One Abyss to Another
“I’m tired of this place, you know.”
“Yes, tired.” He shifted in the grass, scowling at the night sky. The grass was damp – barely, but enough for the blades to be cold to the touch – and the air around them draped them in a chill, biting him even as he crossed his arms against it. “This year has been one catastrophe after another. I’m tired of the world being cruel and I’m tired of being powerless to stop it.”
Another breeze pushed against them, unrelenting. He squeezed his eyes shut, like the wind and the sky and the world would go away if only he blocked them out hard enough. But the wind rushed past his ears, and the moonlight colored him pale, and the world ignored him as always.
She went quiet for a moment beside him, paused her search for a suitable rock to sacrifice to the water below. He almost took her silence as agreement, until she tilted her head and said, carefully, “I don’t think the world is kind, but it isn’t cruel, either.”
“No?” He sat up and stared at her, blinking, waiting, but she seemed content to just shake her head and let her words just mingle with the salt in the air. “Well, what is it, then?”
“It’s itself. We can’t define the universe for its treatment of us – why would we, anyway? It has no reason to prove itself to us.” She shrugged, tossing a stone off the cliff and grabbing another before the first reached the water below. “We’re insignificant in the long run.”
“It is. Do you know why?” He shook his head after a moment – partially to satiate her and her smug smile, but he had to admit, a small part of him was curious. She tossed the second rock to the sea and watched it disappear into the waves, and she said, slightly hushed, “Because that means it’s up to us to be kind, and just, and caring, because the world will never do it for us. It’s up to us to change things down here.”
“…Oh.” He looked to the sky with a frown, like the moon would blink back at him if he stared imploringly enough. But it was still, and the stars with it, offering no response or guidance or apology, and he looked away inextricably disappointed. “That’s a big responsibility.”
A beat of silence as she nodded; the waves lapped the shore below them, a small comfort for the weight on their shoulders.
“Have you ever seen a close-up picture of an eye?” she said after a second, waiting again for him to nod or shake his head. “Our eyes look like galaxies. DNA, too. We may be a tiny, insignificant part of the universe, but it’s such a large part of us, it imprints itself in the very pieces we’re made of. We have a sky inside us.”
He watched as she tossed a third rock off the cliffside. It fell that fifty feet, disappeared into the blue without a sound. He grabbed a stone from the ground beside him and held it out over the ledge, eyes trained on the waves below as if they’d calm down under his gaze. They didn’t – but even from fifty feet up, he saw the water bring gifts to the shore, shells and pebbles and sea-smoothed glass delivered to the sand and left to rest under the moon.
He unfurled his fist and let the rock drop to the waiting water below. “I think I’d rather have an ocean.”
“An ocean,” he repeated. “Instead of a universe- instead of the sky.”
“Ah. Well, no matter,” she hummed, picking through the grass for another prize, something particular. “What’s an ocean to a sky, after all?”
Out on the horizon, if he squinted in the dark, he could just make out the line where the starry black met deep blue. They almost melted into each other, two inks running together on a page. “One abyss to another.”
“Exactly. Vast,” she gave up on searching and began picking flowers instead, “and open, and containing multitudes. Selfish, compassionate, vindictive, brave, bad, good, all that in a human being – in you and me.” She spared the world a glance, then looked to him with that oh-so-pleased smile. “We’re insignificant to the world, but in and of ourselves, we’re remarkable things.”
She returned to her flowers, weaving them into a chain as he stared out at the horizon. The sky stared back at him, twinkling and unmoved, and the sea below it shifted as if to wave at him, distant but doting – the world was uncaring, in the grand scheme of things, but it was far from uninvolved. He laid back down in the grass and stared upwards, from a grassy cliff over the ocean, a universe of feeling within an unfeeling universe. Remarkable.
“I guess we are.”
Lexi Baker is a freshman at Indiana University Bloomington studying psychology, criminal justice, and linguistics. She is an avid writer with a passion for editing, nature, and the small, ineffable moments in life, and though she’s new to publishing her work, she’s excited and honored to have a place in the Red Cedar Review.