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X-ray analysis reveals hidden composition under iconic portrait of the Lavoisiers

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X-ray analysis reveals hidden composition under iconic portrait of the Lavoisiers


The French 18th-century chemist Antoine Lavoisier is a complicated historical figure. Scientifically, of course, he is an undisputed giant, helping usher in the chemical revolution as the field shifted from a qualitative to a quantitative approach, among many other achievements. He was also a wealthy nobleman and tax collector for the Ferme Generale, one of the most hated bodies of the Ancien regime as the French Revolution gained momentum. Those activities added to his fortune, which he used to fund his (and others') scientific research and to foster public education. But it's also why he ran afoul of the revolutionaries in power during the infamous Reign of Terror; they beheaded both Lavoisier and his father-in-law on the same day in 1794 as "enemies of the people."

Something of that complexity is evident in a new scientific analysis of the famous 1788 portrait, now housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, of Lavoisier and his wife, Marie-Anne, by the Neoclassical painter Jaques-Louis David. The painting shows husband and wife posing with a collection of small scientific instruments—a tribute to their intellectual endeavors.

But cutting-edge analysis techniques have revealed that David originally painted a different version, without the scientific accoutrements, depicting the couple as more typical French aristocrats. He cleverly obscured the underpainting in the final portrait, most likely in response to the growing backlash against the aristocracy, according to a recent paper published in the journal Heritage Science. As the authors wrote in an accompanying online article for the Met:

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"röntgen" and "rem" are 20th-century physics terms that mean "no trespassing."
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3 public comments
70 days ago
> eV - *definitely* don't shine that in your eye

70 days ago
Wow, amazing read
71 days ago
It's been a while since I laughed that hard at an xkcd
71 days ago
"röntgen" and "rem" are 20th-century physics terms that mean "no trespassing."

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A generation that grew up with Google is forcing professors to rethink their lesson plans

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09/17/21 PHD comic: 'The COVID-19 Virus Explained'

Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham
Click on the title below to read the comic
title: "The COVID-19 Virus Explained" - originally published 9/17/2021

For the latest news in PHD Comics, CLICK HERE!

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Pi Wifi Testing stack… a first?

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How do we test wireless for a classroom? The only way I have every been able to really test wireless has been to get a bunch of computers in a room and do some testing.
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Tejvan Pettinger, Christ Church in the mist (shared through CC license)

This is a work of fiction. It has been originally published in Aesthetic: A dark Academia Anthology, edited by Ivana Sanders. Check it out for more stories with a dark academia aesthetic, for young adult and new adult readers.

First Meditation: Time

Dear Unknown Fellow Student,

I address these Meditations to you. I’ve never kept a journal before. I use a notebook, rather than my laptop, because I want you to find it, you, the next inhabitant of my small room in Christ Church College.

When you read these Meditations, I will likely be expelled from Oxford and maybe worse, in prison. 

Yet at this moment, I am writing, seated behind my desk, stashing the notebook under the faded desk mat once I’m done.

Two moments matter here: you, finding—then reading—this notebook, me writing in it, allowing the self-loathing I have pushed to the back of my mind to finally engulf me.

Which of these moments is the true moment? In my Metaphysics class I have learned that there are two philosophical theories to account for the nature of time. Either things really happen in time, so, when something’s over, it is truly gone. Or else time is illusory: past, present, and future are all equally real. It’s just our experience that differentiates between them.

If the first theory is correct, there will be an end to my strange in-between state. One day, policemen or junior deans will be knocking at my door, and I will feel a flood of relief as I am taken away to await trial. There will be an end to my suffering. On the other hand, if the second theory is correct, my mental torment stretches on into a timeless eternity. Each day is like a series of glass jars on the shelves of a cabinet of curiosity. One of them encapsulates, like a frozen snow globe, that fateful day when I lost my brother.

That fateful day when I lost myself. 

Second Meditation: Ghosts

Do you believe in ghosts, Dear Unknown Fellow Student?

Being from a respectable Catholic family, I used to think ghosts were silly. But all that changed three months ago. You can’t just disbelieve what your eyes plainly tell you. 

