As God Is My Author

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After being given the question, Garbutt felt like a man with something heavy in him that gave his legs an ache to carry it. The book about the universe was easy to read and he was not stalled by over-elaborate information. Even though his imagination had been broadened by what he read about it he realised how limited his knowledge was of all the supernatural events that occurred within it. It was like watching magic at work without the knowledge of how it was done or the identity of the magician.

He walked to the Coach and Horses with his eyes down, watching the ground pass under his footsteps. The question, as Dorsett had said, was easy to understand. So easy that it showed how inadequate human perception was when the simplicity of language could test it so effortlessly.

What was the universe expanding into?

When he entered the pub he gave a customary nod to the Irish corner and, for a change in scenery, sat by an empty table by the wall. The room was a quarter full, the music not yet coming from the large speakers of the DJ who would arrive later, but from a CD player behind the bar.

Already his hand was wet from carrying his drink across and even the smell of it was like a starter gun. He wanted to take a long mouthful but only looked at it, watching the tiny bubbles rise rapidly in ordered lines up to the froth cover that topped the glass.

He knew the problem Dorsett had thrown at him might be difficult to solve because his thoughts were hard shouldered to a particular purpose, and how could his mind have the freedom to wander if it was given a specific destination to reach?

It was also a query that reiterated the well-established theory that was the title of the book Dorsett had given him, The Expanding Universe.

This, Garbutt knew, was what Dorsett meant when he said the most imaginative minds could attempt to formulate their own ideas after the physicists had done all the detailed work with their calculations. After the discovery that the universe was expanding, there followed human logic that said that anything expanding must have had a starting point from which the expansion began.

No static universe anymore, the book declared. It moved. For the first time, he realised why the Mobius Strip book was given to him, the one with the image of a sideways figure eight, the lemniscate, the mathematical symbol for infinity. Now was the time for one word at a time along with one sip of beer at a time.

He parted his dry lips to let in a tongue-stinging gush of cold lager which he flushed from one side of his mouth to the other, done to clean his teeth, his gums, to wash away any taste of toothpaste that remained. A rinse, not only given to disinfect the flesh and calcium in his mouth, but one to adapt him to the taste and ready himself.

He concentrated hard on the question, but even harder on what Dorsett had told him in addition.

All scientists agreed that the universe was all there was of everything we knew, had ever known and would ever know. Yet all agreed that it was expanding. So how can anything expand into something that isn’t there? What was there before the universe expanded into it? Now Garbutt understood why the question was nonsense.

Then the association with the Mobius Strip.

The Mobius Strip is a shape where two sides seem apparent yet only one side exists. A simple drawn pencil line starting on any part of the surface and continuing until it reached back to where the line began, would confirm it: One side.

So there’s one clue to the puzzle. Point of view. People believe they see two sides when they look at the Mobius Strip even though there is only one.

Imagine the line on the strip is a road on which a man walks. He could go on forever and not feel the two sides. Yet because he has eyes, he can see, from a distance, a shape that appears to have two sides. Away on the horizon, there is definitely two sides. Until he knows how the strip is constructed, he will always be blind, even though he needs to be able to see so that he can be deceived.

So perhaps we’re all blind to a riddle that doesn’t need eyes to solve it, only understanding.

‘Excuse me. Can I have this?’

Garbutt looked up to see a middle aged man standing over him and touching the arm of the chair opposite. It was a stupid question as it was one of three empty chairs round the table but Garbutt knew he was being courteous so was courteous in return.

‘Sure, help yourself.’

He expected his interrupter to take it away but instead he sat himself upon it. A man in search for conversation. He was on his own and, seeing another on his own, believed his companionship would be welcomed. To Garbutt, however, the move was intrusive. It looked even more ridiculous as there were other tables vacant nearby. Why create an uncomfortable silence when there was a natural one there in the first place?


To move away would be too obvious a slight. Yet to remain would be to invite conversation, something that would take his concentration away. Even as he considered an escape plan the invader cut into his thoughts.

‘Here,’ he said, passing over a beer mat. ‘You’d be surprised how wet your clothes get when you don’t have one of these.’

Garbutt took the beer mat from him and placed it down and said thank you. But that was all. He didn’t want to say anything that would encourage a reply and set off an exchange of words, the peak of which would probably be the subject of weather. Then the man said something unintelligible to him and Garbutt, a little irritably, had to ask his pardon. The old man moved himself closer across the small table.

‘I was just saying how hard it is nowadays to hear good music.’

‘Yes.’ said Garbutt, balancing between friendliness and disinterest. He looked at the drink in the man’s hand to see how much remained. Anyone with brains enough to sense indifference from an unresponsive person would leave and learn the lesson so they wouldn’t repeat the mistake. There would be others in the room that might be glad of a chat to pass the time. But Garbutt needed that time and made up his mind that if the old man didn’t leave the table after his drink then he would swallow what was left of his own, look at his watch, and hope to give the impression of someone who had to be somewhere at a certain time. He’d done it before in company and a smile in departure was always helpful.

