The Complete Stories (Page 175)
"How did Ralson feel?"
"He never spoke of anything like that."
"In other words, if he felt it, he never even had the safety-valve effect of letting off steam to the rest of you."
"I guess he hadn’t."
"Yet nuclear research must be done, no?"
"What would you do, Dr. Grant, if you felt you had to do something that you couldn’t do."
Grant shrugged. "I don’t know."
"Some people kill themselves."
"You mean that’s what has Ralson down."
"I don’t know. I do not know. I will speak to Dr. Ralson this evening. I OBn promise nothing, of course, but I will let you know whatever I can."
Grant rose. "Thanks, Doctor. I’ll try to get the information you want."
Elwood Ralson’s appearance had improved in the week he had been at Dr. Blaustein’s sanatorium. His face had filled out and some of the restlessness had gone out of him. He was tieless and beltless. His shoes were without laces.
Blaustein said, "How do you feel, Dr. Ralson?"
"You have been treated well?"
"No complaints, Doctor."
Blaustein’s hand fumbled for the letter-opener with which it was his habit to play during moments of abstraction, but his fingers met nothing. It had been put away, of course, with anything else possessing a sharp edge. There was nothing on his desk, now, but papers.
He said, "Sit down, Dr. Ralson. How do your symptoms progress?"
"You mean, do I have what you would call a suicidal impulse? Yes. It gets worse or better, depending on my thoughts, I think. But it’s always with me. There is nothing you can do to help."
"Perhaps you are right. There are often things I cannot help. But I would like to know as much as I can about you. You are an important man-"
"You do not consider that to be so?" asked Blaustein.
"No, I don’t. There are no important men, any more than there are important individual bacteria."
"I don’t understand."
"I don’t expect you to."
"And yet it seems to me that behind your statement there must have been much thought. It would certainly be of the greatest interest to have you tell me some of this thought."
For the first time, Ralson smiled. It was not a pleasant smile. His nostrils were white. He said, "It is amusing to watch you, Doctor. You go about your business so conscientiously. You must listen to me, mustn’t you, with just that air of phony interest and unctuous sympathy. I can tell you the most ridiculous things and still be sure of an audience, can’t I?"
"Don’t you think my interest can be real, even granted that it is professional, too?"
"No, I don’t."
"I’m not interested in discussing it."
"Would you rather return to your room?"
"If you don’t mind. No!" His voice had suddenly suffused with fury as he stood up, then almost immediately sat down again. "Why shouldn’t I use you? I don’t like to talk to people. They’re stupid. They don’t see things. They stare at the obvious for hours and it means nothing to them. If I spoke to them, they wouldn’t understand; they’d lose patience; they’d laugh. Whereas you must listen. It’s your job. You can’t interrupt to tell me I’m mad, even though you may think so."
"I’d be glad to listen to whatever you would like to tell me."
Ralson drew a deep breath. "I’ve known something for a year now, that very few people know. Maybe it’s something no live person knows. Do you know that human cultural advances come in spurts? Over a space of two generations in a city containing thirty thousand free men, enough literary and artistic genius of the first rank arose to supply a nation of millions for a century under ordinary circumstances. I’m referring to the Athens of Pericles.
"There are other examples. There is the Florence of the Medicis, the England of Elizabeth, the Spain of the Cordovan Emirs. There was the spasm of social reformers among the Israelites of the Eighth and Seventh centuries before Christ. Do you know what I mean?"
Blaustein nodded. "I see that history is a subject that interests you." ‘ "Why not? I suppose there’s nothing that says I must restrict myself to nuclear cross-sections and wave mechanics."
"Nothing at all. Please proceed."
"At first, I thought I could learn more of the true inwardness of historical cycles by consulting a specialist. I had some conferences with a professional historian. A waste of time!"
"What was his name; this professional historian?"
"Does it matter?"
"Perhaps not, if you would rather consider it confidential. What did he tell you?"
"He said I was wrong; that history only appeared to go in spasms. He said that after closer studies the great civilizations of Egypt and Sumeria did not arise suddenly or out of nothing, but upon the basis of a long-developing sub-civilization that was already sophisticated in its arts. He said that Peri-clean Athens built upon a pre-Periclean Athens of lower accomplishments, without which the age of Pericles could not have been.
"I asked why was there not a post-Periclean Athens of higher accomplishments still, and he told me that Athens was ruined by a plague and by a long war with Sparta. I asked about other cultural spurts and each time it was a war that ended it, or, in some cases, even accompanied it. He was like all the rest. The truth was there; he had only to bend and pick it up; but he didn’t."
Ralson stared at the floor, and said in a tired voice, "They come to me in the laboratory sometimes, Doctor. They say, ‘How the devil are we going to get rid of the such-and-such effect that is ruining all our measurements, Ralson?’ They show me the instruments and the wiring diagrams and I say, ‘It’s staring at you. Why don’t you do so-and-so? A child could tell you that.’ Then I walk away because I can’t endure the slow puzzling of their stupid faces. Later, they come to me and say, ‘It worked, Ralson. How did you figure it out?’ I can’t explain to them, Doctor; it would be like explaining that water is wet. And I couldn’t explain to the historian. And I can’t explain to you. It’s a waste of time."