Tuesday
Mar132018

The Omega

Joseph Cardinale


 

You already know who I am. And I am still the same person. Nothing has changed. Nothing real. Just the words are different. The story is still the same. In the beginning there was nothing. In the middle there was something. And in the end there was nothing again. That's where I am now—in the end. That's where I always was. I just didn't always know it. Now I know it. That's all the difference is. I know where I am now. And now I want to explain how I got here. I have to start somewhere. So I'm starting here. Here is what happened.

In the morning I received a message from Father asking me to come see him at his home at the top of the mountain. He had something to show me. I asked him to tell me what it was. He answered he couldn't tell me in words. You have to see it to understand it.

I didn't intend to go see him. Not at first. And not because I doubted he was telling the truth. I believed him. And I wanted to see what he wanted me to understand. I knew it was probably nothing. But I had nothing else to do. So I went to see.

To get to his home at the top of the mountain I had to wake up from a falling dream and walk down a dark path that went higher and higher through the woods. I walked down the path without thinking about where I was. But then I was somewhere else.

I was at a fork. Ahead the path split in two directions: This way and that way—that way and this. Both paths slanted out of sight.

I had to choose one.

I knew I was going to choose wrong. So I chose one and went down the other.

I walked for what felt like a long enough time. I knew it was going to feel like a longer time because I was thinking about how I felt. But I felt like it was taking longer than it should have.

That was when I stopped and looked around. Nothing was looking like anything I had ever seen before. Everything looked like what it was. I looked up and saw no sky—just a cage of branches and leaves.

I was lost.

This word came to me with a kind of relief: Lost.

I thought about it. If I was lost then at least I knew what I was looking for. I was looking for something. That was why I was here. I was here because I was looking for something I had lost. I had lost the path. But the path was still under me. I just didn't know which direction to go. I could either go up or down or left or right. Or I could stand where I was—I was standing still between two separate thoughts—and wait for the sun to come back. But I had the feeling the sun was never going to come back.

I was too tired to go on. I closed my eyes and called out for help. There was no answer.

I felt afraid.

I thought: I feel afraid.

I thought about this thought. I thought and thought until the feeling I was thinking about went away and I felt nothing again. Then I felt something else: I was not alone. There was another sound.

I heard it.

I listened and it was gone.

In the silence I heard three sounds that I could name. I named the three sounds (wind, words, thoughts) and stopped listening. When I stopped listening I heard it again: a sound I could not name.

It was an animal moaning sound. I couldn't tell if it was an animal moaning like a dying human or a human moaning like a dying animal. But I could tell it was still alive, whatever it was. It was coming down through the wind—the sound of something dying—from somewhere inside me. I had to close my eyes to see it.

In the space behind my eyes I saw a starless darkness. At the bottom of the darkness was a circle of light. Inside of the light was the house where Father lived. I was moving closer and closer to it.

At the front door I knocked three times. Another knock and I pushed the door open.

Inside everything was dark.

I turned the light on and looked around the living room.

It looked like no one lived there anymore. Everything was gone. Even the framed portrait of him that I had drawn in the summer when I turned seven years old (his most treasured possession, he told me one night in the last summer I visited) had been taken down from its place in the center of the wall. In its place, Father had painted a black circle. Around the circle, the walls were splattered with points and lines and lines of points.   

I shouted for him a few times. I was trying to sound commanding, like a dad calling his kid out from a hiding place. But I sounded more like a kid who was calling for his dad to help him.

He didn't answer.  

I walked to the staircase.  

I looked up the staircase and saw him. 

He was lying flat on his back on the floor of the hall. His legs and feet were bare. A robe was bunched over his knees. That was all I could see of him from where I was at the base of the steps.

I thought he was dead. And then I thought I heard a breathing sound. It sounded like he was sleeping. I started up the steps. At the top I stepped over his legs and switched the light on.

He looked like he had lost a lot of weight. His robe was open and his body was naked. I leaned down and lifted the collars of his robe over his chest and then I tied the strap around his waist. Then I sat on the floor and watched his eyes flit back and forth beneath the lids. He was dreaming. He knew nothing. Let him dream on.

Go now, I thought.           

But where would I have gone?

I was already here. And there was nothing for me out there. If I walked away I would begin to disappear. I would grow smaller and smaller with each step until no one could see me.

So I stayed where I was.

I closed my eyes.

The inside was spinning.

I must have fallen asleep.

