Marilyn Madison Walker had loved an above average amount. As a teenager, her nights were spent in a lucid flush, with a dark-skinned redhead. An anomaly, his mother Irish and father Puerto Rican. The boy was a significantly rare combination of DNA.
Isabella Inez Walker, the daughter, loved a below average amount. Now a teenager, love was considered a myth. Her geometric faith in laws and thirst for hypotheticals warded away any possibility of love. She did not comprehend its use beyond humanity’s survival.
One would think that the daughter of a woman driven by the passionate turbulent chaos that is love would grow to have some appreciation for the concept. Yet the opposite was true. The reality was that Isabella Inez Walker was lonely. She had no friends to speak of, her only family was Marilyn and no boys (or girls for that matter) were within her scope of interests. Bars of Stravinsky, Handel and Bartok accompanied her on her solitary bike rides to and from school. In school she was quiet, making sure to never mingle in any of the social groups and to never perform below or above average academically.
If one was to look at Isabella (which one would rarely do) they would describe her as utterly ordinary, even plain and significantly minuscule. She was not only small in character but also physically. At 17 she stood at 5’3”’ and 95 pounds, with the body of a small, thin child.
Marilyn worried about Isabella. Her own adolescence had been full of intensity. She lived drinking white wine chosen with young nervous figures. Her pastimes included trying to count the flecks in the redhead’s eyes. The task seemed impossible, like counting the white swirls, whirls, and dots in the sky on a starry night. Their smiles, unexpected, would look over the city’s rumble. Her nights were filled with whispers of femme fatale and kisses above the sea of citizens. She lived as if an earthquake was shaking the crevices of her mind. He gave her a hunger for life. This intensity was a certainty among uncertainties.
The first time they kissed was on the roof of a building in the city. Their lips met and she felt a pierce in her stomach. Her arms went numb.
So this is what love feels like. No. This is what adoration feels like.
Honey in the bloodstream. Warmth in the heart. An unspoken need to cry, welling in the chest. Fingertips tingle. A need for him. Oh god. She wanted his flesh, his lips, his soft-spoken whispers on her skin. It was as if their bodies were made for each other. Her swells filled his dips, his swells her dips. A jigsaw puzzle. Fire. An erratic flame which sparks and bursts but never fizzles. He’s all she thinks about. He consumed her. Passionate. Painfully human.
But Isabelle surely doesn’t understand this.
There are an estimated 400 billion stars in the Milky Way and 70 sextillions (a whole lot) in the observable universe. If we are to put that into perspective, for every grain of sand on Earth there are 10,000 stars. There is a potentially habitable planet orbiting at least 1% of the total stars observed, giving us a total of 100 billion habitable planets. 100 habitable planets for each grain of sand in the world.
The intensity of Marilyn’s younger life left her exhausted of energy. This occurred violently at a turning point of her existence. During her daughter’s birth, there were many tears in the room. None of which belonged to the small, frail child that would then be named Isabella. Marilyn’s cries shook the ward, and seemingly the world. She sobbed in a meter. Her wails turned into a beat. Breath in, beat, cry out, breath in, beat, cry out and so on. She cried for exactly five hours, twenty-four minutes and thirty seconds. After which she never really cried again. She felt as if all the energy and intensity in her body was sucked from her in forms of tears and blood. All the life left her to create dear small Isabella.
Isabella’s father, the dark-skinned redhead, stood in the ward frozen. In his arms was a small stuffed elephant. He silently refused to hold Isabella and instead chose to stare at his wife thrashing in her bed. That night he disappeared, leaving the elephant with the small child and her mother.
Marilyn Madison Walker left the hospital a different woman. The curvy, plump woman with large curly hair became a thin, small woman with straight oily hair. She sold her boutique and took an office job at an insurance company. The town was then left to speculate that her husband’s leave broke her or that she did not love her child. No one knew why or how this change occurred; no one dared to ask.
