A Matter of Incredible Possibility by Alexander Luft

Our very existence, the tour guide tells us, is a quirk in the fabric of space-time. “In the history of our galaxy, there have been millions of astronomical events capable of exterminating human life on earth,” he says. “Asteroids. Solar flares. Gamma bursts. All of us could be gone in an instant and we’d never know what hit us.”

We are on the nine o’clock at the planetarium. Our tour guide directs our attentions to the digital simulation of our galaxy on a domed screen overhead. All the dots of light newly suspicious, every blip a potential assassin.

“Some are concerned about a nearby supernova doing us in,” our tour guide says. “But astronomers today estimate we’d have to be within 50 million light years for that to happen. Then again, we’ve been wrong before.”

There are about a dozen of us on the tour. Someone has brought a young child, who is reasonably upset.

“Does it make you feel better,” I whisper to Violet, “that if it were to happen right now, at least we would die together?”

She, like usual, suspects the world is committed to a prank at her expense. She won’t be scared, not easily.

“It doesn’t matter whether I were here with you or if I were replacing a toilet paper roll in Cleveland,” Violet says. “We would still technically die together.”

She must wonder why I brought her to the planetarium, where our tour guide wants to make a fool of her. Perhaps I was hoping for the impossible, to reconsider ourselves in a universal context. Violet spends her days checking parking meters for the city. She does not take kindly to being made a fool of.

Our tour guide directs us to a speck on the simulation overhead. Either the image zooms closer, or we fly through many millions of light years. In either case we arrive at a cloud of dust and stars.

“We have reason to believe,” our tour guide tells us, “that these are the remains of an earth-sized planet that collided with an asteroid exactly like the ones passing by earth on an annual basis. We might be looking at our future.”

“Imagine that,” I said to Violet.

“I’d rather not.”

And then our tour guide turns off the projection and we are lost in darkness and I think I hear the small child cry out. I grasp for Violet’s hand.

“Sorry about that, folks,” our tour guide says, clicking on a flashlight. “Why don’t you follow me down the hall to the auditorium so I can show you some awesome videos?”

And then we shuffle awkwardly after him, each of our little groups trying not to interrupt the big group, on down the hall to a musty room with burgundy upholstery. Our tour guide waits until we sort out the seating situation, the child insisting on his mother’s lap.

“I don’t want to say it’s all doom and gloom,” our tour guide says, “but even absent a catastrophic space event, we know that we are rapidly depleting the earth’s resources. It is inevitable that humankind will need to seek an extraterrestrial settlement. And that, folks, is why we should keep up hope.”

He turns on a video. We watch rockets launch. They are the first, we’re told, to return themselves to earth unharmed. The new rockets are cheap and easy. Space transportation is viable. It is a matter of incredible possibility.

I watch Violet watch the rockets.

“If we can become capable of intergalactic travel,” our tour guide says at the video’s end, “then humankind can ensure its survival forever. We are chasing our own immortality.”

Violet tells me the idea of human immortality gives her the jeebies.

“But,” I ask her, “wouldn’t you like to know, that even if you and I died, right now, that something we did would still matter, that someone would remember us? So that someone, someday, will know we were here?”

“Like, at the planetarium?”

“Like, together.”

Our tour guide looks at his watch. The tour will have to end on that note. We are thanked for our interest in the planetarium and are invited to browse the gift shop on our way out.

Violet picks out a bumper sticker with a Carl Sagan quote. We are a way for the universe to know itself. I get a coffee mug with a rocket on it.

I find Violet’s hand as we head for the parking lot. There are too many lights in the city to see the stars or the things out there that will kill us one day. Before we reach the car, I stop and gaze at the sky, anyway.

Violet pauses beside me. I believe she’s looking up, too. But I don’t dare look.


 

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Alex Luft’s fiction has appeared in Yemassee, Midwestern Gothic, The Coachella Review, and other literary magazines. He is a staff reader for Quarterly West and lives in Chicago. Find him at alexanderluft.com.