I dreamt that I wasn't dreaming.

I awakened expecting to find myself somewhere else. But it was still the same dream. And all was still again—starting over.

Another morning. I heard the birds in the branches and the branches singing in the sound of moving wind. A light rain was beating a soft white noise against the walls of the house. A square of dawning sunshine slanted down the through the window from the bedroom down the hall, framing Father like a searchlight in the shadows. He was swimming awake. In a moment he would surface and see I was there. And then what would happen? I had no idea. And that was what drew me on. I wanted to see what happened next.

I was watching his face when his eyes shot open; he gasped suddenly awake.

In a single motion he sat bolt upright and brought his hand to his face as if to make sure it was there. His breathing was fast and shallow. He held his fingertips against his cheek and stared straight ahead at the door at the end of the hall.

I set my hand on his shoulder.

He sprang back as if I had bitten him and took hold of my wrist. His grip was so hard that for a moment I felt a crush of sound. In that moment he turned to look at me. His eyes were wide and empty. There was no light in them. And then there was light. "I was dreaming," he said, his fingers loosening. I took my hand back and backed away. He looked up and down and around the hall like an animal casing the walls of its cage, without hope, and then he leaned back down on the floor with his arms folded over his chest and his eyes open at the ceiling.

I said, "Pop, what are you doing?"

He said, "Nothing." 

"Wake up."

"I don't feel too good."

"Do you want something?"

"Can I have a drink of water?"

I stood and went to the bathroom at the end of the hall. But there was nothing to pour the water in. I went back out to the hall and stepped around Father toward the stairs to the kitchen.

"Wait," he said. "Don't leave me."

"I'm just going to get a glass."

"For the water?"

"Yeah."

"No. Stay here."

"I'll be right back."

"I need you to stay here."

"Okay." I had an idea. "Hold on," I said, and headed back past him and down the hall to the bathroom. I turned the faucet on and cupped the palms of my hands under the stream. I brought a handful of water back and knelt down next to him. He opened his mouth and drank the water without opening his eyes. "More," he said.

I went back to the sink. At the sink I turned and looked out the window. I was looking for a sign that the rest of the world was still out there. And I saw nothing. All I saw was a wall of white mist. A cloud had descended on the house. Or the house had floated up inside a cloud.    

When I returned to the hall Father seemed asleep again. His mouth was closed. I poured the handful of water over his head like a blessing. His eye opened and closed. "You're still here," he said.

"Do you feel any better?"

"No," he said.

"What is it?"

"I need to lie down," he said.

"You are lying down."

"In a bed," he said.

"You want me to get you blankets?"

"I want you to bring me to the bed."

Down the hall was the door to the bedroom. I looked at the door and back at Father.

"Can you stand up?"

"Carry me."  

"I can't."

"You can drag me."

"You can't stand up?"

"Can't you just drag me?"

"What's wrong with you, Pop?"

He let out a long sigh. "Just do what I told you."

I went to the bedroom. In the windows was the same wall of white mist I had seen in the bathroom. I drew back the blankets and set the bed up. Then I went back to the hall where Father lay still on his back with his legs straight and the palm of his hand over his eyes. I asked him if he was ready. He sort of grunted.

I leaned down and smoothed the back of his bathrobe out on the floor as flat as I could before I took hold of his ankles. I lifted his legs up and dragged him down the hall and through the door and to the mattress on the floor in the corner of the room. He was a lot lighter than I expected. I helped him onto the mattress and lifted the blankets over him. It was getting hotter. I opened the window to let the air inside and leaned my head all the way outside to see the fog. I couldn't see anything else. Not even my own hand when I stretched it out in front of me. Just mist. Down below was a sound that sounded like waves lapping against the side of the house.

"Outside of here it's death," said Father.

He turned over on his side facing the wall. I sat down on the floor watching him.

"Pop," I said. "What happened to you?"

"That's a good question." He turned over on his other side. After a minute he said, "I have a condition."

"What kind of condition?"

"I have something in my head."

"What is it?" I asked.

"You don't want to know."

"Just tell me what it is."

He opened his eyes and lifted his head slowly from the pillow to look at me. His eyes were on me for a moment. Then he turned back to the wall. 

"I have an Omega," he said.

"A what?"

"An Omega."

"You have an Omega?"

"I have an Omega. In my head."

"You have an Omega in your head," I said.

"In my brain," he said. "Back in the back somewhere."

He was starting to fall back asleep again.

