Joe and Clarissa wake the next morning and go about their normal routines. Clarissa returns to work at her university, while Joe finishes an essay about the Hubble telescope, briefly recalling both the “glee” felt by ordinary people upon its initial failure and the wonder with which its ultimate success was met. Throughout the morning, Joe feels a sense of “unease” that he can’t quite define. He doesn’t think about Parry’s late-night phone call; rather, he manages to merge the call “with all the trouble of the day before.”
As an intelligent and educated person, Joe has the ability not only to recognize the nuances of science and culture, but to analyze them, as well. Yet his intricate thoughts about the Hubble telescope (and the public response its photographs provoked) can only distract him for so long from the irrational restlessness that he feels.
After finishing the piece, Joe telephones the police and learns that he must attend an inquest concerning John Logan’s death in six weeks’ time. He takes a taxi across town to meet with a radio producer who wants a story on supermarket vegetables, and he surprises himself by telling the producer “the full story” of the balloon disaster. Leaving the radio station, he feels again the “unnamed sensation” from earlier in the morning, and he proceeds to the London Library, where he intends to spend the afternoon researching Charles Darwin’s contemporaries.
Joe’s decision to share the story of the ballooning accident with the producer, almost without meaning to, reveals Joe’s increasing obsession with his own behavior. He can only work through the events of the previous day by retelling them. Accompanying Joe, however—even in the midst of this intellectual work—is a highly emotional (and unidentified) sensation. Joe is not quite able to shake it off.
Joe has in mind a particular new essay: he wants to write about “the death of anecdote and narrative in science.” He believes that “Darwin’s generation was the last to permit itself the luxury of storytelling in published articles.” He recalls a published anecdote in which a dog appeared to engage in strategic thinking, and he reflects on the fact that “the attractions of narrative” had, in that particular case, “clouded judgment.”
Joe’s ability to think abstractly is highly developed, as is his understanding of the history of scientific discovery. The particular historical anecdote he recalls here, moreover, seems specifically related to the tragedy he has just been through. Can a compelling narrative be shaped from what happened, or was it simply a series of random events?
As he works, Joe can hear outside the reading room the traffic in St. James’s Square, and he is further disturbed by the sound of creaking floorboards behind the chair in which he’s sitting. Giving in to the distractions, he glances up from his book in time to see “a flash of white shoe and something red,” as well as the “closing of the sighing swing doors that led out of the reading room onto the stairs.”
Though sharp, Joe’s concentration is not perfect. As the outside world intrudes here, the reader sees the limits of Joe’s ability to lose himself in the rational world of scholarship. The intruding element, the novel hints importantly, appears to be the irrational force that is Jed Parry.
Turning his attention back to his research, Joe fails for a moment to grasp “the prompting of footwear and color,” not yet realizing that what he has seen matches the shoes worn by Jed Parry during the ballooning accident. Instead, he begins to “fret,” and is struck by a sense of “apprehension” whose source he can’t identify. He cannot “stop looking at the door” that closed a moment earlier, and, after a few seconds, he stands and moves into the stairwell then descends onto the street.
Joe’s obsession with the swinging doors illustrates his inability to order his thoughts exactly as he would like. Joe wants to continue his research, but his emotions overpower his reason until he is forced to give in to them. This occurs despite the fact that Joe’s knowledge of what he has seen is, as of this moment, incomplete.
Standing in St. James’s Square, Joe looks around for anyone dressed in the footwear he believes he saw in the reading room: “a pair of white shoes, trainers with red laces.” He sees nothing, but, before returning to the reading room, he replaces a bunch of flowers in the jar from which they have been knocked. In doing so, Joe is righting a makeshift memorial to a policewoman who was murdered on that spot. Though he thinks that this act might bring him “luck,” he realizes simultaneously that he is engaging in a delusion on which “whole religions” have been founded.
Despite his natural inclinations and his scientific training, Joe can’t help but think in supernatural terms, just as he can’t help looking around frantically for something he only might have seen. Yet Joe is also aware that his behavior—especially where the overturned jar is concerned—is delusional. It is in this tension that the reader best sees Joe’s character and values.