the fixed point of Asa Zook/paul pietsch -- copyright 1996 by Paul Pietsch

chapter 23 Politics

Politics and the Möbius fixed- point H receded to the far reaches of Joyce's thoughts. Her summum bonum became nursing. The Grossdawdy's eyes daily celebrated her achievement. Her husband's caresses bore a new message of salute. And her baby's lips told her who she truly, irrevocably was: Mother Joyce Zook.

To mother. Oh that glorious verb! Totally intransitive within her being. Instantaneously transitive as she gathered her babe to herself.

But by increments, Joyce returned to the real world. One morning she found herself admiring the cradle Poppa Zook had built and pondering its implications: Love and genius and great hands had transformed ideal into real. She stopped rocking for a moment and went to the window to see if Poppa was anywhere in sight. It was Springtime again, she reflected. The fixed- point theory had been alive for a year. Her mind fumbled for some of what Asa had recently been telling her. But the search was like rummaging through a basket of diapers for one in particular. Joyce did not struggle long and was soon back to pure mothering.

She had assumed all along that Asa, Lovey and she would eventually move into the new addition. But then Poppa became involved in a building project in their room. The next thing she knew, Poppa's and their bedrooms were connected via what had been an oversized, walk- in closet. The closet became a bathroom. Then it wasn't Poppa's bedroom any longer. It was Lovey's. And it was Poppa who moved into the new addition, not the Asa Zooks.

Joyce became curious about the basic design of the house. Clearly, Poppa had conceived it with expansion in mind, expansion to accommodate more than one family subunit. Clearly, a Grossdawdyhaus had existed in Poppa's original vision. "Asa," Joyce announced after she appreciated the whole. "Do you realize, our fixed- point theory let Poppa realize a dream?"

"Regenerated his dream, dear," Asa replied.

"Reconstructed a memory," Joyce added. And she had to check a shudder when her own memory reminded her of how close the waves of the sea had come to claiming two domains of the Zook universe.

Their financial status also became evident to her. Contemplating on how crowded Millie's station wagon was becoming, Joyce suggested they go halves on a VW bus. Contemplated until she looked into their bank account. They'd spent every last nickel of their salaries. Asa's savings account had long since gone. The rent on her Georgetown property barely paid the taxes and overhead, and the lease made it next to impossible to convert the asset into ready cash. With Dad in retirement and Asa's pittance from Havering, "Ugh!" She'd never been broke before in her life. Ray said, "Dah!" and bought the bus over Joyce's protests. "Zook socialism goes a long way back, dear," he insisted.

Another Zookism would come into play if Asa discovered Joyce's newly acquired unease about money: 'Them what eats works.' "Your daddy will be in the sweet corn field bouncing up and down on a tractor, if he finds out," she whispered to Lovey. "Then we'd never see him." Indeed, it was bad enough now that he was building his DNA models out in the old potato barn.

Joyce got in touch with a publisher who'd once been her managing editor and wondered if it wasn't really time for an ostensibly progressive magazine to "put up or shut up" on sexism. The publisher talked to his editor, whom she also knew from the old days. Within the week she received a call. No, she really wasn't interested in a single piece on women in politics. She had something more sustained in mind than a one- time quickie. She'd like to do a regular feature or column, something with pith and substance and inside dope. Her contacts ran right to the core of Sin Hill. And ...Sure, definitely, she'd lace her material with satire. No, she couldn't quite keep up with a weekly deadline...("Oh the baby is the absolute joy of my life...Lovey...How old are the twins now? Well, congratulations, if Jill too, of course!")...Monthly to start off, and: "When I get my verbal wings flapping again, I'll have a thousand words on your desk every other Thursday...Okay, Wednesday morning."

While doing preliminary research for her column, Joyce realized the mess motherhood had allowed her to escape. The country was on an express train to hell, she remarked one evening at supper . "Whole world's prin'near there already," Poppa allowed.

