Science Fiction

I’m not certain why I responded to the ad. After all, I definitely, absolutely, did not have the space. My wife, children, dogs, and the cat would agree—and they’d do it all pressed up together in our very modest condo. I’d gotten the condo at a bargain deal. My wife did not appreciate that.

Still, there I was, waiting at a local coffee shop for the man to arrive. I was excited. The way I used to get on Christmas Eve because my mother always told me what she’d gotten for me—which she’d done because she was excited as well.

I ordered a coffee with a name that assured me it did not resemble actual coffee. Caffeine would only make it worse. Even so, I sipped it slowly, unwilling to take the risk.

When the man arrived, he was so much less than I expected. He should be rich, I thought, he should be happy. He was neither. It seemed readily apparent that the man was selling the item because he’d fallen on hard times. If anything, I am helping him, I assured myself, stepping forward to shake his hand.

“Marshal,” I said, taking his hand in mine. “Mr. Shepherd, yes?”

He agreed, sitting with me and ordering his own coffee. Black.

I mused on the weather, but he wasn’t in the mood for small talk.

“I want it gone,” he demanded.

Oh yes, I thought, now we get to the part I enjoy. The deal.

“I’m sure you do!” I exclaimed. “The upkeep alone must be astronomical. Where do you find the time?”

“I don’t just want it gone.” He stopped me, sensing my eagerness. “I’ve kept it in working order. I can’t let it go to anyone who won’t do the same.”

“Of course,” I assured the man. “I have experience with things like this. Did I mention I am a father? And I know it isn’t the same, but I also own several animals.”

The man’s coffee was delivered by a barista who awaited a tip anxiously. It did not come, and the man shooed her irritably.

“Sure, sure,” he said, sipping at his drink. “Look, Marshal was it? Marshal, I get it. You saw what I was selling and convinced yourself that you were capable of owning it. I know that feeling. I did it too, but please understand that the thing you’re telling yourself is a lie.”

The man seemed so sure. It didn’t offend me any less. Whether my attraction came from the item’s considerable rarity or my pursuit of the greatest bargain deal ever made was of no concern to him. What I was to him was a buyer.

“Excuse me,” I replied, matter-of-fact. “I’d argue that it is precisely because of my desire to buy it from you, that I can be trusted with its upkeep. Knowing how much effort I had put into obtaining it would prevent me from slacking on the job. There’s nothing in this world I hate more than money wasted.”



“Okay,” he sat back, examining me quizzically. “Let’s say I agree…what are you willing to pay for such an item? It is incredibly unique.”

“Oh, it is,” I agreed. “It really is, and I won’t pretend I don’t want it, but we both know that you don’t want it. So, I am not sure at this point who has the upper hand in our negotiation.” I took a few modest sips of my drink, growing more confident in myself as the meeting went on.

He chuckled, sitting back, arms crossed, and thinking.

“Look, I’ll sell it for what I bought it for. $2.50”

I spat.

“You’re joking! Who’d be stupid enough to sell it to you for that?”

“Someone else who didn’t want it, I suppose.”

It was such an incredibly small amount of money that, now, I simply wouldn’t leave without it—and I didn’t care what my wife would say. Still, I’m not one to settle for anything less than the best deal possible.

“That’s a shame,” I said, sitting back disappointedly. “I was going to say I couldn’t imagine spending more than 75 cents on it.”

Now was the man’s turn to spit.

He laughed. Out loud. I was offended again, but I held back.

“This isn’t some trinket! It was hand-crafted. It’s ancient. Shit,” he breathed. “It’s alive.”

“Yes. Yes.” I raised my hand, so he knew to stop selling. “It also requires a substantial investment of time on my end. I mean, really, I’m sure the thing gives off all kinds of pollution and radiation. I’ll need to outfit my home to give it a proper place. No, I can’t see spending any more than 75 cents.”

The man suddenly seemed so much more tired than he had before. He hung his head low and breathed deeply.

“You’ll take care of it?”

“I will.” Of course, I would. This was the ultimate luxury item. Like a Fabergé egg, there was no tangible benefit in owning it, but it was a statement of my class and taste.

He took another moment of quiet contemplation.

“$1.50?” he asked.

I had him. I knew it, but I held my excitement close behind an emotionless stare.

“$1.00,” I countered.

He exhaled loudly and rubbed his hand back through his greasy hair.

“Alright, deal.” He stood; his hand outstretched for mine. 

My exhilaration exploded as I rose to take his hand—which I did with as much restraint as I could spare. Though it was very little. He sensed my glee and matched it in reticence, but it was too late. The deal was done. We both knew the rules.

“I think it’s time you show me the merchandise.”

He smiled. “Well it is yours, and it is tied up outside. I suppose it’s best that we go and save it.”

Outside, it hung weightlessly twenty feet above the blacktop. It spun lazily against the rope that the man used to secure it to the bicycle post.

It was everything I expected it to be and something else I had not. It was breathtakingly beautiful and sweepingly calm; pale blue and marbley. It breathed an air of unanticipated fragility, protected from the world by only the thinnest invisible bubble that was expected to avert disaster.

Despite its beauty, it appeared unwell. Swaths of its skin where I’d expected to find growth, I found bare. Clear views of its serene landscapes were clouded by centuries of buildup.

“What is this?” I demanded. “You said you took care of it.”

I did. I can’t be responsible for cleaning up after its previous owners.”

“Well, it’s not acceptable. You…you misrepresented!” I argued.

“You bought it,” he laughed. “It’s yours now. You can clean it up however you want.”

