“Ola Papa,” she said as she trotted her way to her beloved grandfather,
“Buenos Dias, Carina” he responded, looking away from the lens.
“Oh, how beautiful you look today with your little dress. Did mama get you that dress Mina?” he asked in his thick Spanish accent.
She shyly looked away with a smile, hiding the blushing from his gentle prodding.
“Come sit with papa. I want to show you the universe.”
“what’s a uni-verse, papa?” she politely asked. Her tone was genuine, innocent like a child’s should be. She sat perched on his lap, facing the telescope’s eyepiece.
“Well, it’s everything that lives outside of us. It’s the blue in the sky, the dark in the night. It’s where the sun and the moon live. Like how you live in our little villa, mi amour.” He tried his best to describe such a vast, complicated landscape to a child. He felt he did sufficiently so, however, continued.
“The stars, that twinkle, the ones that we point up to at nighttime, before bed. That’s where they live. Up, up in the heavens above.”
“Like where God lives, papa?”
“Yes, him too. He lives way up in the sky as well. You are so smart.”
She looked through the telescope and showed no reaction. She didn’t see a unicorn or magical birdies darting in the air, a sky full of fairies, a land of trolls living under bridges; her young attention span would dwindle to the next object—the stuffed horse she carried in her arms, for instance.
“I don’t see anything, papa. I see nothing.”
“Oh yes, mi Carina. That’s the beauty in it. You see, in nothing, there is something, and something can come from nothing.
She looked away from the lens and over her shoulder to her grandpa. Was he playing a trick on her? With her lips pursed together, her eye squinted shut, her brow raised in an arch. He continued.
“Mia Linda, when you hold out your hand.” He gently cupped her tiny arm and held it outwards. “What do you see?”
“I see nothing, papa.”
“Yes, but the truth is that there is much more going on that you cannot see. Just because you cannot see it doesn’t mean that there is not something there, Linda.”
“I don’t understand.” The way she responded brought warmth to Enrico’s heart like the slight burn from a mouthful of cognac.
“You may not hold something tangible or ‘real’ in your hand, but the air has weight. It has tiny little things called particles, and they each have their own names and abilities too! Different ones with shapes and sizes, you cannot see them but, they are there. It makes up everything. You me, everybody, every tree, every plant. All the tiny little things that float in the air, so small, Carina, so small you need a special tool to see it, are responsible for the world, the sky, and the stars. Still, if you look, and if you don’t know any better, you see nothing.”
He then pulled out his phone and turned on the flashlight. Pointed it to the ground before her, the beam of light showed every dust mite, every particle floating around in the tunnel of light. He explained that something can come from nothing and that every tiny particle too small for our eyes to see was there after all. He showed her all the tiny dust particles floating in the air in front of her. Her eyes opened widely; her mouth shaped into a large oval. Then a smile.
“Oh, papa. It’s like magic!”
“Yes, Carina. Something like Magic. Now go. Go on to your bed and kiss mama goodnight. I will show you more magic in the morning; for now, papa has to work.” She hopped off his lap and trotted away, her stuffed horse dragging behind her on a string, fumbling along. She stepped through the doorway,
“Goodnight, my dear.”
His cheeks were sore from smiling. He didn’t mind it. He had stayed late every night at the lab. Unable to be the stay-at-home granddad, the regrets from obsessing over his career were few but heavily burdened. He sacrificed so many late nights and lost hours. The lost weekends, where he could have watched cartoons with his grandbaby or worked on the bike in the garage with Danny, didn’t exist, lost moments in time, that he would take for granted when he held her in his arms. The grease on his arms, the oil patches on the floor, were memories of a welcoming sight to a father who had given up so much time with the ones who needed him most. The worse part to Enrico was that if he could spend as much attention and time on his family as he did with the sky and equations, the shock wouldn’t be so sudden. The surprise of realizing that ages had disappeared in seconds.
Five years had gone by, then six, seven, until he realized how much he had lost, how much science had gained with his time and how much his dear granddaughter missed his presence. He wondered if it had been better if he realized it sooner. The shock wouldn’t be so sudden. Still, he asked himself, would he limit time at the lab or on the telescope? Would he choose to fall into his passions anyway? Would he still choose to stare into the sky, mapping star positions, all the while, knowing his family was at home, growing, maturing, learning, without him? Would it be a burden he was aware of, he thought. A burden he could set aside with false promises he would tell himself; that there was more time to spend with them, that he would be done shortly, then he eventually could go home.
After. After the work was completed.
Or, would he retire earlier than he did?
