Sunday, January 30, 2005

Terminal Velocity

Winsome Plunkett loved math. He always had. It was why he taught it. It lacked ambiguity. Winsome Plunkett hated ambiguity.

For thirty years he taught the Alva T. Stamford High School youth the delicacy of mathematics. During this time, Winsome stood awash in the ambiguity of adolescence; it denigrated his holy mathematics; it derided the constancy of math as a way of life.

Thirty years of the practical chaos of teaching high school gained him no insight at all on chaos theory. No insight at all. The light in his brain just grew dimmer.

It made him open his window. It made him pray once more to mathematics. It was boyish mental gymnastics at best but it would do.

From ten stories in his apartment, he estimated height. One hundred feet. He hated estimating. Hated it. Winsome Plunkett was not solving quadratic equations to be sure. He was after terminal velocity: the minimum speed with which a human must fall to ensure death. He had read once that this was 40 miles per hour.

He knew that velocity was equal to the square root of two times the constant of gravity times the height. He knew this better than his own birthday. He knew that objects fell at an ever hastening constant rate of thirty-two feet per second per second.

He crawled out onto the fire escape. The formula flashed in his head: V = SQRT(2 * 32’) * 100’ or about 55 miles per hour.

That would do.

He placed a wallet on the ledge. It wouldn’t affect his calculations. Galileo proved this. The wallet contained these items:

- One faded black and white photo of an old woman, replete with folds and creases.
- One library card set to expire in 2007
- One Band-aid
- One expired coupon for microwavable hot pockets
- One unopened condom
- One folded sheet of notebook paper with loopy and delicate handwriting, folded into perfect quarters.
- One student ID from the local state college.

Winsome dangled one foot – the right one – off the ledge. It shook with tremors of fear and joy. Gravity tugged at it.

He considered time.

Time was the square root of two times the height divided by the gravitational constant. He paused. He breathed deeply. He let space below win. At one hundred feet as he fell, he performed the last formula in his head. T = SQRT(2 * 100’)/32’.

The sudden contact caused the membranes of nearly every cell of his brain to burst: so much for delineation. The statistical certainty of death now held the door open for the ambiguity of his sudden disappearance.

All the formulas he relied on for so long were nucleic soup in his head.

It took 2.5 seconds – just as he figured it would. And this pleased him.

M C Biegner Jan 29 2005


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