Divas and Scientists


I am a prima donna in an opera company in France. The time period isn't entirely clear, but I believe it to be the eighteenth century, as people are dressed in the fashion of that time, with much powder and wigs in evidence. Although, given the sartorial excesses of opera, I can't be entirely sure.

I have a performance coming up within a few hours, and I cannot find a proper dress to wear. I have just turned nineteen, and I'm turning down everything the costumer offers as 'too childish'. I can sense the irritiation of the stage-workers and the other singers, but I'm used to that. I'm also used to being indulged outrageously because of my voice and my popularity.

Finally, a gown is found that just barely meets my fussy standards. It's white satin and lace, with gold trim here and there, a tight bodice and a plunging neckline, but no sleeves. I put it on, but I'm irritated, as bare arms are another thing I've deemed 'childish'.

A much put-upon seamstress creates some attachable sleeves out of a golden metallic-gauze fabric, trimmed with white lace and seed pearls. The sleeves please me mightily and I allow them to be attached to the dress. Now I am ready to perform, and the cast breathes a sigh of relief as the latest tempest-in-a-teacup dissipates.


I am visiting a married couple, a man and a woman, of some slight acquaintance, who live in a large, open-plan, house on the side of a lush mountain.

The woman is in her early thirties. She has a round face, short dark brown hair, brown eyes and skin so pale and smooth I can barely contain my jealousy. The man is in his early forties, with unkempt blond hair reaching to his ears, and a slightly tanned face worn by staying up nights and thinking too hard for most of his life. Neither of them have names. He is a scientist of some kind, and she is a scientist's wife.

The house overlooks a strange city in a valley below them. The city is laid out with geometric precision, the roads neatly describe squares and rectangles - not a curve cna be seen. All of the buildings are widely spaced apart and sit on well tended grounds. Many of these buildings are rather unorthodox, with curved roofs, giant archways and incongrous buttresses. Almost all of them are made of a light-colored material - it's not clear at this distance if it's marble or stucco. Overall, the view reminds me of drawings of "The City of the Future!", circa 1930.

On a table in the couple's living room, there is a model of the city below, painstakingly rendered to a tiny scale. Looking at this model, I can't shake a growing feeling that there is something very wrong with this city, but I can't determine what. I comment that the city itself looks too much like a model, that it was never meant to be inhabited by us humans, with our grubby habits. The scientist's wife laughs, but her smile is brittle and forced. The scientist himself is standing outside on a patio, watching the sun go down over the city.

I'm a little perturbed by the wife's attitude, so I join the scientist on the patio. He's not very talkative, and we just watch the sunset together. The setting sun bathes the city below in a golden light, drenching the pale buildings and making them glow. I comment on the view, and the scientist replies with some non-sequitur and I sense that he, too, is very uncomfortable with my presence.

I glance back inside the house, I notice his wife at her desk, bent over a stack of papers, and I begin to suspect that she is the brains behind their collaboration, but for some reason, he takes the credit. But this is none of my business, so I don't mention it.

I'm getting a little bored, even amidst the unspoken hostility, and I idly wonder if I should make a pass at the scientist. I think he's rather attractive - in a scruffy, hyperintelligent kind of way - but I doubt his wife would be particularly pleased to see us making out on the deck, so I content myself with my imagination.

A few minutes later, the scientist's wife steps outside and tells me rather tartly that, yes, she's the smarter of the two, yes, her husband takes the credit for her work (with her permission) and yes, the city below is Bad News to all concerned. Now would I go home? Perplexed, but unable to impose any longer, or get any more answers, I leave. Given the wife's brusqueness, I spitefully wish I had made a pass at her husband...