Michelle stood facing a canvas splattered with purple. Her eyes were unfocused. The turbulent shapes blurred into one brilliant cloud.
For the past twenty-three minutes, Michelle had shuffled around the gallery looking for meaning. She had stopped at each piece in her path for just enough time to look contemplative.
Before catching the 544 bus to the gallery, Michelle had spent sixty-eight minutes scrutinizing her appearance. She selected each piece of her wardrobe, arranged each strand of hair, to paint an image of who she wanted to be. Glasses, cosmopolitan jacket, urbane handbag, graphic socks that showed just a bit of personality if anyone looked.
The more intensely Michelle scrutinized the details, the more she hated them.
Even in her journal, Michelle would never confess to trying on five different outfits before she left. She would never admit to abandoning a new a copy of Lolita at the used bookstore yesterday when she found an older copy in the bargain books bin. If she had a few drinks, she might casually remark how sore her jaw was. But she wouldn't confess her habitual clenching.
Despite the overwhelming weight each detail took on for Michelle, she imagined the way out was to convince herself of her own insignificance. Michelle compared her secrets with bigger things. Elsewhere in time and space, she thought, vast and superior things began and ended with no concern as to how long Michelle admired a painting or whether she lost those agonizing ten pounds.
If only the minutia would stop screaming at her. If only something grander would knock her off her course or pull her away with its sheer gravity.
Michelle came to the gallery to be swept away. Rapture, awe, acute pain, overwhelming need – anything that could abduct her attention. She didn't want it. She didn't know what to do with it. It circled and bit at her like a panicked wasp.
Two and a half million light years away, a massive blue star known only to six astronomers by an arbitrary alphanumeric catalog designation suddenly realized it didn't want to die. Even so, the star would burn for another twelve thousand years before it became too heavy for itself and collapsed.
Michelle would lose her own struggle with entropy just as slowly over the next 53 years. Until then, she would continue accumulating genetic imperfections, cells that refused to divide, and further considerations about her own significance.
Michelle sat on a wooden bench in front of a Van Gogh. Why was living inherently good anyway, she wondered. Either she couldn't remember or she never knew. Had that question ever occurred to her before?
Lightyears away, the star’s thoughts drifted toward tiny things like hydrogen molecules and planets. The star fixed its ancient gaze on a little round world orbiting a little yellow star, nestled in a little galaxy out of over 185.6 billion. There, on that same crusty little ball of molten rock, Michelle sat on a wooden bench and dreamt of transcendent perfection in the face of impending nonexistence.
The star had found something remarkable. This tiny being, this momentary configuration of jumbled atoms and energy that once belonged to even older stars that had been extinguished distant eons ago, also feared death.
“Little creature,” the star called across space, “will you comfort me? Can you love me though I am a star bigger than your own sun?”
Without hesitation, Michelle replied: “Dear star, will you love me though I am insignificant and have never finished Lolita?”
“I will love you until I go dark,” the star answered.
Michelle wondered whether existence and non-existence might be as arbitrary as anything else you can measure. And she realized that this question, too, may have no answer.
Twelve thousand years later, the star died of gravitational exhaustion. Only a handful of astronomers made note of this, as Michelle died 11,947 years earlier. The star’s light stopped reaching Earth about 2.5 million years after Michelle’s death. And right now, this very second, 6,871,347 angels are dancing on the head of a pin.