Loss of Gravity: Has the Earth Sprung a Leak?

Fiction by David Searcy

From the headline

“Scientists Explain Magnetic Pole’s Wanderings”

Read the original story

Look at this—a line of perfect dime-size pinhole-projected suns across my legal pad this morning. It takes me a minute to figure it out—I’m not in Dallas, where I live most of the time, but in the little town of Corsicana, Texas, about an hour south, where my wife, an artist, has a downtown studio and, a mile away, an old Victorian house where the dogs and I have joined her to wait out the pandemic and where I have a little writing desk in a corner with a window to my left, the south, whose ripply panes must be as old as the rest and whose accordion shade, half raised, has tiny holes where the cord goes through and through which holes the sun projects onto my pad. I love such accidental revelations. Most are not as clear as these—if there were a major sunspot group, I might detect it. Or an eclipse, I could observe right here—six tiny, deepening crescents. I draw a ring around each one and note the date and time. If it’s clear tomorrow, I will mark how much they drift.

I think as a child I pretty much took fear as a ground state. A default condition—from which all the items of experience emerged. The nonspecific background noise of life. Which may, of course, be how it is for everyone. Though eventually gotten used to, I suppose. A sort of tinnitus of the soul. You let it go. And after a while forget to hear it. So how strange out here, already so quiet, now with such a stillness further imposed, to pick it up again as when you realize the first cicadas of the season have been whispering for a while. Ah, there it is. Though I’m too old, too out of practice to respond in that visceral way. But there it is. Fear as a general thing. Dispersed and fundamental. As I feared. Right out of the ground like the cicadas. Here in Navarro County fifty-seven cases and two deaths so far. One keeps the count.

The projections seem to drift (as, over the next few days, I detect by noting spacing irregularities) not up or down the page in rank as I expected, but processionally to the left as beads on a string drawn at an angle across my desk. This I interpret right away—I see no other possibility—to indicate an increase in the rate of the earth’s rotation. That our fearful days and nights must be accelerating. And that even now, those living nearest the equator, where centrifugal force would be the most pronounced, might feel a certain loss of gravity. A sense of failed attachment. I am enchanted by the subtlety, the delicate indirection of my terrible discovery. Like ripples in the teacup at the tyrannosaur’s approach. I can’t imagine there is anything to do. And I wonder, sitting with my wife out on the porch in the evening, whether I should tell her. On top of everything else. She’ll find out soon enough, of course.

Well, there you go. Sprung loose. A fear so deep can seem almost ecstatic. That we find ourselves at last within a sort of whirling stillness in this strangely cloistered time.

And it would seem unkind to ruin such a lovely evening with the prospect of such stillness giving way to such a lightness. People walking with their dogs, occasional cyclist creaking past will, at some point, find loss of traction a concern. The trains that come through here will make a softer rumble. Spiderwebs will find new forms. What could have happened? Something must have sprung loose, somehow. Like that time my pocket watch—a silly college affectation—fell from my pocket to the hard tile floor as I sat on the toilet dumbly staring down to watch the hands speed up, the gears beginning to whir away the hours faster and faster, life and hope escaping there within that sad, embarrassed, cloistered moment. Maybe something cosmologically like that. Or geologically—that thing I read about the recent shifting of the earth’s magnetic field. The rearranging of the molten core, I think. Well, there you go. Sprung loose. A fear so deep can seem almost ecstatic. That we find ourselves at last within a sort of whirling stillness in this strangely cloistered time. Like “whirling dervishes” I saw a number of years ago in Bursa on the Sea of Marmara. Spinning faster and faster, as it seemed, into a deeper form of stillness. 

I will follow the projections, draw my circles, but say nothing for a while. And let our evenings on the porch acquire such lightness that the swifts seem borne on ever higher currents and the crickets’ song escapes us altogether. And I’ll count the deaths as those who lose attachment here and there to lift away like lost balloons.

Further Reading and Listening

  • “Strange Times”

    Radiolab • WNYC • May 29, 2020

    At about the 19-minute mark, join a father and his inquisitive 10-year-old son on an enchanting walk in the woods as they talk about a cow skeleton, the interconnected building blocks of life, and how time itself has determined what the world’s creatures became.

  • Longitude

    By Dava Sobel • Bloomsbury • 1995

    Before the late eighteenth century, seafarers faced a treacherous problem: While they could stare at the sun (through a measuring instrument) to determine their latitude, they had no way of deciphering exactly how far east or west they had traveled. Once they lost sight of land, they entered a vast unknown. In this fascinating bestseller (which became a Nova documentary, which became a film starring Jeremy Irons), a former New York Times science writer chronicles how an unschooled clockmaker solved what had been one of the world’s greatest mysteries—where we are when at sea.

  • The White Darkness

    By David Grann • The New Yorker • February 12-19, 2018

    In a breathtaking piece of writing, George Polk Award–winning author and reporter David Grann describes a man’s attempt to become the first person to walk from one side of Antartica, through the South Pole, to the other—alone and unaided. It’s a story about scale, history, solitude, and the human drive to overcome nature. It starts: “The man felt like a speck in the frozen nothingness.”