Issue 35, Final Fringe

All Towards One Point

by Sean Conaway Issue 30 04.09.2012

Hubble et. al. calculated the moment the universe compressed into a single point.
Italo Calvino, in “All At One Point,” wrote a story about the experience.
Some hypothesize hopeful (almost, at times, desperate) cyclic theories,
leaving the universe to perpetually expand and contract.

It took what may be the true definition of eternity to draw the spoon from my coffee and rest it on its accompanying saucer. My table had long ago moved beyond a perch of convenience, and I held the dish and mug in my lap. It had taken a century for LiNa to refresh my cup, an epoch to add cream, and the distance between lifting my spoon, stirring, and replacing it became the length a universe must travel before stopping in its tracks and turning around. LiNa had sauntered only halfway down the aisle to her beverage station, but halfway down the aisle had become the space of a galaxy stretched thin, and her beautifully large rear end swayed with a slow, cosmic grace.

For how long I don’t know, but I sat watching the swirl of cream revolving through the deep black murk of my coffee as it slowed to a stop…

…then reversed its orbit.

It took another epoch before I succeeded in taking a celebratory sip of coffee, but an epoch is shorter than an eon. We were making progress. (Or, perhaps in this case, regression. Is there a vocabulary to describe a shrinking universe? Recession? Perhaps compression.)

We’d laugh about it, sometimes, some of us, bitterly—how, all at one point we wanted nothing but more space, a bit more room. Oh, how we’d complain, nit and pick at one another, wistfully imagine the first things we’d do once we gained a semblance of elbow room, and then came the Bang and its perpetual expansion, and we’d see each other less and less—by choice, at first; later, by nostalgia-sticky happenstance. Time, of course, needs space, too; as space continued to grow, so did time (Always more time, we’d slap each other on the back), and these chance encounters came fewer and far between.

And then everything became farther between. The expansion of the universe continued—even, we discovered, accelerated—and many of us began to feel that old cosmological dread: entropy. What would happen, those of us with darker imaginations would wonder, when every point became too far separated from all others? Would the very atoms we’re comprised of, those simmering elements and molecules we like to call life, finally succumb and drift away, too? Bah, I remember answering, brushing off the concerns. What’s the use of worrying? Dust to dust, eh?

My own concerns were of more practical matters. For instance: how to find a good cup of coffee? By this time, you might wake up to find your next-door neighbor’s home a block away; a trip to the mistress you kept on the other side of town now required a three-day weekend if you fancied a furtive diddle; I watched one morning as the paperboy, so sure of the practiced arc his newspaper would travel on the way to each home’s stoop, wept bitter tears as, one by one, the stoops expanded beyond his range.

The moon gradually shrank to join the receding stars and finally disappeared. Worried that I might wake one morning to find myself oceans away from a decent cup, I decided it prudent to hole up in this café here at the corner and wait for whatever might come, be it the unavoidable disassembly into dust or entropy-fueled freeze. The coffee here was decent—a few blocks further into town would have granted me better, of course, but a few blocks required air travel—and the cook in the back, whom I never caught a glance of but could hear singing emotively sometimes after the lunch rush, baritone renditions of vaguely familiar arias floating over the formica and tile, could slap together a passable pastrami-rye, but the true reason I chose this café to wait out the expansion was LiNa, my young, round-bottomed waitress with downy cheeks. Her large brown eyes, oh, I could swim in them; they showed not a twinkle of intelligence, but no bother: she kept my cup full, and to watch her walk away…ah, yes.

Entrenching myself in a booth facing both the door and the large window overlooking—at the time of initial entrenching—the bustling intersection, I drank coffee, cup after cup, and watched as the corner across the street moved too far away to see, followed quickly by street lamps, fireplugs, and the like, until the view outside the plate-glass window had grown as dark as the coffee the waitress continually poured into my cup. Ah, such a pretty young thing, this LiNa.

But space was shrinking now, and with it time; I took sips more frequently, and suddenly, out of the fuzzy ether that the café had expanded to encompass, my table approached, surprising quick—I grunted with a start, thinking I’d be crushed—but it halted directly before me, exactly where it was meant to be. Perhaps it was only relative to the plodding pace of the last few moments, but time seemed to be increasing quicker than it’d flowed before. Curious.

