The Apple of Newton's Eye by Dan Shea

Friday, July 3, 2015
A man of learning troubled by impotence is driven to discover a new scientific principle in Dan Shea's punny short.

Milly says don't worry it happens to lots of guys, but still I feel emasculated. It's been more than two months now and that kind of thing weighs on the mind. You can try to rationalize something like this - you can hypothesize about all these possible reasons why - but it doesn't make you feel any better in the end. Especially when you haven't come up with a really good reason. Just because it's the Age of Reason doesn't mean that all of a sudden we don't have emotions.

I have emotions - believe me. I feel embarrassment and shame and also - yes - a certain lack of desire lately.

Milly tells me it's normal, especially for men my age. But, rationally, I don't believe her. My heart wants to believe her, but my brain is another story and I need a reason. Because Milly has lots of gentlemen callers and there are lots of gentlemen callers who are older than I am and are still calling on Milly's services. In fact, half of the Cambridge faculty calls on Milly.

The problem is that I feel as if my - let's call it ambivalence - is affecting Milly too. We had a special thing. But ever since this started up it's changed how she looks at me.

Like I'm somehow less: physically less of a person. Which, logically, I know is not true, because I am an object which has mass and takes up a certain amount of space in the physical world, and that hasn't changed.

But somehow it also has.

As a general principle, I don't normally feel embarrassment and shame.

After all, I was knighted by the Queen!


And, sure, I'm not one of those big, burly knights that jousts - the type that girls are always dropping handkerchiefs around. You know the type. Always acting super cool in their armor as they canter around with big lances pointed at each other, as if it's not some big homo-erotic game - two guys running at each other with large phallic instruments, trying to knock each other over with aggrandized erections.

But you should see how the women go mad for it. It's terribly deflating for a guy like me. It makes me feel like writing one of the seminal works on physical science and probably changing the course of human thought forever is no more than something to shrug at.

But the masses don't care. They're absolutely Medieval. It's like the town crier hasn't reached them with word that we're not in the Dark Ages anymore - and at least partially due to my brilliance.

Anyway, Milly seems to get it. She's always so nice and tells me to call on her when I'm feeling less ambivalent.

I sought treatment with a doctor the other week and the jackass told me to eat hemlock, as if hemlock wasn't fucking poisonous. I was like, ever heard of Socrates? And this guy - this doctor - says, "Socra-who?" And I said to myself, well, this is just perfect. It's the Age of Enlightenment and yet still this guy's still in charge the next time the plague rolls through.

Milly tells me how proud of me she is. I bring her newspaper clippings to show her about all my honors and my knighthood. She's always very impressed and goes straight for my pants, which used to make me very happy. But she's also illiterate and so when she told me to bring her an engraving of me jousting now that I'm a knight I was like, Yeah, sure.

And I hate to admit it, but I did. I bought one of those cheap engravings in the market and she held it up to her bosom and then went straight for my pants.

I wonder if she's told any of the other professors. I feel like John Locke has been looking at me funny in the faculty lounge. God help me if this ever gets over to France and Voltaire finds out.

I need a reason. I need to know why.

So a few months ago I began work on a series of experiments and most of these experiments involved my penis. I won't go into too many details other than to say that I noticed something strange and developed a theory which I've decided to explain to Milly.

"You see, it's this physical law of the universe that's the problem," I say.

"What's the universe got to do with your johnson?" she asks. She's a very bright girl for someone with no education. And then she asks, "Have you tried the hemlock?"

"No - no, darling, you see it's not about me. Or you - it's not about you either. I still find you ravishing, darling, and seriously. But it's just that there's this law of the universe that I've just only recently discovered while doing some very scientific experiments in my lab."

"Is that right?" she says.

"You see, there's something - some force - that pulls things toward the ground."

She looks a little confused. So I say: "You know, darling, it's like when you loosen my trousers, and they fall to the ground. Don't you see?"

Milly loosens my trousers and they fall to the ground. She looks very surprised and covers her mouth and screams, "I've never noticed that before!"

"Yes," I say.

"Is that why it won't point at me anymore?"

"Yes," I say. "The laws of the universe have made it so."

"It sounds grave, Izzy, dear."

"Please, call me Sir Izzy. And, yes, it's very grave."

"And nobody knows about this?"

"No - I've only just discovered it."

"Well, if they all stay itty-bitty like that and point at the ground then this is really going to affect my business," she says.

About a week later, I see Locke in the faculty lounge. He comes over to me and says, "Sir Isaac, I hear you've discovered a new universal law. Although I'm not quite sure how universal it is!"

"Oh!" I say, a little taken aback.

"Milly says you've called it the Grave Itty-Bitty?"

"What? No!" I say, although really I shout, based on the reactions from the people sitting around. After all it is faculty tea time and I appear to have used my outdoor voice. "That poor, simple Milly must have misunderstood."

"But she said-"

And that's when it hits me.

"No," I say, "you see, it's called - well, it's called Gravity - and it's what gives us and everything around us weight. It's what causes things to fall."

"You don't say!"


"And how did you come to this realization?"

"Oh! - well, it's a funny story," I say.

"Do tell! Do tell!"

"You see, I was doing some light afternoon reading." I pause and look around. "Actually, it was out in the courtyard right over there under the appletree. And - well - an apple fell and hit me on the head!"

"An apple!" Locke shouts.


"Right on the head!"


"Well," Locke says, patting me on the back and giving a rather wry smile, "that's one for the history books."


  1. Hilarious and well constructed, with good characterisations. Thank you so much,

  2. Excellent. Just enough foreshadowing to let you know where it was going and still rewarding when you arrived.

  3. Witty, playful...very post Restoration Com. I like the idea of the Age of Reason presenting a threat to our emotions...Locke, Voltaire?...surprised Pepys doesn't pop up, plenty of pun possibilities there. William Harvey - circulation of the blood...the forerunner of Viagra but he comes quite a bit before Izzy though...maybe one could somehow link the two...
    I can just see the beauty spots, smell the wig powder...
    A real fun read!

  4. What a fun read! Light relief after reading some of the more serious stories. It's great to see the variety of talent coming through in short-story writing these days. Yours was clever, too. Well done!