The girl’s subatomic particles suddenly interacted with each other and every other subatomic particle in the universe until, a yoctosecond later, through a cascading near infinity of quantum events, they caused her of her own free will to walk home from school, first between the rails of the railroad track and then on one of the rails.
Stepping confidently, one foot directly in front of the other like a high wire acrobat, holding her arms out to either side to keep her balance, she knew she would likely continue for most of the last-half mile to her home without ever once slipping off the 2 ¾” steel rail.
Today, a never before experienced, completely unanticipated sense of destiny made her feet bond, not unlike sticky notes, ever so slightly to the rail. She quickly went from a walk to a fast walk that grew faster until she found herself almost running on the track with her arms down, her eyes and mind focused on nothing else in the world but the bright, straight line in front of her. In the flow of a thing that had no notion of time or space, she experienced unity, the mindless and perfect joy of this, her life’s greatest achievement so far, and continued to experience it right up to the moment she slipped and fell sprawling onto the surrounding iron ore rocks.
Lying there, she waited for breaking news from her body. Was she paralyzed for life? She moved her foot. No. How about the rest of her? She hurt in various places, but not enough to lie there forever. With no one around to help, she picked herself up and took inventory. No tears in her clothes. Good. She held her hands up to her face. Palms scraped and hurting. Next her knee, burning like she had fallen into hot coals, but not enough to lay back down and cry. What else? Something wasn’t right. She looked down at the rocks and saw a drop of blood hit the ground, then another. Turning her arm, she saw the gash across her forearm, a thin line of blood slowly running down to the tip of her pinky finger, dripping slowly like a bathroom faucet in a crime movie.
The normal thing for a human being to do in a situation like this is to feel a queasiness in the stomach, that teaspoonful of primal fear that normally accompanies any non-trivial injury. She did not. Looking down at the crushed iron slag surrounding her feet she felt rage and a need for revenge rise up in her like magma in a volcano. She knew the word “fuck” from her mother and used it over and over as she picked up a piece of rock and threw it as hard as she could straight at the sun. It didn’t matter that her blood splattered on her shirt and jeans. She picked up a second rock and threw it. She picked up a third and didn’t. Instead, she looked at it, startled. It was different from the others—darker, denser, smoother, with dimples and tiny, almost invisible parallel lines on its surface. She gasped. Maybe this was the reason she fell, why her life’s great achievement had ended so abruptly and ignominiously, a word she learned from reading Frankenstein. Maybe this was what the universe had decided was supposed to happen. Maybe, against all odds, she had found a piece of meteor in the gazillion pieces of iron ore slag cushioning the rails of the KCS railroad line.
She put the rock in her pocket and, leaving one after another drop of blood dripping from her fingers in a trail, limped home. Along the way, she thought about the maybe meteorite. For some reason, it felt more like a long lost relative than a rock. The two of them had much in common. For starters, they were both forged in fire. It took a lot of suns to construct her elements. The meteorite not so much since it was mostly iron. And their elements had wandered in space until gravity brought them here to Earth. Out of nowhere she suddenly felt sorry for the maybe meterorite. It had been alone for most of its existence. At least she had an amazing mother and a few close friends. Real friends. Not fake friends like the people at school who were nice to her face but made fun of her and called her names behind her back because she loved science and math almost as much as she did anime and cosplay. Forget them. She knew who she was. Her mother constantly reminded her. “You are the only one of your kind. There has never been and will never be another person like you. You are a beautiful, singular constellation of everything that is possible.” She always responded with, “Thanks, Mom.”
When she got to her front door, she took her shoes and socks off and put one sock over the cut on her arm so she wouldn’t bleed on anything inside. Once she cleaned the cut and used band-aids to close it, she went to her room and put the maybe meterorite into the other sock and that sock into another sock whose sock twin had disappeared through a portal in the washing machine and then she put that sock in a box and the box in another box which she placed on the shelf in her closet. She changed her clothes, went to her desk, opened her math book and wrote on the inside cover, “I have found something that perfectly fits the description of a meterorite. It is a life changing event. I am determined to become an astronaut and to take the meteorite into outer space where I can return it to its natural habitat, after which I will return to mine. It’s the least I can do under the circumstances.”
He was originally scheduled for July, but one week before, he called to chicken out.
“What is the reason?” was not a difficult question to answer.
“It that a multiple choice question?”
“No, Mr. Baumgarten. It is a text field.”
“Ok. Well. I don’t want to die. You have a lot of really sick people in your hospital and if I catch it, I’m pretty sure it will kill me. I’ve got stents and I only have Medicare.”
