Measuring Stars

The sound is proximate and consequential, like the crack of bone.

He wakes up and curls into a ball. He waits for a pain to tell him he’s broken something, or a betraying silence that says he has finally crushed his wife to death.

When his eyes adjust to the moonlight he realizes he is not in bed, but in the desert, alone and naked, and half-buried in sand. He raises his knees and finds a bowl of felled and splintered trees.

*           *           *

At first it was immeasurable, almost imperceptible, like a giant balloon deflating through a pinhole. Godfrey, a man of modest stature with short arms and parsnip legs, took some time to notice what was going on around him, and it was only when he stopped to study the lines and dimensions of his space did he understand that the world around him was shrinking. When he bent down to tie his laces, or look up and stare at the tiles as he waited for his weekly train ticket, he’d see the retracting concrete, the creeping walls and falling ceilings; and the more he noticed it, the faster it seemed to be happening.

“It’s all in your head, my love” Claudia told him as she was taking down the legs of his trousers. “It’s all them fried chickens you eat which is making you fat.”

“I weigh less than I did a week ago,” he said. “And today I got stuck in the supermarket turnstile. I ain’t never been stuck in anything before.”

“No surprise there. They’re always cutting corners.”

“One of my fillings fell out,” said Godfrey.

“Tonight you’re only getting a half-portion of pie.”

“I’m not crazy,” he said to himself and drunk a carton of milk in two great gulps.

To prove he wasn’t crazy, he took to carrying a tape measure.  He measured the width of his office, the length of his desk, doorways, beer cans, and the distance between the bollards along his street. He timed how long it took to run his evening bath. All this he recorded in a spreadsheet.

Godfrey presented his evidence to Roger Ferndale, GP. The doctor weighed and measured him, prodded his kidneys and shone a torch in and up several of his orifices. Then he raised a fibrous eyebrow and sent Godfrey home with an eight-week diet and exercise plan. Godfrey, who had always kept an open mind about the opinions of professionals, followed the diet plan, but refused the exercise. Maybe he was delusional. Anything was possible. Twice a week he sent Claudia to fill their twin-seat hatchback with lettuce and oranges, but each time the portions got smaller and smaller. After eight weeks he could see his ribs, and had moved up to the final ‘X’ in available clothing sizes.

In a final petition to rationality, he turned to the heavens. He researched astronomy and stellar parallax and colour spectra — something remarkable considering he’d not graduated high school — deducing via crude calculation that the stars, moon and the sun weren’t getting smaller or contracting either. Like him, they were as they’d always been. Only Earth, it appeared, was retreating into minuteness.

Work was out of the question. His workmates had become churlish, and constantly berated his clumsiness. They left insulting sticky notes on his keyboard each time he kicked over the potted plant or spent an agonizing half-hour fumbling with the fax machine’s tiny keypad. He outgrew his socks and suits, and, when he could no longer fit through the doors of a train carriage, he simply stopped leaving the house.

Claudia donated the shoes he’d outgrown to charity, and stitched together cowhide rugs with rolls of plastic rope to keep his feet warm. The neighbours complained and people began to gather in the front yard. News vans drove up and down the street. A man in a suit turned up saying he was from the Guinness Book of Records and asked if he could take a photo. Even Godfrey’s mother, who lived up north, telephoned to say ‘hi’. Claudia said they were all intruders and ‘ignorant exploiter types’, but Godfrey didn’t mind so much — he was happy for the attention.

On the day the kitchen ceiling collapsed, Claudia said she was moving upstate to her sister’s.

“I love you, you big oaf,” she said with tears in her eyes, and Godfrey knew she meant it. She took her sewing machine.

It wasn’t long before the landlord came with the local fire brigade. Godfrey managed to flee before they reached the drive, leaving a hole the size of a truck in the rear wall.

*           *           *

Rolling over, he gazes over the desert at the morning sun. The horizon is gradually turning in on itself, real-time in its curvature like a steel bar yielding under the strain of a vice. Godfrey picks his nose and presses the mucus onto the side of a mesa. He thinks of Claudia; Claudia and her little hands and little pink apron covered in flour, the quick darting of her fingers as she stitches, the warm embrace of her fingers around his wrist, and the memory expands until he falls back into a deep slumber.

