The Lessons of History

Dr. Vivorakij was droning on and on about the history of farming implements again.

"And so we can see, by examination of this chart, how the development of the trowel led quite clearly and effortlessly to that of the bulldozer. From one, the other was inevitable. Even if Napoleon had lost Waterloo, the bulldozer would be plowing the fields in Nov'Ukraine even as we speak. Of course, it'd probably be called something else..." He chuckled quietly, as did most of the class. The idea that Nov'Ukraine could ever have been called something else was totally ludicrous to everyone.

Except to Kostiw, of course. His hand shot up. Dr. Vivorakij sighed in exhaustion. The last question Kostiw had asked had ended in pandemonium. He had a knack for finding the weak points in Vivorakij's theories. "Yes, Mr. Kostiw. Your question?"

"Well, sir, it's just this. What if Napoleonhadlost Waterloo? You dismiss it, but it could've happened. And then what? Wouldn't the rest of the world have been thrown into a dark age? Perhaps even the knowledge of the trowel would've been lost! And who knows, Nov'Ukraine might have been called Caucasia, or Georgia, or Turkey, or Mongo-Bongo for all we know. Isn't that possible?"

We all relaxed. This wasn't quite as bad as his suggestion that if the American continent hadn't existed, our ancestors would have been wiped out by Amerinds millennia ago, on a westward drive instead of a southward one. Or if the Indian subcontinent hadn't met up with Asia, Africans would be white. But it was still ludicrous.

Dr. Vivorakij sighed. "Obviously you weren't paying attention earlier, Mr. Kostiw. Observe my earlier diagram." He changed overheads, back to a tracery of rivers on Eurasia. "You may recall the pattern of cod trade? Something the Scandinavians call 'lutefisk', cod softened in lye, is the primary trade item--so many Europeans can't get enough of it. Some strange cultures eat salted sturgeon eggs instead, but lutefisk is a more widespread delicacy.

"Because of the demand for lutefisk, even a fall into the 'Dark Ages', as you so picturesquely describe it, would leave knowledge of the trowel unharmed, because the main lutefisk trade routes are also the ones where the main development of farm implements took place. Not even the barbarians who nearly defeated Napoleon would have dared jeopardize the lutefisk trade."

"But weren't these the barbarians who you said preferred salted sturgeon eggs to lutefisk? Perhaps they wouldn't care."

Dr. Vivorakij was left speechless at that, as pandemonium erupted in the classroom. Finally he dismissed the class.

Kostiw was found dead the next day in the courtyard, strewn with salted sturgeon eggs. He should've known better.

Based on the words: Cod Trowel History Bulldozer

Back to the Four-Word Stories Page...

The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey /