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Galileo In Your Library

Edward Jason Maxwell

Galileo was a fast learner. He read constantly for many weeks. Only occasionally did I catch him sleeping. And he loved coffee. He told me, in broken English, after I had gotten to know him that mine was the only personal library he could find near his place of origin. He did not like public libraries so much, since they closed when he was in the middle of important thoughts -- often late at night. I didn't know then what he meant by "place of origin." I am still unsure.

           He wanted to be in a home. And I answered all his questions. Maybe I was a bit lonely after my wife and I separated. I hoped I was not delusional

           I accepted it whatever it was.

           It had been two weeks after the separation, and I felt careless to my own well being. When I finally decided to go back to work, Galileo broke in my condo that day and made himself at home. It seemed that he had been watching me. I had noticed him hanging outside of my apartment building for the past couple weeks. He was just a vagrant to me -- except his nose and chin seemed exceptionally distinguished for a vagrant. Galileo kept his head high and was always deep into his surroundings, looking keenly at everything. That is all I remember from the first sightings. When I found him in my library -- I own a fourth story condo in downtown Minneapolis -- I was not stunned at all. How I can say this I do not know -- only that when you are so deep in the throws of depression sometimes even an intruder in your home poses no greater threat than what you are already facing. He even broke my lock to get in. When I got home from work and found an intruder in my library, I just closed the door and walked in, leaving Galileo where he was. He was reading in a few of my old college textbooks. Beside the text book he had my old Latin dictionary laid out.

           Now wouldn't it be extraordinary if this bum knew Latin? When I had seen him in the street he did in fact look like a bum -- old clothes and bad smell. Now, the old clothes were gone -- he had put on my clothes in their place -- but the bad smell remained. Who puts on new clothes without taking a bath? I wondered.

           "Galileo!" he said and he leaned in closer to my face in a greeting with his eyes. He waited for a response.

           "Galileo, huh? Nice to meet you. I must be Copernicus."



           "Yeah, why not?" I nodded my head.

           Suddenly, Galileo's neck seemed to grow a few inches and he leaned back. If I hadn't been so depressed then I might have been interested in that big smile on his face. Could this guy possible help pull me out of this depression? No way I can go back to that woman. Never can I do that.

           Galileo started babbling something.

           Is he now talking to himself? I remember thinking. Galileo was definitely talking, but I couldn't imagine that he was talking to me. He seemed to be reminiscing about something important to him but whatever he was speaking was not close to anything I had ever heard before, but it did sound like a language. He couldn't have made up something so complex on his own.

           My severe apathy was turning into slight agitation. I finally started wondering what the hell this guy was doing in my apartment. Should I call the police? Is he so crazy he might try to kill me?

           That might not have been such a bad thing.

           He stopped talking and saw that I was confused. It did not take him long to divert his attention away from me after that. He was immediately back into the books. I didn't say anything to him. I just watched him a few more minutes. There was a certain charm to the old man.

           My correct and balanced frame of mind had vacated me. I just left him alone to read his books as I went to my bedroom to lie down. I did want him to leave. I really did, but more than that I didn't want to engage myself in a confrontation with a crazy old man. I mean, what if I had to call the cops over to get him out? I was not up to it. Let him wreak havoc as he may.

           I didn't feel so good.

           I must have slept for two days. I didn't notice the time when I awoke, but my first thought centered on work. I bet they called. Don't they know my wife left me?

           I also forgot about Galileo those two days in bed, but when I got up to make some coffee I was quickly reminded of his presence when I heard a loud fart and some more garbled language. He was talking to himself -- still in the library. I noticed that he had gone through my refrigerator and helped himself but all I could find missing were some old, brown oranges that had been setting in there for weeks, probably months.

           Curiously, I walked around the house picking up brown peelings. Galileo was a bum for a reason, I presumed.

           "Galileo!" I yelled. My emotions were distraught. I usually woke up feeling the worst of my depression so there was no telling what I may say or do.

           "GALILEO!" I yelled again with some fervor.

           Galileo appeared in different clothes than when I last saw him. He was having a fun day in my hall closet where I kept a few articles of clothing. It is a shame he didn't understand how unkempt he appeared; my body frame is thin, while Galileo's frame was a little loose around the edges from old age. My clothes were a little tight on him but he didn't seem to mind.