“We’re very safe here. We follow all the rules.”
“I’m sure you do, but if it’s ok I would like to reschedule. Also, please cancel my upcoming colonoscopy. One of my best friends had a colonoscopy three years ago and the doctor perfed him three times and didn’t know it and sent him home and he almost died.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Baumgarten. That’s terrible.”
“Yeah. An ambulance had to come get him that same night and he ended up with sepsis and two colon resections while he was still in the hospital and that’s why he almost died. Afterwards, while he was still recovering, someone left one of the rails down and he rolled out of bed and broke his hip and hit his head on the floor and almost died all over again.”
“That is terrible. I am so sorry to hear that. I’m sure that wouldn’t happen to you, especially if you told this story to your gastroenterologist prior to the procedure.”
“Can you cancel it for now, though?”
“Yes, of course. I’ll have them call you to reschedule. While we’re on the phone, would you like to reschedule your general office visit?”
“Sure. Is three months ok?”
Tomorrow is the big day. He has glasses to cover his eyes, an N95 mask, a small spray bottle of alcohol. He will take a shower with antibiotic soap before he leaves, place a plastic bag by the door to put his clothes in when he gets home so he can strip and go straight to the shower.
The next morning, walking up the stairs to the front entrance, looking at the people outside the hospital he thinks, “What the hell!? Only half these people are wearing a mask. They’re suicidal.” His parish has the highest per capita mortality in a state that has one of the highest per capita mortality rates in the country. This thing is not just a virus. It’s a bioweapon. He can’t believe he’s voluntarily walking into a building with floors full of virus infected people.
Inside, everyone is wearing a mask. Thank goodness.
His doctor is not an MD, but a PA-C. She is quite capable. In all honesty, she is very good at her job. She checks his eyes, his ears, his breathing. He takes his shoes off and lies on his back. She listens to his stomach, presses her fingers into the soft tissue around his ankles, asks him questions about his diet, exercise and mental health. While she’s putting information into the computer he asks her how she’s been.
“I haven’t been her for two months. I went with a group to help in the southern part of the state. They needed all the help they could get.”
“What did you do?”
“Triage mostly. I also spent a lot of time bedside. It was heartbreaking, but you have to do it. Do you know what I mean? It’s life or death. Every life you help save changes the lives of everyone that person knows.”
“Were you scared?”
“I was too tired to be scared most of the time, but yes, I was scared.”
“I’m glad you’re ok.”
She stops typing and looks up.
“We’re going to do a complete blood panel today. I want you to take a flu shot.”
Last year he said no to the flu shot. “Ok.”
“Good. Is there anything else you want to discuss?”
“I think I’ll do a colonoscopy. I’ve never had one. I could have polyps. My Mom got adhesions when she was younger than me. She smoked two packs a day though. Colon cancer is the third leading cause of death at my age. At least that’s what I read.”
“That’s correct. Would you like to schedule the procedure? At your age, it will probably be the only one you will ever need”
“Ok. Also, I think I have something weird growing on my back.”
“Take off your shirt, please.”
She identifies several different types of moles and lesions.
“These are mostly seborrheic keratosis. They’re benign. This one on your chest is a little iffy. We’ll schedule you to see a dermatologist.”
“Is there anything else?”
He hasn’t had his prostate checked in nearly ten years. She’s his doctor for all practical purposes. On the other hand, he’s been seeing her for two years and she’s never brought it up. It’s a quandary. What complicates it even more is the fact that she is attractive. What if he got an erection? He’s old, but it could happen. She’s a professional, but even so . . . On the other hand, he is exactly the median age for initial diagnosis of prostate cancer.
“No. That’s it.”
“Well, Mr. Baumgarten, you’re in good shape. Just be sure to get your exercise, eat well and get plenty of sleep.”
He suddenly realizes it’s her eyes. Her eyes remind him of someone he loved in his youth. Anna. Beautiful, brilliant Anna whose hazel eyes captured his heart the moment he first looked into them. Eyes that made him want to write love poetry, or worse, a novel, which he did.
“One more thing.”
“I haven’t had my prostate checked in a long time.”
“I can check your prostate now, or I can make a note to have the doctor check it prior to your colonoscopy.”
“That will be fine.”
“The second one.”
“I hope I don’t die from this virus.”
“I hope you don’t either.”
“I hope you don’t die either.”
“I’m trying not to.”
He stares hard into her eyes.
“Just don’t, ok?”
“See you in six months.”
They smile at each other over their masks.