Marilyn’s friends tried desperately to help her but were met with little success. She stopped going for drinks on Friday nights and seldom returned their calls. This was more than a tired, single, working mother not being able to keep up her social life. This was purposeful isolation, the kind that seems to be so attractive to broken people. Slowly they began to distance themselves from Marilyn. One can only try so hard and indeed, it was difficult to remain friends with someone once they had changed so much.
Isabella never met her father, she never felt the need to. She lived perfectly satisfied with the stuffed grey elephant as a substitute. As a young child, she would often ask Marilyn for explanations or stories about her origins but failed to get concrete answers.
Marilyn would often answer with a feeble “He was a great man that had your eyes. We didn’t work out and he left.”
Not once was Isabella’s question answered in a different way. Same words, same tone, same glassy expression in her eyes. So Isabella learned to ignore the curiosity and the grey-blue eyes that gazed back at her in the foggy mirror after a scalding bath.
Let’s speculate and say that life only occurs in 1% of potentially habitable planets. This would still mean that for every grain of sand we have on earth would correspond to a planet with life on it. We have discovered far older stars than ours, with far older solar systems and far older habitable planets; thus it would be safe to say that intelligent life had plenty of time to develop.
Marilyn had felt odd the past few days, weeks really. She attributed the frequent headaches to migraines from stress. The memory loss could be due to aging or maybe just exhaustion. And the fatigue and drowsiness were surely normal for a middle-aged woman.
At 34, on a Saturday afternoon, Marilyn Madison Walker had a seizure. She was driving from work to pick Isabella up from the supermarket where she had biked to pick up some bread for dinner. Attempting to turn into the supermarket entrance, she passed out. The car veered into the left lane, colliding with a truck coming down the road.
Isabella was on the sidewalk. She entered a soft state of desperation. At first, she had no idea what to do, frozen, standing, staring, her face streaked. Time had slowed and her senses had sharpened. The smoke rising seemed to be dancing, taunting. The truck driver stumbled out and yelled something at her. She ignored him and looked at her mother. She seemed oddly beautiful sprawled out like that, like a doll, limbs non-existent.
A feeling of dread, bitterness and anger brew at her chest until the ripe flower buds spread her floral wings. The petals of suffering reach the outermost corners of her ribs and their vines wrap around the bones. A breath in only dissolves the outermost edges of the synthetic flora for a second before their fingers once more reach for her.
Isabella called an ambulance.
“Hello, yes. I need an ambulance to come to 16 Lakeshore Road. There has been a car accident. It’s my mother. Please come as quickly as possible”. On the phone, Isabella was calm and reserved. The rest of the night flashed past. Isabella remembers nothing but lights and questions.
She woke up in the hospital the next morning. She stood tentatively, taking note of her surroundings. She noted that the floor was comprised of 164 white tiles and the roof had 457 green panels. Every fourteen minutes and eighteen seconds, a nurse walked by, and one in three looked at her with what Isabella thought was an unmistakable compassion, while the other two would ignore her completely.
In the room, she saw another boy and his father. The boy looked around twelve and was furiously writing on a tattered notebook. The father stood and walked towards the desk at which a bored nurse was filing her nails. He seemed to be arguing with the woman. The boy tore the page in which he was writing and darted towards Isabella, leaving the paper and doing a full loop back onto his seat. Isabella opened the note and read:
Look at her cupid’s bow!
Her soft, tender lips, her perfect symmetrical vermillion border.
Her lips are a lucid dream.
Her lips are a comfortable coma.
Her lips are hers.
She looked up from the page in confusion but saw that the boy was being dragged away by his furious father, shouting in frustration or grief. Why, at who, or what? Isabella didn’t know, yet she understood. She too wanted to shout. She wanted to stand and yell “Where is my mother god damn it!” at the top of her small lungs.
These civilizations are potentially older than ours, meaning that in theory, they are far more advanced than our own. The technology and knowledge of a civilisation only 1,000 years ahead of us could be as shocking to us as our world would be to a person in the Dark ages. A civilization 1 million years ahead of us might be as incomprehensible to us as human culture is to chimpanzees. Some planets have the potential to harbor life that is up to 3 billion years ahead of us.
