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September 25, 2006

Infinite Sphere

Elijah Scattergood sat quietly in the back of the old Buick. Not only was he tired and sunburned from waiting by the side of the road on a hot Californian afternoon but he was also becoming increasingly concerned about his safety as his awareness was drawn to a high-frequency knocking sound coming from one of the rear wheels.

He let his mind wander back to what he had been thinking about before his Pontiac Grand Prix rental car had broken down just outside Ashland. What if life, he thought, was like an infinitely large sphere? He could picture layers on this sphere, the outermost one a thin, blue skin, like an ocean. And what if when one moved over the surface of the sphere in any direction, it was analogous to traversing time?

The parts of Elijah's face which were not covered by a week-old beard were met with a cool sensation and he looked up to witness Jennifer holding the steering-wheel between her thighs. In her left hand she held an antique-looking cut-crystal bottle containing what looked like water, and with her right hand she pumped a rubber bulb which was connected by a tube to the top of the bottle. The mist was caught in the hot, dry air entering the drivers-side window and then carried over her face and his.

"Rose." Elijah said automatically after breathing in.

Jennifer's head snapped around and fixed Elijah with an intense stare, her expression wild. Her nose and cheeks were deeply freckled and her eyes deep, green, algae-filled volcanic pools. A smile broke across her face, revealing a scar running from the middle of her left jaw almost to her nose. "I thought you were sleeping." She said and looked back at the bottle, "It's how we keep cool, isn't it Tony?"

"Since the air conditioning broke." Tony responded in a relaxed slur punctuated by the heel of his Path skate-shoe which he kicked lazily into the vent in the middle of the dash, before jamming it back under the windscreen.

Elijah suddenly became aware of the front of the juggernaut which was rapidly filling the view through the windscreen and obscuring the late-afternoon sun. An audible welt pierced their ears, and Jennifer's eyebrows raised as she took a deep breath and swung her upper-body to the front, dropping the bottle of rose-water, and heaving the wheel to the right.

"Fuck!" said Tony as the Buick lurched sideways from the force of the air-blast as the truck, carrying several trees-worth of raw timber, asserted it inertial inevitability and missed the car by only an inch.

After a few moments of silence, Elijah started to breathe again and to continue thinking: he could see thin white lines on the blue surface of the sphere, delicate, gossamer, and barely present. They're perfectly straight, he thought. And he could see them all of over the sphere circumnavigating its infinite surface, each strand infinitely long and infinitely thin. The strands seemed to surface periodically and be visible for a while before diving beneath the blue skin again. He knew that each thread was a soul and each surfacing was a lifetime. He could see that there were in fact an infinite number of threads and that every miniscule section of the surface of the blue sphere was covered with a piece, and strangely only one piece, of thread.

Tony started to strum his guitar. His right leg was cuffed by the shredded end of the grubby looking leg of a pair of jeans, and he toyed with the defunct wing-mirror with his blackened toes which were adorned with nails warped by a chronic fungal infestation.

Elijah could see that some threads ran more-or-less parallel to others and some came close only briefly. He had met Jennifer and Tony in the Co-op in Ashland; they were buying toothpaste and brushes because they'd left all their toiletries in their friend's hotel room the night before. The co-op: that's where their threads had crossed.

Ashland had been having a heat wave. Most people were indoors during the day, under the steady flow of air conditioning, while the sidewalks oozed thermal bubbles to disrupt the flight plans of dragonflies near the creek. At night they spewed onto the streets; retired car salesmen and generals, their enlarged guts swathed in polyester and cotton with pleats and buttons; a town entertained by two gentlemen from Verona and the same King as last year.

The surface of the sphere represented thought, he decided. A skin of thought covered emotions. Under the thought, under the compulsive thinking and worrying, that's where the emotions began. He could see the red of anger and just below that the yellow of sadness and grief. Elijah began to dig deeper; he could see a layer of blackness which he knew as shame.

It was beginning to get dark. A strip of clouds rode in from the sea. The sun-baked land-breeze being slowly overpowered by the arctically-cooled pacific sea-breeze produced the puffy, shredded comforter resting gently on the mountain range. The same pattern seemed to repeat each day.

And under the shame? What's under the shame, he thought. He took a deep breath as he felt an upwelling in his chest; unconditional love is under the shame.

"You okay?" Asked Jennifer, looking back at Elijah.

"Hmm." Elijah responded, eyes half-open and smiling broadly. "I'm good."

"You look like you've been jacking-up back there. I don't want any drugs in my car. I keep getting pulled over and I don't need to spend the night in jail." She said sternly.

"You think I'm on drugs?" Responded Elijah somewhat indignantly, his sparkling eyes widening.

"Hey Jude," started Tony in an indeterminate key, "don't make a sound, take this mad bong, and hide your sweater."

Jennifer chuckled and Elijah retuned to thinking. He could feel that beneath any point on the sphere was thought, then emotion, and finally ever deepening pure feeling, the feeling of unconditional love. As each soul moved over the surface of the sphere, he knew that at its center, which was beneath each and every one, was a shared and unmoving point of infinite peace.

"Dude!" It was Tony, his jaw had dropped and both hands were on his dreadlocked head. A monument to nature had magically appeared before them. Standing alone on the horizon, the white crest of Mount Shasta was surreal and imbued with an intense vitality.

"It's too bright." Said Elijah.

"Yeah, why's it so bright?" Asked Jennifer.

"That's fuckin' knarly." Said Tony, grinning. "I'm gonna get these feet dirty on that sista."

"You're disgusting." Said Jennifer, looking at Tony's right foot poking out of the window.

"Flotsam." Said Elijah.

"What?" Asked Jennifer.

"Oh sorry, I was just thinking about something." Elijah responded. The surface of the sphere could be stretched, like it was made of rubber; Elijah could see this clearly. The blue thought layer was infinitely thin but by worrying about and anticipating the future and by regretting and reminiscing about the past he could see that he was pulling the blue layer under himself, creating an increasing thickness which insulated himself from his emotions and ultimately his deepest feeling. He was floating on the surface of a deep ocean and pulling flotsam under himself, trying to save himself, to save himself from drowning, from death.

"I can't see the road." Said Jennifer. "This is scary; we shouldn't be driving at night." The front of the Buick had fallen off in Ashland and Tony had bought a roll of duct tape to hold it on, but with the vibrations and deeply engrained grime on the paintwork the tape only held for ten-minutes before it began to fall off again. The light assembly was hanging, at an angle, below the hood, and the headlights illuminated only the section of road which was invisible behind the five-point-six-liter engine.

"Let there be light!" shouted Tony and handed Elijah his guitar. He leaped up into a squatting position on the passenger seat and, after placing both hands on the top of the open window frame, pulled up to a standing position with only his legs in the car and his torso leaning across the roof.

Tony had strapped a one-million candle flashlight to the roof before setting-off from Ashland. The duct tape ran over the light's body, under its handle and over the roof, the two ends joining behind the rear-view-mirror inside the car.

Suddenly a large spot of light appeared on the road several hundred feet in the distance. Tony slid back into the car, "And there was light." He said reaching his hand out to Elijah who hesitantly took hold of it for a manly shake.

For an instant an oncoming car was in the spotlight and then a moment later its horn began to wail, shrieking past the Buick and into the darkness behind. Elijah turned to look out of the back window and saw the two red spots of light receding into the formless black. Then he heard the screech of tires and the car span off into the dust, its headlights and taillights flashing at him alternately.

Elijah turned to face front while wiping his right palm against his dark-green khakis, closed his eyes, and drifted into a deep sleep.


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