I first caught a glimpse of my dead twin brother Cillian one night when I returned to College late. I was walking through the cool twilight of Tom Quad, mist emanating from the neatly-trimmed lawn and the central fountain, when I saw a tall, dreadlocked figure, of my height and size. His face was turned away.

With a lump in my throat, and fighting a sense of ridicule, I called out, softly “Cillian? Is that you?”

He ignored me, but slowed his pace, strolling on through the Dining Hall’s entrance. I followed him with an equal sense of dread and hope, but he was nowhere to be seen.

A few days later, I saw him in the dead of night. 

I woke up, my limbs heavy with sleep paralysis, I felt his full weight on the mattress, ghost though he was, as he sat on the side of the bed. His dark eyes, otherwise keen and perceptive now had a milky glaze. He put his left hand to his mouth and bit his nails and kept on staring at me. I had to prevent myself from biting my own nails. Such a nasty habit we both had, my brother and I.

As he withdrew his hand I saw how raw the tops of his fingers looked. A trickle of blood ran by his ring finger.

“Stop that,” I cried.

  “Patrick,” he breathed, wordlessly, “You ought to be where I am now, in Hell where everyone stalks around like a shadow, where everyone is forgotten.”

As I became fully awake, he shifted, grew pale, and blended into the wood paneling of my room.

Third Meditation: Skepticism

Dear Unknown Fellow Student,

I ruminate a lot, it’s the Catholic guilt that nibbles at my soul. Many Oxford students, with their patent shoes worth more than my entire wardrobe, profess to self-loathing, but this is merely a pose. I really loathe every inch of my being.

Cillian wasn’t clever enough to get into Oxford. He was “studying” in some trade school in Birmingham, and managed to even drop out of that. Next thing we knew, he was squatting in a ruined Victorian house next to a boarded-up factory in Birmingham.

 I, Patrick, was always the clever one, the better part of the Gyamfi twins. As kids we were as inseparable as we were identical, and always up to mischief. At the age of fourteen, I decided to become serious and make something of myself. I earned three top grades in my A-levels. No-one at our school, located in a rather dismal, dreary part of Birmingham, had ever done this well. That’s how I got into Oxford, to study Philosophy.

Earlier today, I met Dr Graham for my tutorial lecture on Epistemology, and I had to remind myself that I am in fact the clever one. The low afternoon sun slanted through the tall windows in Dr Graham’s study, illuminating the many shelves of books, their spines grown pale with wear, dust, and sunlight.  I tried to ignore Dr Graham’s skeptical eyebrows while reading the final sentences of my tutorial essay. I had to put in active effort to prevent my voice from trailing upward like a question, that annoying vocal fry I’m cultivating away, together with my previous accent, that unwholesome mix of Irish and British Midlands.

“Well, Mr Patrick Gyamfi” (it’s not a good sign when Dr Graham addresses one by one’s full name) “I am afraid this essay just doesn’t work. You don’t quite capture the full extent of Descartes’ skepticism. To be a genuine skeptic, you must feel it.”

He gazed at me with benevolent blue eyes through small spectacles, and paced his small study. “Think harder: René Descartes, our seventeenth-century philosopher, is wondering whether he’s awake or asleep. Is he sitting in his dressing gown, writing, or is he in fact asleep lying undressed in his bed? Or is there perhaps an evil demon that plays tricks on him and none of his experiences are real? If it’s any help, try to think of a moment where you were unsure whether you were awake, or wondering if your experiences are real.”

Am I being tricked by an evil demon? Who knows? If so, he has a terrible sense of humor.

 As for dreaming, my dream-world has not yet caught up with reality.

Cillian is still alive in them. I meet him in Birmingham in our old haunts. I feel nineteen again, rather than a thousand years weighing down on me. Cillian’s easy face broadens into a smile as he sees and hugs me. “What’s up bro? How’s Oxford treating you?”

In my dreams, we are together. I’m holding bottles of spray paint as Cillian is working on some great graffiti project. The boy had talent, but nowhere near enough to become the next Banksy, which is probably why he became a good-for-nothing.

