Friday
Aug092013

Powers of Ten

David Hollander


 

10¹

Oh my God, did you see what Bobby just wrote on my Facebook wall? That slut Jenny Meyers is going out with Seth Partner. Urgh! I swear I am totally going to kill that slut. What? Well just because I said I didn't like him doesn't mean that she can go out with him! Besides her idea of going out with someone is basically like giving them blowjobs. Urgh! I can't believe this is happening to me. What? How can you even say that? Aren't you supposed to be my friend? I swear sometimes everyone is against me. Urgh! Oh great… now my mom is home. No, no, I've gotta go, she's doing this thing now where I'm supposed to help her make dinner, which by the way I don't even eat the food she makes. OMG, I just got a text! From Jenny! You won't even believe what she says. (Okay, I'm coming Mom!) Urgh! This is too much. I swear to God I'm going to hang myself. No, she says she's not going out with Seth and that I shouldn't believe everything that gets written on a Facebook wall because some people are so fucking immature. So she's not just a slut she's a lying slut. Urgh! (I'm coming Mom, just using the bathroom!) Why can't you be a real friend Mary, you two-faced little bitch? You're such a Benedict Franklin. You're probably chatting with Jenny right now, aren't you you little whore. Urgh! Why does everything bad happen to me? Coming Mom, I'm fucking coming already!

 

10²

He lay beside her with the covers turned down, their twin reading lamps breathing warm light into the cool, dark room. Her legs were drawn up and a magazine balanced on her pajama-clad thighs; his legs were crossed at the ankles and he held a book aloft in both hands. He had not turned a page in a very long time. In fact, he'd been staring at the same page of this same book (Quantum Physics for Dummies) for a week or more, pretending at curiosity while his erection throbbed like an angry extraterrestrial beneath flannel pajamas and his heart rumbled like a cannonball in the muzzle of his chest. Just touch her, the erection telepathically urged. Just touch her, you ass! But she had slowly drained him of the virility required to obey this directive, because after all he had touched her countless times over these long months and years, had touched the small of her back as he guided her through a doorway, had touched her hand as it lay prone on a table, had touched her hair as she sat beside him on the red sofa giggling at some profoundly unfunny situation comedy, had touched her bare foot with his bare foot as they ate pasta at the tiny kitchen table and she prattled on about her colleagues' children because children—ever since she had finally abandoned last year, on her 42nd birthday, the idea that she might one day reproduce, which surrender he imagined being due at least in part to her epiphany that conception might require her to engage him in intercourse—had become to her objects of ultimate scorn. Do these women even have lives of their own? she would ask, with her fork held aloft and the rigatoni trembling. He had touched her thigh in the darkness of a theatre and felt warmth emanating through denim as he painstakingly imagined the warmth not six inches away at what he referred to in his mind as the nuclear core, he had touched her cheek pretending to remove an eyelash and he had even, on two treacherous and ill-conceived occasions, carefully touched her ass while she slept turned away from him as he worked, with his other hand, the screaming extraterrestrial until it vomited up its viscous innards. But it had been eons, epochs, eras, since he had last futilely and unwisely crossed the imaginary divide between his side and her side and leaned in to kiss her fast-withdrawing lips; like prisoners with long sentences, he knew that hope was the enemy he needed to conquer. So he lay beside her each night and suffered the aching priapism's reckless demands, and he went each day to teach his Literature courses at the local college, forced by vocational need into the company of young females with exposed parts (he had gotten to the point where he could feel the warmth of an uncovered thigh from ten paces), and he returned each late afternoon and parked the Volvo at the zenith of the quarter-mile drive which had been paved long ago with stones quarried from remote hinterlands by immigrants with coarse hands and huge families, virile men of some species sexually incompatible with his own, and he wanted and he wanted and only during the fifteen seconds of his next dire and self-inflicted orgasm—endured in the bathroom outside his office at work, or in the bathroom of their local café, or in the master bathroom while she slept or pretended to sleep, or in any bathroom anywhere on earth for that matter, he couldn't walk past a lockable door without instinctively ducking in to deal with his situation—would he experience even that fleeting and incomplete relief from the perpetual weight of desiring her, her specifically was the problem, desiring her with empty desperation here within the big house situated in the wealthy conurbation of the earth's greatest city, in the earth's wealthiest nation, on the earth's most stable continent, on the one and only blue earth as it raced in the same stupid circle year after year around a blinding orb of almost unimaginable size and defined by unthinkable heat and violence. Just touch her, you ass!

