“Where is that blasted thing?!”
The man’s voice was muffled as it found its way through the gaps of an enormous pile of junk: copper-plated gizmos, pieces of iron wrapped in leather, open tool crates full of wrenches of every size, a rather unruly amount of scribbled on graph paper, a bicycle wheel with enough scrap metal attached to it to build an entire bicycle, a typewriter with about twenty wires connecting it to a light bulb, a full bicycle hooked up to a light bulb in similar fashion, a typewriter connected to a full bicycle with mechanically altered pedals connected to a light bulb, and a full skeleton model, just to list a few things.
Meanwhile, another man sat very solemnly at a desk near the middle of the room with a few pieces of graph paper in front of him. He was hunched to the right with his head resting on his right arm with its fist clenched under his chin. His left hand was resting on his left leg, and he was tapping his fingers in a row.
“Thurmond!” cried the first man, now much more audible than before. The pile of junk clanged loudly as he stepped out with a wide array of noises ranging from metal landing on metal to paper whooshing around in the air.
“Oh blast it all!” he muttered to himself as he stretched his legs from space to space looking for something solid to stand on. Finally, he made his way out from the small closet he had been in. It was Harold, and he came out with a sour look on his face. His eyebrows were curled down and inward, and his forehead was wrinkled up into a roll of thick, red skin. His hair was in disarray, however, he didn’t have that much hair to begin with, so it looked no wilder than usual.
Throughout this series of events, Thurmond, the man at the table, remained very calm and well mannered. He only continued to roll his fingers across his leg, and his eyes rocked back and forth between the pieces of graph paper on the table in front of him.
“Thurmond,” questioned Harold, not looking at him, but rather, still rolling his eyes around the room, “do you recall that device we made around the turn of the new decade?”
“Which decade?” asked Thurmond, still rocking his eyes across the papers.
“The most previous one,” said Harold. “Somewhere around three years ago.”
“Was it before the turn of the decade,” asked Thurmond, “or after?”
“Before,” said Harold, stroking his chin and looking up at the ceiling, “I believe.”
“So three years ago,” restated Thurmond, still looking at the papers, “before the turn of the decade.”
“Precisely!” shouted Harold throwing his arm up.
“I don’t recall any device in that time period,” stated Thurmond.
“Nonsense,” said Harold as he began to pace once more. “It was some sort of assistance device, like a splint of some sort, however, much larger.”
“A splint,” said Thurmond slowly.
“Well not a splint exactly,” corrected Harold. “It was more like a mechanical body part or a model of some sort.”
“There was that prosthetic limb,” said Thurmond, cocking his head to the other side to look at the papers differently.
“That’s it!” shouted Harold. “Have you seen it?”
“Well, no,” said Thurmond rather bluntly, “of course not.”
“What do you mean,” asked Harold turning his focus back to Thurmond, “of course not?”
“I mean it’s not here,” said Thurmond.
“Not here?” responded Harold. “Where is it?”
“We sold it to that man,” replied Thurmond.
“What man?” asked Harold. “Why would I sell it to a man?”
“He paid a good bit for it,” said Thurmond.
“How much?” asked Harold.
“I don’t recall the exact amount,” said Thurmond, “but it was a fair sum.”
“What did he want with it?” asked Harold, who was hanging on every word at the moment.
“He wanted to further it,” said Thurmond, lifting his fingers in the air and twirling them as he spoke, “you know, develop it more intensely.”
“Develop it more?” shouted Harold. “It worked fine!”
“Apparently he didn’t think so,” said Thurmond.
Harold mumbled something inaudible under his breath and paced around the room.
“Do you recall the way it smelled?” asked Harold.
“I beg your pardon?” asked Thurmond curiously, although he was still examining his papers.
“It had a very peculiar scent,” said Harold, “very distinct.”
“Peculiar how?” asked Thurmond.
“It had a rubber smell,” said Harold, “like worn rubber boots, only not so musky and sour.”
“I do recall a strange sort of smell,” pondered Thurmond.
“It was a very strong odor,” continued Harold. “In fact, it covered the entire room. When it was placed into storage, the entire storage container would become just as pungent.”
“Yes,” said Thurmond, “I do recall that. In fact, the fellow who purchased it from you stated that as one of the reasons he wanted to develop it further.”
Harold opened his mouth to continue speaking, but stopped in mid-sentence and glared over at Thurmond. His face boiled and the wrinkles on his forehead rolled back up into a pile.
“What is that you are looking at?” he finally asked.
“Just a few sketches,” said Thurmond. “Every model of that multi-purpose wrench we were working on.”
