An old man sits on the windowsill of a nursing home, his bare varicose vein-burst legs waving in the spring air. The indigo knots on his thighs and shins resemble blue birds returning home; like them, he’s waiting for the last snows to melt.
His hands, no longer trembling, rest upon a velvet notebook he stole from one of his nameless neighbors. Here, names are just numbers and letters on next-of-kin contact forms. Within the notebook’s aqua covers, he has written—in twittering cursive—a farewell letter.
The old man stands before the steps of his childhood home.
On the first step he traces his fingers underneath the wooden railing of the porch, until he feels the grooves of the letters he etched there with a pocketknife as a kid. Then he tastes, and savors, his own name for the first time in years. Ernest, he says, what a name.
With his name still fresh on the tip of his tongue, he steps onto the second step. A smell of roast potatoes and buttered vegetables and love and safety wraps around him like a hug. In a cloud of vapor, he leaves the smells of death that have been latent on his body from urine and disinfectant, as he skips the third step with a stride and lands on the porch.
Ernest looks through the front-window with a squished nose. He sees his father sitting at the dinner table reading a newspaper. He hears his mother shouting, Ernest, dinner is ready! Then he sees and hears the tiptoes of a little boy when he yells, On my way! as he comes running down the spiral staircase.
Ernest watches and listens to the happy little family, until the sounds die. He presses the side of his face against the wooden weatherboards of the house—wrestler’s ear against the flaky azure wall, hoping his home has more to show him.
But all Ernest hears is his own blood rushing through his skull. Time speeds up, and like a time-lapse the house breaks down before him and his clothes wither away. They drip off him like water, until he’s naked in a cut-down forest.
I know what it’s like, Ernest says, not having strong enough trunks and deep enough roots. He comforts the fallen forest until the wind realizes its new domain. It picks Ernest up from the barren ground and drops him off at the nearest mountain. From the same snow-kissed peak he used to see from his bedroom window, he realizes there isn’t a forest in sight, and all that’s left of the city that once stretched itself further than the horizon, is the concrete foundations of homes and buildings, like small grey thumbs sticking up from the ground. On his knees with his hands palmed in front of him, he prays that at least the mountains will endure. But as time speeds up again, the mountain crumbles like a sandcastle in the surf beneath him and drops him into the ocean.
Are you one ocean, just divided by arbitrary lines? Ernest asks, or many? His only answer are waves that break over his shoulders. I know what that’s like, he says, before drinking the seas as a tray of shots at a bar, and the oceans like a refreshing cocktail in the summer heat, before descending into the dry Mariana Trench. There, an Anglerfish is wiggling on the ocean floor. How did you make your own light in a world of blackness? Ernest asks the Anglerfish.
With its last spurt of life, the Anglerfish answers, Enough darkness and time.
The dry seafloor beneath Ernest shatters, lines like broken glass envelop the Earth, before they break apart. The earth is scattered into pieces, held in suspension by the Sun’s gravity, only a translucent outline of the world it used to be. Ernest sits in the middle of it, like a spider, trying to keep the world together.
He is scooped up by a jar.
With cupped hands against the glass, Ernest drifts the endless vacuum of space, as time cracks its whip again. He sees the Andromeda galaxy crash into the Milky way, and he curses the Sun as it swells to a red giant. Not you, you bastard, not you! And he cries for the last remaining debris of Earth, as they are vaporised by the expanding Sun. Forgive me, he says to the now dead Sun, now a white dwarf, akin to a charred matchstick head. I understand, we are all galley slaves to time.
Ernest mourns the dying of the light as he looks for anything other than darkness, after the last star has burned out and died, and all that remains is him and black holes. Even they are not immortal, as they decay; the Universe is in maximum entropy and on the brink of death.
Even you? Ernest asks the last black hole. It evaporates like a drop of water on the stove, leaving Ernest alone in the void as time, and the Universe, dies.
The glass jar shatters around Ernest, and a chrysalis forms from the shards around him. Inside the chrysalis, time is resumed, it cracks its whip and with time and darkness, he replaces limbs with fins, lungs with gills and skin with scales.
Ernest emerges as an Anglerfish.
A tiny bulb of light sticks from his forehead—a cold blue light with the density of an entire Universe inside. It starts heating and expanding until it explodes, hurling its matter in every direction faster than the speed of light.
Space and time are created anew.
An old man sits on the windowsill of a nursing home. With a flutter in his vein-burst legs he falls onto the damp spring grass.
A party of blue jays take to the skies.
Remi Skytterstad is from Norway, where he studies educational science. He lives with his daughter who attends kindergarten. He has poetry and fiction published in both Norwegian and English. You can find him on twitter @Skytterstad