           I noticed a fresh coffee stain on his pants.

           "You bastard," I told him. He just smiled. I didn't know if he understood me, so I pointed to the stain on his pant leg. He dropped the smile and reached out to grab my hand.

           I jerked back. "Don't touch me. I am not in the mood." His face, despite it all, was so pleasant to look at, as if he truly knew about great things when the world and I remained in the dark. I needed a friendly face. But was he really friendly? Was I so desperate to have someone around me that I was willing to let this homeless man stay in my library?

           But how many homeless people knew Latin? I had to get to the bottom of this.

           "Come here man," I said to him as I walked around him and into the library. His book of Latin now set alongside an old tattered book of English that I had never seen before. He must have brought that book with him. Or stole it from someone. Bum. Galileo my ass.

           I walked in the library and made a nice stack of the books he was reading and then handed them to him. "Listen, Galileo, or whoever. I appreciate that you are poor and down on your luck, but you picked a bad time to invite yourself into my house. Not that there is a good time for that sort of thing. But you just must be on your way. I don't know. Maybe you can come back some other time, when I am better, but right now I think I need to be alone a while because there is no telling what I may do." And suddenly the tears flew out of my eyes, like you see in the cartoons, and Galileo reached over with a soft leathery hand and forced my head on his shoulder. He mumbled something that I could never understand.

Week 2. Galileo rushed into my bedroom a week later and shook the frame to awaken me. He showed me a book on Italy that he found in my desk drawer. He was certainly at home now. I just let him be. The previous week he hardly made a sound, although I was distinctly aware of his presence at all times. I don't know if he ate anything; he just stayed in the library and read with hardly a wink of sleep. I allowed him to stay because I was afraid I might kill myself without him being around. There was something strangely comforting about his presence. And none of my friends came around -- not since the fighting started, and then the break up.

           "My country," he said in broken English. I was a bit stunned at first due to lack of sleep. I had stayed up the previous night crying over a pot of coffee and some donuts.

           "You are from Italy? Well, no wonder you can't speak English, can you?" He nodded his head as if he understood me. And the strangeness of his expression.

           He took my hand and rubbed it over a page with a picture of the leaning tower of Pisa. "Pisa," he laughed. "You know of Pisa?" he asked.

           "Yes I once threw up over the edge."

           Before any sense could be made of what Galileo was trying to convey to me, he ran out of the room. I heard a click and then the sound of a newscaster on the TV. He was watching TV? Oh no he will definitely disturb my misery. Then I heard the TV go off and Galileo rustled about. He moved the TV somewhere. Good, take the damn TV you bum. Just a bum, I thought.

           I reached over and unplugged my answering machine. There were eighty-six unplayed messages. So I unplugged the phone, too, and rolled over to try to sleep, knowing that I would just lay in bed for the rest of the day. Maybe I should eat something tonight, something nice before my money runs out, I thought, God, why do I feel so tired?

           (No answer from God)

           Fine. I will go back to sleep. I will think of isolation in space; sometimes that helps me get to sleep -- when I imagine myself floating alone in space or in a space ship. It may be silly. I don't know. Who cares -- it helps.

           Galileo was brewing fresh coffee when I awoke. It must have been midnight. I slept straight through the day without so much as a stir and now my gizzard was bursting. I ran to the toilet and pissed a painful release as I listened to Galileo humming in the other room. What could he be up to? Why do I let him stay here? Is he so comforting? He doesn't offer me any words.

           Maybe that is why I let him stay. He didn't talk. Well, he did talk but not English, but even if he spoke English I bet he wouldn't counsel or preach to me. Just let me be. How many people these days just let you be?

           My dick has shrunk to almost nothing size. Is that what happens when your wife leaves you and you still love her? Well, I did eat her parrot. I know I am crazy.

           A loud boom broke me out of my trance. It was the TV. Galileo found music TV.

           I walked into the library where I saw that Galileo had nicely redecorated the top of my TV with a plant and a mysterious old picture of a man in a deer cap smoking a pipe.

