THE UNIVERSE INSIDE ME
A HEARTBREAKING SCIENCE FICTION LOVE STORY
I’m dying, I think to myself. All those years of failing to take care of my body—the alcohol, the red meat, the damn aspartame in diet drinks. It’s led me to this very moment. In a few seconds, the doors will open to the doc’s office and he’s going to break the news to me: You have cancer, I imagine him saying. You have ebola. You have the black plague. You’re dying. You’re dying. You’re dying.
That gnawing sensation in my stomach—which I mistook for gas at first—is really death, nesting deep within my body, waiting to blossom into my full-out destruction. I take a deep breath and count to ten. Waiting is always the worst part.
The vanilla white doors to Dr. Loki Copernicus’ office swings open like an executioner’s axe and I’m greeted with a half-smile shaped like a crescent moon. What does a half-smile mean?
Cancer. It’s going to be cancer you unhealthy swine, my inner hypochondriac screams at me. I will die from the same wretched disease that chewed away at my mother, turning the strongest woman I had ever known into a husk of flaking flesh and brittle bones.
“Have a seat, Curtis,” the doctor says to me, the moment I step into his spotless white office. I take a deep breath and prepare for the worst. The diagnosis is a strange one, one that I hadn’t anticipated.
“There’s an undiscovered Universe growing inside your stomach.” He says it with such a serious face that I can’t help but believe him.
“The big bang theory, it’s happened inside your body.”
I feel relief. “So it’s not cancer?” I confirm.
“No it’s not cancer.”
I let out a long sigh. “Well, damn. Here I thought this was the end of me.”
Dr. Copernicus folds his arms across his chest and leans back in his seat. “Well technically speaking, it will be the end of you—your physical form anyway. Your body will be consumed by a nebula of stars and planets as you’ll literally become one with this new universe, a transient entity with a mental connection to every life form in its existence.”
I sit there for a moment, trying to process the information. I fail. “Is there anything I can take for it?”
“Well for the gas—which is really a billion stars exploding in a galaxy far away—some pepto might help. But there is no cure for intergalactic creation.”
The prognosis is stage four dimensional Genesis and there’s nothing I can do but wait for my rebirth.
I think about getting a second opinion, but it isn’t until Dr. Copernicus shows me the pin-sized hole, just above my naval, through a magnifying lens that I realize his diagnosis is spot on. I see planets and stars.
I bury my face in my hands and wonder how I’m going to tell Alicia.
“Don’t look so glum,” the doctor says to me. “Think of it as a good thing.”
“Haven’t you always dreamt of playing god?”
I’d like to say with Alicia, it was love at first sight, but it wasn’t. She killed my dog.
To be fair, she was the vet who was instructed to administer the needle to poor little Daffodil, whose stomach had been decimated by listeria after eating too much pesticide. The vet clinic had told me there was nothing they could do except put Daffodil out of his misery.
At first, I viewed Alicia as a fiery-haired female version of Jack Kevorkian, reborn specifically for the animal kingdom. She was a slayer of animals, killer of pets, and murderer of man’s best friend. Later, when she offered me a box of tissues and showed me genuine sympathy, I realized how green her eyes were. The entire emerald kingdom was trapped within those jade opals, promising both magic and song and a happily ever after.
We kissed. She stated she had never kissed her patients before. I made a joke about how most of her patients used their tongues as toilet paper. She laughed, I cried a little more over Daffodil, and the rest was history.
Love at second sight.
A moment of sympathy turned into a date, a date turned into a relationship, and the relationship evolved into an over-priced dream wedding and three months’ salary in the form of a 1.2 carat flawless diamond. Alicia is worth every damn penny. There are some days I’m convinced she sparkles more than that stone on her finger.
As much as we love each other, finding the time to be together is hard. She spends long hours at the vet clinic and I spend many nights on the road, selling the dream of ‘going green’ to all my corporate clients. When I call her from my hotel room, I sometimes hear the loneliness in her voice, and that depresses me more than anything else in the world.
We were married. How could someone married feel alone? The answer: when their spouse isn’t around to share their bed.
At least I know she loves me. She wouldn’t hurt so much if she didn’t.
Lord, how am I going to break the news to her?