Maybe even fours years before. What would happen if he hung up the lab coat a couple of years before the accident? He wondered if it would change the outcome. He would have more time to work on the bikes and the car with his eldest son Danny. The brakes wouldn’t be an issue; they would be replaced with all the time he had to spare. Properly. The time to keep busy at home, the time to spend quality hours with his family as he reached his golden years would have been achieved. The valuable moments could have been plentiful. He wondered if he would hurt so bad. Would it be worse by spending so much time with them, only to lose them again? Enrico sniffed at his shirt and could still smell her conditioned hair; it smelled like the freshness that only babies had, that couldn’t be imitated with the advanced scents of soaps and body washes. For those moments, he shared her purity, her virtuousness. he looked through the eyepiece again into the night sky.
He dialled into the ‘Hercules’ star cluster and observed from a broadband perspective. The cluster resembled a mouth opening, a bright group packed together so tightly it looked like its own star. Enrico imagined once upon a time when the star exploded, the rocks and gasses being pulled out farther, faster into space. The mouth of the cluster, a solid white opening with billions of stars packed so tightly, resembled one giant gape in the dark void of space. Tiny micro-meteorites shot by in front of his eyes, and he wondered with the same innocent curiosity as his granddaughter did at the sight of the mighty space rocks that flew by, soundlessly leaving a trail of space dust in their wake—a long trail of minerals and elements that comprised the universe just floating in the immense vacuum of space.
Looking through his telescope every night was his version of paradise. It was like walking into a bakery and smelling the scent of fresh loaves on the racks. The peaceful serenity of the chirping crickets, the moonlight illuminating the veranda’s iron rails. His side table sat beside him; a comfortable wicker chair on the veranda of his Spanish villa was his office. Every night, among the sounds of crickets and the background of grassy hilltops in the distance, he stared into the deep space of the night sky. Most nights, he dialled in and knew what to look for and observe. He called it “work,” but it was much more than that to Enrico. For him, it was a pleasure. For many years, as a professional astronomer, Enrico earned the patience and calmness to observe the sky above him, with no more than a slight smirk at the presence of such beauty. On the inside, however, in his heart and soul, where it mattered; he giggled louder and jumped at excitement at the sight of every star, every shattered cloud of minerals, gas, and rocks from the explosions of stars many millions of light-years ago. He had seen the same objects many times expected the same results. Still, he felt like he was a young apprentice again, thinking,
Ah, my dear friend, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Again.
He watched the stars for a while, then dialled new numbers into his advanced telescope to a new cluster. He adjusted his lens to the western veil Nebula – a remnant of a supernova. He watched as the long strings of gasses looked as if they were being pulled away from themselves by invisible fingers, like strands of silk spider webs. They stretched and expanded into the dark emptiness, the “nothingness” of the space fabric behind them.
Ah, Pickering’s Triangle. We meet again, amigo. How you have helped me in my youth. How your clouds of gas and speckled stars have advanced my knowledge in this beautiful galaxy, this incredible universe.
The space above him, the stars, planets, nebulas, gave him a feeling only a teenager can relate to. A feeling only a teenager sensed when they caress the skin of their adolescent love, the racing thoughts in their mind, yet speechless. The trembling hand, the thumping knocks in their chest, the burning in the pits of their stomachs. This was love for him, in the truest sense. As a young, naive apprentice, all the way to an enlightened, successful, accomplished elder spokesman for the European space agency, he still felt the enthusiasm. He looked away and thought her heard mina’s voice. He thought he smelled the baby powder, the conditioner in her hair. He imagined for a moment her soft skin and tiny hands that grasped his thumb. The sweet voice that would repeat his name – papa. He shook his head and looked back through the eyepiece.
How unusual. He thought. Where are the clouds? The dust and gases? It seems as they had disappeared. He stared through the giant telescope on his veranda, bewildered, yet amused at the strange occurrence he witnessed in front of him. The gas clouds from the nebula before, once enormous, long thin streaks of gasses entangling themselves like withered grapevines twisted among themselves through an invisible wicker ladder, had disappeared. The expanding clouds' earlier, brightly coloured red lights and majestic blues had vanished. He peered into the lens and saw each star blot out of existence before his very eyes. Each speckle, disappearing into nothingness. The mouth of the nebula shrinking before him. He adjusted the reticle ever so slightly, contemplating what he was witnessing. The enormity of space disappeared into nothing. Perhaps, the nothingness he observed, the void, empty space with no stars and planets. No galaxies or universe. No star clusters or supernovas. No minerals and rocks. No gasses or atoms. No Particles. The nothing left behind still weighed something. It was still measurable. With the same hidden majesty, he spoke of with Mina. The nothingness and its shrill definition, the meaning that was counterintuitive to everyone else but made sense to himself, had become more apparent.
Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there, Carina.
