Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Heather's Diorama

In second grade, a precocious young girl named Heather constructed a diorama representing the court of the Virgin Queen Elizabeth I. Somehow, Heather had interpreted a creative assignment about the ecology of rainforest biomes to be one dealing with the English Renaissance. Her teacher could hardly complain about the resulting project, as it was far more intricate and sophisticated than the projects that the rest of the snot noses had concocted even if it was lacking in the sort of flora and fauna native to places such as the Amazon. Heather received 4s in nearly every category that trimester except “Following Instructions,” in which she received a 2.

Later, in middle school, incessant teasing sent Heather to the brink of an eating disorder though she pulled herself back in time for a relatively healthy, happy high school life in which she performed roles both comic, romantic and tragic in Shakespeare plays while secretly falling in love with his sonnets. She had to keep this a secret because she enjoyed getting wildly drunk nearly every weekend with too many friends for her to keep track of and even though most of them would probably view an inordinate interest in the England of half a millennium ago as irrelevant at worst and a lovable quirk at best, Heather still felt subconsciously insecure about that superior diorama she had made years before.

At the University of British Columbia, Heather studied Physics. While browsing in the University Library, she discovered a slim volume entitled The Dioramic Dynamic by P.C. Bentley Blair. After a brief scan of the book’s introduction, she borrowed the book and brought it to a nearby cafĂ©. Within the book’s pages, Blair describes how a little known phenomenon known as alloidial mutation causes successful acts of creative invention to metastasize in a seemingly endless proliferation. According to Blair, alloidial mutation has a particularly curious effect on dioramas. A successful diorama contains a glimpse of another world. Blair claims that such a diorama will mutate to contain within its walls a much smaller diorama that represents the intricacies of that same world in an earlier stage of development. On page 24, Heather read the following:
The Three Laws of Elementary Dioramics
1. The size of the diorama is inversely proportional to how long it takes for the diorama to mutate.
2. The Law of Preservation states
Heather stopped reading. She felt like she had been drinking a warm broth of pseudoscience. None of this gelled with her highly educated understanding of the world. She checked the bibliography and found titles like The Invisible Library by Hoover Framingham and numerous articles from something called the American Journal of Telescoping Development. Her attempts to cross-reference the bibliography failed completely because none of it could be found anywhere in the University’s library system. She could not find a trace of it on WorldCat or even in a more general trawling of search engines. She concluded that the bibliography was fictitious. The likeliest explanation seemed to be that P.C. Bentley Blair had a very lively imagination.

When Heather returned home for Thanksgiving, she decided to dig up her old Queen Elizabeth diorama. As silly as The Dioramic Dynamic was, it had inspired her to wade into a lake of nerdy memories. Up in the attic of her family’s home, she opened musty boxes and moved aside forgotten furniture. It took hours, but she eventually found her diorama. It was surprisingly pristine but after a moment spent regarding it with nostalgia, Heather picked it up and walked swiftly downstairs. She asked to borrow the car, and then drove to the old-fashioned but surprisingly reliable general store in town. She bought a jeweler’s loupe and then drove home.

That night, alone in her room, Heather used the loupe to examine closely what had made her heart leap when she had first looked at the diorama in the attic. Inside the diorama, resting on an ornately designed paper table Heather had placed in the court of Queen Elizabeth, Heather saw another diorama. This smaller diorama contained a scene of Cro-Magnon hunter-gatherers resting around a campfire in the savannah, just like Heather had pictured it when she learned about such people in the sixth grade.

Heather could make out an even smaller diorama being held in the hands of a young Cro-Magnon girl. It was exceedingly difficult for her to make out, but within that diorama she could just barely glimpse an anomalocaris. Heather had forgotten she had learned that it had been the first great predator of the Cambrian explosion. Because of the limits of her loupe, Heather could not see the diorama of the single-celled forms of life that colonized hydrothermal vents three and half billion years ago or the beautiful diorama depicting the violent yet rhapsodic formation of solar systems or the white hot spherule at the center of the smallest diorama of them all. But she could blissfully imagine their quantum splendor.

Originally published in the Cal Literature & Arts Magazine.

1 comment:

  1. Sweet! (In every sense of the word.)
    Have you ever seen a book that had a fictitious bibliography? I have one which lists a fictitious publisher out of concerns for censorship. ANECDOTA AMERICANA is a collection of filthy jokes compiled by Gershon Legman whose later books RATIONALE OF THE DIRTY JOKE and NO LAUGHING MATTER treat dirty jokes as folk literature.
    I really liked this story.