*first appeared in Macrina Magazine.
He sat amidst a swirl of voices, muffled and punctually interrupted by the sound of an espresso machine—“crrrshee!”—before returning to their homeostatic melody. He’d been there for some time, books splayed in various directions. The tallest stack rose just a few inches below his nose. Although it appeared unorganized, there was a strict order to his paperback fortress.
With headphones snugged in, the man rocked slowly as he read the paperback. Between the intermittent rocking, he swung his head up and down. Looking down at the book, he’d swing up to type his notes as if they would evaporate. His quick undulation allowed him to not miss a step of the author’s logic. He could not misstep. Nor could his notes, which externalized his frantic mind on the smudged screen.
As he recorded his meticulous observations, he relented from slapping the keys. His mind had been spinning, weaving thoughts into cerebral structures. It had spun and spun. And now, like the wobbling of a top, he waited until it came to rest. He panned toward the broad window, basking in the light floating toward him. The sun was descending, but because of the reflection from the waxy table nearby, its rays were moving upward.
As he gazed out the window, all moved slowly like an unhurried falling snow—silent and sublime. Everything was as it should be, in its right place. He altered nothing yet was altered by this nothing. Though the nothing did not appear by chance. It was the product of a life given and taken in its own idiosyncratic manner. Like the moment when a piece of art grasps you, when all falls into place, settling gently, organically, yet precisely by the nature, the life, of the artist.
This is how the man viewed the scene as his intuition escaped its limits. Falling light, bright refractions from heavily waxed oak, and cool concrete spackled with divots entered him as qualities. Refusing naivety, he acknowledged the moment as the movement that it was, uncontrolled, never present but unfurling and melting from past to future. He acknowledged its fickleness, though he feared polluting its holy stream.
As these waters ran gently, it emerged—the fruit of his passive reflection. Beneath his breath he whispered—“I’ll make something beautiful of this life, even if it kills me.”
As the words melted into the bustle around him—the “crrrshee!” of espresso and the boots thumping the cool concrete floor—the man could no longer remain. He felt thrust into the world. Returning to his reflection, the infamous line from Twelfth Night emerged. He whispered it aloud; “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” He felt he understood its profundity, its jest and beauty. But his paperback fortress had lost its efficacy. He sensed he must depart. All his life seemed directed toward this moment, a final push toward an unexplainable ‘ought’.
The light had slowly been approaching his face. He knew he was meant to go. Yet he felt bold, strangely audacious. As the seconds ticked in his mind, he sensed the sun’s warmth rise around his chin. It felt not like rays, some measurable reality, but a golden, enigmatic embrace. The warmth kept rising, despite the sun’s descent. What would happen if he lingered? What would occur if it grazed his porous cheeks? What if it engulfed his being?
As time crept and his audacity held firm, the warmth became oceanic. Ever since the sun grazed his bare ankles, he had felt it. He had been unaware that the waters were rising, but now, he began to see their depths and intensity. He became aware of their terrifying presence. They were swirling as a whirlpool. All was light except the horizon. He sensed that the horizon held the immaterial ‘ought’, but the center of the whirlpool made him motionless. Like some primordial womb, he longed for the light to immerse him. In the center, there lied a colorless darkness—a point—growing in perfect symmetry.
Sounds began to emerge and grow in intensity. Strange sounds unheard. Dark, deep, primitive hums and clatters, chaotically creating and destroying. They hailed symbols within his senses, intuitions of truths not known nor forgotten. The horizon was descending, becoming smaller and smaller. He feared staying, but he feared leaving even more. He felt like the colorless point longed for union with him, though he also felt the moment was not his own.
The chaotic clashing of unheard sounds and colorless colors were reaching a climax as they submerged the horizon. The wind began to vacuum the air, exuding the smell of scent’s absence, of void. Rising to a screaming pitch, an ancient shriek, rising and rising and rising, thrumming and thrumming rhythmically, louder and louder and louder—until he took a deep breath, a breath that scraped his esophagus and lungs as he inhaled just a speck of that colorless point.
The man released the breath. A sturdy grin overcame his face. The whirlpool had passed, and a groundless hope had settled in him. Unburdened, he stood quickly and elegantly, releasing the tension accrued in his thighs. He exited, not minding the pile of paperbacks left behind.
The cold air greeted him. As he looked at the faces of those passing by, he saw the suffering each carried in their own way. He saw the colorless point in their eyes—the whirlpool—and the horizon behind them, eclipsing their frowns. The sun was finally setting.
With a youthful glow settling on his skin, he remembered the line—“I’ll make something beautiful of this life, even if it kills me.”
The Change of Nothing [Short Story]
*first appeared in Macrina Magazine.