The Center

Center

Jessica Macbeth

Three women sit on a porch. The porch is attached to the east side of a house and the house is attached to the ground in a place called Iowa.

The youngest woman watches the rising sun, waiting for its rays to illuminate her spike-heeled, glossy black boots. The oldest crochets a shapeless thing she had been working on for many months. No one is quite sure what it is, but it keeps her hands busy and prevents her from absent-mindedly pinching the youngest when she fidgets. The middle one has dreamy thoughts of luxurious breakfasts with blueberry pancakes frosted with maple sugar, of caviar and thin oat toast, champagne, and rosewater, while her eyes turn golden with the sun.

This spot, they all know, is the center of the universe, regardless of what astronomers might think. It is the center because they are there, and they are there because it is the center. This is the power they have—to know the true center of all things. Once a person knows that they can do anything.

On the opposite side of the galaxy, at the still center of the universe, a man sits on a porch facing west. The dying rays of his sun play on his ancient, deeply-creased face—caressing, tickling, pinching—and he watches it descend impassively. As the sun sinks, his breathing slows, slows, slows… and stops, and he dies into the night. In the morrow’s dawn, he will begin to breathe again, and he will waken with the face and body of a stripling boy. Whole galaxies are born and die within him. Such is the power of the center.

You sit at the center of the universe.

I sit at the center of the universe.

© Copyright 2005 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.
Painting “Three Women” by Umberto Biccoini ca 1910

A Crown of Moonlight

Sally sat on the park bench carefully peeling the crusts off her sandwich and tossing them to the pigeons. She kept trying to get some of the bread to the crippled one, but he never seemed to quite catch it in time, even when it landed right in front of him. When Sally realized that nearly half of her sandwich was gone, she sighed and ate the rest. Fortunately, it hadn’t been anything she especially liked.

She finished the sandwich, emptied the crumbs from the paper bag, neatly folded the bag, and put it in her handbag to recycle. Then she settled down to eating her apple as a Zen meditation. It took too long, she had found, to eat all of her lunch that way, but she always tried with her fruit. She wasn’t exactly certain that she was doing it right, but she did her best to experience the here-and-now appleness.

Just as she finished the apple an old man sat down on the far end of the bench. They eyed each other from the corners of their eyes, trying, like most city people, not to be seen to be looking at each other. It wasn’t just any old man. It was the tramp that haunted the park, muttering incomprehensible but calm comments. She’d have known with her eyes shut. Even though he sat downwind, his reek fought and overpowered the gentle breeze.

Sally tried to think charitable, positive thoughts. She wished she knew what to do. It seemed rude to just get up and leave. She broke her apple core into bits and tossed them to the pigeons. The crippled one still didn’t get any.

“You oughtn’t to feed them that,” the rusty old voice croaked. “Grain is what they should have. Good fresh grain.”

He pulled out a handful of grain from a pocket that Sally would have sworn was too ragged to hold anything and tossed the grain in a wide arc to the pigeons. The crippled one got as much as the rest, and Sally made a mental note to stop at a pet shop and buy wild bird seed on the way back to the office. Or would it be better, she wondered, to stop at a health food shop and get organic grain?

“You!” the old man said peremptorily. Sally jumped, then tried to pretend she hadn’t. She looked at him, wide eyed and too startled to say anything. He was looking straight at her.

“You probably think I’m mad,” he said calmly. She began to babble an incoherent protest, but he cut across her voice. “I’m the emperor of the Earth, I am. I’ve a crown made of moonlight and an army of ten thousand eagles to do my bidding.” His forefinger touched a nothingness in the air above his head.

For a fleeting moment, Sally thought she could see a glimmer of light there, but she blinked and it disappeared. “It was an hallucination or a trick of the light”, she thought. “It couldn’t have been a vision.”

“Aha!” he said, eyeing her piercingly. “You saw it. Thought you would.”

He reached up again and carefully lifted the nothing from his head. He held it in his two hands for a moment, his expression a curious compound of grief and joy. He stood up and advanced toward Sally. She froze like a frightened rabbit. He leaned over and gently placed the nothing crown on her head, stood back, smiled wryly, and collapsed in slow, lingering fall to the earth. As she watched, his clothes began to sink inward, and the gentle breeze blew smoke or perhaps a fine dust away from him. In a few moments, nothing was left to show that he had existed except for a few coins on the pavement. The pigeons pecked at them hopefully.

Sally looked upward. There were eagles perched everywhere in the trees. They flapped their wings at her, and screamed in salute. She gingerly touched the crown, which felt solid enough. She stood up with great care and began walking back to the office. The eagles soared around her, but of course no one seemed to notice them. It would be days yet before she really began to allow herself to think about this – what it meant, how it would change things. For now, she truly experienced a state of just being in the here-and-now, at least in a tense kind of way.