Mr. Shepherd was right. I knew the rules. It was mine to do with as I pleased, but at that moment, what I pleased was not admirable.

“Well, maybe I’ll just leave it here then. I only paid you a dollar.”

“Oh, you wouldn’t do that. Out here on a hot day? No tsk tsk.” He sucked his teeth, wagging his finger in my face. “It’s going to rain later too. Think about it. One rogue drop of water and you might drown Taiwan. Maybe the heatwave will set fire to California? No. No. I think we both know you won’t leave it here. Now if you’ll excuse me.”

Mr. Shepherd bid me farewell, spun on his heels, and left me there holding all of the world on a rope. The man seemed younger, unencumbered by the weight of the world. I may have even seen him skip as he went about his day.

It just kept spinning, kept hanging over me awaiting one of several imminent disasters. The sun was hot and direct, unhampered by the clouds on the horizon. Birds swooped viciously at it. I tugged the rope down abruptly to remove it from the peaking beaks and claws, but the rope, tied tightly around its center, burned against the skin.

I blew gently on the wound, but the damage was done. The birds fled.

I kept the rope short and walked the earth gently to my car, careful to lead it without pulling it.

I was disappointed when it didn’t fit, but I wasn’t surprised. Bits of earth lay across my seats like beach sand. I slapped at it, but there it remained.

The trip home from the shop took hours. The sun beat hotter and brighter as we walked. The clouds withheld their relief.

In the first five minutes, I saved the small earth from a 40-ounce glass bottle that had been whipped from a passing car.

“Asshole!” yelled a man hanging from the window and laughing with his friends.

He clearly doesn’t appreciate fine goods,” I assured the earth while I checked it for damage. A rogue droplet hadn’t hit Taiwan, but it had landed somewhere in the east Atlantic. I wondered aloud how much of an effect the incremental rise in sea-level could really have on the small planet. If I were to take the spinning clouds sweeping America’s eastern shore as any indication, very much seemed to be the lesson.

In the second mile, we were caught unawares by a passing truck fresh from the 1950s. Its jet-black smog enveloped us until I could neither see nor breathe. The thick cloud choked off the globe, encasing it in semi-permanent nighttime. The darkness was so thick that even my world seemed to vanish in it, but it cleared and, as it did, mine did as well. 

I made obscene gestures and screamed unrepeatable phrases at the driver, but it did not matter. He continued spewing inky tar into the air that I very much intended to breathe. I swept it away from the globe as best I could and moved on.

The rain, and its accompanying wind, descended on us as we approached my street. If the malt liquor created a hurricane, an actual rainstorm, with actual rain, would be a Noah’s Ark-style flood. It would drown the world.

I ran as carefully as I could when the drizzling started, coaxing the globe along behind me. I slipped on the sidewalk and drug it down sharply. I wouldn’t be able to fix it until later, so we continued. Lightning cracked overhead as I forced the small planet through our door and the skies opened behind us.

Our arrival home was not met with the applause I’d expected, but then my wife never liked the things I bought for us. The presence of the world barely registered to her or the children. They sat on the sofa watching the news, enraptured by depressing international reports of floods and sudden eclipses. A particularly bad earthquake near the equator in Africa opened a thirty-mile-wide scar across the width of the continent; the World Health Organization was descending to count the dead, but the initial estimates were high. 

“That’s why I don’t watch the news,” I told them. “Too depressing.” I grabbed the remote from the table and changed it to something more suitable. It changed back when I took the globe into the study.

I used a thimble to carefully remove some of the water in the ocean, sponged the soot from the clouds, and checked to see if I’d done any additional damage attempting to squeeze the planet into the car.

I walked into the room where my family watched the news.

“I’ll need a ride to the shops later. I left the car,” I explained.

She didn’t register that either.

“I said, I’ll nee…”

“Shh shh,” she shushed, waving her hands at me and turning up the television.

The broadcast was now covering a sudden hurricane sweeping up the coast. It had arrived faster than it could be named so the anchors simply referred to it as ‘the storm’ and “the big one.”

“It’s not the first hurricane, honey,” I promised my wife, shaking her leg to get her attention. I failed. ‘The storm’ raged on.

I spent the next few days reattaching broken peaks and spreading the atmosphere thin enough to cover the holes created by the smog. It wouldn’t be as safe, but it was better than burning. I reshuffled a few mountain ranges I’d upset by tugging at the rope and filled in the gash I’d left around the equator.

I did get my car back, eventually. My wife gave in around the 4th day.

Anyway, in all, I’ve repaired most of the damage I caused, but how easily I damaged it, and the effort I‘ve spent to recover it, is weighing on me. The more I think about the world, the more I want to rid myself of it.

I love owning it, but I can’t be responsible for it. It’s so incredibly fragile, always a moment from destruction, and almost willing it to happen. I often imagine all the little problems that must exist on the surface of the floating spectacle. I think of how unimportant they must be when you consider how easily it could all come to an end.

I’m posting it for sale far earlier than I expected to. I’ve only owned it for a week, so I can’t see lowering the price anymore. Maybe I was overconfident. I don’t know how long it was in Mr. Shepherd’s possession before he sold it, but I suspect it was no more than a week. Either way, this week has been one of the worst in the history of the world, and I’d very much like to not have to worry about maintaining the small planet.

If you’re interested, please include “Earth” in your subject line.

For Sale: Earth. Slightly used. Slightly damaged. Extremely fragile. $1.00

May 02, 2020 00:52

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