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A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison


Bovine savants are an unrecognised phenomenon - in particular amongst bovine savants. So it was with Ermintrude as she stood with the herd of ten other Jerseys in her field, thirty-two gate widths long by ninety-seven-and-a-quarter gate widths wide. She munched on two-hundred-and-forty-one (or was it forty-two? - she recounted with her tongue - definitely forty-one) blades of grass, and looked at the sun as it slowly set towards the far horizon.

She had long since concluded that the earth must be spherical, and had deduced its approximate diameter in gate-widths, although these discoveries had given her no joy. Nor had she felt any inclination to communicate the facts to her fellows, nor to the humans she encountered, nor to any other member of her personal classification of species. It was neither curiosity nor fame that motivated her - the thoughts just came.

Such routine disinterest had also accompanied the conclusions she had drawn from viewing the night sky: The structure of the solar system, the multiplicity of galaxies, the inevitability of black holes…

Such thoughts occupied her mind while chewing the cud or walking to and from the milking parlour. The parlour had introduced her to milking machines and, hence, to electricity, which posed questions about matter at an atomic level. After a while, however, the nature of sub-atomic particles and forces had seemed obvious.

But something was wrong. It did not in any way bother her, but clearly the force which held her to her field, when considered with the properties of matter and her cosmology, was inconsistant with a three dimensional universe.

Her mind had returned to the problem day after day, although, during the past week, her concentration had not been good. The sore mouth and aching hooves had been a repeated distraction.

The gate opened for a landrover to enter the field. Ermintrude gazed through the gateway and along the lane. There was something about the appearance of the lane, segmented by long shadows of trees cast by the late evening light, which sponsored her thought of extra dimensions. A glance at the narrow rifle bore, as the man removed the weapon from the rear of the vehicle, seemed to imply the possibility that these dimensions could be so tightly rolled as to be imperceptible.

Part of her mind undertook the calculations while part obsessively counted the shots. Mirabel fell, then Daisy, then Florence . . . four, five, six, seven, eight, nine . . . ten - there had to be ten dimensions, and the nature of matter had to be something akin, metaphorically, to vibrating strings . . . and that was the only way reality could be, and, furthermore, the universe had to exist rather than not exist because . . . eleven.