John Greene met Lily Grisham in college. June 22nd was by no means a significant day to 5.67 billion people on the planet Earth (it was warm and windy in London, as well as New York, cloudy in Paris and Kathmandu), but for the rest of the earthly population the date came to mark something: a thing, maybe small, that had happened within the span of time which took the planet to rotate on its axis. On June 22nd John Greene, a student of astrophysics, finally asked Lily Grisham, a student of Classics, out. Ever since the Halloween party during junior year he had meant to: he was dressed like our planet, wrapped in plastic to protest pollution (college was time for indignation), she had laughed––clad in a ridiculous “Hercules” outfit, which she bough off some walking gym commercial. By the end of the night their “origins story” had changed: they were now Atlas and the world; Lily would occasionally hug John to prove the point––she was holding the world, just not the way people liked to imagine it. “It isn’t crushing necessity, but love, perhaps…” That was Lily and John’s thing, re-imagining the universe and its origins. The Ancient Greeks and modern physicists are the most imaginative story-tellers, really, they said, as a matter of fact, as if a matter of explanation to what kept them together, “so different.” Some years after they had a daughter, Pandora. The name meant in Greek “all gifts”…
“I read mom’s book, dad… Pandora was a lady that had a box filled with all kinds of nasty diseases and only hope left at the bottom. Does that mean that hope is a disease? Why does my name mean “all nasty gifts”?”
“I guess you are too old for this story now… Your name is a beautiful. It literally means all gifts from the gods, as you are for us. As for the mythological Pandora––she was terribly curious like you as well and did not want to sleep. That’s why she got into trouble. Also you are making a Pandora box of your own… don’t give me that look… I know how you clean your room: you are very careful and thorough with organizing your stuff but you get bored before you have finished and put the stuff you don’t want to throw out, and are too lazy to place in a fixed order, in that wooden box over there. You are going to disturb the universe some day, with that box, you know…You create a small concentrated dense space of chaos, of things that are removed from the order of the world and yet are kept, untransformed, undestroyed, unconverted into something else. That little cluster can someday introduce its trivial tiny chaos into our world and…. Brrrrrrrr”
“Stop it, dad. I am scared. I don’t want to be disease Pandora…”
“I am just kidding, you know me, brrrr crazy physicist”
“hahaha, stop iiiit, that tickles!”
“Yes! That’s the point… but seriously, Pan. Clean this box tomorrow. Your mom would’ve been sad to see you are stuffing her old box with some random trash. What I mean is that… you can keep your monster drawings in it for instance. I dunno, you know best. Gnight, Pan”
“Night, dad. I will clean it out tomorrow”
She did not get to it though because Tommy Wilkins came to play, or to work on that science project. In each case the outcome was that the visit turned into a chase around the house, hide and seek, which ended up in one of two kids briskly and forcefully slamming the door of the wardrobe on which the Pandora box rested. As a result it fell on the ground and all kinds of small, insignificant, curious tiny things, among which a perfect nautilus, spilled on the ground…
…And Icarus spread his exquisitely crafted wings. He looked at his father. The wrinkles that marked his old face grew bigger all of sudden pulling his face closer to the bones, he aged immediately. He pleaded with those skin valleys, supplicated with the dark lakes he had for eyes. Icarus was disgusted. The old man spread a trembling hand like the roots of a tree reach for life, Icarus clenched his, his veins pulsing like newly formed baby branches. “We are made to fly. Everyone has forgotten. I have not. The new order feels foreign to me, like someone substituted me with my shadow, crawling, bound to the earth, like a worm twisting for existence, my world, my air for dust…”
Mrs. Wilkins used to always walk in her garden in the mornings, right after she woke up. She used to admire the nautilus-shaped rows of violets she worked hard to make come into being, ever since she picked up gardening. She did it as a matter of consolation or distraction: after Mr. Wilkins died she needed to do something, just anything would have done. She liked flowers and nautili. Both reminded her of Tuscany. It was how architecture met landscape, she thought. It just made sense––the way two things she liked came together. For some time now Mrs. Wilkins was not to be seen walking in her garden in the morning time. There was no trace of violets, but there was a small memorial-looking patch of lilies of the valley. There was an old man who tended to them now and then, religiously, with the hesitation and infrequency that is characteristic of the performing of a ritual that band-aids over a cutting void––removing the plaster would just delineate its dimensions even more, with its shitty-made-to-stick-forever glue. No one needs to be reminded how big their void is. That is so unnecessary. One should better grow something, anything would do. This wrinkled bag of a body can at least do that. It can grow the flower she liked so much. It does not really remember what she was like or even who she is, but the thought of her is painful. It recalls only her smell… lily of the valley, her perfume: she wore it like a skin. Touching the flowers with his old coarse fingers meant touching her skin. The fragrant trace she left when she ran in those poppy fields, overpowering their scent and color––she ran in spiral, and she had a necklace of nautili. She ran and he ran after. And even though the memory was just colors and aroma, it was the most certain fact of his life.