"What's an Omega?"

He said, "What?"

"What is it?"

"An Omega."

"But what's an Omega?"

"You don't know what an Omega is?"

In an abstracted way I knew what the word meant: the last letter in the Greek alphabet—the end of the series. But I didn't understand what it meant to have an Omega in your head.

"No," I said. "What is it?"

"It's sort of a point."

"A point?"

"Sort of."

"What kind of point?"

"A point that contains all the other points," he said. "A place where all the places are. Everything there ever was. And everything there ever wasn't. Inside out. I can see it when I close my eyes: All the points in the universe. I see it all at the same time—from all different angles. It's inside me. And I'm inside it. And that's just . . . how it is."

I had no idea what he was talking about. But I knew he was telling some kind of truth. And I wanted to know what kind. 

I said, "So it's like a small universe?"

"Like an enormous universe."

"How enormous?"

"Endless."

"An endless universe," I said.

"But I can see the edge."

"You can see the edge of the universe?"

"That's how I know where the center is."

"Where's the center?"

"Everywhere."

"The center is everywhere?"

"And the edge is nowhere."

"But you can see it?"

"If I look for it."  

"Can you see it now?"

His eyes were already lightly closed. He closed them harder. Behind his eyelids he seemed to squint. His entire face tensed and stiffened as if he were concentrating all his energy on the struggle to hold the vision in his mind without going blind.

"Okay," he said. "I see it."

"What does it look like?"

"Nothing," he said.  

"Nothing?"

"No."

"It has to look like something."

"Nothing I can say." His voice seemed to come from another person behind his face.

"What color is it?"

"Color?"

"Is it dark or light?"

"No," he said. "It's not any color."

His face slackened open as though he were letting go of something heavy. I tried to think what to ask him.  

"Does it have a shape?"

"Sort of," he said.

"Like a circle?"

"More like a wheel."

"Like a spinning wheel?"

"Like a wheel inside a wheel."

"And both wheels are spinning?"

He started to speak—and stopped to think. He closed his eyes to look for the vision, but I saw no sign of tension in his face this time. "One's spinning one way," he said. "And the other—I can't tell."  

"But they're spinning in different directions?"

"Well," he said, as if talking in his sleep.

"Well what?"

"It might be I'm the one spinning."

He was starting to sound distant and disinterested. Like the vision was all gone now and nothing mattered all that much anyway. But it mattered to me. I wanted to see it—even if it was nothing.

"How big is the wheel?"

"Too big to see." 

"How big?"

"The inside wheel—or the outside one?"

"Outside," I said. "The bigger one."

"Well, the inside wheel is bigger."

"The inside wheel is bigger?"

His arms were at his sides. He lifted his left hand and held his index finger in front of his face. In the air he traced a clockwise circle and stopped, holding his finger aloft for a time. And then he traced a counterclockwise circle, as if erasing the first.

"The outside wheel is inside the inside one."

"How is that possible?"

"Inside out," he said.

"But . . ."

"You sort of have to see it," he said with a faraway smile. He seemed to take a vaguely possessive pride in the impossibility of properly communicating his vision. It was his Omega.  

And I wanted it. I wanted to see what he saw. So I closed my eyes. In the space behind them I tried to make a mental picture of the vision.

But I couldn't. Instead of a picture I seemed to see the words that Father had used to describe it: a point that contains all points. A place where all the places were. A sort of circle. An infinite wheel (with finite boundaries) spinning inside a finite wheel (without boundaries) that was somehow both bigger and smaller than the wheel inside it. Neither in front of me nor behind me nor to one side or the other, but every place at the same time. In and out of time—and without color: Spinning still.

I opened my eyes.

Father was sitting propped up on his elbows in the bed watching me with a sort of incredulously complicit grin, as though he had seen me doing something that we both knew was against the rules—attempting to imagine the Omega—but he wasn't going to tell on me, because he had broken the same rule.

In a conspiratorial whisper, he said, "Do you want me to show it to you?"

"How?"

"I just have to take my face off."

"You just have to take your face off?"

"Like a mask," he said.

"And I'll see it?"

"If you look for it," he said.

"But how do you take your face off?"

"Like a mask," he said. He swept his palm over his face as though lifting a veil. "Just lift and pull. You'll see. You want to see it?"

I must have nodded. He asked if I was sure. I answered as if I were. "Yes."

"Because once you see it," he said. His eyes were focused on the fog in the window. A pool of mist was spreading through the room. I was deep inside the cave of a living body.