Anyway, the money would be nice. Kissing soft little toes and whispering, Joyce confided in Lovey, "Now Mommie doesn't have to fret about her two darlings." And it was pleasurable to feel her mind actually working again.

Asa usually took Lovey upstairs after supper while Joyce helped Millie and the girl "redd up." Usually, by the time Joyce joined them, Lovey would be in her crib and Asa would be writing at his desk. But on one evening in particular, when Joyce arrived, Asa was holding and rocking the baby in Joyce's chair. The Journal was open on his desk, and Joyce read the last entry: "At any given instant an individual creature is the integrated sum of its active and stored phase spectra, plus or minus the local constants. Yet while life is in progress, the spectra and the local constants change from instant to instant. Therefore, it is impossible to delimit, and thus prescribe a priori, a living individual." Joyce wondered if a connection existed between the words and his now holding the baby. For a corollary of Asa's prosaic statement was that she could describe what she was now saw and felt but not define it.

What makes a mothering woman so vulnerable? Joyce mused as she watched. What had made her such a nitwit during these past months? Some nitwittiness was probably physiology at work, an instinct, no doubt, as ancient as mammals. Is there a choice? Joyce had willingly surrendered. Had eagerly surrendered. But she was certain, in retrospect, that she could have resisted vulnerability -- indeed would have resisted it -- except for Asa. At the first tug, Joyce Page would have known in a flash this is precisely the state in which a woman's bondage begins: in the helplessness of motherhood. "The bastards," she muttered. Asa looked in her direction. She went to him and clutched his free hand to her bosom, "Not you love, not you," she said. But as she spoke, the parallel thought raced through her brain: what a desecration, a profanation, an abomination to enslave Eve while her body sustains the species. Joyce Page would never have endangered her own liberty. What if all mothers were Joyce Pages? And what if there were no Joyce Zooks? She'd once read into the Congressional Record portions of a Harry Harlow article about wire versus cloth mothers; had lectured an empty chamber on imprinting; had written into the preamble of a bill, all of us have the right to start out as a held, loved and reassured newcomer; had argued, society as a whole has a stake in the bond between mother child. "It at its mother's breast, where the new citizen learns mutual trust -- or distrust." [Many years later, voting uncharacteristically with the majority and helping overturn a state court ruling, Joyce would call upon these very reflections to compose a long, comprehensive opinion whose theme was the nonlinear nature of equal justice.] The consequence of Mother Joyce qua Page would have been just one more angry rat in the race. Lovey looked up and cooed at her. Joyce leaned down and kissed the baby's hand. "She's telling us, Asa, 'My name is Zook. And I also love the world.'" And, Joyce thought, my baby can make the declaration because I could paused to be a mother without the fear of losing my soul. "Thank you, Asa," she said. When he asked why, she kissed him on the mouth and answered, "For poetry."

She went to her own desk and began an outline for her first series of columns. Her main theme would be competition versus cooperation. Her sources had supplied her with several sordid anecdotes. But something wasn't right. She glanced momentarily at Asa and Lovey and then turned back to write herself a memo. "I cannot use the genre of Joyce Page. My words must come from Joyce Zook, from what I have become. I shall seek the most gentle sensibilities of my readers, seek to reach what ultimately makes us all worthy of Nature."


Joyce was nursing Lovey and admiring her own contour. She called Asa. He stopped writing, came to the rocking chair and kissed both the baby and the kissibly exposed part of Joyce's breast. Were there any equations, she asked, that could describe the breast? "I don't mean the static entity, but the living breast as it's being suckled?" Asa said his answer would be influenced by the grandeur of his own wife and child. But he thought the crudest of first approximations would demand the most powerful single expression he knew. "What is it called, Asa?"

"The fundamental curvature tensor, named in honor of Riemann and Christoffel." He got a scratch pad and wrote it for her.