           "Would you mind turning that down Galileo?" I asked him with my hands on my temple. He smiled and turned the knob, at first the wrong way. "Thank you," I told him. "Maybe I should go get some us some wine."

           No, I decided to get back in the bed. I want to die.

Three weeks later and I am now feeling a little better. Not much. I lost my job with the bank, but I hated it anyway. And nobody came around to check on me from the bank; only a couple friends I have known since college that live in the neighborhood. Screw them. I decide I am not going to work for a while. At least until I am close to running out of money. During my unlovely unemployment, I decide to become a drunk. With Galileo. Galileo even sounds like a wino's name.

           I walk into the library and find my partner at it as usual and I ask him if he would like some whiskey. Thinking that his face will light up, he just stares at me blankly for a moment and then asks for some Tyson chicken.

           "Chicken?" I say.

           "Tyson chicken to be precise. I saw a commercial. I have never eaten chicken out of a box."

           I am struck down by his articulate speech. It is as if I went to sleep and Galileo changed into a new man. I am sure he is schizophrenic now; or perhaps he has multiple personalities.

           "Galileo, can I ask you a question and you answer me with the same articulate English. And I do mean English."

           "Certainly," he responds.

           "How is it that you are speaking so well now? I mean, well maybe I shouldn't ask you because it might be embarrassing."

           "Ask me what? No, I am not crazy. I know that is your assumption. I have only just begun to get a grasp of this English language of yours. It has changed a great deal."

           "It has changed a great deal, huh? Well that would tie in to my second question that I will now turn into a statement. You are probably schizophrenic, but that is okay. I am going to get you some Italian wine, Mr. Galileo and a few bottles of barrel whiskey for myself."

           I start off. Galileo says behind me, "Many aberrations of thought must occur within the common man when such high language trickles down to the masses." And he laughs to himself. Or at me?

           "I don't care. I am gonna get tight!" I yell back.

The store down the street is closed so I have to walk around the block. I should have taken my car; and this gives me an idea. Why not take Galileo for a drive? Why not take him out to eat and drink and maybe to see a few strippers?

           Will the real Galileo please put twenty dollars in that stripper's colon?

           I am so glad I am happy again. I don't necessarily feel stable. I mean, if I were to see that girl, I might just pull out my machete, but as long as I don't run into her (and I will do everything I can to go around the places she visits) I might make it through this with only a little damage, hopefully with only a couple of misdemeanors, one broken nose and a big chunk taken out of a my wallet. That would be okay because I know in the long run everything will work out. I will find that perfect wife -- the real one -- and make her pay for being a woman. The rest of her life.

           On that upbeat note I go to Louis's Lickher Store and buy Galileo six bottles of the best red wine in the store (I don't know if it is the best but it is the most expensive at sixty-five dollars a bottle) and for myself I buy five bottles of sour mash (not the most expensive but still very good). I am going to get drunk with a historical legend and with a little luck have the best night in life. I can't remember the last time I got drunk. I have been such a diligent worker and husband for so many years.

           Galileo is once again watching TV when I return but this time he is looking at the back of the set as it plays the local news. Something fascinates him on the back of the set. Dust?

           "Does every home have electricity?" he asks. This is going to be a fun night. I will play along.

           "Sure. Well give or take a few. At least in America. There are many parts of the world that don't have access to electricity."

           "Yes, I know America must be very wealthy. There must be other places. Italy must be its rival."

           "Uh, well sure! Why not. Italy is a wonderful country but no country is as wealthy as America, not at the moment anyways." This is fun.

           I present Galileo with a glass of wine in one hand and then I place the rest of the first bottle in his other hand. He seems to appreciate the wine, but he is at first more interested in the bottle and its label than drinking the wine.

           "Ah, I haven't had wine in centuries." And he delicately sips out of the glass like a connoisseur. "Not bad. Taste a bit off, with a taint, no? I don't know. Maybe wine is different now. It is still very good." He takes a larger gulp this time, like a professional drunk. I could see I had a man of many virtues in my home. I bet I can get some very interesting stories out of him.

           "To Galileo and Copernicus!" I quip and raised my glass. Galileo toasts.

           "I have not been able to find much information about astronomy in your library. Do you have any books that are up to date?"