"Once I see it," I said, "what happens?"

He hung his head and swallowed. Holding back tears, I could tell. I reached for the back of his hand. Less to comfort him than to keep him focused on the task. If he started crying he might forget the Omega. And I might never get to see it.

"It's yours," he said.

"All right."

"You understand?"

I nodded. By now I was almost uncertain I was not possibly dreaming. Yet the certainty—the absence of it—did not diminish the desire to know. Something was going to happen, even if nothing did.

"I want to see it," I said.

He looked at me like I was a mirror: A look of glazed resignation.

Then he sat back straight. His legs were crossed. His elbows were on his knees. He leaned forward and cupped his palms against his ears, taking a deep breath and leaning back so that he was looking up at the ceiling light. "Here goes nothing," he said with a slanted smile, and then his eyes closed. His face took on a contorted expression of tortured attention: He was looking at the Omega. Looking deep inside.

Another surrendering breath—

And he began to pull his head.

His hands were pulling up and out as though his head were some kind of space helmet that was stuck on top of his neck. It wasn't coming off. He kept pulling. It was stuck. A sort of animal groaning sound was coming from him. His face looked like an enormously gorged blister that was about to pop.

And then it popped.

I heard a sharp ripping sound.

His head burst open and disappeared inside out like a mouth swallowing itself.

There was an explosion of creational light, unbearably bright. I shut my eyes—then opened them.

It was then that I saw the Omega.

And now I reach the point in my story where words stop working.

Every word is a symbol. Every symbol refers to something that really exists—or really could exist—in the mind. Every sentence I have written is an effort to make you see in your mind what I saw in mine. To read is to remember—and to remember is to make a mental picture composed of pre-existing images and ideas. But how can you make a mental picture of something that is not anything? How can I describe something that cannot exist in the created world? To describe what I saw is to lie. All I can say is what I did not see.

What I saw when Father took his face off was Nothing. Not darkness. Not an empty space. Not an endless void. Not a spinning wheel or a black hole or an overflowing point of light. Just . . . Nothing.

This Nothing was infinite and indivisible and infinitely divisible. Inside and outside of it there was no space and no time. No color or shape or mass. No measurable size or surface area. It was not moving. Nor was it still. It was neither living nor dead. It did not begin at one spatial point and end at another. It was everywhere. Yet it was also nowhere. It was invisible. Yet I saw it through my eyes. At the same time I saw (through my eyes) everything else that was happening in the space outside me.

I saw that Father was dead. I saw his body (without his face) fallen in a crumpled heap on the bed, saw the mask of his face (without his body) at rest on the floor, saw the eyes in his face looking up at me, saw the blood pooled under his head, saw each drop of blood on the wall, saw each particle of mist in the air, saw the light in the light, saw (as though I were re-living them) the straight line of causes and effects that had led me to this moment, saw that this line was infinite, saw the infinite line bending into a finite circle, saw that the circle was composed of written words, saw the words that I was thinking, saw the words that you are reading, saw everything as Father wanted me to: an indivisible mass of symbols blanketing reality in a veil of visible existence.

I saw this veil. I saw that the world was this veil. And at the same time I saw beneath the veil to the truth Father must have seen from inside: everything was one. Everything was part of everything else. All the outlines separating one thing from the other dissolved before my eyes, revealing a softly undulating mass of undifferentiated stuff that seemed absurdly and beautifully superfluous—a vomitous excess of existence. Nothing had to be here. Yet there it was. And that was good.

I saw all this in a single instant. In that same instant it began to dissipate.

I was back in the room. That was where I was. I was in the room and Father was still dead. It was getting dark inside out.

I knew what I had to do.

I went down the stairs to the kitchen telephone. I picked up the phone and called for help. I heard a ringing sound. It rang three times. And then a voice that sounded like mine was speaking from the other end of the line. I told the voice who I was and where. I asked for help. It was promised. I was told it might take some time because I was so far away. That was all right. I thanked the voice and hung up the phone. Then I went back upstairs to wait. In the window the mist was fading. I was starting to see the outlines of the outer world again.

I was still waiting.

I waited a long time.

At some point I heard a sound from outside. I went down the steps and opened the door to see if someone was there.

But there was no one.

I stepped outside and saw no one.

Then I went back inside and wrote: You already know who I am. And I am still the same person.

But you did not know who I was. And I was not the same person.