At night, Reina played among the stars.
She rose from her pillow, gliding up and up, one arm outstretched, as the Earth spun into a small ball below. Inevitably, she bumped into a speeding comet, pulled herself up and perched on it, as on a black velvet throne, surveying the planets rolling away like glass marbles into the field of space. When she tired of the views passing before her, she skipped onto other heavenly objects — asteroids, moons big and small, unidentified bits of space junk of unknown origin — until she sighted the phenomena she most loved: giant, spinning galaxies, great milky spills of stars across the horizon-less void.
Her days unfurled in stark contrast to her nights. She awoke in her bed to rise and dress in stained shirts and shorts, took the bus to where she crawled on her knees across someone else’s kitchen floor, sodden cloth in hand, crunchy cereal and cracker crumbs prickling her fleshy limbs. Under her absentminded gaze, load after load of soiled clothes turned spotless.
Then she ran home for her nightly adventures. For slow leaps through universes rushing like amusement park rides, one into another. In some of those universes she was a child again. Her father blew dandelion fluff with great gusts of his stubbly cheeks, as Reina leapt to catch it. In others, she was someone she had not yet been: a woman with an explorer’s audacious smile, diving through blazing wormholes, stardust billowing around her like sheets on a line.
So many Reinas, so many ways to travel.
One night, as Reina rested on Saturn’s innermost ring, where she had been watching gases rush like colored streamers across the planet’s face, she felt a moving presence. She peered behind her. No one. Yet, still, a ripple trailed across her outer limits, mass in motion, like a cool wave. Benign? Uncertain, but she thought… probably, yes. A brief pause, and the other moved deliberately, slowly, away, a fish swishing through deep water.
The next day, Reina stood at the curbside market, flexing her aching shoulders and considering lunch, when she perceived someone watching her. A big, blowzy lady had swept awry a tower of limes as she passed, intent on peaches. Behind her, the shopkeeper regarded Reina with a shy smile, as he scooped up green orbs and placed them neatly back in pyramids. Reina loved limes, their cool tartness like saucy tongues. She reached for one. Her hand brushed the shopkeeper’s hand. A familiar tug.
“You like space travel?” she blurted. A statement to him, a question to herself. Could she really recognize that same cool fingering she had felt during her space walk?
“You know Saturn?” she asked in wonder.
“I love Saturn,” he replied. “Those colored streams, that prickly ring thing, like a shower of ice sparks. Love it.” His long, thin fingers picked up an orange. The other hand plunged into cold crystals underneath a case of salmon. He drew forth a thin, sparkling band of ice, then sent it all in orbit around the two of them, the zeroth law of thermodynamics circling right before her eyes.
Thus, Reina met her Max. Without hesitation, she stepped into his world, learned to haggle for prices with truck farmers, who pulled from their vans boxes of fruits and vegetables, burning colorful and explosive, like supernovas, like blue and red dwarfs, like comets spraying green tendrils into the city’s desultory air.
Reina loved stacking produce, feeling the charged textures, the energy potential of each one. Some of their customers saw it, this bright rush of chlorophyll, of pungent atoms, at once sustenance and decay. They smiled dreamily while handing over their cash, perhaps thinking of gleaming particles flowing through their bloodstreams. Others thrust money at the shopkeepers, heads and eyes down, ignoring warm smiles, grasping their purchases as if squelching life within their grip.
At night, Max amused her by slicing dinner ingredients as they floated across the kitchen, his knife strewing peels of zucchini, chunks of carrots, zests of lemon through steamy currents, over bubbling pots. Together, they slept beneath swirls of cosmic dust and wandered through distant star fields. Each morning, as they opened the store’s front gates, brilliant eggplants and celery rushed to meet them, like bit players in a big top show.
“So many universes,” Reina murmured one day, when Venus clung to the horizon.
“Yes, light years and light years to explore,” replied Max. After glancing around to ensure they were alone, he balanced a watermelon on his fingertip, tossed kumquats into a wide pattern around it. Reina swelled with possibility. With a twirl of her wrist, she sent strawberries swirling from their green plastic cages to dash among the orange balls, surprising Max, astounding herself!
A customer arrived with a sudden clash of bells above the door, creating a momentary bobble in their midst. Reina thought, “Freeze time,” and saw the fruits come to a sudden halt, undetected by the man with the briefcase, who quickly chose an apple and a banana from the baskets by the register. As she lifted her hand to return his change, she saw the star stuff trailing from her own fingertips. At that moment, she acknowledged a quiver deep inside herself, saw the logical extension of her relationship with Max.
“There’s been an energy exchange,” she whispered, rubbing her swelling belly.
“A conversion, something new,” he suggested.
“What next?” they asked as one. And enjoyed not knowing the answer.
People who stepped through their door saw they had entered a unified state. At night, Reina and Max linked arms, rose, back to back, swimmers in the nightscape, feeling the fit of blade to blade, their own zygotic matter immersed in light. The earth, with its cacophony of crashing cars, its mounds of dirty laundry, souls trudging dejectedly from work to home and back, became a shining, glittering puzzle in their sky. New universes called.