           "I don't know Galy. Probably not. But there is always the internet. You haven't happened to find your way to my computer I bet."

           "No, I did hear about it on the television but the computer is in your room. And I didn't want to disrupt your supreme laziness."

           Galileo will not get to me. In fact I think that he made a joke so I laugh. "Well you know, Galy that it was a women that upset me so."

           "Yes I know. I once knew of a man that was struck to the soul by a woman, or women, that he was unable to do anything but sleep."

           "Tell me about it Galileo. What happened to him?"

           "He died. He starved to death," he said matter of factly. "Now about this internet. I would love to take a look once you are awake enough for me to proceed."

           His face is so pleasant and friendly that I want to embrace him. "Oh come on! He starved to death? Why didn't he just kill himself? Wouldn't that have been easier?"

           "He wasn't trying to kill himself, my lad; he was too weak to work and if you were too weak to work in my day you better be of nobility or you wouldn't survive more than a month."

           "Well, okay," I say. I decided then and there to buy his story. This is America. We are all consumers of something, so did it really matter? "Will you tell me what you last remember and how you got to be here? I mean, shouldn't you be dead?"

           "As far as I know young man I am dead. I am just as confused as you." He pours himself more wine and drinks it down. "I am supposed to be buried by my father in the Basilica of Santa Croce. Something terrible must have happened. I awoke here. It is fortunate that I did not die here because the first few days I felt pains in my chest from the sight of so many extraodinary things. I also forgot to eat for a long time. That is why I am so thin."

           Galileo did not appear too thin to me.

           "I am very happy to see," he continued. "Pendulum clocks in shops and buildings everywhere. Why do you not have a pendulum?"

           "Well, uh, my wife had a small one she took with her. You will notice that my house is bare. It is that women that almost starved me to death."

           "I see. Let us drink to her riddance then!" He raised his glass in a friendly gesture. "May your next wife keep your stomach and you time devices in sight. You would not want to keep that brain of yours that God has so diligently created a slave to a woman now would you?"

           "Wait, so you learned English in what, a few weeks?"

           "I am Galileo. Do you not know about me?"

           "Yes but even still. Ah the hell! I have one of the most famous scientists as my guest." I give up. We drink some more. I believe that Galileo liked my company. And it did not take him long to finish off his first bottle.

           "Let's go for ride Mr. Galileo."

           His eyes open wide. "You have a machine! Why did you not tell me this before!"

           I wipe my mouth on my sleeve. His excitement is charming. "I didn't know you were interested in machines."

           "Oh well sure I have wondered for weeks how I could catch a ride on one of those machines and all along you had a machine."

           "Are you drunk?"

           "Apparently," he said. "Let's go."

           "Well to the machine it is." And we started out. I stuck a bottle in my jacket on the way out the door, and I watched Galileo carry two fresh bottles of wine with him in his hands. He is not afraid.

           In the car Galileo's eyes are glued on the outside world; he takes particular interest in the heights of the buildings but he never asks me any technical questions -- his eyes seem to make mental notes for further research. He is definitely Galileo, I tell myself. He knows I can't answer that shit.

           If he won't speak I will, "Galy, I used to have a friend who would sell plasma every time he was broke and wanted a drink. I sometimes wished I was like him."

           "Wish you were free like him! Yes, you are indeed smothered by this life, but who is to blame? We are all conditioned."

           "Have you been reading my psychology books?"

           "Psychology. Yes. That is something I have been wanting to talk to you about. You have all these wonderful books on the human mind and yet you have more troubles than any civilization in history. Maybe it is all necessary."

           "Maybe what is necessary?"

           "Well, for an advancing civilization, a world leader, to have a lot of mental defects. Perhaps there is a need for more study of the human mind to catch up with the speed of progress. Well, but I wouldn't know. Let's look at all the fascinating things!" He watches more buildings pass.

           "My god you are a fast reader, too," I say.

           "I am not so much a fast reader as I am motivated by my new surroundings to learn. I assume what happened to me must happen to a lot of people. I would love to meet Pope Paul so I punch him in his jaw!"