As a black cab speeds by, I feel the surge of rebellion that maybe Da’s driving it, and that he’ll come out, and I can hear my brother saying, “Da’s going to be raging!” We test Da’s love for us to the limit.

But then I realize that this is impossible. Da retired early, some years ago, due to ill health. Nowadays, he always sits home, smoking in his smoky kitchen, solving sudoku puzzles.

At that point, I realize it’s doubly impossible that we are together, because Cillian is dead. That causes me to wake up.

The sense of dread hits me almost instantly: Cillian is really dead, and I killed him.

Fourth Meditation: The Consolation of Philosophy

Dear Unknown Fellow Student, what is your area of study?

Mine’s Philosophy.

An ambitious choice. Over-ambitious, perhaps. Only wealthy people can afford to study a frivolous, useless topic such as Philosophy. Also, what’s a black Irish boy who grew up in Birmingham doing in Oxford? When these doubts attack me, I tell myself: I belong just as well as any posh kid with a double-barreled surname. I love the study of philosophy. It consoles me.

I saw Cillian again this morning. I did my daily morning walk at Christ Church meadows just before daybreak, the cool pink light blending everything together into a delicate late winter lacework. A dappled deer blinked at me with large, brown eyes, then jumped away into the thin winter undergrowth. I glimpsed him in the mist.

If I were to speak to anyone of Cillian’s visitations, people would tell me to seek therapy. “The poor lad’s still overcome with grief,” they would say. Old Tom struck seven, the resonant distant bell distorted and flattened by the mist, so I headed back to College for breakfast.

 My phone buzzed.

A message from Sophia: “Hey Pat! Just a brief message to say I’m back from Barcelona. I returned to Bristol late last night. I’m coming to Oxford tomorrow by train to come and see you.”

Sophia is my girlfriend.

We met the summer before we went to uni, she went to Bristol, I chose Oxford. The last few months, we have been making it work long-distance as she was on a study exchange program in Spain.

I replied, slightly terrified, “Hi Sophia! Glad you are back. But tomorrow’s not a good time. Can we chat over Skype and pick a time that would suit better?”

As I approached the College, my phone buzzed again. I stared out at the meadows straight into the face of a ruminating long-horned cow.

 “Negative, Pat. You’ve been avoiding me. I understand that you need some space to process your grief, but it’s been nearly four months now. I’m not going to let you wallow in it anymore. I will come tomorrow.”

I felt the squeeze of panic in my stomach.

I typed, “I’m not sure I’ll be in tomorrow.”

The buzz in reply was almost immediate: “This won’t do Pat. I’m coming tomorrow.”

 How am I going to face her?

As I spun around to make my way to the dining hall again, I could see him quite clearly now. Standing on the opposite river bank, shrouded in the dissipating morning mist, Cillian stood with his hands in his baggy trouser pockets, a smirk on his face, as if he were saying, This is on you. I’m sure you can deal with it.

Fifth Meditation: Authenticity

 I’m busted. It had to happen sooner or later. So, I’m going to let you in on it too, Unknown Fellow Student.

Sophia came to meet me at Oxford station. It was a Wednesday morning, past nine. I recognized her instantly as she descended the staircase in her long winter coat, her blond hair tied into a severe ponytail.

She made no attempt to hug me, or (God forbid), kiss me, but instead kept some distance as she scrutinized me. “Pat,” she said, after an awkward silence, “You don’t look too bad. How have you been?”

We went to a café close to the station that serves lemon cake, properly brewed tea, and hot cocoa.

I sipped from my Earl Grey.

Struggling to make conversation into the silence we had both lapsed in, I began, “So, how was your stay in Barcelona? Did you … learn a lot of Spanish?”

Sophia gazed at me across the table, and then said, deliberately, “You are not Pat.”

She put down her latte and looked at me, “You must be his twin brother, Cillian.”

“Whatever makes you say that? Don’t be ridiculous,” I mumbled.

“No, I’m sure of it. I can definitely tell you are not Pat. I already doubted it was you when we Skyped, but I couldn’t be sure. But now, face to face, I know. You are not Pat.”

