Only a T-Shirt in the Cold
(E. Persnit wanted more time at the telescope.)
I saw Persnit at the Mart's parking lot. As he says he
doesn't know anyone with money. He probably had gotten
leftovers from the snack place. Could be one or two day
old stuff. From the look on his face, I would have
He did say hello and kept on going. No doubt he was
deep in project work. As always. This one involved
wearing less and less so that he could, in the cold,
spend more time at the telescope. The dome of course is
not heated. He knew full well of snowmobile suits that
could keep one warm. Otherwise it was bulky gear that
one had on and Persnit dreaded the time, it only had to
be once, when the bulk meant error. Something dropped,
cracked, smashed, or lost. Such suits heated him so well
that he had to unzip here and there to stay out of the
fry zone. So if the cold is coming in anyway…
He was doing with less and less clothes in the cold
though he couldn't control how cold it was going to be.
Ideal would be to approach his T-shirt end point, while
holding the temp constant. But as he was steadily
removing clothes, the temperatures were variable. Such
I had caught him in the parking lot at just prior to
swinging into observational mode. It had not been that
cold of late though winter fog was forecast. The
forecast could be wrong or in error as to when the fog
could come. So fortified by 2-day grub and clad in a
T-shirt, it was a go.
I learned later that he had developed a bad and sad
case of the shakes, shivers, later that day. But such is
the limit on observing time here locally since the
weather is rarely fine; that he went to the observatory
walking a zig-zag course, such was the impact of the
Fahrenheit on his T-shirt-covered form. He had brought
along some grog in a thermos to sustain himself during
the long night. In the course of the observing session
which was of nil duration since thick fog soon rolled
in, Persnit dropped an eyepiece. He caught it before it
hit the concrete floor but banged his head on the
declination axis as he dove to hold the eyepiece again
before it hit the floor.
Then he slopped the grog onto his hand as he attempted
a drink. That hand, cold affected, became plastered to
the scope near the finder. He painfully pulled the hand,
finger by finger, from the steely-cold scope. Then, too,
he was shaking so much that a glancing blow by his waist
against the instrument bench turned on the intense
flashlight that he kept to ward off varmints about the
dome. Generally this flashlight was in a belt on his
midsection. The light was visible for miles. He got a
full dose of the light into his eyes.
That did it. Shivers, shakes, fog, cold, and then no
night vision. He made it over the barbed wire on the far
side of the Interstate. He caught his pants in the
going-over and it switched on his flashlight. He now had
the flashlight in a back pocket for the trek home. The
light zigged and zagged as he walked, shaken this way
and that by his fever.
He heard no one coming in the fog. Really couldn't see
anyone. But then he had always had excellent hearing.
Once across the Interstate he began to ascend the slope
by the massive gray culvert that bordered the
Interstate. He grasped at frozen weeds to pull him
upward. The shivers pitched him forward and backward.
The weeds helped on the reverse. Slipping and sliding he
went on the icy and slushy ground. Cold fog, very dense.
Persnit was usually quite lucid but the fever got his
words in front of what they should have been behind as
he muttered, mumbled, and cursed his way up the slope.
Then there was that car. He heard a car coming along
the Interstate. A regular damn fool to be driving in
this fog. Persnit thought he knew the slope well enough
but he was only sure which way was up. The car was going
at a fast rate. Far too fast for the fog.
Persnit nearly turned to see if the car would hit the
culvert. It was the big threat there and then. he
thought he could see some sparks fly, judge visual
acuity in such conditions. But then he felt that to be
ghoulish and he would be a witness and lose observing
time. So if anything, he would hear it. On he trudged,
the light shining out of his back pocket, blasting light
away every which way. He wasn't far from his shack once
he topped the slope. No one wanted to live out in the
open by the Interstate.
Well officer, it's like this, sorry about the flowers
in the circle at the hospital flagpole. The wife being
in a family way. And the fog so bad and what with those
slippery spots we already had slid on, I couldn't slow
much - wife, was moaning so and no braking, afraid we be
in the ditch and I wouldn't make it to the hospital - a
boy, another mouth to feed. Anyway I figured we would
soon be in the close presence of him that did the
Creation cause I know there was a culvert thereabouts.
Off on the right. Then the fog got real bad. It was
looking bad, too. Then I saw it. A light. Someone was
signaling - real vigorous too, that light was jostling,
bouncing, waving all over the place. That guy was
frantic. I figured I was then close to the culvert so I
steered hard left. I saw something big go whooshing by
on my right. A big thing, gray, suddenly in the
passenger window next to my wife. I floored it. And here
we are. Were those geraniums I ran over?