The universe ends at 7:42 on a Tuesday morning, at the end of June, when the raspberries are still only little white fists clenched against a late chill.
This universe goes dark patch by patch—though there are already vast swaths of black, all the gaps that have never been filled in. This universe has a single planet; plenty of stars, though all but one appear at a great remove. Mostly the universe is contained to a few patchy regions of North America. It has no North Pole but that represented in encyclopedia pictures, no Brazil or Luxembourg or Tunisia except the sanitized versions in glossy travel magazines and sweeping romantic films. The Eiffel Tower exists here, but only as a brass figurine, a copy of an artifact from another, proximate universe.
The adjacent universe sends out a transmission. It will never be received. The other universe continues to try to initiate communication anyway, interacting with its local representation of its one-time neighbor. Observation is not certainty, not in this universe nor that one nor any that has ever yet arisen; but entropy sets in and the probability spaces collapse with the universe as it ends.
Though it is small, the universe is well-kept. There is not a wrinkle to be found in the paisley curtains here, even in the moment of their unmaking. Not a single mote of dust hides behind the framed family photographs that evaporate all at once from their place on the mantle. The raspberry brambles, before they go, follow a tidy white picket row in the yard, not a single grasping runner out of place. There are nine jars of homemade jam stacked neatly, three by three, in the pantry, and then there are not. The electric kettle ceases to exist mid-boil; the universe is not granted the luxury of lingering over one more cup of tea.
The raspberry brambles are among the last to go. They linger, overlaid in the universe’s present and past, as reality and memory race to hemorrhage color and light. It would have been nice if the universe had lasted to see one more season’s raspberries. Seventy-two summers, most of them with raspberries, will have to do.
Does the universe know it is ending? Does that matter? There is no pain, only a quick and all-encompassing loss. The universe existed, and now it does not. For a while–a good long while, not so long as the universes of giant tortoises and sequoias but plenty long for the universe of a human being–it knew that it was there. That would have been enough, for such a small and comfortable universe as this one.
This universe will be missed. Universes take up infinite space and none at all and this one has brushed up close against so many of its neighbors, countless transmissions flying back and forth across them. It has reshaped hundreds of them and even bubbled off a few new universes along the way. Universes of children and grandchildren, where the natural laws are not-quite-congruent to those in this universe of origin. The small universes of a family of field mice, barely bigger than the walls of their hunger. Brief, frenetic universes of rabbits and warm universes of cats locked in the orbit of this slightly wider world.
And the simple, subsensate universes of raspberries, whose clenched fists will soften in the summer sunshine, scarlet constellations of fruit hiding within themselves the seeds of hundreds, thousands, of sweet new worlds.
|Aimee Ogden is a former science teacher and software tester; now she writes about sad astronauts and space mermaids. Her novella “Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters,” a Nebula finalist, debuted in 2021 from Tor.com, and along with Kaleidotrope, her short fiction has also appeared in magazines such as Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, and Analog. She also co-edits Translunar Travelers Lounge, a magazine of fun and optimistic speculative fiction.|