 

10³

And now the unemployment checks had stopped coming and she got a letter from social services that she didn't even want to open and she was supposed to go down again to Borough Hall to renew her foodstamps but when was she supposed to do that with these motherfucking babies climbing all over her plus now Anthony was running around with that bitch Teresa from the Red Hook projects and if she ever saw that slut she'd fucking stab her but at least Anthony was still bringing her pot and at least she was still selling more than she was smoking and that was at least keeping the motherfucking babies alive, it was enough to cover formula and cheese and those fucked up-looking gray chicken cutlets they sold down at the IGA and also don't forget the lottery tickets (these days she was playing little Tonya's birthday numbers because Tonya was the littlest of all and so she was the closest to God's merciful hand, and just like the song said the children are the future and if she was ever gonna own that convertible Mercedes sports coupe with the steel rims then Tonya's numbers would have to come up, and what kind of a God wouldn't want Tonya's future to be bright as a motherfucking flower?), and the pot also got her through the days when Anthony would show up and would throw her down on her back or her belly and take what he wanted which she didn't even bother protesting because number one like she heard in an old television program "resistance was futile" and number two it was better to just be done with that shit and see the look in the fucker's eyes as he buckled up, not to mention that she still loved him, just like she still loved Dante and Cal and Lawrence (Lawrence who used to sing her that song about dying and waking up at the gates of heaven to see the Lord in all His brightness, he sang so pretty and sad, like a woman, you'd never guess how hard that man could hit you), and the pot got her through the days when social services came snooping around her apartment, issuing the same old worn-out threats and toeing at the apartment's scattered refuse or one time eyeing a rat that twitched its whiskers in a corner of the kitchen like it was impersonating her dwarfy weirdo of a landlord (she told social services, Those rats know better than to touch my babies!) and the pot also got her through the days when she really, really needed to smoke a whole shitload of pot and anyway, she knew this was only temporary because God would always provide, she wasn't even 30 yet and the world was over-fucking-flowing with adventure and excitement, she was gonna go to the DR and find her gone Daddy's long-gone family, she was gonna take a cruise to Alaska and see motherfucking whales, she was gonna buy a house out on Long Island right down on the water and she and Anthony were gonna splash in the motherfucking ocean and dig motherfucking crabs right out of the sand and then they'd all go out to some fancy place for motherfucking lobster and steaks as thick as a truck tire, and caviar, all that fancy kind of shit, and the other people there would all look at them and wonder, What's this trash doing in my restaurant?, but they'd just laugh and flip the bird because they'd know that this trash could buy and sell any one of these whitebread motherfuckers, and it was all because just like she always knew they would, just like God promised her, little Tonya's numbers, they came up.

 

104

How long had it been? How many days spent in the 6x6 cell, the toilet overflowing with her excrement, her naked body's filth imprinted on the concrete floor like a fetal shadow-animal which, when fully gestated, would rise to devour her—how many unwashed days, unrecorded days, dark days that passed outside the rigorous structures of time and space? On how many occasions had she been removed from the cell without warning or discernible cause, strung up by her wrists from exposed and rusting pipes so that she had to stand on tiptoes while being beaten with an electrical cord by grinning captors who had at least stopped raping her now that she'd deteriorated beyond even the low threshold of their lust, her dark filth dotted with bright sores that she found herself struggling to decipher in the darkness of her cell, as if some cartographical or cryptological impulse had dictated their placement, as if her captors sought to reveal to her—against the dictates of their superiors—the true reason for her suffering even as they continued to ply their familiar refrain: No one knows you are here. No one is coming for you. The words had long been emptied of meaning, yet she felt that within their sounds—the soft consonantal roll-and-pitch—there might exist some cabalistic truth or code that would release her from the ruined body that lay twisted on the stone and emanated an effluvium of shit and piss and putrefaction, the awfulness of which she could only recognize after the beatings extracted her briefly from her cell, which was the only truly terrible part of the beatings—they reminded her of what lay beyond the beatings, what she would always return to until she returned nowhere at all. What had she done? There had been a protest, she remembered. There was a flag she was not supposed to wave. Stripes of red and yellow. She had waved it. No one knows you are here. No one is coming for you. But someone would, she knew. He would come on a white horse, and a golden halo would spew light and would melt her screaming captors to tallow, and the rider would smile down from his steed and he would say to her in a voice like honey, Rise, mi pequeña, for now you must enter into the truest of all worlds, where I am the Word and the Word is light.

