The story that follows, "The Unending Sadness of Intersecting Lines," was written for a fiction workshop as a structural imitation of Yiyun Li's short story "Gold Boy, Emerald Girl", which, like my story, features a style of third-person narration that is alternatively close with one character and then with another.
The conceit of the story - that is, the idea of two people floating through the void after the end of the universe - is based on the third section of a poem I wrote in April 2013 called "THREE LOVE POEMS FOR ALYSSA". In that poem, a narrator is floating in post-universe space and sees in the distance a love interest heading towards him. "The Unending Sadness of Intersecting Lines" makes this conceit a bit more present: two people ARE meeting up in the void and have only a moment to decide whether to grab onto one another.
I guess the reason I make this point is that a lot of people have compared the story to the recent film Gravity. For what it's worth what follows was conceived before and is accordingly not inspired by or based on that movie.
Granted immortality due to a spiritual mishap at his nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, Tim floated aimlessly in the void after the heat death of the universe for a hundred trillion years and then encountered a beautiful woman.
The only thing he had crossed paths with before was a little chunk of quartz but it had fallen out of his pocket. It had been his prize possession, and when he awoke one morning to see it was just out of arm’s reach, he could only watch with some dismay as it floated away on a slightly different trajectory. He had lost sight of it maybe a billion years back.
“Hey there!” he said to the woman, and then cleared his throat. His voice sounded creaky with disuse. “I’m Tim! Hello!” He suddenly got nervous he was coming on too strong. “I’m Tim,” he said, more quietly.
“Hi,” she said, “I’m Susan.” Susan could see that she was a bit older than Tim, who was maybe only in his early twenties. She regarded him with a kind of sad curiosity. She had not seen another human since she and Anders had broken up only few millennia after the universe ended. The two had met while she was in Sweden for a conference and he had promised her eternal life one night while they made love at his summer home. She did not think much of it until she fell off a cliff while skiing and climbed out unscathed. As it turned out he was a direct descendent of an ancient Norse deity.
Susan and Anders had spent the rest of the universe together – she was at the time convinced she loved him but lately was wondering if she had only stayed with him to avoid getting into anything committed with someone else who was just going to end up dying. Even after the universe ended they had lashed themselves together with rope so they would not ever drift apart, or at least not until after only a few million years of floating she woke up suddenly consumed by panicky feelings of being trapped in the relationship. That night she untied them while he slept.
He cried when he realized what had happened. “How could you do this?” he choked out in his heavy Scandinavian accent. “I loved you so truly. I only wanted to make you happy.”
“I’m sorry, Anders,” she said, watching him float a little further away. “It’s not you. I just- I need some space right now.”
After a few days she realized she should have pushed him harder after she undid the knots. They were still fairly close. Every now and then he would call things to her matter-of-factly like “You are a thoughtless bitch,” or “You deserve to be alone.” She had to see him every day for a year and a half before he was finally out of sight. It reminded her unpleasantly of when she had broken up with James, her sophomore year boyfriend at their small liberal arts college, for roughly the same reason.
“What were you so afraid of?” James had asked her once after at one of the thousand parties at which they kept running into each other. Susan, drunk and tearful, found she didn’t have an answer.
“Susan,” Tim interrupted her thinking. He was trying to calculate. “I think,” he began, and then coughed. “I think we might get close enough to grab one other. I think if you reach out, and I reach out, I think we could maybe grab hold of each other’s hands.” He knew he should really only be considering the prospect of having some company, but he was having trouble not thinking about how pretty she was and how he had never worked up the courage to kiss a girl, even during his billion years of life, even when Maia Heyworth had been making such lengthy eye contact with him at the senior prom.
What Susan said next was a glum and drawn-out, “Well,” and then suddenly they were too far apart. The moment had passed.
And then there they were, just specks floating in an endless empty universe, destined never to encounter anyone or anything more until the end of time. All that was left for the two of them were questions, then: questions like could it have worked out with him and how in that moment did she decide it was not even worth a shot, questions like could he have just reached out and grabbed her shoe, questions like had they both made a terrible mistake. These questions occurred to them as they gradually lost sight of each other. They came to realize quickly that at least they would have an eternity of solitude to consider the answers.