Taking on the Universe

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All I did was go to sleep one night. The day had ended. Work was done, and I was spent. My life was far from perfect, but it could have been worse. I knew I was wasting away with mindless routine, going to work, going home, and with doing nothing in-between. I wanted more. I imagined a life out there that would fill me up, erase all the pain and hardship that I endured, and one day, I would live the dream. I never imagined living my nightmare. All I did was close my eyes and say good-night to the universe.

When I woke up everything was different, but my room looked the same. Music posters, pictures of actors, and my three giant teddy bears were all there, the bears perched upon the bed. Sunlight streamed in, and I could hear the birds singing. Spring was finally on approach, and this damn winter was about over. All that was left for me to do now was to rise and shine. Time to go to work.

The bedroom door opened. The hallway was dark. No sign of life, so I took it that my family was still asleep. We all slept behind closed doors, but we were close now unlike then. We finally put our differences aside, and there were no more arguments. We went about our life, stuck in routine, and passed each other on the way. I never imagined a life without them. I never imagined a life where I didn’t exist as I am now.

My father stepped into view. His eyes narrowed when he saw me. A mutter crossed his lips, and he stormed past me. His hands grabbed the railing, and he made his way down the stairs. We didn’t go to sleep fighting, so what was his story? I decided not to ask, and I just took my shower.

I found my father sitting alone at the kitchen table, eating his breakfast. A newspaper laid open before him. He pretended to be interested in the article about taxes, but he was really watching me. It was almost like he didn’t trust me. It was almost like he was afraid that I was going to do something, something stupid, but I haven’t been that person in a very, very long time. Why was he acting like this now?


“Don’t ‘morning’ me unless you have something important to say,” my father growled. “I told you last night. I’m done with your games. If you’re not careful, it won’t end well for you.”

“Jesus.” I took a seat opposite him and poured some breakfast into my bowl. “What the hell did I do?”

“What are you doing?”


“What? You never eat breakfast with me.”

“Since when? We always have breakfast together before work.”

“Work? I told you. No games.” He moved away from the table and grabbed his half-eaten cereal. “You don’t work.” He poured his breakfast into the garbage. “You get fired over and over again. You just stay home and do nothing with your life.”

“What are you talking about? I’m an assistant manager of the shoe store that opened in the mall. Are you okay?”

“Am I okay? What the hell is wrong with you?” He kept his distance, but she could sense that he was afraid, cautious of her. “No, I don’t trust you.” He met her gaze evenly. “I don’t even want you living here.” A spoonful of Lucky Charms caught in her throat. “If it wasn’t for your mother, you wouldn’t be.” He proceeded to gather his stuff and marched toward the front door.

“Dad!” He froze. “Dad, what did I do?” I was now standing behind him. “Please. I went to sleep last night, and everything was fine. We had no fights, no arguments. The last time you were like this, I was a kid.”

“You haven’t called me, Dad in a very long time.” Tears touched his eyes. “I should call your doctor.” He dropped his briefcase and coat by the stairs. “Maybe it’s the medication.”

“Medication? I don’t take medication.”

“So, that’s it then. That’s it, and you know that if you stop with your pills, you can’t stay here.”

“Jesus. I’m not crazy. Okay. As a child, I had a wild imagination…”

“Wild imagination? You were unpredictable. We never knew how you were going to be from one moment to the next.” He was back in the kitchen, reaching for the phone. “I told your mother that this was going to happen. I told her, but nobody ever listens to me.”

A knot tightened in my stomach. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong, and I threw open the front door. Sunlight blinded me, and I raised my hand to shield my eyes. As a shadow fell over my face, my breath caught in my throat, and the world that waited outside was not the world that I had said good-night to. The warnings were right. The paradox had come.

“What the hell…” The neighborhood was gone. All the houses and its occupants were simply not there. The grass was brown, red -not green. The driveway was long and broken with large, gaping holes that were just missing teeth. The streets were hardly paved, winding treacherously around, and mocking those that dared to drive it. The sky was gray, an ugly gray like it had never known blue. This was not my world. This was not my life. This was not me.

“Yeah. She stopped taking her pills. Yeah. It could be the after effects of radiation. I don’t know. She can’t stay here. I can’t deal with this. Yeah. Yeah. No. I’ll bring her. I think I can do that.”

My attention was now on my father. I realized that he looked older, scarred. His hands had burns, burns that I hardly noticed before. His eyes were almost cloudy, sad. He looked at me again with that caution, with that fear. He was going to take me somewhere, somewhere that I knew I should not go to, but where was I to go? How did I get here?

“Are you going to fight with me?” I shook my head. Looking at him broke my heart, and I started to cry. “Don’t worry.” He grabbed me roughly by the arm and led me outside. “We’ll get you the help that you need, and then, maybe, you can come back home.”

“What happened?” We stood beside his car, the same car he drove yesterday. “What happened to the sky?” He drew in a long, deep breath and slowly exhaled. “What happened to our neighbors?”

“I said it once, and I will say it again. The Cold War never ended. Now, get in the car.” The door slammed shut beside me. “Why today of all days? Why the anniversary when the nukes fell?”

I wanted to say something. I wanted to tell him that there was no Cold War. Yes, we were still fighting, but we were fighting a different enemy. This world was a nightmare compared to mine, but mine was not perfect. There were problems, and people were suffering. Not like this. This world, this place should never have existed, but then news last week talked about the theft of the God particle, something that could bring me to here. And here I was, but for how long?

I guess I didn’t have to worry. My world was quiet now. The walls were a soft, padded white. Gentle eyes peered in to make sure that I was comfortable, and a little drool ran down my chin. I remembered my life, and my heart tasted my dreams. My arms wrapped around myself, and I rocked with rhythm, with hope. This was just a nightmare. My eyes were starting to close. Good-night, cruel world. May I never wake up to you again. May I hope to return home. This was what we get. This was what we get for taking on the universe.

Melissa R. Mendelson has been working for the State of New York for the last five years.  She is also a published short story author and poet.  Her poetry has been included in Names in a Jar: A Collection of Poetry by 100 American Poets (Amazon, 2007).  Her short story, Whispers in the Night, has been included in Espresso Fiction: A Collection of Flash Fiction for the Average Joe (Amazon, 2012).

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