 

105

A flash and a click, like a toggle switch, and then strange dreams of sex and beheadings and then what may have been a hospital room. Cool fluorescence bathing his screaming torso. His arms and legs burning with pain, except that he could not move his arms, he could not move his legs. I.E.D. they whispered, and it took time and effort to recall—through the agony of his bescorchment—that these were letters from his alphabet, and not the name of one of his sworn enemies, an Arab name… Ayeedee. The burning did not stop and the morphine, or whatever they were pumping into him, cut the pain only to the point that he could think about the pain like a human being thinks about things like cars and coffee and that was when the pain was worst, the pain would never stop he knew and he screamed incessantly though no scream issued forth, and he was covered in sand, there was sand in his wounds, his legs oozed lymph and were covered in gritty sand Jesus, sweet Jesus, where the fuck were you, and he could not move those scorched and pitted legs (because he had no legs) and his clenched fists grasped no sheet not because there was no sheet for there was, it scratched horrifically into his seared flesh, but because he had no fists nor did he have arms and on the ceiling above his bed he could see—just barely—waves of light forming glyphs of some mad design that he knew spelled the secret of his own absolution but he could not read them, they would float in and out of focus, which was especially troubling because he had no eyes. So there he lay, screaming without a mouth and praying without palms and searching without sight, and he lived on as a burned and bloody piece of meat with a human mind and a human heart and the human memory of a human life. Sarah, his throat whispered. Thump, went his heart. Thump.

 

106

And when convoked? When stacked in sums less easily imaginable? The living stick-figure caricatures supine on coarse sheets in what was as much a morgue as a barracks, the stink of human disease and defecation hanging in the hot air or in the freezing air or in the air that was itself as a curse upon their accursedness, for all forms of air burned as fire might once have, these figures so emaciated that their angular skulls seemed papered over in newsprint, so emaciated that their living bones might have been dragged across violin strings to produce sonorous vibrations, and yet they rose each morning like creatures from purgatorial depths summoned by demons more powerful than they, they rose to the clack-clack-clack of a rifle muzzle dragged down rows of steel bedposts, they rose with their bones on fire, their flesh draped in their future cerements, rags the same ashen hue as their colorless flesh, they rose and they stumbled trembling into the yards where they busied themselves framing the structures into which they would later be marched to choke to their deaths while grasping at the light and the air with the green gas hissing from the exposed piping, or else they rose to busy themselves digging massive trenches into which their bodies would later be thrown or into which they would throw the bodies of their spouses and their children, or the bodies of friends who had perhaps at some earlier juncture risked their lives to have saved other mortal lives which life-risking and life-saving might now be judged as acts of ultimate cruelty. And many (but by no means all) of them remembered a time when it had been otherwise, when the corpses had not piled up around them in deep canyons, sclerotic limbs arranged like a single great carcass devoured by an unimaginable carnivore driven from the earth's darkest cave, or like an endless chicken dinner, they (many of them) remembered a time when they had embraced and kissed, laughed and sobbed, a time when they had held pink infant children to their own soft pink flesh, or to soft and clean cotton clothing, a time when they had dreamed a future for those same children, a time when they had been overcome by a warm nostalgia not for their pasts but for the sublime beauty of the fleeting present in which everything they saw or touched was tumescent with God's great love, they remembered (many of them) a time when there was hope for something other then the fetid protein paste, more than the fleeting and fevered slumber among other cadaverous half-beings, more than the shuffle through pale dust, the blind urge to live and the blind hope for death. And they suffered together, they suffered as one, their suffering was such that it might have inflated God's great heart until its stitched seams were exposed, until the dark mad thing burst at last and tore the whole cosmological experiment asunder. Rise! the guards commanded. And they did, and they do, and they will.

 