*           *           *

He caused only destruction and terror in the cities. He would step on the sharp end of a bicycle, or a stop sign, and then hop waywardly into a row of parked cars; or stop to sneeze, unaware of the electricity wires buzzing at his elbow. They chased him out of several towns for laughably provincial crimes such as decimating fruit trees or drinking from lakes, and called him a freak or, more commonly, ‘Goliath’. Godfrey had not meant to hurt anyone, and told them as much. But they stabbed him with pitchforks anyway; sprayed him with shotgun pellets and arrows, and rammed monster trucks into his ankles. None of it did any more damage to him than a flock of old world mosquitoes might have, but he knew where he was not wanted.

As his stomach inflated, the food around him shrivelled. His dreams were filled with planet-sized plates of fried chicken. For a while he thought about fishing for whales — they were small enough for him to pluck from the shallows — but the memory of a whale hunting documentary restrained him, so he decided to follow the wheat belt towards the equator, grazing here and there on grain and sunflowers as he went. When he reached the west coast, he bathed, then crossed the ocean. He waded and waded, diving when it suited him, dodging tankers and storms, and tempering his personal tsunami to reduce the possibility of global catastrophe. Whenever he felt hungry, he scooped up tons of fish and weed and swallowed them in handfuls of sea water. It was a long and wet walk and he was relieved to see solid ground again. The island was warm and flat and he cleared himself a bed and slept for an entire week.

*           *           *

He stirs. Being awake is Godfrey’s only torment. He wishes himself a return to sleep but he has to scratch his numb buttocks back to life. It’s cold up there in the troposphere. Time has slowed and he sits and looks skywards for a few hours, starving and out of breath, watching the heavens grow closer, but never bigger. He stretches his hamstrings, carefully, aware that one slip could raise floods on three continents.

*           *           *

On the island lived a tribe of people Godfrey guessed to be pygmies, but who turned out to be regular-sized folk dressed in dried leather. Being in ocean, surrounded by nothing but water had impaired his sense of proportion. The pygmies lived simply, without machines and spreadsheets and tall buildings, and for the first time in a long time, Godfrey found himself happy. He helped clear and till their lands, he fished with them, and protected their villages from predators and oil companies and the weather. In return the pygmies gave him food — as much as they could spare — and let him sleep in their fields. They called him “King Godfrey!” and cut his hair to make huts, and attended gladly to the filth under his toenails, which they fed to their pigs and chickens. He asked them if they’d heard of Gulliver. They said no, they hadn’t.

Several weeks he spent on the island and it saddened him to wake one day to see that the horizon had buckled further. Godfrey’s pygmy friends been kind to him and he did not want to cause them harm or extinguish their tiny lives with a misplaced toe or typhoon-like bodily eruption. So he migrated south; towards the heat and light, until he found a new place, where it was warm, and there were fewer buildings to demolish, fewer animals to frighten. A vast dust bowl. His sandy bed.

*           *           *

This day he knows to be his last. The scales have tipped, and tomorrow he’ll wake up and the world will have withdrawn its gifts of air and gravity. In the desert, propped on one elbow, he washes his feet in the cool ocean. It’s raining somewhere around his groin and he laughs. The hemisphere belongs to him. Will they miss me? he wonders. No. He has raked death across time zones, terminated whole countries with his homoeostasis. They and their compassions will reduce to atoms before he is forgiven.

The lunar colossus hangs above Godfrey like a street lamp. It is so large it covers the sky in craters. He reaches out. His fingers touch only darkness. Drawing one last magnificent breath that drains the sky of clouds, he stands. He is close. He can feel the delicate strings of the universe teasing him from the surface of the Earth, luring his skin and hair into its vacuum. “I’ll be off now,” he says, hoping that Claudia can hear him, and with a gentle push, he launches himself from the ground and floats towards the stars.

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