Their telescopes detect it, when at last their technologies permit them to—the light from the very center of the Universe.
“I told you!” you crow to the television screens, as the announcement is disseminated, “I always said!”
And there it is, in fact, the picture on screen, written in pixels that are each 10-light-years high. They comprise a set of unmistakable features: a body, a face, and a self, which is set against the backdrop of space.
It is a significant discovery—the most significant ever. And it sets off a sustained and anguished and energetic reevaluation of everything that was previously held to be true.
(At least it does for everyone else.)
But the discovery’s greatest value to science and to people everywhere, and—still, more importantly, to you—is the way that it serves as a clue (A Gigantic Clue!) that catalyzes the resolution of outstanding mysteries in many other fields.
Dark energy, it is now clear, is the kineticization of the fact that your mother was a less-than-adequate mother.
Your mother’s inadequacies are what cause the expansion of the universe to accelerate over time, rather than to slow down.
Dark matter, which is far more abundant than normal matter, is the physicalization of the fact that your father was a less-than-adequate father.
Mysteries no more! The myriad and particular ways in which each of your parents mismanaged your upbringing are what the universe is controlled by and composed of.
This is what you were always telling everyone.
Once these things were invisible, unfathomable.
But everyone sees them now.
After this shift, even matters that were once thought to be settled are shown to be somewhat different. Now, whenever the atom is split, the following (previously undetectable) particles spill out:
Your 8th grade math teacher, who made you feel slightly weird about math.
Your 9th grade history teacher, who repeated your mispronunciation of “Tyco Brahe” in front of the entire class, long and slow and mocking.
Your 10th grade Health teacher, who made you feel weird about yourself. Not in a sexual way, even—though that’s what everyone would start to think, whenever you tried to tell them. So eventually you stopped trying to tell them.
Just weird about yourself, in a way that really stuck.
What does that even mean?
Let the scientists unpack that now!
Let them write papers about it, papers in whose every atom Ms. Bryce and Mr. Deckland and Ms. Phillips will be fundamentally embedded.
What is light?
The answer is, of course, You.
But also: Simone.
You met Simone in college.
Simone encouraged you to keep your life expectations low. She told you, authoritatively—you silly—that journalism was not for you.
And what would have happened if she hadn’t talked the pen out of your hands? What would have happened if she hadn’t encouraged you not to write that first story, which, in her opinion, was “trivial and mean”?
Simone, who nevertheless, for 40 years after that, after hurting you so, was your best friend.
And how could such a thing even be possible; how could the person who infantilized, silenced, and betrayed you; the person who you had never found it possible to forgive; the person for whom you always burned with a terrible woundedness and anger…how could she also be your best friend?
On some level, it is incomprehensible.
Yet it is also entirely true.
Interestingly, critically: your ambivalent connection with Simone lies at the heart of an otherwise unfathomable phenomenon: how can light be both a wave and a particle?
That is why.
Whenever you drew your curtains to block the light; whenever you had your solar panels repaired, or installed new ones; whenever you put on your sunglasses (back when you used to leave your apartment) you always thought of Simone.
That deep, underlying relationship; that profound causal coupling between your fraught friendship with Simone and the dual nature of light has always made sense to you.
Now it makes sense to everyone.
At your sparsely attended retirement party, your young coworker, Max, said something.
In the moment he delivered it, you pieced it all together. You realized that Max had actually been making that same quip a lot. Over the past several months, as your deafness grew and your hearing aids larger, he had delivered it with increasingly cavalier confidence, certain that you would never hear him.
You’d thought he’d just been a mumbler.
But at the party, you’d heard him. When you’d paused in the middle of your anecdote, to have a bite of cake, you’d heard him. You’d heard him saying it sneeringly and with an exaggerated stage whisper. You’d heard it very clearly:
“Just because it happened to you doesn’t mean that it is interesting.”
In that moment, you knew that everyone in your office had long been laughing at you.
Black holes are the result of that humiliation.
