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.”
It is far less a matter of space for we have that in profusion if mostly always beyond reach, but unnecessary anyway given our pervasive fear of being alone while always trying to define our particular uniqueness. The universe has a vastness we can never hope to grasp and so we turn inward, where space is constrained, and we can imagine impenetrable borders that exist solely within the mind. But the dimension that gives rise to fear and loathing is time, for it despite its vastness, is always finite and always, in our deluded eyes shrinking as the universe expands, and we know there is a point when time becomes a deathly singularity.
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
“Every once in a while,” he says and the screeching in my head drowns out what follows. I know what he means of course, that is the easy part, but the gulf between meaning and saying is so broad I can stop and count the traffic of ideas floating by, each seeking its own purchase, each finding none. It could be worse, I know, he could have said “each and every once in a while, and he does that as well, though not in a while,” but even the once was enough. I notice he is gone, and I wonder how much life flowed by while I was otherwise engaged.
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.
Our purpose is to understand and then explain the order of the Universe: the logic of the neat array of stars from our centrally located observation deck, the galaxies as so many fractals seeking to hide their organization. We have no ability to control and lack the mechanisms to make all but the most minute adjustments and then as if to energize a stray electron into a higher energy state. We would like to foretell but we have no essential premise on which to erect our framework just a cornerstone unwilling to settle in place or time. We can only recount what we have learned cautious that we miss only events of lesser importance even if they are prehistory long before they occur. Before the beginning was the beginning.
My shelves grow heavy with volumes of words I wish I had written, neatly bound up in books that stare at me, at once bidding me welcome and challenging me to enter. One shelf is set aside for books of pages, blank, on which I have written each day now for three and a half years, words I did write which, on rereading, I often wish I hadn’t. I could write in pencil erase later in the face of regret, but the pen seals failure and, I am sure, helps build character, which I have in excess