THE MAN WHO BELONGED ON EARTH
Dr. Robert Stadler paced his office, wishing he would not feel the cold. Spring had been late in coming. Beyond the window, the dead gray of the hills looked like the smeared transition from the soiled white of the sky to the leaden black of the river. Once in a while, a distant patch of hillside flared into a silver-yellow that was almost green, then vanished. The clouds kept cracking for the width of a single sunray, then oozing closed again. It was not cold in the office, thought Dr. Stadler, it was that view that froze the place.
It was not cold today, the chill was in his bones – he thought – the stored accumulation of the winter months, when he had had to be distracted from his work by an awareness of such a matter as inadequate heating and people had talked about conserving fuel. It was preposterous, he thought, this growing intrusion of the accidents of nature into the affairs of men: it had never mattered before, if a winter happened to be unusually severe; if a flood washed out a section of railroad track, one did not spend two weeks eating canned vegetables; if an electric storm struck some power station, an establishment such as the State Science Institute was not left without electricity for five days. Five days of stillness this winter, he thought, with the great laboratory motors stopped and irretrievable hours wiped out, when his staff had been working on problems that involved the heart of the universe. He turned angrily away from the window – but stopped and turned back to it again. He did not want to see the book that lay on his desk.
He wished Dr. Ferris would come. He glanced at his watch: Dr.
Ferris was late – an astonishing matter – late for an appointment with him – Dr. Floyd Ferris, the valet of science, who had always faced him in a manner that suggested an apology for having but one hat to take off.
was outrageous weather for the month of May, he thought, looking down at the river; it was certainly the weather that made him feel as he did, not the book. He had placed the book in plain view on his desk, when he had noted that his reluctance to see it was more than mere revulsion, that it contained the element of an emotion never to be admitted. He told himself that he had risen from his desk, not because the book lay there, but merely because he had wanted to move, feeling cold. He paced the room, trapped between the desk and the window. He would throw that book in the ash can where it belonged, he thought, just as soon as he had spoken to Dr. Ferris.
He watched the patch of green and sunlight on the distant hill, the promise of spring in a world that looked as if no grass or bud would ever function again. He smiled eagerly – and when the patch vanished, he felt a stab of humiliation, at his own eagerness, at the desperate way he had wanted to hold it. It reminded him of that interview with the eminent novelist, last winter. The novelist had come from Europe to write an article about him – and he, who had once despised interviews, had talked eagerly, lengthily, too lengthily, seeing a promise of intelligence in the novelist’s face, feeling a causeless, desperate need to be understood. The article had come out as a collection of sentences that gave him exorbitant praise and garbled every thought he had expressed. Closing the magazine, he had felt what he was feeling now at the desertion of a sunray.