Satellites & Surface Area


Between the two of us, we don’t have enough money for the bus. I find it funny that this could be: two people, smart, funny, good looking young people, each with a university degree (well, almost), neither of whom can manage to cough up one-pound-thirty. The relative poverty of youth, I think, for the millionth time this week. We are living partly on the high of our own happiness, partly on the kindnesses of those older than ourselves, and partly on the empathy of our friends, who suffer similarly at other times. They will always find a way to buy us a drink; and we, when we can, will always find a way to reciprocate. Of course, we are all also doing this partly on sheer luck.

A thrown-together dinner party: it was meant to be risotto, but we had so many potatoes that at the last minute, we figured it would be better to make gnocchi from scratch. We buy half a shoulder of lamb from the butcher, and some quail’s eggs on sale, and are delighted when our entire bag of vegetables costs under five pounds!

The guest list fluctuates—it is only finally settled an hour and a half before we are due to start cooking, and even then it is only because we wrangle a deal with A, who says he will only come to dinner if we have a drink with him first (a stressful day at work, he says). So we carry our groceries to the pub, and A buys us cider, first one pint, then another, but because I drink slower than the boys X worries he should head home and start cooking. He takes the food and goes off to catch a bus while A and I discuss the woes of writing our respective dissertations. And we are growing progressively more and more animated, exchanging ideas like tennis players volleying, and I have scarcely sipped my drink, when X comes toddling back. His tail is between his legs and his cheeks rosy from cold.
“No money for the bus," he remembers.

A hands him a few pounds for another pint: a wordless exchange. Are we drinking to forget? I forget to worry about this. X comes back outside with a cider and a folding map of Oxford pubs.
“Did you know,” he says, “that this style of folding was derived from origami? Now it’s how they fold satellites.”
He takes the two corners and pulls; the map unfolds, and the table is covered by a paper representation of a dozen wizened old drinking establishments. I point at the ones I’ve been to while X says,
“It’s about surface area. And it’s also far simpler for a robot to simply pull two corners, than to futz with folds.”
“All except three,” I say. “I’ve been to all the places here except three!”
X squeezes the accordion-like map shut again; then pulls, and unravels it again.
“How do they get satellites to twist and fold like that?” A wants to know.
“They’ve just got the right materials,” X says. Flexible, foldable, satellite materials.

We are now running very late. We send A to get wine and throw the lamb in the oven, and dance round the yellow-walled kitchen washing dishes and cracking quail’s eggs and dropping vegetable stalks on the floor and sniping at each other until I spill egg all over myself and run upstairs in a huff, and X follows me and folds me in his arms and whispers “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I love you,” but it is not till twenty minutes and seven outfits later that I am able to come back downstairs and feel at all composed.

We drink the fancy bottle of wine at dinner. For as long as I have known X, it has been there, on the counter, a yellowed French label.
“I’m saving it for a special occasion,” he always told me. “It’s really nice stuff.”
But tonight he leans over to me and says,
“I don’t know why I made it out to be as big as I did. It’s not that nice. It’s not so special. I was thinking, on the way over here, that we should drink it.”
I protest. I do not know what significance—if any—it may hold, but I feel this is a rash decision.

I protest, and he protests to my protests, until we’re tongue-tied and twisted. “Honestly,” he insists. We’ve moved through seven bottles already, so we throw caution to the wind, and open the fancy wine, the wine for a special occasion. I think: well, it is a special occasion, isn’t it? Of sorts?

In the morning every space in the kitchen is covered with the detritus of a lovely meal. There was scarcely room for six of us at the table; I find myself thinking, “we need more surface area”. I picture our lives being unfolded by robots, grasping at the corners, pulling gently, and what they would see this morning, I suppose, would be colored by nice wine and quail’s eggs, and a whole lot of a happiness that has nothing whatsoever to do with money in a bank.