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Infinity Minus One

Austin DeMarco lives in the metropolitan area of Washington, DC, and on most days can be found in Maryland or Virginia or both. This is his third appearance in Daily Science Fiction.

"You know what they say about the universe?" Mary sits on the edge of my bed, stares out the window.
"That it's infinite. And since an infinite space contains an infinite number of points, it must by definition have an infinite number of centers." She chuckles. "The egotists were right."
I fold my arms, don't move from my spot by the door. "Not anymore."
The chuckle stops. "Right."
The silence that follows grates on me. I have to say something. "Do you remember Mrs. Appelbaum?" Our third grade teacher.
"Yes. Do you remember rocket pops?"
I don't. I glance at the paper taped to my wall. It's too far away to read.
"It's silly." Mary speaks before I can come up with something good to say. "The way we circle back to familiar things."
"Not very." The familiar is comforting. When everything else goes to hell, the familiar keeps us sane.
Mary continues to stare out the window. "Do you remember Pokemon cards?"
I do. Barely. "Coney Island?"
She doesn't respond. That one wasn't fair. Coney had been the first to disappear. Neither of us was ever going to forget that.
Mary changes the subject. "Did you try turning it on and off again?"
"Maybe we should smash it."
"Then we'll really be fucked."
"Can't be any more fucked than we are now."
She has a point. It still won't do any good.
I circle back to the familiar. "Do you remember last year's Relay for Life?"
"Of course."
"Do you remember the bonfire? The marshmallows?"
"Do you remember how we laughed at the jokes of people we hardly knew? Stuffed our faces with s'mores until our lips were covered in chocolate like we were back in the third grade? Like if we just laughed hard enough, the world would start to make sense?"
She takes a moment longer this time. "Yes."
I don't say the rest, don't ask if she remembers my shoulder touching hers, or the way her laugh made my spine tingle, or how, after, she let me wrap my arm around her shoulder, to keep her warm as we walked back to our tent.
I wonder if she knew.
"My turn." Mary slides to the other side of the bed so that she can look at me. God, how her eyes are green. "Do you remember physics class?"
"Yes." It was only last semester. I don't like where this is going.
"Do you remember Mr. Morrisey's theory of everything?"
"The universe sums to infinity."
"Right. Do you remember how, after class, we stopped by my locker and I told you that I thought it would be cool to subtract some of that infinity, just a little, a small piece that no one would miss, and keep it for ourselves? Our own little pocket universe. Infinity minus one is still infinity, remember?"
"Yes." I really don't like where this is going.
Mary's eyes bore into mine, and my universe is filled with green. "It's not your fault."
Infinity minus one is only infinity if you stop at that. I should have known.
I look away, naturally stare at the paper instead. So much that I've lost. The scribbles, the desperate attempts to remember. They hardly mean anything anymore.
Mary slides back to the window. "Hey, the street corner is gone."
I try to remember the name of the street that connected to ours. I can't.
"We're shrinking pretty fast now."
I don't want to know. I change the subject. "There's something I should have told you."
Funny how the really important stuff only comes out at the very end.
Mary twists to look at me. The familiar lump catches in my throat.
"You were my whole universe."
She smiles as if she knows. "Still am." A joke.
I am alone, the universe circumscribed by my bedroom walls, still shrinking.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

Author Comments

I've long been fascinated by the phrase "center of the universe." If the universe is infinite, how can it have a center (or an end, for that matter)? This story is a reaction to that question and a thought experiment about what might happen if we reach just a little too far trying to answer it.

- Austin DeMarco
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