"I'm surprised it's so short," she remarked. Asa chuckled and said it was very compact but deceptively complex. Yet if one knew the terms, the mind could virtually see an entire universe at a single glance. Then he said that unless one can collect all the ideas and pack them into a single expression, such as the equation he had just written, a human mind could not grasp the whole. "Can the ideas be stated in words, Asa?" The general notion could be phrased verbally, he said, if one tried hard enough and if the listener were sufficiently attentive. But the idea could not have been discovered, nor manipulated or fully explored in words. Joyce then wanted to know why the fundamental tensor did not appear in the Möbius H.

"We do not need to treat this degree of complexity," he said. In addition, the fundamental tensor was quite resistant to real world solutions. Big Burr could not handle the calculations. But if her intuition suggested they ought to try the fundamental tensor, he would perform a few preliminary calculations.

"No!" Joyce reacted. "I was just prattling. Forget it." Calculations! And with a baby in the house! She diverted his attention by asking if he'd made any progress on the proof of the H theorem. No, he shook his head.

The summer became so torrid Ray offered to install central air conditioning. Millie said their rooms really didn't need it. Joyce felt the same way. Poppa Zook picked each of them a bunch of flowers.

What was the Zook secret? Were the Zooks ever grouchy or peevish or bitchy like anybody else? Of course they were. Had the existence of sharks escaped their notice? Of course not! Would they let the wolf devour their children? Huh! The proffered other cheek didn't to one of their loved ones. Zook ways, Joyce decided, grew from respect; respect that began with the self, extended to those about them, to the human species as a whole and ultimately to Nature at large. But it was respect as practice, not principle, as willfully a cultivated habit, not a cattle- prodded behavior. And (she borrowed a thought from John Dewey) respect generalized from the conduct of the individual to the character of the group; (now adding her own hook) acquiring its own momentum and cycling back to the individual, with each excursion imposing a new identity on the self. When she most respected herself, and felt most like a Zook, Joyce felt the least need to defend her own identity.

Then too came tolerance. Tolerance as expectation of individual difference rather than forgiveness of imperfection. Tolerance as the active espousal of variation not the passive allowance of dissimilarity. She observed its nascence among the children. "You had your shower yet, Ma?" From a teenage girl, no less, who'd never once been instructed on the finiteness of hot water tanks. "It's my turn to bring the Grossdawdy's lemonade. You can come too, Truman, but put on your sneakers first." "Ma's cranky this morning, Anna. I'll wash your face." "Is my hammering bothering you Aunt Joyce?" "No he's your frog, Harry." "Please, Timmy, you may keep him for a week. But we're going to have to let him loose after that."

And Joyce saw Zook ways emerging in Lovey. Her little hands were already giving as well as taking. One evening before supper, in the library, while sharing the child and the Times with Poppa, Joyce paused to reflect on the perishability of it all. It would end for every one of them one day. And vanish from the face of the earth. An accidental tear escaped down her cheek. Poppa looked at her. "Try Ecclesiastes One, Four, daughter."

Joyce found it and read, "One generation passeth away, and another cometh: but the earth abideth forever."


Asa's work seemed to be progressing splendidly. By the mountainful, he was moving philosophy into science. But now Joyce found her role passive, that of the informed bystander, not the partner. For she lacked the systematic knowledge required for reducing the H to practice. But listen, Joyce did, and increasingly so as Lovey's demands lessened.

Asa had developed an overall strategy for the new phase of his research. First they'd (he still considered her his full collaborator) tackle regeneration. When the experimental results started coming in, they'd return to memory.

"When will we know the answer, Asa?"

"Some months from now. Several technical hurdles must be overcome before the actual testing can take place."

"I'll die of suspense. And what will Asa Zook be doing in the meantime?"

"I shall try to complete Sol Perlmutter's theory."


"Molecular models and the computer, mainly. I do not think I will have to perform any calculations by hand." The indefiniteness of his tone distressed her. But before she could plead her case, he said, "Oh, incidentally, Joyce. The Comp Lab has hired a brilliant, new systems analyst who is well known to us."


"Julio Hernandez."


