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Sunday, 13 October 2013

Chaos attractor

Amano Tatsuya
There was a time when friends and relatives used to welcome me into their homes, enjoy my company for days on end, and seem to be sad when I left. Those days are gone. Now even my sister makes me feel I've outstayed my welcome, half an hour after I've arrived.

I suspect the signs have been there for a while. But not being particularly perceptive I hadn't twigged that the true meaning of "Will you still be here on Tuesday?" is "Can you bugger off today?"

The suspicion that my charms are waning penetrates my carapace of confidence the day after I've filled my petrol car with diesel and Helen and I are starting to tackle the full veggie breakfast she has just cooked for me.

"So what chaos are you planning to bring into our lives this morning?" she asks, and I look up in surprise from a succulent-looking mushroom I'm about to skewer.

"I didn't plan yesterday," I say. "It just happened. Thanks for your help by the way."

"It happens ... mumble, mumble, mumble," she says, turning her back to reach for the dish of tomatoes and lowering her voice at the same time.

"I didn't catch that," I say, popping the monster into my mouth and getting that lovely 'shroom-flavoured juicy squirt as I bite.

"I don't want to hurt your feelings," she says.

"You can't hurt my feelings," I say. "I'm not a big girl."

"All right then," she says and hesitates. "Things like that happen around you all the time?"

"Well that is hurtful," I say and her jaw drops.

"I'm kidding," I say. "Things like what?"

"Like the time they thought you were a terrorist at the airport," she says. "You got body-searched and we missed our plane."

"How was that my fault?" I say.

"You were wearing a T-shirt that said 'I found Jesus in the Qur'an'."

"Well I did," I say. "I thought it was an interesting fact people should know about."

"Then there was the time you went missing when you were testing a nuclear submarine in Barrow, and they thought the Soviets had got you."

"How was that my fault?" I say.

"You went for a drive, didn't tell anybody and only got back the next day," she says. "Then there was that time, wearing a green and white top, you got into Ibrox through a small side door, and nearly got lynched by the security guards."

"How was that my fault?" I say. "Oh never mind. You've made your point. I wasn't always mature and sensible."

"That is not my point," she says. "My point is you're still not mature and sensible. Isn't there something called a chaos attractor. That's you."

"No there isn't," I say, putting my fork down and reaching for my mug of coffee. She is clearly unhappy and since Helen usually bottles up bad feelings about people, it seems serious that they're all coming out now. I'm going to have to be soothing, tactful and diplomatic.

"That's a common mistake among the scientifically illiterate," I tell her. "There is something called a strange attractor, a structure in phase space often associated with chaos, which is an inordinate sensitivity to initial conditions. 

"Then there's a song called Chaos Attractor by a Japanese metalcore band with an amazing madman drummer. But I am clearly none of those."

She is shaking her head now. "You also tell people stuff they don't want to know," she says. "And you have a seriously misplaced sense of humour."

"Some folk like it," I tell her. 

"Not many," she says. "Listen to me. You remember I asked if you would still be here on Tuesday?"

"Yes. I said I didn't know."

"Well I'm going to ask you again," she says. "And this time the answer is, 'No, I'm leaving after this delicious breakfast you just cooked for me."

"Go on then," I say, putting the coffee mug down on the table and studying her expectantly.

"Go on what?" she says.

"Go on ask me," I say.

She sighs. "Will you still be here on Tuesday, Douglas?"

I suck my teeth. "I don't know," I say.

"Ahhh!" she screams and bangs her head several times on the table.

Later that day I relate the whole incident to Susan, looking for a little sympathy and wondering if I should get medical help for Helen. "She seemed very overwrought when I left," I say.

"Trust me, she'll be much better now," Susan says. "Do you think she'll have you back?"

"I'm not sure," I say. "Maybe not for a long time."

"That's bad," she says, looking concerned. She knows how much Helen means to me. "What are you going to do now?"

"I thought I'd stay with you a few days," I say.

She turns away so that I don't see how delighted she is. Then she turns back again. 

"Will you still be here on Tuesday?" she says.

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