“What about it?” asked Harold, paying no mind to the previous conversation.
“I don’t see what keeps breaking,” said Thurmond. “The gears are perfectly lined up, the finger handle is offset just enough from the palm handle, the rotating trigger is straight, and the connection assembly is impeccably firm. I just can’t see it.”
“Hand me the sketch of the most recent model,” said Harold.
Thurmond finally resigned and handed one of the papers back over his shoulder to Harold, who took it from his hand and held it up toward the ceiling. Thurmond sat with his head plunged into his fist and his right cheek pushed up and bulging out. Harold, on the other hand, continued to pace around the room, mumbling to himself under his breath every so often.
“It would appear,” said Harold with his eyes still on the paper, “that the wrench is not breaking at all.”
“Not breaking?” repeated Thurmond, turning his eyebrows down.
“Precisely,” said Harold, “but rather, the connection of the handle is what is breaking each time.”
Thurmond sat for a brief, but also rather long, moment, then he grabbed one of the papers on the table.
“It seems,” continued Harold, “that the handle is tightening the connection rod, thus creating a severe amount of friction on the gears, which if I might say would probably be the last thing to break by the way you have designed them.”
“Would you look at that,” said Thurmond, gazing at the paper in his own hand.
“The amount of torque that the gears can withstand,” said Harold, “is far greater than that of the connection rod, which seems to be rather thin in comparison to the bulky gears and the long, thick handle.”
“Well wouldn’t you know it,” said Thurmond, finally resting back on his chair. “I’ve been staring at these sketches for the past few hours wondering how in the world this soundly built wrench could be so faulty.”
“It appears to be a fine wrench,” said Harold, handing the paper back to Thurmond.
“A fine wrench indeed!” said Thurmond, finally cracking a smile.
“Indeed,” said Harold.
“Now,” said Thurmond, finally looking up at Harold for the first time, but not before noticing the enormous mess that Harold had made, “why on earth were you looking so intently for that prosthetic only to ask me what it smelled like?”
A grim look swept over Harold’s face, and he became rather pale, yet, in an instant, his face was reanimated with color and his eyes lit up vividly.
“Yes of course!” shouted Harold. “The prosthetic! You do remember the smell, don’t you?”
“It is a hard smell to forget,” said Thurmond.
“Yes, indeed,” said Harold. “Such a strange, powerful odor. Unexpected, wouldn’t you say?”
“Indeed,” agreed Thurmond.
“Indeed,” said Harold. “You said it yourself. That is a hard smell to forget, correct?”
“Correct,” said Thurmond.
“I would agree,” said Harold, “which is why I bring this up in the first place.”
“Go on,” said Thurmond.
“I thought I could smell it this morning,” said Harold, “which got me thinking, isn’t it strange that a smell can be recalled so vividly after such a great deal of time?”
“It is quite notable,” said Thurmond.
“In fact,” continued Harold, “it is as if the very source of the smell is in the room at that moment.”
“It does seem that way,” said Thurmond.
“Which got me thinking,” said Harold.
“Yes?” replied Thurmond.
“It seems as if the source of the smell comes not from the actual object itself,” pondered Harold, “but from our very own brain.”
“Fascinating,” said Thurmond.
“Think of what the smell of cinnamon does to your memory,” said Harold, “or tea, or freshly baked bread, or wet grass, or the air after a heavy downpour.”
Thurmond sat and pondered for a moment.
“These smells all came from somewhere,” said Harold, “but are we so naïve that we would think that every pot of tea smells the same, or every grain of cinnamon, or every blade of wet grass?”
“It does seem rather odd,” said Thurmond.
“What I am insisting,” said Harold, “is that these smells are in very close association to the portion of our brains which process memory!”
“Go on,” said Thurmond, wandering his eyes up at the ceiling.
“I believe,” said Harold, “that our sense of smell is a creation of our brain, and that each scent is our brain’s very own mnemonic device, if you will. A fully developed, concrete representation of a mental fixation or preoccupation! A tangible abstraction!”
“It does seem a rather plausible theory,” agreed Thurmond, still staring into the air.
“No two pine trees look the exact same, do they?” asked Harold.
“I would say not,” answered Thurmond.
“And the trunks of two pine trees also do not feel the exact same, wouldn’t you agree?” proposed Harold.
“Not the exact same,” responded Thurmond, raising his fingers to his chin.
“So isn’t it safe to assume,” continued Harold, “that no two pine trees smell the exact same?”
“I supposed you’re right,” said Thurmond.
“But yet,” said Harold, “we all recognize the scent of pine as a particular smell.”