It was green and prickly and squishy and the toes made it yield. The feet sink and sail, sink and sail in it. Feels at home. Sturdy, yet gentle. Fears that the squishiness comes from the little tiny creatures that live in the green thing, squished ladybug on the toe fueled this fear. Seen the ladybugs fly but now it’s all squishy, but the green thing is so nice. Jump. Run. Walk. It bristles. In the morning it’s the best. Feels like sliding. Happy. Happy is the sliding. Happy is the bristling and happy is the thing in the toes. Prickly and squishy––the sensation––happy is. Especially when the ladybugs are flying around and just land on the happy.
…Right, turn, Baker’s street, blossom scent… feeling kind of numb today, like things are out of sorts, but not in any major way, no, not at all. Cat, man with umbrella, puddle, such good weather yesterday, I like rain though, something feels kind of re-arranged… shhhgrsshhh– jeez that was close… feel like it does not matter… love I mean, I don’t feel overwhelmed, no, not really, it’s nice, the little moments, but in general it feels like any other perception… biker to the left, red, neoclassical building, straight ahead…”phew… so close….” no nothing major, just that it feels like if Ethan, if Sarah left, if all of them left, nothing major would have happened, I care deeply (do I?), yes, sure, yes, I know it, then and there, but it feels like if they are not there, next to me, there to hold the world, it will re-arrange instantly, like not even a memory, not even, like perceptions, like..this lady with the dog, right now I am aware, I see her (funny hat, too big for her tiny head), but then, then comes the red light and I have been too much into it all and I forget so I can move on, memory is like the persistence of perception, but even that gets altered, what did they say, the neuroscientists, that we alter memories every single time we conjure them up, yes, so nothing really stays, we pretend I mean, (am I a fake?), jeez…. what an ugly kid, it’s bad it seems to think there are kids that are ugly, as if they are immune to it, but no, this is an ugly kid… and I like May. May can well be my favorite month of them all, just now it seems so, yes, May with its showers and blossoming threes and all, and hope, and love and care… how can caring feel like this all of a sudden, out of blue (why do we say out of blue, blue what? Sky?), blue sky and this rain and this smell of…. it just feels like everyone and everything are all of a sudden equal, you look away or you focus there, in front of you ‘cause red light, and poof it’s all gone and then you see the old lady with the dog and poof and then the ugly kid and poof and then it’s May and then it’s another year and poof. This is how it all feels, like a big ol’ “poof”. It’s not anything major, and yet small things can matter a lot and stir and change your entire world, like Billy McHugh said when he threw that pebble into the lake, with a most exquisite swinging motion, whoooooooopfff… see Jane, see, a tiny pebble but it can wake the whole lake so at the end we can end up with a flood of frogs and we can go and tell people it’s God’s punishment (Sunday school was terrible). I am not sure there were any frogs, though… I don’t remember… hmmm… Yes, so like the lake, I still feel the old way, like a Jane, there is intensity and all, but sometimes now, not all the time, now something small is out of sorts, different, like the ripples of the lake and the ripples in the beginning of the universe that inflated made up all this insignificant distinction that now forms the galaxies and stars and all… like it will be ok, the world will not fall apart if they are gone, I don’t feel sad at the thought, just thinking about it makes me think that they will just be gone, not like memories, but like the lady, and the kid, like the 100 0000000000 things we see each day and we forget as fast as we see them… and I will care as much. So why does this way of caring about people feel not quite right, weird, not mine, not…. phheeeeeewww bird flying too low, hole in the ground covered by water, splash… no… it just flew way too low, but the water moved, a little bit, not in any major way, no, no feeling about people like perceiving almost feels like the most genuine thing to do, the most natural thing to do, feels native to the mind, all is balanced, there are no disturbances in the flow of the mind, no, nothing major, just this small memory of how things used to be, yesterday, already today is different, nothing major, no, but… ripples… it spreads… feels like God’s punishment…
It is light and fluid, purple hues, iridescent. The toes do not recognize it. They sink, not sail. It is warm and gooey. Liquid. Feels confused. It is new and it has always been. Gentle, yet unstable. Scary. Jump. No. Run. No. Walk. No. Glide. Yes. First steps. Before this time… feels… something is ughh. Feels uneasy. Purple is not green and that’s all that matters. Prickly, firm, squishy is not warm, gooey, fluid. Where’s home? Eyes are warm and watery. Splash, splash, splash. Likes the sound. Happy. Again. Again? Happy is now the toes being submerged in the gooey and warm and splashy. The happy can now also make the thingy with the eyes, although it is not purple. The Happy feels at home…“Pandora Jane Greene! Don’t eat that! Come…come to mommy and daddy…come. Yes, yes you can do it, just one more slide….”