Center of the World
by Chris Handrahan
I meet this man, but he won’t give me his name. He says he forgot his name. He tells me the world is flat. I think him a kook and ask if he belongs to that society, you know the one that believes in a flat earth, the flat earth society. He says he never heard of it, besides, it isn’t the earth but the world that is flat. I didn’t know there was a difference. He says I couldn’t imagine it.
We are on the beach of a lush island along the northern pacific coast. We cross paths a walking distance from the small town I grew up in, with all my family and all the people I know in the world. I tell him the people here work of the water, play of it, and are imperiled by it. He says he’s heard it all before, and is no more interested in earthly cycles than he is in the names of things. Why is that? It is only illusion, to help make a fool of the mind. I’m sorry, I tell him, but what he speaks of makes no sense to me. Of course not, he utters.
I think to turn around, head back to town, leave this brusque crazy person to the past, but he intrigues me with his strangeness. Turning over a smooth rock, he is amused by the starfish and shells in the small pool of water he finds underneath. I tell him such things are common here. Of course, he says, it is common to me. He carelessly drops the rock back into place.
Removing his boots, he walks barefoot along the shore. You see, he tells me, the primitive feel of cold and wet is only made-up, and he is meant to be taken in by this childish make-believe. Trying to help him, I tell him those things are real, and that I feel them also. Yes, well … but he doesn’t continue his thought aloud.
He still hasn’t told me how the world is flat. I’d very much like to use reason to deride his thinking, to confound him with common sense and scientific facts concluding that the world is in fact not flat but round. I tell him I find it unbelievable that anyone can think otherwise.
He tells me it is all very clever, and sometimes he loses faith and can’t believe it himself. He goes about explaining how science came up with infinity to try to convince his doubts. At first it fooled him, but it had the natural peculiarity that if it was in fact infinite then he had to be at the center of the world, and so he was back full circle to his starting point. And what was the starting point? He tells me that there is only the invention of his experiences. This, he explains, is how the world is flat, since there is only a short-lived, transient future and past encircling him.
I now know that there is something wrong with the man. I hardly think he is dangerous, but he is obviously not all here; he is living some delusion caused by circumstances of his past or chemical disproportion. I think I should pity him, though I don’t know whether it is kinder to amuse or confront his delusion.
Or he is having fun with me, having a good laugh within him at my expense.
I slow my pace, and soon stop. Sensing it, he stops and turns to look at me. Misinterpreting my anxiety, he tells me not to worry, that he likes this beach, and though he can’t stay, he will return.
We wave our farewells. He offers his with obvious, well-played sympathy. We go our ways.
I watch him as he fades into a speck, and then the speck is gone. It is late afternoon, and I head back to town. It strikes me curious how our lives are constructed by such peculiar events. Then, I watch the town of my entire history abruptly dissolve into a heated vapor and disappear as if I approach nothing more than a mirage in the desert. Soon, the ocean begins to evaporate unto nothingness.
Offering me the comfort of hope, with the kindest intention, he had lied to me. He had no plan of ever coming back this way. I turn and run as fast as I can, but there is no catching up to him. I am tripped and fall backwards off the edge of the world.
Chris Handrahan is a fiction writer from Canada. He has work upcoming in Pequin.