She was finally called up to the counter by the nurse and was instructed to follow her colleague to a room in which her mother and a doctor was in. As she walked in she immediately noticed that her mother was not awake. She turned to the doctor and looked at him with large questioning eyes.
“Are you the daughter?” He asked.
He looked down at Isabella. “I have been told you are the only family she has. Is this true?”.
“Right, well, normally we inform adults of the medical predicaments, like spouses or parents, but this is a peculiar case, isn’t it? Well, shall we get down to the bottom of it? I will try to make it accessible to you. Yes.” He took a deep breath. “This morning, we conducted tests and found that your mother has a large tumor on the right side of her frontal lobe. And, in light of this, the trauma to her head and the swelling in her head and the lack of oxygen to her brain means your mother is in a – well – difficult situation. The likelihood of her survival is low. Do you understand what this means?”
Isabella did not respond. All she wanted to do is curl up beside her mother and sleep. Marilyn’s straight hair formed waterfalls on the bed sheets, the black contrasting the white. She finally looked relaxed. The valleys on her skin smoothed. Maybe this is when women are most beautiful. Laid down like a sleeping kitten, skin damp, glistening and white. Lips slightly agape and soul fully willing and able.
Isabella looked at the doctor, stood up, nodded and walked in a daze towards the door to leave the room.
“Isabella, please sit down. I understand this is difficult for you, but please be assured we will do our best to help your mother.”
His words failed him. She wouldn’t sit. Instead, she looked back at him, standing, frozen. Not a muscle in her small body was moving. They looked at each other for a good minute. Him sitting, her standing. Two actors in a scene that neither wanted to be in. He became more and more uneasy. Isabella had never looked at someone so directly for such a large amount of time. He finally looked away towards the green door. The color was beyond description, it must be experienced to be fully understood.
Any civilisation with a modest amount of rocket technology and an immodest amount of imperial incentive could rapidly colonize the entire Galaxy, making their presence undoubtedly noted. Self-replicating probes could exhaustively explore a galaxy the size of the Milky Way in as little as half a million years. Radio waves or laser waves could be easily emitted.
In the week that followed, a crescendo was felt in Isabella’s chest. First, it was a low hum in the lower part of her gut, then it rose both in volume and in position. As the week continued, the tone became more and more unnerving. Equally, Isabella became desperate. Neither Chopin nor Wagner could drown it out. She turned to everything and anything that gave her peace of mind.
Isabella began to split her time between school, the hospital, and the church. She wasn’t religious but enjoyed the vastness of the walls and the way the silence filled them to the brim. There was a sense of security in those walls. It felt as if they would stand in the rubble of the rest. But the reality is that it all falls down eventually. We live in a world of ambiguity, our lives a hyperbole. There are no definites, no facts, no impossibles. We don’t know that tomorrow our basic laws of motion won’t fail, or that everything we hold to be true will fall apart. And it is for that exact reason that Isabella felt the need to hold some irrational belief, whether it be in those walls or what they represent.
Isabella was turning 18 in a month. She was to become an adult, the vibrations in her chest wouldn’t let her forget that. She was to become a woman without the presence of her mother to guide her. Would anything really change? Realistically she doubted it. Birthdays had never meant much growing up. But this time it felt different. As if the maturation of a woman truly coincided with legality. She wished her mother was there to enlighten her. Not that it would do much good. Marilyn never really was very good at explaining life to Isabella.
Sometimes Isabella was afraid her relationship with her mother was superficial. She saw other families and wondered what was wrong with hers. She did laugh with her mother, but never as intensely as the others. She did cry with her mother, but never as hard as the others. They often sat in silence, grasping for threads of conversation that would perhaps finally weave them together.
