"Just let go! We've made it this far, and there's no turning back now…"
Though she is but a white blob on the black void's horizon, her voice is crystal clear through the headset as she speaks in the cliches of old movies. We are a product of ancient times, she and I. We are two wrinkled peas of a pod, a couple of old ladies finally saying their farewell to this universe.
Margie is considerably braver than I, and has already left on the last adventure we were meant to share. As for me, I'm incapable of pulling myself away from the sleek, ovular pod that transported our cryogenically frozen bodies from Earth to this magnificent death-bed. The journey held no late night chats over freeze-dried ice cream, no days spent chasing floating water bubbles and laughing at each other's blunders under the influence of zero gravity. There was just before followed by after with a state of nothingness in between, and a significant time leap of 20 million years leaving us not a day older. We had our grounded-in-earth goodbyes, and there is nothing familiar to return to anymore. Our debt to life has been paid, and now it is time to give up our hold on the world and literally leap from the grasp of life.
They don't tell you before you head out into the great frontier of space that every attempt at movement will be cumbersome and unwieldy. I thought our journey would be as graceful as the leaf floating through Forrest Gump's opening credits, but now here I am, legs flailing outward as my arthritic hands desperately clench a handle extruding from the outside of our pod. All motion is amplified and maddeningly stays in motion. I move to scratch an inaccessible itch on my arm, and the entirety of the dead-weight pod moves with me. I can't win this small struggle, and it's time to release my grasp despite a constant, nagging thought that it's not quite my time to go. Finally, I turn from the reflection of my bulbous, white helmet on the metallic surface of the pod to the infinite scenery that had been framing my form. The small movement towards the cosmos is enough to release my weak hold on the pod, propelling me out into the great beyond.
Margie is steadily receding into the distance while I float, petrified, and she shows no sign of stopping in her determined, rocket-fueled trajectory. She's less of a spot and more of a speck against the flat coin of the black hole that spells out a beautiful end. I'm sure that, to her, I'm but an undefined point of light in a splattering of stars, but from my perspective, Margie is clearly silhouetted as the only speck of light not warped in the presence of the supermassive hole's inward gravitation. Galaxies and nebulae spiral into its dominion, stretched into a kaleidoscope of compressed layers and pulsing, mirrored orbs of light. This is our chosen end, to be reabsorbed by the force that created the very atoms of our beings, and to experience the ultimate power of the universe before fading into eternal darkness.
"You've waited 92 years plus a couple million to do this, so can't you wait just a few minutes longer for your frail old friend to catch up?" I yell at the small speck that is my friend of a lifetime long ago.
"Get off your high horse and come on over here! When I go in, you're going too!" Margie is practically shouting in my ear to cover the distance, kicking my old arse into gear from a meandering spot near the pod. I activate the rockets on the back of my government-issued suit, feeling fully superhero-like while my bones are rocked from their disjointed sockets and I'm flung, spinning torpedo-style with tumultuous thoughts dragging behind, to Margie and the black hole.
Lacking a fundamental understanding of physics, I see a universe concealed beneath a thick cloak of curious obscurity under which no scientist will ever reside. Those stars could be accidental punctures in a seamless, inky-black sphere; the galaxies, swirls of paint left by a giant's brush in the sink; the ever-encroaching black hole, a hurricane's eye intent on spinning matter into the depths of hell. Margie has always seen the universe more matter-of-factly than I, discerning meaning where there really is none and insistent on finding the truth beyond the event horizon. I followed her here as I have through all walks of life, this time to watch the universe fade from existence together.
It is a wonderful feeling to fly freely among the stars when one has been confined to a walker for a few decades, and soon I'm sailing past Margie, who is stopped in a place of thoughtful contemplation. Our visors are infinite reflections of each other, and we manage to grasp hands that are encased in bulky gloves. We have nothing but each other out here; no personal items to tie us to Earth, no fear despite the vacuum that surrounds us and the black hole that is ready to stretch our beings into infinitesimally small strings of atoms. I have no more doubts, and we are ready to meet our end together as we start our true descent down to the black hole.
Yet, it seems that as we soar closer to the event horizon of tumultuous chaos and a certain painful end, Margie has some last words. She starts with a witticism of a question, saved for this exact moment,
"Ida, do you think you understand the gravity of our situation here?" She chuckles, then continues in a blur of words that just gets faster as we start to feel the gravitational pull of our fate. She is lamenting the past and coming to terms with strife and grief that had been thrown at her year after year. I can hear her relaying her love to the void of the universe, and throwing memories to the wind for me to catch in these last moments. We shared all 92 years of our lives together, brought together in our respective wombs by mothers who met in spin class and kept together by an unconditional understanding of the other. We raised families side by side, and sat back in rocking chairs on a shared porch, watching our families raise families.
It is no longer our rockets propelling us as the bulb of black rushes to greet our fall. Hand-in-hand we are plunging feet first, the effects of spaghettification starting to take hold. Margie's vocal stream has ceased with the pain in our torsos, originally a toe tingle that traveled with intensity as our organs started to feel the excruciating stretch caused by an imbalance of gravitational pull on different parts of the body. From concrete flesh and bone to a stretched string of nothing, we had begun the process of reverting back to our original star-dust state as a noodle of atoms. Soon the deep blackness is all that encompasses our immediate vision, and Margie and I slowly revolve around to watch the universe disappear. The pain really isn't anything we haven't experienced, with all of the elderly diseases one could imagine currently finding their home deep in our beings, so we are content for a while longer. I had forgotten to think about the implications of death since relinquishing my hold on the pod, but they no longer matter and the moment is painfully right for the occasion. Margie and I plummet backward as the universe turns inside out and starts to compress the cosmos into a sphere of light, quickly swallowed by unyielding blackness. I find my voice one last time to say,
"Marge, I love you…"
There is a faint reply of "I love you too Ida, sweet as apple cida..." and then we are nothing.
Helen Little is 17 and lives in Nebraska