           "No Galileo. It doesn't happen. In fact I would say you are the first." I am getting drunk and loving it. This is too good to be true. I could kiss this man.

           I am too excited to know why I am excited.

           "The earth does move. I don't even have to ask," he mumbles under his breathe. "I saw on your television all sorts of strange things. I assumed strange things happen every day. And where is God in all of this. I heard many things that would make men in my day violent."

           "Ah, Galy let's not talk about politics. Let's talk about women. How old are you?"

           "I am more than 400 years old."

           "Ah ha!"

           Galileo laughs with me.

           "I mean how old are you?"

           "Ah, well I am in almost 70 I believe. Much too old for a woman. But my eyesight seems to have improved a great deal from last I remember so maybe my balls have repaired as well!"

           "You would think that if you were going to be reborn again that you would at least have a new set of balls," I say.

           Galileo and I are getting drunk just driving around. I don't know where I am going, but I'm drinking like a fish. And Galileo just keeps asking the questions. I finally have to stop and park my car; his questions are making my head hurt faster than the whiskey can make me think.

           I'm not sure where I am but there are kids everywhere and loud music. I think I hit upon a section of night clubs. Galileo is going to love this; but when I turn around to ask him what he is in the mood for, he has vanished.

           "Galileo! Come here now!" I yell like an irritated mother. Galileo is nowhere to be seen. In fact, he might have gone back to where he came from, I think. Back in the ground? Or should that be: back under the bridge with his bottles of wine?

           I walk around a shoulder of cars and bump into a gang of kids. Our time would have been better spent at home chatting or at a small café or bar doing the same. I hate kids. I even hated myself in college and college kids are the worst.

           After wondering in and out of a few bars I find an isolated spot outside and sit down. Galileo has vanished and here I am sitting outside some college bars with a bottle of whiskey in a paper bag. I have become the bum. My depression returns. I'm thinking about my wife again. We used to come here as kids, and I had driven here without thinking about it. You know how that works.

When I arrive at my apartment I see a light on in my library. I might have left it on but some part of me hopes it's Galileo; yet another part of me will be angry if it is.

           My front door won't open so I beat hard. The lock turns but the chain was put in place. Galileo appears.

           "Come in," he says.

           "Thank you much. May I make myself at home?" Galileo pours me a cup of coffee. He looks at me with a fussy mouth. I think he knows I am thinking about my wife.

           "You were hardly noticing anything," he said. "I got pulled away by a group of rambunctious kids and you walked off in your own world."

           "Yes," is all I can muster.

           "I met your wife. Wicked women."

           My eyes raise to look at him. I hope this is a joke.

           "Well she is nice. Very nice legs. I tried to make a pass on her. Sorry. I was drunk and my hand kept slipping to that little ass."

           I stood up ready to punch him but I am laughing. "You didn't touch my wife!"

           "She isn't your wife any more, is she? Although she was with other girls -- maybe she belongs to another by now?"

           "Stop it! Why are you here?" I don't know if I am angry. I just feel like I should be angry.

           "I told you that I did not bring myself here. I thought you accepted that by now."

           "Oh." I feel like a kid the teacher calls upon but I don't know the answer to the question. I don't really know what to say.

           I am feeling too bad and then he yells, "Stop your moping. You look like an ass! There is too much life here!"

           Galileo walks into the library and slams the door. I walk up to the door and apologize to him but I get no answer. This is awkward. I feel like this man really did live here and I am his guest. I hear some shuffling about.

           "Galileo did you really see my wife?"

           "Of course I saw her," he says through the door. "She looked very nice like I said. Now leave me alone so I can touch myself for a little while."

           Maybe I didn't hear him correctly.

The next morning Galileo is gone. He left a note that says my library has become insufficient and now that he can get around he is going to tackle bigger and better things with his "new set of balls." He added that he will stop by sometimes to look in on me if he has time or if he needs some rest. "You can always find me at the public library -- Galileo."

           I sit down with the note and feel like something has been subtracted from my life, something in addition to my wife. I get up and start to work, because I have set my mind to cleaning my apartment until it sparkles and on going out later to buy a new set of clothes.

About the Author (click here) © 2003 Edward Jason Maxwell, all rights reserved
 appears here by permission

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