird is a stone, a tired, sad bird, a bird that eternally awakens never to awaken.

The last thing he could remember was the scream of a woman who, upon entering the building, was faced with a bird banging its head against the glass of the door, and, finding an exit, a way out, it flew towards Vodno. In the crowd which started gathering above his body he could clearly see the reddened and envious face of General Moren, now triumphantly saying: "I said, I said that blood will be shed because of this. The birds are already dead; they have no meaning at all."


Note:

Naum Manivilov, poet – bird from the Macedonian 20th century. During one of his flights he committed suicide.







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