He looked away to snatch his laptop, place it on the table next to his seat and start typing numbers and letters, equating to the mathematics that seemed to explain all of existence. He scribbled onto his pad. The numbers matched up. The mathematics were correct; there should be gasses and dust particle clouds. They had disappeared. Enrico looked through the eyepiece and suddenly pulled back quickly. He shook his head; the shock had his heart beating rapidly like there was a wasp inside the eyepiece about to sting his eyeball as it approached closer to the telescope. His jowls trembled. He sat back; the vein on his temple was throbbing visibly. He saw, what was so unexpected, yet a scene he had witnessed so many times before. He had seen so much in that split second. He should have seen deep, dark space and stars. Instead, he saw a memory. He didn’t question the illogical nature of what he saw; he didn’t question how he saw it through his telescope. He knew exactly what it was, what had happened. He hesitated to look back into the eyepiece. Still, his obsessive nature for curiosity, regardless of how hurtful it was, drew him in—slowly reaching closer and closer towards the telescope anticipating the brightness that would reflect in his vision. The image was dark and blurry, like he had opened his eyes underwater. He took a long sigh of relief.
It was dark, at least.
His hand trembled, and his forearm had turned to goose skin. The dampness on his hairline formed tiny beads of sweat sitting on the ridge of his forehead. The memory of something so scary, so tragic had disappeared like the heavenly blue and red clouds of the western veil. The chirping from the crickets grew louder and more present; their sounds became unified like a symphony was being performed, just for Enrico. The dark background of the lens showed blurred white blobs. The unfocused view of outer space. As he sat, his hands gently swayed to his sides, hanging limp. The blurred lights became more prominent and grew in brightness, like an oncoming train until it encompassed the darkness, the lustre had returned, but everything was still out of focus. He heard Danny’s voice.
“So, we’ll be back around 9, okay? We’ll try to come in through the back, I know.” His voice said,
“You should re-schedule; the rain is too hard, Danny.” Enrico’s wife pleaded, “How about papa takes you then? He can drive you. We can take the town car.”
“it’s fine, mama, I promise. I finished up with the Fiat earlier in the week. She runs smoothly. Don’t worry yourself. Look at the stars, papa. We will be back before you know it.”
“The brakes?” Enrico asked.
“…are fine. I changed them myself on Monday. You worry too much old man. Like I said. I promise. We will be back before you get to your second café.” His charm was ever-present.
“Promises don’t mean much if you get hurt; just stay home. Can we order in? What do you say?” his mother chimed again,
“I’ll be back, okay?” Danny slipped his arms into the sleeves of his leather jacket, a movie star smile on his face. Then he said something that would stick with Enrico forever,
“it’s nothing. I’ll be okay.” He said as he closed the door behind him.
The last words he ever said to his parents. One last promise. He stared into the telescope longer, a tear dribbling down his cheek. The car wreck slowly came into focus. It lay toppled over against a tree—a red Fiat. The metal wrinkled like over-starched linen that had been crumpled into a ball. The glass lay in pieces, their own stars shining amongst the dirt and grass, little sparkles of twilight scattered everywhere. The droplets twinkled in the light. The red paint job of the wreckage stood out. The black smoke billowed from the back of the car. Shattered branches and glass surrounded the Spanish countryside. The bright day slowly turned grey by the thick, heavy smoke coming from the vehicle.
It’s nothing. I’ll be okay.
Alice’s freshly shaven ankle hung outside the door frame. Her skin was still pale, uncovered with blood—leaves shivered with the constant bellowing of the Fiat’s horn, the echoes bouncing off the rock cliffs. The sound came in loud to Enrico as he squinted into the glass. It was hanging on a shard of glass. A stuffed animal. A horse. Bright white like cow’s milk, with a mane coloured in the same patterns of the rainbow. The end of the long string attached to it lay in the grass. It was tattered and loosely strung. Lying limp like a dead snake. The vision had become blurred again with the onrushing tides of tears. Enrico pulled away from the telescope and removed his thick oval glasses, pinching his eyes to keep the throbbing agony from escaping.
“Why are you Crying, papa?” he heard behind him, at the doorway
“Ah, Mia Carina. Bonita.” He smiled; his face covered in tears.
“I just came out to see you again. Can I look through the universe, papa?”
He held his arms out to her. She came running with that galloping she was known for. Her little stuffed horse trailed behind her, fumbling on the floor. She sat on his lap, and he held her tight. He thought of her freshness, the baby powdered skin, the smell of conditioner in her hair. She looked through the telescope and said she saw nothing. He then explained that something can come from nothing and that just because you see nothing doesn’t mean something isn’t there. He held her alone on his veranda. The moonlight was shining on him, the stars sparkling above him. The crickets chirping loudly. He sat peering through his telescope with the most comforting of thoughts,
“it’s nothing. I’ll be okay.”