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The Four Moons of Jupiter

You dreamed of what could be, unaware of what was.

Fiction | Flash Fiction
July 14, 2023

Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto. You repeat these names as though they are magical incantations, feeling each syllable glide off your tongue in a room filled with silence. Tomorrow’s science quiz will ask you to recall the names of the four largest moons of Jupiter, so you cling onto these words until they belong to some part of you and you belong to some part of them.

At thirteen years old, you already find discomfort with the concept of the universe. The idea of other galaxies, some thousands of times larger than the one you currently exist inside, makes your stomach turn. The world you are in now feels all-consuming, so how can there be more? You google why do people care about space late at night on the laptop you snuck under the covers. You find billions of results but no answers. 

When you’re fourteen and starting high school, the first girl you fall in love with asks you when and where you were born. You discover you are an Aquarius sun while you are curled up beneath your desk, arms clasped over your neck during an earthquake drill. You don’t know what being an Aquarius means, but you like the sound of it and the way she says you must be of the dreamy sort. Though you don’t quite understand stars nor the alignment of the planets, you understand personality quizzes. You find arbitrary categorizations to be comforting, as though a series of letters, numbers, or sandwich condiments will navigate you towards who you are.

When the drill concludes, you are let outside. You rub the bottom of your sneakers along a thin crack in the cement, wondering if the earth would swallow you up the next time it shook. You wonder if the sun would care if the earth suddenly disappeared from its orbit. You wonder if the girl with charcoal-colored eyes would care if you disappeared from hers.

You don’t sneak your laptop under your covers anymore when you leave for college, but you still stay up too late at night. On the eve of the mid-autumn festival, when the moon is particularly bright and round, you skim through pages of reading for your philosophy discussion the next day. Your ex-boyfriend messages you that he wants you. You don’t respond, and a few minutes later he tells you that he’s hurting. Against your better judgment, you tell him I’m sorry ☹ ☹ ☹ ☹. Then, you block his number for the third time this week. You can’t buoy him through his pain when you are carrying your own. 

When you fall asleep, mouth and textbook agape, you dream of two tiny rotating, spinning figures, pulled by two separate large, unwieldy gravitational masses farther and farther away from each other. Aristotle believes that the earth sits at the center of the universe. Copernicus believes it is not the earth but the sun. You begin to wonder what sits at the center of yours. 

Before you were wary of space, you were intrigued by it. When you were six, you pressed your face against the telescope across the street on your neighbor’s lawn. You closed your left eye shut and searched the dark sky for the bright orange planet you kept forgetting the name of.

When you found it, you were surprised at how it was no larger than your pinky nail. You wondered how something so big could still be so small, and how something so far away could suddenly be right in front of you.

The next morning, you stood in front of your bathroom mirror with your pinky nail pressed against your right cheek. You told yourself that from where you were standing, you were bigger than the biggest planet in the solar system. 

You dreamed of what could be, unaware of what was. You didn’t understand space, and you didn’t need to.