I pull up to the long driveway of our house and sit there for a while, reciting the words I’m going to say. “Well honey, I’m not dying. I’m just transforming into the infinite cosmos. Dr. Copernicus says it’s a good thing. We won’t get to snuggle anymore, however.”
It sounds ridiculous. “Stage four intergalactic Genesis,” I mutter aloud. “This is nonsense.”
I know it isn’t. I stay in the car a little while longer, listening to Tom Yorke sing about being the boney king of nowhere, wondering what the music will be like in this new universe.
Eventually Alicia steps out of the house and onto the driveway. She gently knocks on the glass window. I roll it down.
“You’ve been sitting out here for a while,” she says.
“Yes.” There’s a long pause between us. Her eyes are glassy from moisture. “You had the follow up to your medical tests today.”
I don’t respond. What can I possibly say? Her face becomes a mask of worry. I hate when she cries. In my new Universe, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure sweet girls like her never cry.
I open the door and tell her everything. The words pour out of my mouth, but I struggle to believe I’m saying them. The second I finish, she grabs my shirt and lifts it up to see for herself. She’s sceptical. I don’t blame her.
“Dr. Copernicus is a quack,” she states. “I don’t see anything. I certainly don’t see a new universe expanding inside your stomach.”
“Look at the hole.”
“It’s your belly button.”
“The hole above it. It’s the size of a pin-prick.”
I hand her the magnifier that Dr. Copernicus had given to me for times when I wanted a closer look. Alicia finally sees it. She shoves a beautiful green eye right up close to the magnifier.
“I think there are stars forming as we speak,” I say.
Alicia stares at my belly for a while. Eventually she pulls my shirt back down. She looks at me with a desperation that shatters my heart. My wife clings onto me with such a suffocating tightness. I feel as if I’ve fallen over the side of a cliff, a black swirling abyss beneath me, and Alicia’s arms are all that’s keeping me alive in this world.
“Oh Curtis.” She begins to cry like I did, when Daffodil died.
Oh honey, don’t do this to me. You know I’m never good with these things.
Tears start streaming down my face as well and all I can think of is my stupid dog Daffodil, and how it loved eating cat shit. It’s funny what your mind thinks of when you’re faced with bad news.
We make love that night—the type of loving that’s filled with longing and urgency to make up for lost time.
Time is something I no longer have.
I’m convinced that in another life, Alicia was an artist. It’s Sunday morning and that means buttermilk pancakes—a masterpiece in both taste and presentation. Alicia enjoys drawing with pancake batter, often creating brilliant illustrations with nothing more than the batter, a brush, and a buttered frying pan.
Her pancake art is just as lovely as her cherry-blossom lips. She drops a gorilla pancake on my plate and I take a full minute to appreciate the beauty of it.
“I can’t eat this,” I say. “This belongs in a picture frame.”
She drops the brush in the bowl full of batter and stares emptily at the frying pan. “My mom used to do the same for my brother and me. It was the best thing about Sundays.”
I tense up knowing full well where her thoughts are headed.
“I always thought I’d do this with…” she pauses, and then looks at me with a sad smile. “How are you feeling?” she asks, redirecting her thoughts.
“No different than yesterday.”
“Are you hungry? Do you want more? I can make some eggs and bacon.”
I shake my head. “You make it sound like I’m pregnant.”
“Well you’re harboring life inside of you,” Alicia points out. She turns off the stove, sits at the table and holds my hands. She’s struggling to put on a brave face, but the eyes never lie.
She’s desperate. I know exactly what she wants; what she longs for. For so long we’ve put it off, always using work as an excuse.
“The timing’s not right yet,” I’d say, and she’d agree with me.
I think about the entire concept of time. I read a theory once, that time isn’t infinite. Like all things, it too will die. Time and reality is like an old clock and with every passing second, it’s calmly winding down. As it does, everything in existence will slow down and eventually stop, leaving us frozen in place forever.
I feel the gentleness of Alicia’s hands and stare at the beauty of her visage while the rays of the sun, seeping through the glass window, kiss us both. I think to myself, now would be a great moment for time to expire. I’d spend the rest of eternity staring at the woman I love. God, how did I ever get so lucky?
“Curtis, what are you thinking?” she asks.