I stared downward. “You are right. I am Cillian,” I admitted.

Just speaking these words, I felt a heavy weight lifting from my shoulders.

I am Cillian. I am Cillian. That is my name. Patrick’s dead. Oh my God, what am I doing?

“It’s Patrick then, who is dead?” she asked.

I managed to whisper, “He is dead. He’s gone. I’m sorry.”

Her eyes widened, as if she knew right from the moment she saw me but only now believed it. In a soft voice, she asked “Why? Why did you do it? Who else is in on this charade?”

“No one else knows,” I said.

In terse, unadorned terms, I explained to her why it did it, and what had happened. My justification was noble, selfless, even. Patrick was the better twin. Patrick was the one who did our father proud, with his A-levels and his Oxford education. If someone had to die, it had to be Cillian, that good-for-nothing.

“So, you just decided to steal his life?” she asked, tears welling up in her eyes, “It never occurred to you to tell anyone about this?”

“I couldn’t. Honestly. I tried. I waited for the right moment.”

I tried my best to keep it together. The other patrons must be thinking she was breaking up with me. I could feel their sympathetic eyes upon me, feel them think: Poor guy, at least she broke up with him in person.

She handed me a paper tissue, and said “Look, Cillian, I am not going to snitch on you, given the circumstances. But I need some time to think. I can’t just sit here having coffee with you as if nothing happened, while I just learned my boyfriend died. Why did you do it?”

She shook her head, not in a condescending way, just in a sad way.

 Sorry, Sophia.

Dear Unknown Fellow Student, are you authentic? Do you study at Oxford because that’s your true heart’s desire, or only because others expect it from you? I’ve been inauthentic. I’ve erased Cillian off the face of the Earth.

I’m Patrick now. Pat. The clever one. The better twin. I loved him to bits, but boy, was he arrogant and sanctimonious. He believed he could make a carbon copy of himself in me, that he could replicate his success story in his twin.

As I sat in my small student room, processing my meeting with Sophia, the sense of dreadful anticipation finally lifted, I felt anger rise within me. “I am not one of your little projects, Pat! You shouldn’t try to fix me!”

Oh, the irony that he should have succeeded!

I continued venting, though the ghost was nowhere to be seen. “Yes, Pat! You should be proud of yourself! You managed to do it. I’m here now, in Oxford as you wanted! I’m doing everything you want from me. Now please just leave me alone!”

My anger was met with silence.

I managed to calm myself down, cried some more, and then took the notebook you are reading now, Unknown Fellow Student, to help me process what has happened.

Sixth Meditation: Death

I owe you, Unknown Fellow Student, an account of how my brother Patrick Connor Gyamfi died at the age of nineteen, through my fault.

It started as an innocent game, or rather, a bet.

I had dropped out of trade school, and unsure what to do next with my life, had decided to squat in a boarded-up house next to an old, out-of-use factory in central Birmingham. There were four of us living there: Ulrike (a German anarchist activist), two English guys a bit older than me named Jacob and Matthew, and then me. It wasn’t a drug house or anything like that. We went in and out clear-eyed. Life was pretty good. We mostly minded our own business.

 Da loved me and had stopped criticizing my life choices. He’d say things like “Whatever makes you happy.” Easy for him. But Pat wouldn’t hear of it, oh no! My brother would take the train to Birmingham regularly and come to lecture me about the benefits of studying, we’d always meet near the railway station.

“It may work for you, but that doesn’t mean it works for me,” I said. “You come here in your nice expensive suits (how did Pat afford them? I have no idea) and lecturing me in your Oxbridge accent about how I’m wasting my life. Step into my shoes and see what it’s like to be me.”

One day, Pat stood knocking at my door. He looked around my dilapidated, obscure digs with clear distaste—the boarded-up windows, the old frayed couch, the unmatched chairs, the many cans of beer, and the box with shriveled up falafel on the coffee table. Ulrike lay slumped in a corner, unresponsive as she often was during that part of the day.