And then the little brass bell jingled cheerfully and in walked Mr. MgIrOs, a man I’d known all too well in the point.

“So it’s true, then,” Mr. MgIrOs muttered as he sat down across from me, his bristly mustache speckled with crumbs of muffin (I hadn’t noticed the return of the bench facing mine; and where did he find a muffin?). He rubbed his sausage fingers across the shiny and threadbare lapels of his coat, grimacing at the downy-cheeked waitress for a cup of his own. Stretching his face into something resembling a grin, he asked, “Been here long?” and barked a laugh.

It took me a string of long moments to find my voice; neurons returned and aligned themselves once more with an audible click. I hadn’t seen Mr. MgIrOs since the dentistry convention in Denver, and certainly hadn’t missed him. The implications that he should be sitting here, in this café—my café!—a chance encounter when no one, as far as I could tell, had encountered anyone in…well, again, time didn’t mean what it used to…this,  too, took me long moments to come to terms with. “I don’t understand,” I finally said, skipping the usual pleasantries (nothing was especially pleasant with Mr. MgIrOs). “The galaxies accelerating away from each other—faster and faster,” I implored, eyeing my swirl of cream with distrust. Had the rate of its backward orbit increased?

Mr. MgIrOs, stroking the bristles above his lip as he admired LiNa walking away, shrugged. “Ah, who knows—dark matter or the like. They never were able to explain that away.”

“Will it all become a singularity, then? The universe just one big black hole?” I shuddered, unable to imagine it.
“You forget, Qfwfq—we began as a singularity, by definition. All at one point. We should invite her to come with us—you know, when we get back.” Mr. MgIrOs nodded after LiNa, winked, and ran a liverish tongue over his distended lips. “See how she carries that tray so carefully? Good girl.” He sighed and withdrew a dingy handkerchief from his breast pocket and swabbed his forehead. “Don’t see why there won’t be enough room—especially if we can keep the immigrants out. Mattresses and pots and whatnot, all over our beautiful point.”

I tried not to roll my eyes and focused instead on the returning sunlight now pouring through the window, the nearly forgotten signs of life on the street outside: street vendors shouting prices for their wares; women strolling, umbrellas under their arms, their faces upturned to the sun; a young boy hawking papers. Would there be news of the compression, a headline perhaps, bold-faced letters snug up against each other for the first time in…how long had it been? “What immigrants?” I asked, trying to keep my annoyance in check. Mr. MgIrOs and his small-minded soapbox. “Surely we’ll arrive at one point more or less at the same time. Besides, I don’t see how we can keep anyone out. It’ll all be there,” I waved a hand, indicating the universe, “just like last time.”

Just like last time? I lifted the cup to my lips to hide my grimace. Ah—was it true? Would we really once again be forced into that one tiny point? I could smell MgIrOs across the booth from me—talc, pipe smoke, and mildew—and didn’t relish the thought of every point of him and myself compressed into one, of smelling his odors where time doesn’t exist. Of course, his would be competing with all the other aromas of the universe (spring flowers, for instance, as well as their autumnal rotting), all dismantled and compressed in such a way that one can’t really talk of smell as the same sense, where wafting molecules are perceived on the nose and tongue; all at one point, nose and tongue remain inseparable from anything they might care to lick or sniff. The thought of this was less than comforting, and I nearly reached into my coat for my wallet to pay for my bottomless cup—ah, poor LiNa: 79 cents for a near-eternity of refills; I’d tip her well, at least 100%—when Mr. MgIrOs surprisingly eased my mind.

“Of course, won’t be much need for this fuzzy little tart—no matter how nice the tush, eh? Not with Mrs. RuBrGa around once more.”

