BY JOEL HANS
Imagine that in millenia long past, there is a man who has been given the job to rub objects together in search of fuzzy forces. Imagine his name is Agapetos, meaning roughly love when one translates the word from his language, which we now call Greek. Imagine as he is sent away from the city he grew up in, the city where his lover must live in wait for him, as he stumbles out into the forest for the first real time, acanthus and their deeply-lobed leaves leaving red traces near the backs of his knees with their spines. Imagine comets of red ice. Imagine Agapetos rubbing a bramble against a piece of red limestone laced with white, that granite against the furred tail of a squirrel he kills for supper, the pelt of that squirrel against himself as he imagines the hand of his lover. Imagine plane tree bark against a lammergeier’s sad offering of hollow bones beneath an autumnal wash of gold; the sole of his shoe against this kind of iron-hued dirt, the sole of his shoe against the back of a sand-slow sea turtle. Imagine his lips against that same back. Imagine him settling down to sleep every night by sprawling out atop his bedspread and rubbing his eyes and staring up at an anchored night sky. Imagine stars blue as milk.
Imagine Agapetos finding a piece of amber among some like-colored granite. Imagine the tears in his matted beard for how long he has waited, or maybe it is only old sweat. Imagine muscles contracting around visible bones, because there are only so many squirrels in the forest. Imagine the way he rubs the amber against the breast of his tunic so as to clean it of grime, and imagine how this motion creates a force he can feel in his other hand. Imagine the way curiosity makes the heart. Imagine as he tears pieces of paper from the document that details his profession and howls laughing as the amber pulls at their corners as though by invisible string, or magic. Imagine Agapetos’ delight in finding the electron via static electricity, only he doesn’t have the words, or the meaning. Imagine the story he keeps in his hand, and the story inside that. Imagine stories all the way down into the amber’s most center.
Imagine Agapetos truly losing track of time on his long way home, toeing out of the woods and into 201x. Imagine the city he once loved, and then imagine it razed over a hundred times for better amenities, higher rents, more contemporary architectural features. Imagine all the disappeared colonnades. Imagine as he asks for directions and is both horrified and relieved to find these people still speak the way he does, among the metallic beasts and speaking rose gold papryi that seem to contain whole worlds. Imagine him arriving on a cobblestone street with familiar shape, and then another, and another. Imagine him arriving to the place he once called home—he steps inside, prays to find his lover, finds someone entirely different. Imagine he holds out his amber to this answerer and demands to know the distance of his lover’s bones.
Imagine as the entirety of the world’s theoretical physicists convene in this cosmopolitan city to explain to Agapetos the nature of the electron, this thing he discovered in his own small way. Imagine now the chain of naming: electron being the portmanteau of electricity and ion; electric from the Greek elektron, meaning amber. Imagine that unlike glass the amber feels warm against his skin, even after all these years. Imagine Agapetos demanding an answer as to the electron’s every truth, as though he will merely follow the clues. Imagine as the physicists shake their heads at how little is still known. Imagine their sudden excitement though, their nervous mixing-up of languages. Imagine their mustaches. Imagine that they ask him to look up at the night sky and all its many stars, and to think about the space behind those stars, and watch as Agapetos does that and mourns all over again for the constellations disappeared behind our new light. Imagine the physicists explaining to Agapetos that when one of those stars dies, given it is massive enough, it collapses into this strangeness called a black hole. Imagine them asking Agapetos to imagine a barrier, almost like the surface of water, only that everything taking place on the other side of the barrier can’t escape and can’t have any effect on him. Imagine they give this barrier a name: an event horizon. Imagine chalk finding home in diagrams detailing the way electrons and their pairs, positrons, are created on opposite sides of the event horizon, and how the electron comes into being and is cast away from the event horizon because the positron is left to linger inside the belly of the black hole. Imagine as Agapetos asks what this has to with the color of his lover’s hair. Imagine as the physicists explain how this process creates a net loss of energy for the black hole and that no thing can lose forever and yet exist. Imagine the physicists saying: yes, the being apart matters. Imagine, they ask him—imagine that in time, the black hole loses all its energy and collapses, explodes, sending that once-lost positron back into the universe, not unlike the very inside of the amber. Imagine that they drink tea together afterward, and Agapetos tastes, for the first time, this thing we call chocolate.
Imagine Agapetos staring into his amber, knowing he must rasp until there is only dust left in his hands. Imagine the way he is drawn to long lines, the cracks where floor meets wall like horizons. Imagine his eye, searching. Imagine his thumb, searching. Imagine him trying to explain how the constellations looked different to him as a boy. Imagine them falling apart over the millenia on their own orbits around the galaxy, imagine him feeling the same. Imagine their hands on his, their apologies in every possible accent, their saying yes, the being apart matters, and imagine what these theoretical physicists are still trying to explain with cocoa between their teeth: there is a truth in the universe that states with certainty that all darkness will, given enough time, seal itself into the quiet and give away the good it has been nurturing all along. Imagine that.
Joel Hans is the managing editor of Fairy Tale Review, and his fiction has been published in Caketrain, West Branch, Redivider, Yemassee, Booth, and others. He received his MFA in fiction from the University of Arizona. Find him online at joelhans.com.
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