He said, “If only you put your mind to it, you could have been at Oxford too, Cillian. It’s not that hard. Brilliance is overrated. Brilliance is just some shit white people tell themselves to feel good about their unearned privilege. If you put in the effort and the work, you can do what I did.”

“Well, it’s a bit late for that, isn’t it?” I objected, surveying my ramshackle surroundings, as Ulrike stirred briefly from what seemed like a perplexing dream.

“Nonsense, Cillian. It’s nonsense to think that your life is basically set at age nineteen,” Pat said. “You don’t allow yourself to think what’s possible for you, what you can achieve if only you set your mind to it.”

That’s how we got to the bet. We should step into each other’s shoes, switch places, like we used to do when we were little kids and wanted to trick the teachers. Just for a month. Pat would write my tutorial essays and coach me how to be an Oxford student. I suggested that I would teach Pat how to live my life. He laughed at this, and said in his usual condescending manner, “Sure you can teach me the first principles of anarchy and squatting.”

If I wasn’t discovered, then I agreed to try to study again, or find a steady job. If I failed, in spite of a good-faith effort, then Pat promised never to lecture me again. That was the deal.

Why did I consent to this?

If I hadn’t, Pat would still be alive.

Fourteen days into our switchover experiment, a fire broke out into the old Victorian house at night. The inquest didn’t resolve the cause of the fire. It might have been Matthew, our designated handyman, trying to fix the faulty electric wiring. Oh, how the newspapers relished in it. They love the idea of instant retribution, their websites cluttered with images of the bright blaze against the dark blue sky, and vivid descriptions of the inhabitants, implying that our defective characters, rather than faulty wiring, had killed us.

Three of the squatters, including my brother, perished in the fire. Matthew, who probably caused it, was out at that moment.

My home gone up in flames, and unwilling to burden Da further, I had nowhere to go, so I went back to Pat’s room in Christ Church College.

Honestly, Unknown Fellow Student, I was going to own up. I was going to tell everyone.

But as I left my room and went to the halls, still in shock from phone calls, and messages and reading the papers online, I was met with such an outpour of support. People who had barely ever looked at me in the dining hall now suddenly put their arms around me in sympathy. We held a candlelight vigil that night. It was all very moving. I was in a daze. This strange identity confusion became an integral part of my experience of the first shock of grief. But I didn’t stop studying, though I had no Pat to coach me. I found comfort in the abstract topics, far away from the confused mess that had become my life.

Believe me, I wanted to straighten things out.

At the funeral, I saw Da’s mournful gaze, his unfocused eyes staring at the grave in unadulterated grief. Then he looked at me, really looked at me like he hadn’t done for a long time and said, “Patrick! My son! At least I still have you.”

There and then, I decided I couldn’t tell him.

There is no use for Cillian. The better twin should survive. Patrick has a bright future ahead of him. He has talents and brilliance. I pushed away my grief, I filled the huge bottomless pit in my stomach by studying late into the night. Pat was only a year and a month into his Philosophy course. I could still catch up, if only I put in the work. I worked relentlessly, I drove myself hard, I lacked Patrick’s brilliance but I could make up for it with gut and drive.

And I found that I loved philosophy. I loved the puzzles. I loved how it consoled me and helped me to live. 

When Sophia found out, I told you, Unknown Fellow Student, and I also decided to tell Da.

I went to see him in our home in Birmingham. He said “Just let yourself in,” as I came into the tiny kitchen where he was seated as usual, surrounded by the blue haze of smoke, eyes downcast as usual, staring at a sudoku, a pencil limp in his hand. 

When I told him, he calmly said that he had known it all along.

“Cillian,” he said, speaking my name tenderly, musically almost, “Cillian, my son. I knew it was you! Did you think I would no longer be able to tell my sons apart?”

“Then why pretend?” I asked “why didn’t you tell me you knew?”

He sighed. “I am sure you must have had a reason to take Patrick’s place. I didn’t want to interfere.”

That same evening, I returned with the late Birmingham train. I lay in bed, tired, weak, restless. The ghost floated beside me, quite close by, glazy eyes fixed on me. “So, Cillian, the game is up. You finally admit you are not me,” he said.