Inscribed into every black hole—fundamentally defining it—is what Max said. On each, lying on one side of every event horizon, it is drawn out in a curling cursive. It is written in gigantic letters, as large—literally as large—as it felt to you at the time:
And so on, beautifully—significantly—through:
How uninteresting, eh, Max? you think.
Or possibly just ironic.
The kind of irony that bends space and time.
The kind of irony that not even light can escape.
Now, the scientists say, “very very interesting.”
Everyone says that now. They say, “very very interesting.”
You follow with interest discoveries in many other fields as well.
Even when the revelations are unpleasant.
Geology, for example, is increasingly informed by many of the physical humiliations of your childhood.
The earth’s magnetic pole? Because you were a bed wetter.
Volcanoes? All the times you picked your nose until it bled.
Plate tectonics? You’d prefer it, true, if no one knew…
Still: it is all You.
And who else can say that?
You, the center-of-the-universe You, leads them, at last, to…you.
Really, it was inevitable.
The molecules that compose the DNA of You are the size of planets. Using standard sequencing technology, it was at first difficult for scientists to get a read on a requisite number of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts. It was similarly difficult to get a scan on Your ID card, which was hidden in Your gigantic wallet, beneath multiple layers of galactic cloth.
All science takes time.
So did tracking down the historical record of your parents (dead, but still living on, in their own way, via their effect on you, as the ultimate source of two of the most vitally defining components of the universe). So did whittling down the commonalities shared by your dead teachers (better known by their subatomic identities) and by Simone (also dead) and Max.
But now they are coming to you.
They are converging on your doorstep, a mixture of reporters and scientists.
You wait for the knock before you make your slow, slow, sweet way to the door.
You open it, just so slow.
“Why did it take you so long?” you ask.
It is so awkward.
So beautifully, beautifully awkward.
They laugh nervously. They smile.
“How are you feeling?” they ask you in many ways, in many voices.
“My oxygen tank is a little low,” you say, gesturing to the container you trail behind you. You speak around the tubes in your nose.
Two are sent out immediately on the errand of securing you more.
“My walker-” you begin, and a team of engineers is summoned to optimize and repair it.
“How else may we help you?” they ask solicitously.
You like the flowers they bring you, as the weeks pass.
You like the daily calls from the world’s presidents and prime ministers and from the Pope. You like the yearning, imploring songs, sung by children, and piped in from school classrooms everywhere.
You like it when they publish that story that you began to write so long ago. “Totally not trivial, totally not mean,” they call it.
Even if they are lying.
Simone, you think!
The lights flicker.
You like it when Max visits, day after day, fawningly apologizing.
You like, increasingly, the attention of the world’s best doctors, working to prolong you…even as you recognize that all of this attention is selfish.
What will happen to them, to everything, when you cease to be?
No one knows for sure. But they all observe it (and you watch them observing it): the shudder of everything, as if at the edge of collapse. The way that, as the weeks pass, during your increasingly labored breaths, the outlines around everything have begun to dim.
None of this can outlast you.
“Stay with us,” they say to you, day after day. “Please don’t die.”
You wonder: Do you have a choice, even as no one else does? You, uniquely, among everyone? You, around whom everything else revolves? Could you find a way?
You look at all of the people that are gathered around your bed and at the many others that are patched in via communication screens. You look into their faces, which are increasingly anxious and increasingly fuzzy.
You listen to the growing panic at the edge of their obsequiousness.
And you almost feel…something.
You wheeze heavily; you spit phlegm into the jeweled, beautiful, and personally crafted bowl they have provided to you.
Are you starting to feel something?
You give them a wry, spiteful smile.
Stars flicker; galaxies sputter.
“Everyone dies,” you say philosophically, falling back onto your pillow.
Then you close your eyes.
|Rachel Rodman‘s work has appeared in Analog, Fireside, Kaleidotrope (Spring, 2019), and many other publications. Her latest collection, Art is Fleeting, was published by Shanti Arts Press. More at www.rachelrodman.com.|