I am reading about the first detection of light from behind a black hole when Liuwei stumbles into the bedroom and wraps an arm around my waist. The window is open so I can feel the cool, smokey air against my face, but his sweaty arm and chest pressed against my back function as a thermal conductor rendering the duvet unbearable. I can’t even focus on pinching the phone screen to zoom in on the diagram of a re-emerging reflection arrow illustrating X-rays emitted from a corona. Or is that an arrow indicating the initial reflection from the disk, unbent by a gravitational field, like fog you can only see when you turn on a flashlight? I wonder how overpowered you must be to separate electrons from atoms and twirl magnetic fields so high above yourself before snapping them back down until you’ve flared up a Hole of Darkness, like it’s the last spacetime-warping boss of an RPG. I push Liuwei away because I’m trying to minimize body heat and need space, but he’s too drunk to understand the physical cues of me (gently) elbowing him in the stomach. At first, I think my efforts prevail when he rolls off the bed, but then he flicks on the bathroom light, and our bathroom is directly connected to the master bedroom without a second barrier of doors to mute the water splashing and toilet flushing and vomit hitting porcelain. I listen to him dry heave several times before sitting up, pausing as blood rushes to my head and stars fade to a bed stand, slippers, carpet, drawer. It’s too bright and loud for me to sleep, too dark to tell how much water is in his mug, and I don’t want to turn on more lights, so I cup the mug with two hands in case it is filled to the brim, pretending I’m doing an upper-body core stabilization workout as I walk down the stairs. Turns out the mug is empty although it still feels heavy, and I bring cold water back up to Liuwei. Vomiting on an empty stomach won’t help, I say, listening to him spit and blow his nose into toilet paper. I hand him the mug and hope he doesn’t spill because the main room light is off and it’s dark, atmospheric, like we’re in a black hole except no one knows what the inside of a black hole looks like—my brain fills in the gaps; reality rarely pans out with imagination. Plus, most matter approaching a black hole doesn’t actually get in. It’s like a sink drain, except the water moves too quickly so most of it gets ejected. We’d have to be a rare exception and I doubt we’re special enough for that kind of thing to happen in our lifetime. Liuwei swallows two gulps of water. He tells me I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry and when I say he doesn’t need to be sorry, he says I’m sorry again and again. He knows I hate redundancy: if everyone just paid a bit more attention, imagine all the time saved from overdone conversations. But I suppose a drunk Liuwei knows the more truthful version of me because I am annoyed that his vomiting disturbed my reading and I had been so close to falling asleep to observations of X-rays flung out into the universe. But I’m not self-centered enough to blame him for vomiting, and I will fall asleep again eventually.
The next morning, I ask him why he drank so much. He says he was undergoing an existential crisis and didn’t feel he was getting what he deserved out of life. Are you sure you’re not just compensating for not drinking much during college? I want to ask, but again, not appropriate to say. Liuwei has this way of looking like a hurt fawn whenever I accuse him of any “shortcomings” although I think they’re more observations than accusations. But I understand people are sensitive, and anyone can feel sad for no apparent reason. Instead, I tell him we’re a tiny speck in the universe, and we’ll never be able to travel faster than the speed of light, so we’ll never be able to escape a black hole’s event horizon, which is to say we’re all humans with the same shortcomings doomed to the same future so there’s no need to dwell. Liuwei tears off a chunk of croissant and flakes fall to the floor. I wait for him to clean them up, but he doesn’t notice. I spot several empty whiskey bottles and a banana peel resting on the counter like a teepee. Are you going out for lunch? I ask. Normally he goes out on the weekends with his friends because restaurant food tastes better and I keep forgetting to buy msg, although I don’t know if he should eat greasy food while hungover. As Liuwei heads out the garage where his friends are waiting to pick him up, I push a wine glass onto the ground, expecting it to shatter. It doesn’t. Our floor must not be hard enough; it’s engineering wood, not tile. Liuwei can’t hear the thud of the glass against the wood, or maybe he hears it but doesn’t notice, or maybe the garage door roars so loudly everything else is comparatively silent. I wait a few seconds in case he might come back to check on the state of the glass and kitchen and me, but he’s already on the road. From the window, I watch the tail of the car moving at an escape velocity effectively equivalent to standing still relative to the speed of light. But I’m the one who’s actually standing still like a reverse singularity, infinitely hollow, trying to swallow light though it only goes through me, and then far away.
Lucy Zhang writes, codes, and watches anime. Her work has appeared in Quarterly West, The Fourth River, New Orleans Review, and elsewhere, and was selected for Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions. She is losing sleep over a novel. Find her at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.
Photo by Mark Basarab on Unsplash
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