“Pat, I am sorry. I didn’t want to steal your life. I didn’t. I wanted to honor your legacy.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it. It’s awfully convenient for you to “honor my legacy,” as you put it,” the ghost said, a hint of melancholia and sadness in its demeanor.

I pleaded, “I’m making it, Pat. My tutorial essays are going well.”

Pat’s ghost now looked somber, more somber than usual, before it disappeared.

Seventh Meditation: Closure

Do you know, Dear Unknown Fellow Student, what it’s like to be haunted?

From my limited viewing of horror movies, I was led to expect that my main feeling would be fear—the tightness in your stomach as the specter appears. However, I now know that it feels more like dread and weariness, being terrorized rather than terrified. You look upon the ghost much like a victim sees a stalker. What you wish most of all is that they’ll go away and leave you alone.

 In spite of my pleas and begging, Pat doesn’t relent, while study, read and try to get to grips with all this difficult material for my tutorials. He lectures me on optimal study methods, on how to write a proper tutorial essay, on John Stuart Mill, on navigating the complexities of being a minority student.

“Oh Pat, please leave me alone!” I groaned as I put the pillow over my head to try to block out the noise, “I told you, I got this. Stop coaching me!”

Ghosts need closure. I needed closure.

Because of this, I decided to see Matthew Kidd, the sole survivor of the fire at our squat. I texted him, and he agreed to meet me in a café near the Birmingham Art Gallery.

The café was full and cluttered, the only free table for two was located very close to the entrance. As Matthew walked in, and I watched that pale, disheveled figure in the hoodie scanning the place to find me, I felt a rush of nostalgia for my old life that was now gone. We shook hands. There was no way I could plausibly ask him how he had been after he lost his home. He wasn’t at the funeral.

“You must be Patrick,” he said, “My God, you look exactly like him. Cillian, I mean. I knew he had a twin brother, but you guys are so eerily alike. It’s uncanny.”

I smiled. “We heard that all the time.”

After we ordered drinks at the bar I began, “I need some closure. You’re the sole survivor of the fire. I wonder if you could shed some light on … what happened?”

A server brought our drinks. I took a small cup of Twining’s green tea from her tray. Matthew downed his espresso, and said, “I was out clubbing that night, so I have no idea what happened. I told the coroner all I know already during the inquest,” he paused, then added, “I’m awfully sorry about your brother, Patrick. Cillian was really nice. Everyone liked him.”

“Oh really?” I said, my curiosity and vanity getting the better of me, “I didn’t see him all that often while he lived with you. How was he, while he was living with you?”

Matthew fixed his gaze on me, and said, thoughtfully, “He was so sweet and easy-going. Humble, and hard and exacting on himself, but very generous with others. A great loss.”

We sat so close to the entrance, and with lots of patrons coming in and leaving, I suddenly felt cold, and clasped the small cup of tea in both hands.

“But you probably didn’t come to see me to hear me eulogize your brother,” Matthew said.

“Well,” I began, unsure how to continue, “Cillian mentioned to me when he was living there, that there might have been a problem with the electric wiring.”

After a brief silence, Matthew said, “It’s interesting you mention that. Cillian all of a sudden got it into his head to clean up our place. He fixed the loo, we had a leaky toilet that was running for months, but now he wouldn’t rest before it was repaired. He insisted on tidying up all the time. It was really weird. He changed overnight. Like there was something really terrible weighing him down. Like he was carrying the weight of the world’s trouble on his shoulders. And he used to be so happy, you know, so innocent, not the brooding type. He also insisted on changing the fuses, though I told him that was a bad idea.”

This was getting uncomfortable. I said, “Ah my brother had his ups and downs, he could be unpredictable like that.”

“Of all of us living in that house, I knew the most about electric wiring,” Matt went on, looking ever more pensive, “The wiring in that house is so old, fragile. If you put circuit breakers in that are too resistant, the wiring might catch fire before the fuses trip. For this old wiring you need delicate fuses that trip easily. Wait a minute… Do you think that he would’ve gone ahead and changed the fuses anyway?”