Gads—how could I have forgotten? (Of course, I hadn’t; I’d merely succumbed to the distractions of LiNa’s swaying buttocks.) Mrs. RuBrGa. To think I’d sat across from Mr. MgIrOs all this time—how long, now? Weren’t the buildings across the street alarmingly close?—without once mentioning Mrs. RuBrGa, the one being that had made life at one point tolerable. Poor LiNa held but a candle before the brilliance of Mrs. RuBrGa’s supernova. Oh, those sturdy thighs bulging from the skirt of her orange dressing gown; her heavy breasts swaying like pendulums; thick, hairy forearms dusted with flour, caked with egg, as she stirred her spoon about her cosmic bowl, faint beads of sweat across the arch of her prominent nose. Our mother, temptress, confidant. Our baker of bread: Mrs. RuBrGa had freed us from the point—had she not?—in a stunning burst of radiance, a blaring, quickening halo, throwing us to the far corners of the widening universe—Mr. MgIrOs to Pravia and his thrilling life selling plastics; myself to this little café on the corner to sip my coffee—in her outburst of goodwill.

And we’d been mourning her ever since, hadn’t we? Wasn’t my bottomless cup, my bottomfull waitress, nothing more than a despondent, illusory dream? Bah—it was! The full life span of the universe, wasted in trying to forget the woman who, really, had birthed us all. I felt defeated, a child, a fool, but…

“Do you suppose?” I whispered, ashamed at the desperate hope straining my voice. Shrugging again—damn his shrug!—Mr. MgIrOs smirked and said, “Well, why not? You said yourself it’ll all be there. Surely she’s out there—nowhere else to go, eh?”

How true!—but then, I didn’t want to sit here reminiscing of Mrs. RuBrGa across from Mr. MgIrOs, did I? I felt jealous, then ashamed: Mrs. RuBrGa, the unabashed joy I received from all my points coinciding with all of hers, the promiscuity and chasteness of it—this joy wasn’t mine and mine alone, for everyone else’s points, too. All of us, cradled in her powerful arms shiny with oil. And this was her gift, why we loved her, why she loved us: all the pettiness, the triteness, the small-mindedness of our maddeningly close proximity with one another was diffused by her generosity and love.

“Oh, if only I had a bit of room—the bread I’d bake for you boys,” she’d beam, warming us with her glow.

The brass bell above the entrance now jingled madly as people packed themselves into the tiny café, quarrelling over seats furthest from the door. I glanced out the window to see the hardware store across the street practically abutting the café. The tiny, wrought iron tables placed on the sidewalk beneath the green awning groaned and buckled under the pressure applied by the two buildings’ coupling. Throngs of people packed the aisles, clamoring for my beleaguered LiNa’s attention. Wayward elbows and knees, toe-stomping boots and shin-clipping briefcases crowded around us. The air grew warm with exhaled breath unable to drift away; so much for entropy. The swirl of cream in my coffee raced maddeningly backwards.  Mr. MgIrOs, in an uncharacteristic bout of acceptance, laughed through it all. “Remember this, Qfwfq? Won’t be long now, what? Isn’t it all spectacular?”

Trying in vain to keep a particularly bony elbow out of my ear, I merely shrugged, trying to catch one last glimpse of my now tepid coffee. I’d have to pay the tab in the next universe. The smothering claustrophobia wasn’t as acute as I’d feared; indeed, I welcomed its familiarity. Over the din of shouting patrons, of shattering glass and crumbling brick, I heard the chef in the back singing in his clear, slightly wavering baritone—Puccini? No: Wagner via Martucci—and I couldn’t help but raise and wave my hands in accompaniment. Mrs. RuBrGa would like this warbling chef, would she not? Somewhere close by, surely, she approached. “Oh, the bread I’m baking for you boys!” Her great arms, shiny with oil, pumping vigorously in and out, the engine of the universe, those strong, soft hands kneading the dough, coaxing it from sunlight and water into grain then flour, and finally, at the behest of her sustaining love, the gluten combining and beginning to cohere, and we’re once more back together, all at one point, no longer mourning the loss.

Sean Conaway

Sean Conaway

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Catalytic converters became mandatory car components due to tightening EPA regulations in 1975. Twenty years later, Sean Conaway moved catalytic converters from large pallets onto conveyor belts. He’s since scaped land, refinished homes and offices, demolished small buildings, and was a professional chef. Now he writes fiction in Blacksburg and teaches at Virginia Tech.