The Gravity Well

Anne Valente

Sarah tells me that we are ghosts, all of us. She says that ghosts are nothing more than afterimages of ourselves, or pre-images, that blurred streaks and blown-open doors are only our own bodies in some parallel space, passing through the same rooms we once occupied, rooms we will occupy, rooms we settle into right now.

Sarah began talking like this when her amniotic membrane ruptured.

When I brought her home from the hospital, she laid in bed for two days, lights dimmed. I went to the pharmacy, filled her pain prescription, stood in line too close to the seasonal aisle, the sidewalk chalk and water guns. That night, as I lay next to her watching the ceiling, waiting to fall asleep, she told me through the dark that the earth felt like an anchor, that gravity detained her, a drowned weight.

I thought she meant the pressure. I thought she meant a weight of absence so vast, and not the ways that gravity holds time.

I went to work, organized my pencils. I drank five cups of coffee and waited until mid-morning to call home, and when I did, Sarah never answered, she must have been sleeping. But when I came home from work, she was sitting up in bed reading. She didn’t even look up.

Did you know everything is relative? she asked. And then she mentioned ghosts, how so many iterations of ourselves split apart inside the earth’s pull.

Sarah says we are elsewhere, always. That there are versions of both of us sliding through other planes, all the time. She says there are loopholes, that the right energy opens their channels, prevents their collapse. She says our baby didn’t really die, that she is with us somewhere else, some other space in time. When she says this, I want to believe her. I rub her back and touch her palms. But all I imagine are two panes of glass, sliding past each other with nothing in between.

When Sarah finally got out of bed, we went to the park. We sat on a blanket in the shade, watched people walk their dogs, read on benches. We watched two kids fly a kite in a nearby field.

Gravity controls the passage of time, Sarah said to me, though her gaze followed the kids. Because we’re here, on this planet, we have no concept of how time can shift.

She told me we are a gravity well, that light blueshifts and contracts in this unbearable core of pressure. She said that light expands as it moves away, a redshift, and though her eyes turned toward the sky, away from the kids and from me, her hands moved to her belly, settled there on what light got away.

I think of this, while she sleeps, how light is trapped by gravity, how time is bound by light. I want to believe her but I am sinking, this elsewhere too gleaming to bear. Our ghosts are enough for Sarah. They are not enough for me. I think of gravity, what black holes can swallow, how nothing, not even light, finds a path of escape. I watch the ceiling and listen to Sarah breathe, and imagine I am hovering above both of us, watching myself sleep, a ghost untethered in light.

Anne Valente
Anne Valente

Anne Valente's work appears or is forthcoming in Hayden's Ferry Review, Sou'wester, Bellevue Literary Review and Unsaid, among other journals.  Originally from St. Louis, she lives and teaches in Ohio.