It was Wikipedia that catalysed the snap in Jonathan’s mind, though the whole thing had the air of the climax of the first Ghostbusters movie. The Problem could have taken any form. It just happened to take this one.
Jon had been browsing Wikipedia searching for ’80s nostalgia quotes to put on his girlfriend’s birthday present – a series of photos he had taken, captioned with things like “Till all are one” and “Showtime, Synergy” and “Carebears, stare”. His browsing took him to one of the officially weirder things in Wikipedia, a list of feats performed by MacGyver and whether or not they were scientifically possible. It was such an obscure thing, he thought, and yet here was a page of information.
Then he started thinking about just how detailed such information could get.
For example, he mused, why not an in-depth look at Richard Dean Anderson’s slowly evolving hair style? Hell, why not a commentary on each individual hair on his head? Or the atoms contained within? But it wasn’t just a matter of getting smaller and smaller. How about the relationship between things? Between Anderson’s hair style in the pilot episode and early Egyptian heiroglyphics? Or its relationship to underground pornography from Islamic countries? And so on.
While most people, people we call sane, would dismiss the matter quickly and move on with living, Jonathan thought more and more about how he could potentially make an infinite number of meaningful statements about anything, no matter how apparently insignificant. He began drinking, then, and we paid no attention. We never paid him much attention anyway.
It was Julia who first raised a flag on it. They’d broken up, she told us, several weeks earlier. Jonathan didn’t seem to care, she said. I’d seen him a few days after they finished, and he seemed fine to me, if a little distracted. He talked about odd things, but we were used to that. But Julia had a bad feeling. And we paid her no mind. Girls.
Anyway, one day, after he’d lost his job (which he didn’t need anyway, what with the money in the family), but before we’d found out he had, Jon was drinking in his basement. Not in the dark or anything. His basement was set up as his study area, on account of him doing his doctorate in physics. Of course, his research had suffered too. He was down there drinking, alone, when he noticed a scratch in the concrete floor.
That was the trigger. I mean, if the Wikipedia thing was the catalyst, this was the match strike. He snapped there and then, finally and forever.
He began by mapping out a 1-metre square section of the floor, which included the scratch. He photographed it, sketched it, then sketched it again with his eyes closed, from memory. He drank one beer, sketched it again. Drank another, sketched it again. These sketches, with their decreasing accuracy and detail, he lined them up along the wall, comparing the effects of intoxication on the rendition of the floor.
He smoked weed, sketched it again. Drank various spirits, from gin to absinthe, and began writing his findings in a notebook, meticulously listing the differences and similarities in the different ways of looking at the square of floor.
From the university, he stole an electron microscope and examined various sections of the floor. He took swabs of the dust and tiny scrapings of the concrete, roping in friends – myself included – to create and analyse bacterial and fungal cultures, and employing spectral analysis.
Then came the poetry. He wrote poems about the square, in every form he could think of. Pages of haiku, iambic pentameter, even a sestina. He named and renamed the square (Susan, Marcus, Kelly), speaking to it and imagining it could tell him its troubles. At one point we didn’t hear from him for a week, and had no idea what he was doing; he wouldn’t answer the door. Later we discovered he had written some kind of philosophical treatise on the square of floor and submitted it to various bemused journals around the world. To my knowledge, they never printed it.
He slept with his head in the square, and recorded his dreams. He purchased a copy of the I Ching and spent days listing the correlation between the seemingly random scratch patterns and different hexagrams, musing on what it might mean.
He sat crosslegged in the square and masturbated – all recorded on film, of course – and wrote 17 pages attempting to accurately represent the sensations across the three-minute-long affair.
By then, we were at least a little worried. No one had heard from him in weeks.
He offered no resistance when we smashed a window and entered his house, finding him sitting on the floor, staring at the square. Around him were notebooks and notebooks and notebooks, filled with his mad scrawlings, mostly illegible – and nonsensical when they weren’t.
He was smiling, though. And after we’d dropped him off at the clinic, he looked at me and it seemed like the same old Jonathan again, from months back, before his turn. I suddenly thought that perhaps I had made a terrible mistake. He just said, “I’m not done yet.” And then he was led away.