When Timoteo arrived home with milk, bread, bananas, a few other comestibles we need not itemize, he did not go straight in. He laid the bag on the front porch and rang the doorbell. Minutes earlier he was to be seen carrying this stuffed bag along the sidewalk like any other ten year old returning from Sun Yam’s with groceries for his mother. It was expected the woman would, as usual, come to the door to retrieve it, knowing her son had run off to play.
He climbed onto the roof, which was in two parts: one sloped, the other flat, over the garage and rec room. It was the flat roof Timoteo climbed onto. He walked from front to back, aware of the consequences of not stopping. He stepped to the edge; when he reached it he took another step. But he did not plummet to earth, nor did he fly. Instead, he somersaulted, tumbling so far, though not far enough to touch ground, then gaining altitude. In this way he proceeded through the air.
Houses surrounded him. He looked in windows. In one a woman, bent over an ironing board, flattened a pair of pants. In another, smaller, a man with a beard of shaving cream stroked his face with a razor. Timoteo came to a chimney. Smoke poured out of it, gray, curling through air as if to imitate him. In another window a girl sat at a table with mathematics books spread in front of her, one end of a pencil in her mouth. In yet another window Timoteo saw a man in a cycling helmet stand in front of a refrigerator, door open, while he took a head of lettuce, carrots, orange juice, a quart of strawberries, out of a knapsack and stacked them in. He thought of the food he’d left on the front porch of his parents’ house. Had his mother taken it in yet? He passed on before learning what else the man might have bought.
An object came toward Timoteo. Neither curling nor falling nor rising, it simply floated like lead if lead were strong enough to resist gravity. It was not a chimney, a boy, a woman, a razor, groceries or even Sun Yam. It was a fat man dressed in a drab gray suit, whose knees dispensed money. One-, five-, ten-, twenty-dollar bills. His face was utterly devoid of expression, which is to say he really didnt have a face. The money floated by too quickly for Timoteo to grab any. He could only look and float, look and wish. The money kept coming. And the boy and the man floated.
Timoteo thought of Sun Yam’s corner grocery store. He saw himself inside buying groceries, and suddenly wondered why food has to come in a package. The girl closed her books. The cyclist shut the refrigerator door. The man who had been shaving looked out the window while dabbing cologne on his face. A woman stepped out of her apartment wearing freshly pressed pants.
How different things would have been, Timoteo thought, if the whole roof had been slanted and there had been no choice but to slide down it instead of stepping gently off a flat surface. What if money, he asked himself, were an ironing board? How in the world could I buy knowledge. What would I eat if I had to eat off multiplication tables? Young Timoteo felt distressed at his predicament. Floating, he made up rules to console himself for his powerlessness in the face of these questions.
Never jump off a roof, he thought, if you do not know how to earn money. Jumping off a roof is cruel, earning is nice. I am a boy, and I look for something to laugh at so it will keep me floating after I jump. No money, no candy. So what does a poor boy eat? An old man’s knees?
Here’s a rule, I mean a ruler. Here’s a ruler so you can measure yourself. (He spoke to imagined passersby.) See how tall you are, how good, how cruel, or be loyal to the president. The president counts his money, but when there is no president and no money what good are mathematics? You can still measure for the fun of measuring. Here’s a rule: invent and destroy. Here’s another: describe and forget. Exhilaration, the boy thought like a grownup, is mean, it wont let me possess my understanding. I just keep floating and floating and . . .
Some hold the world to be flat. Life, they believe, begins when you step off. Timoteo, these philosophers maintain, is still rolling above our heads. Some day we might look up and see him, as well as the faceless man with money coming out of his knees.
Their opponents say they are dreamers and tell us to ignore them.