Autumn began spectacularly. They started taking Lovey for walks in the woods and fields. Her little hand seemed always to be pointing to something new or interesting to her: chipmunks, squirrels, insects, bird migrations. Timothy often came along. After school one day, he took Joyce and Lovey to see a nest of marble salamander's eggs. Joyce hadn't appreciated the species mated in the fall, nor laid eggs in moist pockets of earth on the banks of ponds that, "Won't fill up till spring," Timothy informed. To Joyce, the eggs resembled rabbit..."Turds," Timothy finished her sentence. Turds, Joyce allowed.

Lovey inspected the clutch. "Toads," she pronounced.

And with autumn, Joyce's political instincts began to roil like a famished stomach. Of course, she told herself, she'd have to wait until next year before tackling anything serious. And even then, running for office seemed dubious. She was just a civilian now, an amateur, a recruit for the telephone and shoe leather brigade. But by then, she thought, the President would be needing a landslide victory and firm control of the Congress and the party. The causes she'd devoted herself to depended on his success, she believed. She began taking on party chores, here and there, with an eye on the political calendar. Then came November and Dallas and Assassination. "The death of the President almost destroyed me," she wrote Pam Peterson, "Without my Zooks, sanity would not have survived within my brain." But Dallas changed her mind. "I'm a pro," she said. "My place is where my President's work remains undone. That's what he'd ask of me"

The House no longer seemed right for her. And she began making hints about the Senate. Then a surprise came her way. Evidently to sequester her out of the primaries [her working hypothesis], she was appointed to fill a federal judgeship.

"And right in our own district, Asa. I won't even have to leave home! Ooooh politics!" she jumped up and down. "I love it. I love it. I love it." She needed a good car, Asa observed. But...Ray knew of an excellent buy in a used Mercedes. Ray got kissed, too. And she and Asa celebrated by taking Lovey to see the tame deer in Nara .

Although he still hadn't modeled the proof for the H, Asa's predictions were proving true, truer than even Joyce could have hoped for. Fish himself was back in the lab personally testing one of Asa's predictions about what coppermycin would do to DNA synthesis in regenerating muscle tissue of mice, and brought his first results down to share with Joyce and Asa. . "These are the most convincing data I've collected in my entire life."

"On the very heels of Fish's triumph," as Annabelle characterized it, her lab had tested and confirmed another of Asa's predictions, one that compared cancer and insanity.

But something was happening to Asa. Joyce realized it fully one morning as she stepped onto the back porch to go to work. Lovey was by his side, holding his hand, waiting to greet and surprise the governess with a birthday card she'd made herself the evening before. Asa watched Poppa work the horses. He spoke. "I used to wonder as a boy if Poppa would ever reclaim his life." Asa did not say it in so many words. But on the highway, his voice kept recurring in her mind's ear. And Joyce said, "And I wonder, my darling, if my philosopher will ever reclaim his."

She soon realized Asa seldom did or read pure philosophy. More and more, Sol Perlmutter's theory preoccupied him. And less and less, his own work. Joyce did not know, nor could she find out, if Sol's unfinished theory actually related to the Möbius H and the fixed point. Perhaps she should give up the bench, she thought one night as she watched him at his desk. He'd lost more weight recently, and his hair was completely gray now. And, to her horror, she discovered he was not taking his medications. When she confronted him, he said he had only stopped temporarily because he needed total concentration for a problem he was now trying to solve. Perhaps she should urge him to give up this infernal science thing and return to what he really was. What more can the world ask? If the H wasn't patently obvious by now, to hell with it. Let it for a wiser age. Go back to philosophy, she wanted to beg him. Go back to life. To being my Asa Zook. Run! Run! Run! If she'd known then what she eventually knew, she'd have screamed her words at the top of her lungs. Instead, she turned to the wall and endured another fitful night without him.

Copyright, 1996 by Paul Pietsch, all rights reserved. May be copied for personal, educational or other non-commercial "fair-use" purposes, as defined by U.S. copyright law.

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