This is How It’s Done by Paul Beckman

The fucking Doctor did it wrong. Ben Casey or Marcus Welby would have had him come into the office and sit down and break the news gently, even pat him on the shoulder, ask him if there was someone he’d like him to call. That’s how it’s done. Those are the rules. Everyone knows that. Everyone but this Dr. Siegel. Him with his terse phone call. “Mirsky, Dr. Siegel. Those polyps were malignant—think I got everything but you never know. You should feel lucky we got to it when we did. Here, talk to my secretary she’ll set you up with another appointment.”

He remembered getting up and locking his office door and telling his secretary he wasn’t taking any calls. He also remembered thinking about all the people in his family, who died from cancer, but he was only thirty and everyone else got it much later in life.

The next day he called his former wife—they’d only been divorced a few months and he thought she should know because of their two young kids. At the coffee shop, trying not to cry, he told her the story of being sent to the specialist. She said, “I need more money.” He repeated his story. She repeated her four words. She didn’t acknowledge his plight. Mirsky got up and walked out of the coffee shop. She left the bill for his coffee and toast in his mailbox.

Mirsky’s a senior citizen now and his children are older than he was during the time of that incident. He’s not had a recurrence. In fact, he and his ex—widow and widower, get along fine now and meet at the coffee shop once a month to talk about their kids and grandchildren and other things. Sometimes they take in a movie together and every once in a while they’ll cook each other a meal. They never speak of the past or the future.

Mirsky went for his annual physical and afterwards, as usual, went into his doctor’s private office where they schmooze and trade gossip. The doctor came in after a bit holding a thick blue folder. He took out an x-ray and stuck it into the clips of the light box, turned, walked back to Mirsky and patted him on the shoulder.


 

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Paul Beckman’s new flash collection is Kiss Kiss (Truth Serum Press). His stories have appeared in the Norton Anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, and the 2016 Best Small Fictions anthology. His story “Mom’s Goodbye” was chosen as the winner of the 2016 Fiction Southeast Editor’s Prize. He’s widely published in magazines such as PANK, Blue Fifth Review, Matter Press, and Literary Orphans. Paul hosts the FBomb flash fiction series in New York City at KGB’s Red Room.

Lint Trap by Veronica Montes

After she moves a load of warm laundry from the dryer to the folding basket for the fourth time that morning, she gathers the detritus of her family’s t-shirts and socks from the lint trap. She wonders (also for the fourth time that morning) if there isn’t something to be done with the lint itself. She fingers the fluff of it. Could she use it to…stuff something? A tiny doll family? Tooth fairy pillows? She sneezes.

When she was a child in Oregon, her mother sent her to a school where they spent all day dancing and painting and rolling sheets of beeswax into tapers. In the 3rd grade they were given tufts of colored wool, which they repeatedly stabbed with a needle until the fibers locked together and became a sort of sculpting material. She was never very good at this. She often pricked herself by accident and then braced for blood that mysteriously failed to appear. The other children bent their heads to their task and produced gnomes and fairies, elephants and foxes. She made balls of various sizes. That’s it: balls.

She recalls a news segment featuring a frugal couple who transformed plastic grocery bags into area rugs. Was it area rugs? Or curtains? She considers the possibility of using the lint to create kneepads and headbands to protect her four children—or wait, yes, all children!—from the dangers of asphalt and ceramic tile. She envisions wild success in the money-making arena of youth sports. What if she became celebrated for halting the outrageous uptick in childhood-sustained concussions? Concussions, kidcussions, KID-CUSHIONS, she thinks with satisfaction, wondering if she should have gone into marketing instead of laundry.

And if she does this, will her story go viral, everyone marveling at her domestic ingenuity? Will the lint fill up the space near her solar plexus, where she once carried warm thoughts of her husband? Could she fashion it into something flirty and beguiling to turn his head? Could she prop herself against it to remain alert from 3:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon? Could she use it to plump the lines that have formed on either side of her mouth, or to refill her once magnificent breasts? To muffle her screams to plug her ears to cushion her long and graceless fall.


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Veronica Montes is the author of Benedicta Takes Wing & Other Stories (Philippine American Literary House, 2018). Her online fiction can be found at SmokeLong Quarterly, Spelk, and CHEAP POP. She is Managing Fiction Editor at daCunha.global.