Isabella had a strange sense that any intimate relationship between a man and a woman had to be sexual. She often mistook fathers and daughters for couples. She couldn’t understand father-daughter relationships. It saddened her slightly that she felt she had to give up her body for intimacy with a man. She craved that sort of relationship or really any kind of relationship. Having someone who truly understood you; to her, it seemed to be the answer to all of life’s problems.
Nevertheless, she must have missed her mother satisfactorily. The constant humming didn’t allow her to think of much else. When she visited her mother it seemed to dim. And so she did, every day. She didn’t do much more than sit there, looking into her mother’s closed eyelids.
There must be some way to account for our apparent loneliness in a galaxy that we assume is filled with other clever beings. We have yet to find a single, concrete sign of extraterrestrial life. Direct exploration of the Solar System has yielded no evidence indicating a visit by aliens or their probes. Attempts to signal, attract, or activate hypothetical probes in Earth’s vicinity have not succeeded. With a potential 100,000 or more intelligent civilizations in our galaxy, if even a fraction of them are sending out radio waves or laser beams or other modes of attempting to contact others, shouldn’t we pick up even one signal?
But we haven’t.
This paradox leads us to think that we are completely, entirely and utterly alone.
On the following Saturday at 2:48 pm, Marilyn Madison Walker died. Isabella was on her way to the hospital on her bike, feeling surprisingly hopeful. The hum had calmed; she felt it was an oracle. If the hum became calm, she too must be calm. And so she bought Marilyn’s favorite flowers and gripped them between her teeth as she biked down the hill into the hospital car park. She hoped to share her optimism with her mother. Isabella bolted her bike and walked into the hospital on beat with Haydn’s Symphony №99 in E-Flat Major.
She went to the counter and asked to see her mother. She failed to notice the minute change of expression on the nurse’s face when she said the room number. As a professional, the nurse sharply compressed any pity as not to give away any information. Instead, she kept her demeanor calm and composed. She instructed Isabella to wait for the doctor. Isabella began to panic, this hasn’t happened before. The clock was ticking audibly: 2:52 pm. Her heartbeat quickened and eyes widened. The hum in her chest reached capriccio. Sweat pooled on her lower back.
“I would like to see my mother.” She repeated.
The nurse smiled tightly and replied: “I’m very sorry, but you must wait for the doctor.”
Isabella took a deep breath and tried to quiet the brass in her chest that was rapidly increasing in volume. “I demand to see my mother.” Her voice strained to stay calm.
“I’m sorry Miss but that’s just not poss-”
Isabella ran down the corridor and into the room her mother was in. The sight caused her to gasp slightly. There were women-in-white all around her detaching the tubes from her body.
She ran towards her mother but was stopped by one of the women-in-white.
“Leave her alone! Leave me alone! You cattle! Vermin! Don’t touch me!” Isabella was screaming, she was pushing, kicking and scratching the nurses. They were shushing her and trying to calm her but it was hardly working.
One tried to hold Isabella to her white chest, suffocating her in maternity. Isabella twisted around and sunk her teeth into the flesh of her hand, blood surfacing and peppering the white sleeve. The woman cried out and let go of Isabella.
They collectively decided they were beaten. They moved to the peripheries of the room.
“After all the mother was already dead. What could a small child do? And it is understandable after all, her violence. It is terribly difficult to lose a mother.”
As soon as a path was cleared, Isabella fell onto her mother, her small, thin arms clutching what was left of Marilyn. Isabella began to really cry for the first time in her life. Small sniffles became great, gasping cries that shook the ward, and seemingly the world. She sobbed in meter, her wails timed precisely to a beat. Breath in, beat, cry out, breath in, beat, cry out and so on. She cried for exactly five hours, twenty-four minutes and thirty seconds. She felt as if in each wail all the energy and intensity she never lived in her short existence was manifesting itself. The intensity that died at Isabella’s birth was reborn at Marilyn’s death.
When one’s loved one dies, the assumption is that they will have support from friends, family and loved ones.
But Isabella doesn’t.
She has no one.
She realized that she was completely and utterly alone.