“Well,” she thought with a detached, unnatural, and monumental calm, “mustn’t grumble. I’ve been wanting to achieve inner stillness for long enough and here it is.”

Copyright © 1995 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.
This fable originally appeared in Otherworld Arts, 1995

That Does It!

God/dess was quietly sipping Hir chamomile tea and thinking S/He would like to dream another new world, a better world. S/He liked to challenge Hirself to make each world better than the one before. That was what S/He did to comfort Hirself when things got difficult. It had been another rough week. It was, of course, the Earthlings still at it.

It seemed such a shame. They made so many sweet babies (too many really), but things just kept getting worse there. You had to give them credit — wrecking the climate worldwide while simultaneously making global war based purely on bigotry and greed had taken a lot of ingenuity. But you had to deduct all those points and more because they had actually done exactly that.

God/dess knew that poor Earthmother was doing the best she could, but everyone was realizing that something had gone seriously amiss there. Giving them total freedom to develop had seemed like a good idea — after all, it had worked well in so many other worlds. Didn’t they realize that they needed to fix things for themselves? That freedom included responsibility for themselves?

Just then the computer alarm went off — again. Prayers were flooding in at an unprecedented rate. S/He shifted Hir focus of awareness and found the office and courtyard outside full of doves, with an occasional cuckoo scattered among them. S/He held out a finger to the closest bird and it hopped on. Fluttering, it gasped out, “Florida, nightclub, 50 plus shot dead, more inj—” and fainted dead away.

“I’m on it,” S/He whispered grimly. Thousands, possibly millions of birds immediately disappeared, their message delivered. There were still thousands more. Possibly millions. Each one carried a message of unnecessary death and sorrow. S/He took a message from one of the cuckoos. “Please, we need a complete reset. This is just getting worse.” God/dess almost smiled. Trust a pagan to say “please”. They did like to keep up the old traditions — when they remembered them.

S/He wiped a tear from Hir eye.

That was it. No more.

The keyboard clicked >Earth>Humans>…. Hmmm. S/He thought about it for a full millisecond in all dimensions simultaneously, flipping through the possibilities far faster than light could move. DNA? No… it was so flawed — complexity upon complexity. Healers? Too few. Purge guns from the world? That might help temporarily, but not enough. There were so many parts of this, but it boiled down to a fundamental double-sided flaw in so very many humans — believing that they mattered more than other people and thinking that it was their right to do whatever they wanted to others. No empathy; no compassion, no true feeling for the community of all earth.

A few more keys clicked. The big green key went down and stayed there. Throughout the multiverse, the Powers converged on Earth. Within three milliseconds, they had checked all life forms and deleted those lacking empathy or compassion. God/dess was pleased to note that the population problem was immediately eliminated. But there needed to be healing as well. This would require finesse…

As dawn rolled around the planet, people woke and were astonished to find the world so still, rather like that silence that falls with the snow. Only this stillness had a crystalline quality as if everything were waiting to burst into song. And there was a subliminal sound of something — of comfort, of joy, of loving — a subdued and mellow rumble and roar.

Nearly everywhere there were people missing. The U.S. Congress, the various Houses of Parliament all over the world, and many other governing bodies and bureaucracies were decimated. Some were empty but for the tea ladies and floor sweepers. Rulers — kings, dictators, generalissimos — had all vanished. Armed forces were left almost without officers and some of their men had vanished — and those who were left were happily using the bombers to dump explosives into volcanoes and cheering at the fireworks.

Some pulpits were empty. God/dess hesitated a moment here. Grinning, S/He set up a subroutine that would instantly stamp the word LIAR in flashing florescent letters on the forehead of anyone misusing Hir Word out of insanity or for personal power. S/He thought of a certain comb-over and Hir grin grew wider.

The presses of the big newspapers were nearly silent. Among the smaller news distributors, some were buzzing busily and in others the computers and presses had melted into a stinking, smoking heap of slag. In many businesses, some offices were empty, especially the bigger and more luxurious ones on the higher floors. Wall Street and other stock exchanges were less populated than the moon. Banks… well, we don’t want to even think about the bigger banks. No, not at all. It was that way everywhere — the people who cared about others survived, even the ones who needed a lot of improvement and had foolishly followed false “leaders”.

But…

In the place of each and every missing person, there was a small ginger and cream cat. Fluffy. With big eyes and very endearing ways. And the tiny cats purred. Everywhere. Their purr was bigger than they were — that was the rumble heard around the world. And the purr made all hearts beat together — that was the soft roar in everyone’s ears.

infant Marzipan

God/dess watched. And purred. If this didn’t work, they weren’t worth saving.

People just stood around, blissfully smiling at the sky, at the trees, at each other. Smiling. It would be hours before they realized that they wanted breakfast. And they wanted breakfast together.

© Copyright 2016 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.