Round by Ken Poyner

The wheel, he thought, was man’s greatest invention. He had no solid reason to believe such. Perhaps the arrow-head was man’s greatest invention. Perhaps the spear. Sewing. The torch. Tanning animal skins. And who was the authority to decide which of all man’s inventions would be the greatest?  He did not officially grant that dignity to himself, but in believing the wheel to be man’s greatest invention, in his way he usurped that authority. If he had no doubt about the wheel, then the authority was his.

Did the wheel predate agriculture?  Animal husbandry?  It was not a material question to him. That the Incas had the wheel, yet used it only on children’s toys and inconsequential confabulations did not bother him. Perhaps other societies had rejected the wheel altogether. It was not his concern. His appreciation was pure.

The neighbors at first thought him a bit daft. As his collection of wheels filled his garage, then snaked out into the yard, the talk amongst them was of zoning ordinances, an appeal to his less tilted relatives. But soon the local news discovered him, came to shoot a sequence on the stash of assorted wheels in his dining room – and, by then, he even had wheels up the stairs to his second story. His near neighbors began to get e-mail and messages and posts asking “Do you live down the street from the wheel man?” or “Is the wheel hoarder your neighbor?”  Some of them were brutally direct; some snaked around and asked more questions than mere appreciation of roundness could call for. A certain degree of notoriety, if not fame, began to attach itself to the locale and its residents. 

A few people from his block were interviewed; some that were not selected for inquiry instead generated their own faux-interviews, posted on dubious social sites their sage observations. People of the wheel were becoming a commodity, a class with an identity: no longer the drab nobodies stranded in Mr.-and-Ms.-Average land, no longer just the unglued overweight people caught in spandex at the Quickie Mart. The neighborhood had a green pin on some maps,

Time, however, was not with them. Once everyone had recognized the novelty, it became, in fact, no longer a novelty. He still collected wheels. He still believed the wheel to be the greatest of man’s inventions. He did not care that the public receded, that he was no longer the subject of theory and conjecture — but his neighbors found the return to the mundane unsettling. Praise or notoriety, it was nonetheless notice. It was a point that could be used to pry open a conversation. E-mail stopped coming. Hard mail no longer filled their post boxes. Social posts declined. Messages referencing wheels ceased. Unsolicited communication lost its boosterism.

With continued silence and calm, the community league called a special meeting. Someone would be elected to investigate the spoke, or perhaps the axle. Possibly the drill press. Which invention did not matter. Everyone would pitch in.