At that moment, the door of the café flew open, letting in a gust of cold wind, startling us both. The server walked up to it and closed it, mumbling, “It keeps doing that, sorry.”

I said, “Maybe. It’s possible. My brother always wanted to fix things, always wanted to make things better.”

Matthew said nothing, but looked at me in blatant disbelief. We talked about less important things, and said polite goodbyes.

Eighth Meditation: Exorcism

My latest tutorial for Epistemology with Dr Graham went well. At the end of it, he got up from his armchair, beaming at me, “Excellent, Mr Gyamfi, most excellent,” (it is a good sign when Dr Graham uses one’s last name only.) “You finally understand Descartes.”

He leaned forward, putting his hand over the white skull of the phrenological bust on his desk. “Skepticism is all about feeling, about the full weight of not knowing. About the ambiguity!”

I sat back and felt rather pleased with myself. In a low, conspiratorial voice, Dr Graham went on, “You know, Mr Gyamfi, I have to admit I was worried about you. You always struggled in our tutorials and when your brother died… The senior tutor got worried you might drop out. But now, as we are approaching the end of Hilary term, you’ve really turned around. I think you have a great talent for philosophy.”

That evening, when Pat’s ghost visited again, I was ready to meet him. I lay in bed, seemingly the hapless victim, but I was fully dressed beneath the thin sheets, and had my stake (so to speak) at the ready to pierce my Nosferatu.

When ghost Pat finally had come to the end of a long soliloquy about studying hard and life in Oxford, I said quietly, not lifting my head from the pillow and lying perfectly still, “You caused it.”

“Caused what?” the ghost asked.

“The fire,” I said. “Matthew told me you caused it. You can’t deny it. You shouldn’t have changed the fuses.”

“Changed the fuses?” Pat echoed. He seemed genuinely at a loss.

A new idea came to me. I speculated, “One thing I never understood, really understood before I found myself in this same situation, is how difficult it all must have been. How heavy that weight of responsibility must have been for you, all our expectations to succeed. All those naysayers saying that someone like you can’t make it. And then, the fear that they’ve been right along, the dread that you must do better than everyone else, just so that the professors think you do well enough. Tell me truly, Patrick, was it really an accident? Or were you looking for a way out?”

Patrick stood silent, his shape shifting and contorting now, blending in and out of the shadows of my dimly-lit room. 

“It wasn’t an accident, was it?” I said quietly.

I tossed aside the sheet, got out of bed and now stood face to face with him, me fully dressed in my jumper and jeans, him in the pale ghostly shrouds. No longer am I looking into a mirror when I look at him. There’s an unbridgeable chasm between us, the chasm of life and death.

I said, with all the confidence and courage I could muster, “Please let go of me, and leave me in peace. I’m not a bad student, it turns out. Today, I have been told I have talent, and I’ve also learned that you, of all people, were struggling.”

The ghost flickered briefly. He said, softly now, “I am the clever one. You know that, Cillian, I am the better twin. You’re just an impostor.”

I said, “Be that as it may. You are dead now, and there’s precious little you can do about it. Also, I am more resilient than you are. I can carry the weight of this responsibility, I can carry the burden to succeed.”

“Suppose I leave you be. What will you do, left to your own devices? What are you going to do with your life?”

I thought, and replied honestly, “I don’t know yet. I need to become Cillian again. But in order to be Cillian again, a better Cillian, I need to still be Patrick for a little while. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Ghosts cannot give blessings. So, don’t expect me to give you my blessing,” ghost Patrick said.

“I am sorry I stole your life. I didn’t do it on purpose. But our bet wasn’t supposed to last forever,” I said.

“If you’re sure about it, if you’re sure you can do without me. This is your own responsibility and at your own risk. I still resent you for stealing my identity.”

And then, for a very brief instance, so brief it was easy to miss and perhaps I had imagined it, a smile flickered across his face.

With that, Patrick Gyamfi finally disappeared from my life. And so, Dear Unknown Fellow Student, I am ending this journal. I have some hopes I will make it. We will see if I do. If I do, the sole audience for this work will be me. If I won’t, then perhaps, another human being, somewhere, will understand why I did what I did.

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