Thurmond sat and squeezed his chin for several moments, turning his eyes to all corners of the room.
“If that theory is correct,” said Thurmond speaking up, “then wouldn’t the same principles apply for every one of the five senses?”
“A clever query,” said Harold, who was now also stroking his chin. “Sight and touch seem to be much more tangible than smell, taste, and hearing.”
The inventor stood for a moment with his right foot tapping the floor and his eyes gleaming with intensity. His assistant also sat pondering, stroking his bulky chin and plucking at his chin hairs.
“It seems,” stated Harold, “that the two dominant senses, tangibly speaking, are more dependent on the physical attributes of whatever it is they are analyzing. The three lesser senses, tangibly speaking, are more dependent on the brain and the body to stimulate a physical reaction. Think of how sound waves in the air must have a receiver to be heard. It seems that each of them has a unique way of making the abstract become concrete.”
“Fascinating observation,” said Thurmond.
“Indeed,” said Harold.
“What is it you are working up to?” asked Thurmond.
“Thurmond,” answered Harold, “do you believe in déjà vu?”
“I can’t say I understand it all,” said Thurmond, “however, I can say I have experienced feelings of déjà vu before myself, and they are quite strong.”
“Very strong indeed,” said Harold. “I believe that I experienced it myself this morning when I smelled the scent of that prosthetic. I truly felt as if it were in the very room, but yet, I knew for certain that it wasn’t. I knew immediately what the smell was. It was unmistakable.”
“That is quite strange,” said Thurmond, “seeing as it hasn’t been here in several years.”
“That is an awful long time for a scent to be lingering,” said Harold, “wouldn’t you say?”
“Quite a long time indeed,” agreed Thurmond.
“Indeed,” said Harold. “There has been plenty of time for the scent to escape from the air, which means there is only one place left in which the scent could still remain.”
“Very clever,” said Thurmond.
“That scent has been filed in the deepest recesses of my memory,” said Harold, “and it is connected directly to the very memory itself! It is the key to the memory, both of which I still have!”
“Fascinating,” said Thurmond, gazing up at the air longingly.
“Thurmond,” proposed Harold, “this discovery could hold the keys to all our questions regarding long-term memory. I believe if we can focus in on these scents which we so strongly recall, then we may be able to recover a massive amount of memory which we have deemed lost forever.”
“Now there’s an idea!” said Thurmond, finally turning to Harold and pointing his large finger at him.
“Think of all the people who long to remember the days of their youth,” said Harold, smiling from Thurmond’s reaction. “I made no conscious choice to store the scent of that prosthetic, yet it has remained in my brain after all these years. Every scent we have ever come across could be lingering in our minds at this very moment, each one tied to a specific memory.”
“If we channeled this as you are saying,” said Thurmond, “we might never forget anything ever again.”
“Precisely!” shouted Harold throwing his arm into the air and stopping, for he had been pacing, or strolling rather, back and forth since the beginning of the conversation.
“We owe it to ourselves,” said Thurmond talking with his hands, “to everyone really. There must be a way to…you know…”
“To make this idea a reality!” interjected Harold. “And bring it to the public!”
“Yes!” shouted Thurmond.
“Quickly,” said Harold in a more serious tone, “jot down these ideas.”
Thurmond quickly pushed aside the sketches of his wrench until he uncovered a blank piece of graph paper. Harold, on the other hand, paced around the room with his fingers stroking his long chin. He slanted his eyebrows down and inward, and he squinted his eyes as he pondered. Thurmond looked over at Harold after he had secured the piece of paper, and he waited for a few long moments. Harold stopped pacing and stood still for a moment. Thurmond watched him carefully. Harold looked over at Thurmond and looked at him in the eye, then looked away again and proceeded to pace around the room again. This set of actions took place consistently for the next several minutes. Every so often the two men would make uncomfortable eye contact, only to look away and continue pondering in silence. Finally, Harold spoke up.
“Thurmond,” said Harold.
“Yes?” answered Thurmond.
“You wouldn’t happen to be a brain specialist, would you?” asked Harold. “Medically speaking?”
“Why no,” said Thurmond. “Not at all.”
“Neither am I,” gloomed Harold.
The two men waited in silence for what seemed to be a rather long time for two grown men to be silent.
“Frankly,” admitted Harold, “I haven’t the foggiest idea of where to begin.”
“Neither have I,” said Thurmond.
“Perhaps,” said Harold slowly, treating each word delicately, “we should continue at a later time.”
“Yes,” agreed Thurmond. “Perhaps.”
“Indeed,” said Harold rather awkwardly.
(part 2 to follow)