When I popped outside one morning a few days ago, I saw that a single white flower had popped out on the west edge of my teeny weeny backyard space. It took me a second to realize that it was a wild strawberry blossom. For just a moment, I’d forgotten that I’d stuck a couple of plants into the ground about seven or eight months ago. I walked over, bent down, and saw that there were thirty or forty buds. I went in for my camera. Then I was back out and down on the ground trying to get the best angle. That’s when Wrench stuck his upper body out his sliding glass door to hang out some laundry. He’s the guy that lives next door. I already knew all to well that my smiling at flowers disgusts him.
“Oh, Jesus,” he said. “What now? You find some kind of Buddha down there?”
“It’s a wild strawberry flower,” I said. “Right now, it’s just the one. But there’s thirty or forty buds.”
“Are there going to be berries?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Geez, I’m sure that’ll get the birds swooping in. You better hope they don’t shit on any of my clothes.”
I didn’t respond.
It was pretty hard to imagine that any birds that did eye any berries might fly up onto his laundry pole. It was hanging down just a mere two or three inches from the bottom of the eave. Even a tiny sparrow would have had a heck of a time negotiating a perch.
Well, the next thing I knew Wrench had rammed his foot down (in his outdoor “work slippers) on the two-foot-high aluminum fence that separates his little plot from mine—a fence belonging to neither of us. I decided just to pretend that I thought he’d put it there in friendship, like reaching across to shake my hand.
I said, “You think it’s pretty much the same temperature here as it is up on Yatsuyama? I mean, if it’s more or less the same, there must be a thousand of these cute little guys up there right now.”
“You make me sick,” he said.
“I know,” I replied.
“Listen,” he said. “I’m going to make your life a whole lot easier for you to understand. That flower’s nothing. You are nothing. This bright bit of universe that we live in is less than 0.5 percent of all that’s out there. 99.5% of everything is just darkness–dark matter and dark energy.
I’m not so good at math, but sometimes I remember something from high school.
“You mean the dark stuff is finite?”
“But if it’s 99.5 percent, it must be finite. If it went on and on and on, it’d have to ninety-nine point nine nine nine nine nine nine forever and ever. . . . Unless the 0.5% part, too, kept going on and on and on at the same rate.”
“Always the wise ass, huh? Either way, you . . . you and that stupid flower . . . are nothing!”
(picture of “nothing” (“nothing” seems prepared to fly to the edge of the universe))
“That’s exactly what I want to ask you about—about nothing. I mean, if all that dark, that dark energy and dark matter, stops at 99.5%, then, well, it stops. Then what would there be? Beyond the dark, I mean. Would there be something or nothing? Is it kind of like they used to think about the Earth–you know, that it was flat, and if you sailed far enough, you’d eventually fall off?”
He gave the fence a kick as he turned away—then went inside.
I went in, too. I stuck my notebook, my camera, and a bottle of water into my shoulder pouch and went out and got on my bicycle.
Wrench stuck his head out a front window. Amazing, that guy.
“Enjoy your flowers,” he said. Tone of voice is everything.
“I will,” I said.