Dear diary: Found a plain white birthday card taped to my front door. When I opened it, it said, “It’s your birthday. Happy birthday!” No name. No money. Just a talking birthday card. It only worked once. When I closed and opened it again it was silent. I could not tell whether the person or people who made the card designed it to work that way.
Dear diary: I had a dream I was parked at the Sonic drive-in in the middle of the night after it had closed. An incredibly beautiful person tapped on the window. I rolled the window down. The person said, Let’s go for a ride. We drove around and talked about the weather. I guessed they were a meteorologist. At some point I found myself in an old, abandoned house outside town watching a black and white film from the 1930s: It Happened One Night.
It was a long dream so I got to watch the whole film.
Dear diary: As you know, I am an open-minded, rational person. That being said, I’m starting to feel like an oxymoron. I am sentient. I have feelings. I trust those feelings. I think and feel I am maybe falling in love, but I have no idea why or who with. BTW, I got a raise at work today. Not much, but it’s something. Also, free coffee. As much as I want. I can even take some home if I like. As you know, I drink coffee first thing every morning. It helps me poop.
Dear diary: I just woke up in the park near my house. It’s 3 am. I saw a flying saucer. I am not kidding. I’m too stressed out to go back to sleep and I have to be at work in three hours. Instead of staring up at the ceiling, I guess I’ll take a shower, drink some coffee and play Among Us. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll come back and tell you all about it.
Dear diary: A little while ago at the laundromat the same incredibly beautiful person I saw in a dream walked up to me, grabbed my hand and said, Let’s go. I said, What about my clothes? They said, Leave them. The next thing I knew I was sitting in a very nice chair in a very nice apartment talking to an almost perfect stranger. They said they were from another planet. I said, You mean you’re an alien. They answered with a very long sentence not one word of which I understood. The conversation continued for quite a while. When it was over I knew three new things. One, I was attracted to them and they were attracted to me in nearly every way. I was so excited I finally asked them straight up, Are you an alien? They said yes. I said it didn’t matter. I said that two sentient beings, regardless of planet of origin or chromosomes, should not have to explain themselves or their relationship. They made me promise I would not tell anyone about us, not even a stranger. Especially not a stranger. They said if other aliens found out about our relationship, it could cause a lot of problems. That’s when I woke up in my car in front of the laundromat. The person knocking on my window told me to come get my clothes and put them in the dryer. There were people waiting to use the washing machine.
Dear diary: I never thought I would but I did. It was not what I expected. I was expecting a Vulcan mind-meld. Instead, I got inexplicably hot sensory overload. For starters, I discovered our naked bodies were identical down to the last detail, at least when we first started touching each other. I cannot describe the way it made me feel. I’ll try anyway. I thought at one point I might be falling in love, but I knew deep down inside I wasn’t. I wanted to call it love, making love, but I don’t think they felt the same way. Maybe they did. Thinking back, it was more like having sex with a total stranger that pulls their mask off at the last second and turns out to be your long lost best friend who you never had sex with until now. No. That’s not it. It was more like having sex with a mermaid, or maybe a merman or both at the same time with your eyes closed. No. It wasn’t like that either. It was like sex with a deep sea creature who put one probe into your mouth all the way to your stomach and another probe into your anus all the way to your stomach without the ends of the probes going into your stomach and touching each other because that would be too freaky even for me and would probably hurt like hell. It felt more like being taken into the tentacles of a giant cuttlefish covered in velvet, its gigantic eyes blinking with curiosity into your eyes as it explores every inch of your outsides and insides. When it was over dozens of orgasms later (which seems medically impossible I know), I said, really loud, I CAN’T BELIEVE WE JUST DID THAT!! They whispered back as they brushed the tip of a tentacle gently against my cheek, We’ve done it before. A hundred times at least. Don’t tell me you don’t remember. Now kiss me. Yes. Right there. Just like that. Yeeessssssssssssssss.
Michael Harold writes under the name Michael Aro, his father's Spanish birth name. Born in 1952, he is a novelist, poet, painter, multimedia artist, computer technologist and inventor. He has worked as a roofer, a truck driver, an urban planner, a teacher and a founder or co-founder of several software companies. His books include five novels, five volumes of poetry and two chapbooks. His work has been published in The American Poet, The Journal of Experimental Fiction, Identity Theory, Smokebox, Steve McCaffery's North American Center for Interdisciplinary Poetics, Unlikely Stories, In Posse Review, Burningword Literary Journal and the Dirty, Dirty Anthology by Jaded Ibis Press. He lives and works in Louisiana.