A Busted Family in a Broken Universe

"The Big Bang," a short story by Sara Cappell Thomason

A Busted Family in a Broken Universe

The Big Bang

In this story the details of before don’t matter—the how or why he left. It’s the afterward that holds all the weight—the universe shifting, big, then slightly, a little more, and here we are.

A family, busted. 

We will always be that, I say—a family. I look hard at Daddy and he agrees. Nods his head. It’s still the three of us in so many ways. 

Me and Daddy and you.

We are sitting in The Natural History Museum, trapped in a giant metal ball. The planetarium. And it feels like the hugest of metaphors—too big to even begin to process, until the movie starts with the booming voice of Science, of God, of Neil deGrasse Tyson. He introduces Dark Matter, chooses the path for us, the path of atoms, and off we go. We expand ourselves, open to new pockets of wonder. Time is an endless bendy thing and we understand nothing. Where the sky appears fallow and empty—blip blip blip—infinite universes appear in all directions, blinking beacons, little signals. You sit between us, hold both our hands, and we lose ourselves completely in the origami of black holes, folding and folding. The biggest sign in the night sky—absence. It’s far too literal. But wait! A shaking of our seats. The constellations reversing, a flash of white light above our heads, your hands squeezing ours so tight we laugh, and we are whisked back through time, to before, when everything was stuffed neatly into the head of a pin.

We are made of stardust. Did you know this is printed on our fridge? I bought a magnet at Barnes & Noble right after you were born, slapped it near the bottom in the hope you’d find a spunky God like the one I conjured in my mind. Instead, a terrible premonition. Combustion.

Did you hear? There are infinite universes! What does it even mean?

The room goes black, the lights come on, the booming voice is gone, and we are left alone with this information. We pack up, wander the halls in a daze searching for Diet Cokes, but find only freeze-dried ice cream. So much of it, in fact, we grow frustrated, then a little angry, then utterly unhappy, until finally it’s funny. My eyes catch Daddy’s and we know instantly, telepathically, as if everything is still the same: we will tell you the story of this trip again and again. These bricks of ice cream sealed in glimmering foil? They are everywhere we look! We laugh so hard, you stop—indignant—hands on your hips and ask us, What is going on? 

There are infinite universes.  

We stand before the bones of extinct fish hung on the wall like paintings when you grab my hand, reach for Daddy’s, grab his too, and pull. One, two, three. A people chain you call us, sing it out, past the dawn of man, past the dodo and out the door.

We head into the street, a gnashing cold. We are on the way to eat soup dumplings, to teach you how to balance a single pouch of pork with black truffle on your spoon, how to bite a hole in the top and let the broth seep out, how to be so, so careful—to explain that some things are unbelievably delicate. We request beginner chopsticks and they come tied with pink ribbon—handed to you with a smile. We ask each other questions from a deck of cards that has been left on the table to initiate conversation. It’s a game, but we are grateful. We need help with this. 

If you could go anywhere right now, where would you go? If time and money and other obligations were not a factor. Where in the world would you go? What would you pack? We ask you, prod you, beg you to play along. Explain it all again. If you could go anywhere on Earth right this minute, hop in a cab, and poof! Where would you pick? To the mountains? The desert? The jungle? How about outer space? These are your choices all narrowed down. You complain about your chopsticks, ask if we can help you stab a dumpling like a sword, thread it like a needle. But wait, we say. We want to know. We want so badly to know. Have we spanned the night sky correctly? Did we do this right? Give us some sort of signal. A sign. A blip on the radar. A small blink of your eyes, if your answer would be here. 

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