I wrote Gematria² because I had always wanted to emulate the style of short story giants like Julio Cortázar and Jorge Luís Borges. Granted, it is somewhat different from the typical North American or European short story, but I think you’ll enjoy it. This is not my typical style either. I’m a creature of North America and it shows in my other stories. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. ~ ESG
a story by Ernesto San Giacomo
“The eyes are the windows to the soul.” The last words she’d ever said to him.
He jumped up from the table. “How could you believe something like that? You’re a fool!”
Their friends stared in silence, eyes wide and jaws hanging open.
“Eyes have nothing to do with the soul. The mind and the mouth are everything,” he said. “The mind thinks of a word and then that word explodes into the world from the mouth. And God said let there be light and there was light. In the beginning was the word and the word was made flesh.” He threw his fork on the table and stormed out of the restaurant.
He opened his eyes to find himself tucked into a corner of an empty room. The stench of urine and feces overlaid by tangy disinfectant hit his nostrils and made him choke. He lay there for a few moments, breathing shallowly and pondering his dream. Night after night, the same reliving of that incident. Forcing his mind to the present, he realized he must have fallen asleep here, curled up on the bare floor. With an effort, he braced his shoulder against the wall and pushed himself up with trembling legs. What was wrong this morning? Waking up was never this hard.
Still brooding about the dream, he reached his feet and stood .
Stop thinking about those things and get to work!
A wave of energy flowed through him, making him forget the horrible smell. The empty room needed to be measured. Immediately he started to pace, counting each careful step as one foot, calculating as he went. “Twelve feet by twelve feet is one-hundred-forty-four square feet. Jacob had twelve sons, and their names gave rise to the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus had twelve apostles. There are twelve months in a year, which is why there are twelve zodiac signs.”
After that incident in the restaurant, he’d stopped answering the phone. Eventually the calls tapered off to nothing, and even family members visited less and less. But he never regretted the loss of company; they always interrupted his work anyway. The work was everything. The rest of his apartment had books and piles of paper everywhere. At least he had space to walk around in this room.
The endless obsession with measuring and calculating had started innocently enough. A few months before the restaurant scene, she had written him a note: “I miss you so much.” She didn’t dot the lower case “i,” but drew a small circle with a frowning face. That note sparked a thought. The word “I” denoted a single individual, and in its lower case form it even looked like a single individual.
This intrigued him; he couldn’t think of any other pictograms in the English language. The word “cow” did not resemble a cow, nor did “house” look anything like a house. The only other time he came close to finding an English pictogram was the word “eye.” With a stretch of imagination, he saw two eyes and a nose in that word. He was charmed that “eye” and “i” had the same pronunciation. It seemed fitting, somehow.
In the course of his pictogram research, he stumbled onto a reference to Gematria. His intellectual appetite devoured this ancient series of systems that assigned numerical values to words. He devised several charts, and as he learned more, he decided to use the Short and the Simple systems because they yielded the best results.
The word “alphabet” had the Simple and Short values of 62 and 26, respectively. Then he found that the Simple “he” yielded 13, and the Short “she” was valued at 31. The word “gay” made him raise an eyebrow; it had the values of 31 and 13. He gleaned more and more curious relationships from his charts, like “wedding” 63 and “divorce” 36, or “daughter” 81 and “son” 18.
For a long time, the need for two different systems bothered him. Then he remembered Genesis 11:7 concerning the Tower of Babel: “Let us then go down there and confuse their language.”
That made sense to him. English had taken its modern form centuries after the incident at Babel. Therefore, it must be contrived and confused. Hence the need for multiple systems to find numerical relationships among its words.
But Hebrew, an ancient language from before the days of Babel, must be pure. So he bought a few books on it. In his first attempt to divine special knowledge from Biblical Hebrew, he discovered the numerical value of father (av) and mother (am) added up to forty-four, the exact value of the word child (yeled). He kept looking, and found more relationships between other words. The more discoveries he made, the more he worked.
Books and papers piled up and crumpled notes littered the floor. The mess became such an obstruction that he cleared out his bedroom, which only increased the clutter in the rest of the apartment. But it had been worth the effort because it gave him space to pace and think. His empty room was a treasured prize.
Eyes are the window to the soul.
Stop it! There are more important things to be done.
“Twelve can be expressed as four times three. Four is actually two times two. Therefore, twelve is two times two times three. Aha! Doubling something does not change the ratio of its components. Twelve is just a double of three times two; I’m left with a ratio of three to two.”
He threw his head back and laughed, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “The ratio of Sacred Geometry might be encoded in these walls! They’re eight feet high? Two plus three is five and five plus three is eight. That gives me two, three, five, eight. Yes! I have a consecutive string of four integers in a Fibonacci sequence. The Golden Ratio truly is present in this room, 1.6180.”
His thoughts raced. So many architects, artists and composers used this ratio through the centuries to create timeless works of art. Da Vinci, Bach, the designers of the Pantheon, all incorporated it into their works. Book publishers have used the Ratio for the length and width of pages for centuries. Artists of all kinds employed the technique to reach the living from the distant past. “That’s what makes their works eternal!” he yelled, resuming his pacing.
The Golden Ratio was life itself – the perfect aesthetic. It didn’t manifest itself in the growth of crystals, the formation of rocks, or the area covered by a supernova’s ejected material. All those things were dead. Only life contained the Ratio. It was mathematically encoded in the growth rate of human bones, the shells of sea creatures, the pattern of branches and leaves on a tree.
“Twelve feet by twelve feet makes one-hundred-forty-four square feet.” There was something special about that number. “Yes, one-hundred-forty-four thousand will be saved according to the Book of Revelation. They will have life. That’s it! The Tree of Life, ets ha’chayim, from the Garden of Eden. Its value is two-hundred-thirty-three.”
Of course, how could I have been so blind?
“Two-hundred-thirty-three divided by one-hundred-forty-four equals 1.6180! It’s the mathematical link from the time when human beings were immortal, to now when we have the promise to earn it!”
His heart skipped and pranced in his chest. The need to walk the perimeter of the room twelve times to feel the totality of its sacredness permeated his being. With his shoulder against the wall he walked the edge of the room. Images of graphs, mathematical formulas, and the numerical values of random words flashed through his brain.
He finished his measurements and sank into a corner, rocking back and forth with no concern for his head slamming into the wall. “That’s why it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the speech of all the world. Genesis chapter eleven verse eight. They babbled at Babel. I can quote Biblical passages word for word.” Word for word? His voice dropped to a reverent whisper. “Yeah, that’s the way. Find the value of words for word.”
His speech sped up, became almost feverish. “Word for word, word for word, palabra, mot, slova, word for word, milah, wort, parola, word for word.”
The values of each of these slipped in and out of his mind’s eye. He tired from the rocking and rested. The thick padding covering the walls and floors made his corner a comfortable place.
How he yearned for a pencil and paper to draw the charts and diagrams he envisioned. But pencils and paper wouldn’t be any use to him at this moment. He stood again and walked.
His shoulder against the wall, arms wrapped tight around his torso, locked within the confines of a strait-jacket. He endlessly paced the perimeter of the twelve foot by twelve foot padded cell chanting, “Word for word, word for word….”
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