I process her question carefully and then finally respond.
“When are you ovulating?”
Six months to go before I’m consumed by the stars. I hear stories about the difficulty of conceiving this day in age with so many external factors such as artificial hormones, birth control side effects, chemical intakes, invisible microwaves zapping at my testicles, and so forth.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was stressed about the entire thing. I found myself staring at the mirror just before a ‘performance’ and giving myself a pep talk.
“Just get in there and do it.” I’d will myself. “If you can master the cosmos, you can certainly master her ovaries.” I’d come into the bedroom roaring like a lion but the pressure to deliver often left me whimpering like a stray kitten. Luckily Alicia knew what to do.
She always knows what to do. Tonight, Alicia pees on the cream colored stick and shows me the results.
Two pink lines.
“You’re going to be a father!” she exclaims. She can barely contain herself.
I’m relieved. Ovaries mastered. I embrace her and kiss her, just before excusing myself to the bathroom. I look into the mirror, the same mirror where I had given myself so many riveting pep talks over the years.
I take off my shirt and stare at the tennis ball-sized hole in my stomach. I see feint glitters of light emerging from the darkness, baby stars peering through an endless abyss.
You’re going to be a father! No, I’m not. Fatherhood isn’t in my future. My future is littered with infant solar systems and the candy-colored planets that circle around burning suns.
I sit on the park bench and watch children run around me with the kinetic energy of unstable firecrackers. I bask in the orange glow of the twilight sun and marvel at how precious childhood is. Their faces radiate with innocent joy while they’re immersed in a game of tag, playing it as if it’s the most important thing in the world.
I wonder what our child will look like. I pull out the picture from the ultrasound and stare at our little girl, a collection of black and white shapes that form her limbs.
“You’ll have Alicia’s red hair,” I deduce, “And maybe her green eyes too. My ears though, you’ll definitely have my monkey ears.”
When I transform into a formless entity, I wonder if my consciousness can traverse through multiple universes so I can see what our daughter looks like. Meanwhile, underneath my shirt, I feel the swirling vortex of a black hole destroy an unnamed planet.
I feel sad. Life has ended before it has a chance to flourish.
I close my eyes and listen to the children playing and allow my mind to drift into a stream of unconsciousness. I think of lilac-colored waterfalls and skies filled with undiscovered terrestrial beings, soaring like angels against the backdrop of crimson clouds.
And then a singular thought sparks my mind: Aubrey is a beautiful name for a daughter.
Hand-in-hand, Alicia and I stroll through the department store like…well, like first time parents. Alicia is making note of everything she thinks our daughter needs, which is practically everything she lays eyes on.
Baby bumble? Check. Dual action breast pump? Of course. Jolly Jumper? Our unborn daughter will love it. Alicia rests her hands on her belly and coos at the life inside of her. “I can’t wait to meet you,” I hear her say.
She doesn’t realize that her words tear into me like a serrated knife. I dream about our daughter every night; dream about the smile on her face and the weight of her warm body as she gives me a giant hug. I dream about the dance recitals I’ll never see, the songs she’ll sing that I’ll never hear, and the quiet moments we’ll never share.
My unborn daughter haunts me.
I’d sacrifice everything, just to see you once.
My eyes gravitate towards a mobile, hanging above a spaceship themed crib. Gummy bear-colored planets attached to white plastic wires revolve around a yellow bulb that glows like a firefly.
I am entranced and terrified at the same time. Alicia sees it too, and rests her head against my shoulder. She begins to cry.
“Don’t,” I whisper.
“I can’t help it.”
I wonder if we are the only couple in existence that can get so depressed looking at something that’s intended to bring babies countless hours of happiness and joy.
Two months until my physical body is obliterated and I become a formless, sentient entity. The hole in my stomach has increased in size. I shove an old bowling ball through it just to see what would happen. In the mirror I watch the black, spherical ball disappear into the depths of the inky infantile universe.
I decide to toss other random objects down my stomach, just to watch them drift. Goodbye bar of soap. Godspeed two years’ worth of National Geographic magazines. Sayonara expired hummus!
Alicia walks into the washroom, just as I’m about to toss a broken cuckoo clock down the hole. “What are you doing?” she asks.