He knew his fault on this occasion was to sit by a table with three chairs vacant. Had the pub been fuller, he would have gone to his familiar corner where he could listen to the music and let his mind wander wherever it wanted. He was aware of these places and only needed a little room to wedge himself in inconspicuously. Once in and safely snuggled, he could relax. He felt more secure when surrounded by dancing people and their boisterousness than he did when sitting noticeably isolated as he was now. Two strangers sitting together hardly talking looked more abject than either one alone.

After a short while the man drank his pint and said goodbye, and Garbutt, relieved, responded with a cheery farewell. To prevent it happening again, he moved across to the ledge by the gambling machine where he rested his pint and set himself ready for the evening’s approaching hours, steps that needed no effort to climb and led to nowhere, not unlike the lemniscate he’d thought about earlier.

By this time, the sips had grown to prolonged gulps and had begun to form ideas behind his eyes, like the froth on his beer resembling recognised shapes by wishful thinking. Then the music from the big speakers came on and animated statuette thoughts to life, compositions of swooning melodies for theatre plays that would begin to perform in his head.

The record that was played situated him effortlessly to the past and he knew instantly who’d been in his life at the time, how old he was, where he’d worked, how happy or sad he was in that age and even if he’d been in love.

He was working in a supermarket, stacking shelves. The money was poor but the price of a pint was cheap so it didn’t matter. He wasn’t in love yet but would be about a year later. He had lots of friends. He was in his middle twenties.

He was promiscuous but also oblivious, too young to imagine where life would lead him. Another record from further back in the past followed, one that helped him see a small boy, where the characters were his parents dancing at home, where he and his brother sat in their pyjamas eating toast. Where he constructed Santa figures at school with cotton wool as beards and red-felt material as costumes; where baubles dangling on Christmas trees reflected magnified fingers on their smooth surfaces when touched; where tinsel, glue and glitter was enough to remind of the childish glory of it all.

On the music came, one record after another, evoking and throwing memories at him like the tumbling of glossy bubbles he couldn’t hold. He had to find a way of directing the melodies away from nostalgia to a new direction where the nonsense question would seem not quite so nonsensical.

Different music gave different feelings. The dancing ones, unless they contained certain chords sensitive to his subconscious responses, passed through him with nothing more than the tap of a foot or drum of the fingers as a show of acknowledgement. But some rare, long forgotten melody, more tender in rhythm, would pulse pleasurably into his mind to mix a nostalgic brew that overflowed barriers he wasn’t even aware of. At that moment the pub was empty, voices unheard and sights unimportant. He could walk around freely inside himself undistracted.

He imagined the Earth turning in silence without limit. He looked into the depth and distance of space, how much there was of it, five hundred miles out and looking all about him. With the home of Earth still visible, there would still be a point of reference that made ups and downs seem normal. But away from Earth, out of its sight, there was no longer down below or up above, no forward or back, left or right. There was just deep, deep darkness and all of it escalating.

A comparison was given by a scientist: a balloon with galaxies on its surface that moved away from each other when inflated. Then he said something else about The Big Crunch, an explosion that would deflate the universe. But the expansion was accelerating and if it was like a balloon then it was more likely to explode than deflate when it reached a certain point. That was a possible theory: the universe expanding to oblivion. It didn’t make sense but when had the universe ever made sense? Astounding theories for shocking realities seemed a workable approach.

Nothing can go on forever. Infinity is a myth and the belief in it is encouraged by what is seen. Conclusions are based on that and it is a deception; Blinded by sight.

Now close the eyes and give imagination free rein. The limits of space can’t be seen, but the mind can see much further than the eye. Not sight, but insight. Turn off the light and think in the dark.

The universe is not infinite in the same way the Earth was never infinite. There was a time when we thought it was flat, that it had an edge and that we would eventually fall from that edge into something not of us. But when we travelled from a certain point to move forwards and came back to the same place we started from, we figured it out.

The universe is a similar mystery. Like the Mobius strip, we’re deceived by what we see. Like an insect that walks on a ball, so a man walked the earth and he had no vision capable enough to capture the entirety of the place he inhabited. He wondered of it, became curious and put forward his suggestions, but when he travelled into space and looked back at the earth from a distance, he saw a giant sphere and it all fitted into place. This is the only way the universe will be understood. Yet it will never happen because we are too insignificant, move too slowly and live too briefly in a place too big.

Would this be good enough to get him his pot of gold from Dorsett? The problem remained however; it didn’t answer the question he was given: What was the Universe expanding into? If the question was a nonsense one, maybe the answer was, too. The question needed to be redefined.

The universe isn’t expanding, it only appears to be. And because of that, it has remained what it can only be, finite. Yet we will never have the understanding to know why it is. Getting out, or off, or detached from the universe is the only way to see it clearly. But it will never happen.

Because we’re too small.

Too slow.

Too transient.

In a place too big.

That moves too fast.

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