107

In what the humans once called or will one day call the Andromeda Galaxy, there will one day exist or existed long ago (analyses of time being rendered moot by such vast distances and all the intervening dips and runnels in the spacetime fabric) a planet six times the earth's diameter with liquid water covering half its surface and twin moons rising each night to pursue each other in madcap orbits above the billions of variegated species that crawled (or will crawl) through black loam or leaped (or will leap) through green canopy or scurried (or will scurry) on many legs across the desert tundra. But it is the one species with which we concern ourselves, that which rose and walked upon the surface with enormous bodies raised upright and great ribcages heaving beneath dark and bemuscled flesh. An alpha species with no predators and no natural proclivity toward competition, a species given easy control over a planet teeming with resources. They spoke a single language across the entire colossal planet and they lived long lives by the long-gone or yet-to-arrive standards of the humans 2.5 million light years away, and they mastered their variety of metallurgy and they invented (or discovered) the physical sciences and cracked the code of their own Being, having recreated in laboratories the actually-not-so-random molecular cohesion of what on earth would be called (or had been called long ago) RNA, learning that their origins were in fact programmed by some First Race of sentient travelers and that other worlds had been similarly seeded and yet, because of certain anomalies in their evolutionary schemas, they were able to absorb this knowledge without pining for even greater knowledge (that is, for them wonder did not equate to need), and having achieved this state of equilibrium they tweaked certain select portions of their genome so as to deactivate the Mutation Principle and thereby preclude the possibility of further evolution, the details of this maneuver also existing within the code itself, there for anyone to discover so long as their approach angle was true, and they fostered harmonious agrarian lives free of and from predation, proving (to those sentient creatures who will one day read or have already read the historical transcripts) that internecine violence is not a necessary condition of life. And so they did not destroy each other's cities, they did not covet each other's mates, they did not desire each other's homes, they did not despise each other's flaws or punish each other's differences. For thousands upon thousands of slow orbits around a stable red sun they lived their enchanted lives on an absurdly fecund planet. But what held true prior to the Impact would not sustain them through its hoary aftermath. (The asteroid arrives at the littoral of their Great Ocean at 50,000 kilometers per second. Billions upon billions of gallons of seawater instantly evaporate and the sea spews mammoth plumes of magma that geyser insanely to the atmosphere's outer rim before raining down fire and stone, and tsunamis roar across the ocean and erase populations wholesale from a shuddering surface and the global ash cloud chokes out the red sun and darkness descends everywhere and with it the cold, a cold they could not know existed, and then, then life as the humans would one day know it could begin.) Billions of them wandering in darkness, starving, clutching offspring to their bare torsos in a feeble effort to warm these inchoate bodies that had once seemed impermeable to harm but that now shivered and wheezed and coughed bright spume upon the dark ash. They assembled into tribes and they began for the first time in their history slaughtering others of their own kind so as to devour the gamy carcasses and don the skins for warmth, billions of them cold and hungry and filthy and ashamed and knowing collectively that yes, they are alone, as are all the creatures of a universe that promised nothing but entropy, nothing but endings, knowing that this new darkness was the truest state of existence and that, as such, it would always be the thing that came next. Perishing in droves across the tundra. Burying children in the ash so they might not be devoured by wandering indigents such as they. Cowering at the sight of one another, sobbing in the darkness, such that a human visitor to their denuded and diminished world—transported to its gray and freezing surface of bone dust and volcanic scoria—might think she had arrived upon a planet that was itself sad, that despaired and sobbed and trembled its way through orbit, seeking out the light.

 

108

hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen hydrogen HELIUM CARBON NEON OXYGEN SILICON IRON and out into the great wide universe screaming particles advance at 80,000 kilometers per second and the atomic signature of the entire debacle streams in waves to nowhere with no purpose and no function although to those living things on lonely islands of consciousness scattered across the infinite expanse the supernova is a metaphor for something that they can not name but that the electrons in their soft bodies might be said (but by whom?) to understand, as they spin and shimmy and seek—forever unsatisfied—to fill another orbital shell and to become another, heavier something, to fuse and to fold in upon themselves in bescorched nuclear ecstasy and to detonate out across the subatomic nothing so as to repeat the Excruciation ad infinitum, or at least until the whole system ran flat and the particles finally ceased in a wanting as old and as impermanent as existence itself.  

 

109

Slide down the great funnel where light congeals liquid-like, all of creation groaning and compressed and spinning down a chute wide as a hundred suns, then wide as one, the light thickening now into a blinding pudding, accelerate through the untenable place where the fabric of matter is ripped and riven and sucked screaming downward, the funnel wide now as a planet, wide now as New Jersey, wide as a football field. The screaming extrusion of quarks and leptons and the roiling paste of light sucked through and permeated by anguished electrons freed of all but need and this atomic offal spinning wildly and melding again within the freezing burning light thick now as diamonds and the single great screaming density crushed to the size of a house, crushed to the width of a hockey puck, the light now an absolutely impregnable disc the size of a penny, the size of a sesame seed, the width of Nothing, all of everything funneled down to a point Nothingwide, feel the true nature of light, the great and original pain-particle, all of matter crushed to that primary radiant searing and dimensionless point and then and then and then and then and then

 

1010

 "So okay Boss, we've got a couple of things penciled in here for next season. You ready?"

The Boss sips at the joint but is otherwise perfectly still as He surveys the Nothing.

"On the one hand we could easily do Darkness again, there's tons of it left over, but on the other hand there's something new that the R&Ds are calling 'Light'. It's controversial. You can see in it. Also, things can live."

"Where'd we get it?" He asks.

"From a different infinity."

"Right. And what do we know about this different infinity?"

"It's a lot… different."

"And this is what I pay you for."

He takes one more small sip from the joint. Honestly it's been one disaster after another this infinity. The Darkness Collapse of Darkville. The Darkness Parade of Endless Darkness. The Cold Dark Extrusion of Darkness. The Darkness Begetting the Darker Darkness. He exhales bright blue smoke into the Nothing. He's not comfortable with change, but then neither was the last Boss and look where it got Him. Plus maybe it would be nice to see some living things, as opposed to all these inert invisible manifestations of the same static emptiness.

"What the hell," he says, and douses the joint on the hem of his robe. "Let there be light."