by Julie Wornan
It was a bargain that pleased both of them, as a good bargain should. Mishkuli was a young healthy ginger cat who enjoyed her sleep; she often slept 17 hours out of 24 and would not object to doing more.
Her Person, Bartmeyer, was a 33-year-old engineer who regularly slept 6½ hours and would be glad to sleep less. His day job plus his sleep didn’t leave him nearly enough hours to pursue the project of his passion, a philosophical treatise on a subject that had always intrigued him.
Exceptional minds can find exceptional solutions: pale blue eyes gazed into round yellow ones, and both knew that a bargain had been struck. Mishkuli would do Bartmeyer’s sleeping for him. She would sleep 23½ hours out of the 24 and in exchange would receive a saucer of cream and a broiled chicken liver or a piece of salmon each day.
Bartmeyer would not have to sleep at all and could devote each entire night to his writing. They sealed the bargain over a saucer of cream — Bartmeyer drank his from a champagne glass — and Mishkuli purred and curled up on a black velvet cushion on the guest bed in the spare room and settled into an enjoyable sleep.
After a few days, however, Bartmeyer noticed that Mishkuli was no longer waking for her dinner. She was alive and well; when he stroked her ears she would open her eyes halfway, pronounce a soft sound that meant both “I love you” and “Leave me alone!” and go back to sleep. Well, if Mishkuli would rather sleep than eat, that was her business.
But by and by it appeared that Mishkuli was sleeping, not 24 but 25 hours daily! Bartmeyer learned this one day when he inadvertently left his wristwatch near her sleeping cushion, having loosened it to be more comfortable when he sat writing. When he found the watch the following midnight, it displayed 1 am. It seemed that 25 hours had gone by in the space of 24 in the vicinity of the sleeping cat, enabling her to sleep one hour longer.
Bartmeyer verified this by placing various timepieces — the kitchen clock, the alarm clock and others — near the cat. They all advanced in time, usually one hour but sometimes more. Mishkuli actually managed to sleep 28 hours in one 24-hour cycle.
Bartmeyer realized that something quite out of the ordinary was happening, and that it was something more than he could handle alone. He sent out e-mails. The following Saturday at 10 a.m. he received experts from the National Sleep Foundation, the Sleep Research Center, the Cat Specialist Group, the International Society for the Study of Time, the Association for Time Use Research, Universal Watchmakers Inc, the Musée du Temps in Besançon, France, a physics professor specializing in Time and Relativity, and a junior editor from Time Magazine. He had them come all at once so they could pool their expertise, and also so as to cause him the minimum interruption.
The physicist and the time specialists set up very precise instruments near the sleeping cat and soon confirmed Bartmeyer’s observation. They were perplexed, but tried not to show it. Bartmeyer also tried to look cool, but nevertheless asked one of them discretely: “Please, sir, can you tell me, what exactly is Time?”
“What sort of time do you mean,” asked the expert, “Atomic Time, Universal Time, Ephemeris Time, Dynamical Time, Terrestrial Time, Geocentric or Barycentric Coordinate Time or Sidereal Time?”
Another tried to be more helpful: “Time is a linear continuum of instants.”
Another offered, “Time and Space do not exist in and of themselves, but are the product of the way we represent things.”
The Relativity specialist clarified this: “The flow of time is relative. If we agree on the speed of light we must disagree on the measure of time.”
But the junior editor from Time Magazine gave the simplest explanation: “Time is what keeps everything from happening all at once.”
Bartmeyer left the experts alone with the sleeping cat. He could not concentrate on his work, however, and soon began to notice that it was very quiet in the guest bedroom. He tiptoed down the hall and opened the door discretely. The learned gentlemen were all sound asleep in a heap, like kittens.
He lifted Mishkuli gently, fondled her ears and carried her to the kitchen where he set her down next to a saucer of cream and another of salmon. She made a little sound that meant “Thank you” and “Good morning!” stretched voluptuously, ate, drank and washed herself. Then Bartmeyer set her down in the garden, where she pounced on a grasshopper and scampered away across the lawn.
Then the Experts awoke and stretched, some making little sounds that didn’t mean anything at all. Bartmeyer served them strong black coffee, and they trundled out the door, some turning left and some turning right.
Bartmeyer then fell into a profound, satisfying sleep, sprinkled with pleasant dreams in which the taste of cream was prominent, and sometimes the joy of jumping on little bugs. He slept all through the weekend and halfway through Monday, which was a holiday, luckily.
Then he awoke, stretched, and resumed his former life, sleeping 8 hours a night, having acquired some taste for sleep. He abandoned his treatise on The True Nature of Time, having come to realize that he knew nothing whatever about the subject.
And Mishkuli resumed her life as a healthy frisky young cat, sleeping only 12 hours a day on average, at least until she could accumulate enough happy experiences to form a memory base for many future dreams.
Copyright © 2011 by Julie Wornan