In the elemental scheme of things we humans are, at best, middling. We are minute in the scale of the universe, our time not even a glimmer, and as we age, time contracts, but only in the shortening forward direction. But pity the poor hydrogen-7 isotope whose life is likely over in 30 yactoseconds, absorbing the laughter of helium-5 living on average, 33 times longer, and both jealously, if ever so quickly regarding our seemingly infinite span. But lest we get complacent, there is always zirconium-96 for whom our life is but the blink of an eye, barely worth noting, a second at most in a span that could reach twenty quintillion years, so we are nothing special, save in our own eyes.
Today was downright exhausting, and my hour long walk along the river left me dripping and drooping. It wasn’t different than most days, same time, same place, and the usual 756 miles, according to my old friend Orion, who was watching from his usual perch, unseen, as he prefers it by day. When I was done, I started to complain about how I felt, when Orion interjected, “Just be thankful you’re not in Florida today, its hotter by far, and your usual walk would have covered a full 930 miles today, and there you’d have reason perhaps to complain just a bit.” Heading home to shower, I called out to Orion, “You know you are one heavenly pain in the ass.” “Yeah,” he replied, “that’s what Artemis said.”
At first it was a checkerboard of ponds neatly arrayed, reflecting the sun, the work of man, for God so rarely plays geometrician with creation, less often still using right angles. Soon enough green blades reach up through the shirred surface, random, reaching for a sun they can never touch. It is a field soon, the water pooling at the roots is lost in the emerald sea its waves now generated by the wind from the distant mountain. It is marigold yellow now, fading day by day to curry, the spikelet slowly letting go their grip on the grains that will soon lie on the bamboo mats, drinking the last of the sun they will know.
The night was ripped by the lightning, the thunder piercing our dreams, awakening us to the shadow’s play on the skylight shades. As I slip back into sleep the gods turn their backs and continue to argue well into morning.
She imagined what it must be like to have wings. She always wanted to be unmoored from the ground, to be free of its incessant pull, to look down on it from high above, and not with aid of contraption, just her, arms outstretched. The ground was a prison. She could move about, yes, but never really free, that sixth direction always denied to her. The sea was as close as she could come to true freedom, the sandy bottom dropping away, but the water was an imperfect atmosphere. She finally found the courage and stepped free of the cliff, felt the wind beneath her, the earth below falling away and coming up under her. She flew on until the alarm clock ended her flight.
Time seems frozen in the checkout line stuck between the Mars bars and the tabloids, you wonder how Liz could survive a total body liposuction, and further details of how OJ killed in a moment of lust. The old woman in front rummages in her change purse certain she has the eighty seven cents, the coins lost in a blue haze reflected off her hair. Two aisles over the young mother her jaw clenched in frustration keeps putting the life savers back on the shelf as her child, fidgeting in the cart grabs another roll, until she shouts and slaps his hand. His cry draws stares from all and she stares at the floor as he grabs a Three Musketeers and Certs. A man in the express line swears that the apples were marked 89 cents and wants to see the manager who calmly explains that Granny Smiths are a dollar twenty nine and only small Macintoshes are on sale this week. He puts the bag on the scale and stalks out of the store. I would shift to the express lane but I have 16 items and must continue to wait and wonder how many incisions it would take for a full body liposuction.
Previously appeared in Kimera: A Journal of Fine Writing, Vol. 3, No.2, 1998 and in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, 2008
Somewhere in here there is a hidden irony, not irony really, but a close enough approximation. We are creatures of softness, we relish textures that yield to our touch, would rather be swaddled than armored, vastly prefer the kitten or puppy to the armadillo or porcupine. It’s all about softness really. And despite this primal desire for pillows and down filled duvets, when it comes to measuring value we’re all about corners and hardness, about solidifying our financial position. And while we crave bills and coins, our ultimate measure of success are those crystals formed over eons, made hard by pressure and time, for those are the jewels of our existence.