I struggle to think of an appropriate response. My answer comes out as a question. “Tossing junk into my belly?”
Alicia eyes the clock in my hand. “Well for one thing, that clock was a gift from my brother.”
“It doesn’t matter. It was still a gift. Second, you’re treating this new…” she points at the hole in my belly, “…new galaxy as a dumping ground.”
“It’s my galaxy. And besides, the junk will probably get sucked in by a black hole or combust when it comes close to a supernova.”
Alicia diverts her eyes from my belly. I know she’s uncomfortable looking at it. I put on a shirt. “Come feel your daughter kicking,” she says as she waddles over towards me. “You never touch your daughter.”
As she’s uncomfortable with my belly, I’m uncomfortable with hers. I don’t want to get attached to something I’ll never get a chance to see. I rest my hand on her stomach for a few seconds before quickly pulling away. The look of disappointment washes over her face like rain on a wedding day.
“Your daughter needs to know who you are,” she says. “She needs to hear your voice.”
I shake my head. “How?”
“Talk to her.”
I stare at the blinking red light telling me that the high definition video camera is now recording. I take a deep breath, and then speak apprehensively.
“Hi, I’m your daddy,” I say. The word ‘daddy’ feels strange as it escapes my lips, stranger than the black widow pulsar that’s moving through my galaxy at a rate of one million miles per hour.
I clear my throat. “The first thing you’ll probably notice is that I don’t look like other people.”
The growing universe has taken over almost half my body. I’m able to cover most of it with clothing, but where my left eye should be, there’s the ringed planet of Waldo. I named it myself, after my first dog when I was a boy.
I point to it. “Most people don’t have a planet where their eye should be.” I sigh. I’m struggling with the right words to say. Should I explain to her about being reborn into a nexus of suns and stars? Is that the memory I want for my daughter of me?
I lick my lips, stare at my hands—my left palm displaying an asteroid belt—and then look up at the camera again.
What’s left of my humanity resonates through my words like chorus bells. “My dad—your grandpa, God rest his soul—was an incredible man. I always thought that if I grew up to be half the man he was, then my children would be alright.”
I tell my daughter all the things my dad taught me that’s now become my mantra—not because it’s what I was told, but because it’s what I believed in. I speak about the ethics of being a good person, and how that influenced my childhood.
I speak about the importance of not taking life too seriously, and share embarrassing stories of myself—like the time I went to the washroom at work just to finish a chapter of a book that had enslaved me. I had not realized that the lock on the stall door was broken. The door was wide open for a good ten minutes before I finally noticed. Anyone who strolled into the washroom during those ten minutes would have seen me sitting on the can, pants hanging around my ankles, staring intently at the book in my hands.
I laugh as I recall the story. I’ve always been a master of self-depreciation.
I then speak about Alicia. I tell my daughter the story of how we met, and how she makes me feel, and how she should always listen to her mother.
I tell my daughter the importance of being treated with respect, and to shrug off any hurtful words she may encounter. Insults are a reflection of the person saying them, and not the person receiving them.
As I’m speaking to the camera, I notice that I’m crying. Warm tears trickle down the right side of my face, while I feel a shower of shooting stars, plummeting to the surface of Waldo.
I end the recording by telling my daughter that it is possible to love someone you’ve never met before, because as of this moment, I love her with all my heart. I dream about her each and every night.
The last thing I remember as a human was Alicia’s tears, raining down on what remained of my physical being—patches of flesh floating above the infinite darkness of my form. I desperately tried to call out to her, but I realized that my mouth was gone, replaced by a comet passing by an interstellar nebula.
I love you Alicia. We had such a wonderful life together in such a beautiful universe.
In a distant planet, my fingertips touch the green life that struggles to push itself through the soil. The red sun—my right eye—hovers over it, feeding it hot rays required for photosynthesis.
Meanwhile on a blue planet light years away, my other fingers carves open a network of tunnels and water flows through a maze of earthly pipes, finding its way to the surface and releasing hot steam into the scorching atmosphere.
At the center of it all, where my heart is, a beautiful planet gives birth to an intelligent species so wonderful and mysterious that it brings tears to my eyes—a meteor shower crashing into a thousand stars.
I’m fixated by this beautiful planet. I decide to name it Aubrey.
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