How Long the Life by Howard Bernbaum

The twins were distracted by the neon like meteor’s streak seen through the high hospital window. At that moment Mrs.Thurgood slowly exhaled, sank farther back into her pillow, and breathed no more. Their dear aunt had completed her journey and a common act of nature had distracted them from observing the end. Not until several nurses rushed in and began resuscitation attempts did they even realize the loss.

The meteor continued on its path strewing its remnants across a remote part of the Arizona countryside. That the path had its terminus somewhere in that state was more common than mere coincidence. A glance at a meteorite strike map of Arizona gives evidence of three distinct zones of impacts besides the massive Meteorite Crater outside Winslow off Interstate 40.

Strike records show a streak of hits along a line from Navajo to White hills near the California border. Another line of strikes range from Clover Springs to Wikieup. Further south remnants can be found scattered for miles around Tucson. However for lazy prospectors like Zeke Smothers and Jake Jackson, the flatter land around Kaylen near the south west corner of the state made more sense. There weren’t even major hills to climb. That there was a dearth of findings in this area mattered little as their families provided the essentials for their maintenance in hopes they would stay away. Both men understood the philosophy and by pooling resources had enough money for booze as a dietary supplement. Neither cared much for his partner but symbiotic relationships frequently form indestructible bonds. Zeke and Jake had been wandering the sere countryside for over ten years finding a worthwhile shard now and then, the largest of which sold for just under $1 00. That binge lasted a week and almost did them in.

Jake had awakened before noon, rolled out of his sleeping bag, and was brushing his brown coated teeth with a twig he had found. “Hey Zeke, did’ ja notice a flash last night? I thought that sucker was gonna land right in the middle of the camp. It hung up there fer an hour before it come down."

Zeke grunted. “I didn’t see nothing. When I sleep, I sleep and nothing better wake me, or else." He looked around for a twig to wipe his teeth. That bitter taste in his mouth was just awful. There were no decent twigs in sight so he reached under his tattered blanket and retrieved a bottle of Four Roses. One slug and his mouth was back to normal. He pulled the tent flap to one side and squinted at the glare of the sun. “Too hot to go out now. Let’s put it off to later." He took another drink and returned to his prairie bed. Jake agreed and returned to the tent. “Betcha we find another hundred dollerer."

There was, indeed, a meteorite, the same one watched by Mrs. Thurgood’s twin niece and nephew the night before. The heavenly orb, streaking along earth’s orbit, had finally succumbed to gravity and ended its unbelievable journey. Jake, if he were philosophically minded might have pondered where the flaming missile came from. He might have wondered how long it had been wandering the vast terrestrial distances. However, his mind held not a shimmer of phenomenal curiosity. Still, if he had been told about the origin of that mixture of atoms he would have taken another drink and muttered “Bull sh - -."

In fact, some vast number of years before 1 4.7 billion years ago existed a nothing. To make matters a little clearer, the nothing had once been an immense star. Because of its enormous gravitational field the star attracted space debris and other objects, even other smaller stars. The star was made up mostly of hydrogen atoms but contained all the other atoms as well. Over millions of years it continued to grow until it couldn’t manage its mass. It became unstable, swelled up, then collapsed strewing some of its mass into the surrounding empty space. With more millions of years it reclaimed its mass and gravity pulled all those atoms into a tighter and tighter cluster. The gravitational field was so strong ultimately even light couldn’t escape. If there had been eyes to look at it they wouldn’t have seen anything. It became what in the future would be called a black hole.

Time elapsed, more millions upon millions of years. All the elements that had resided in the majestic sun were still there, only concentrated. Interatomic distances had shrunk to a small fraction of their original infinitely small lengths. Then one day, BOOM. The black hole had become unstable and exploded. Matter was dispersed in all directions. Gases, solids, atoms, molecules all were sent on their ultimate journey. Billions of years passed as the gaseous matter gathered and coalesced into spatial objects. Suns were formed, some with planets and their satellites in orbit. Clouds of gases continued through space. Some systems revolved around each other and even entire galaxies rotated in the new universe. Comets traveled throughout space and meteors were formed and traveled in comparable orbits.

Out of this diversity with its unimaginable masses and distances grew a galaxy called the Milky Way, rotating in space. A minor star developed in the periphery of this galaxy and this minor star, called the sun, was the pseudo center of a cluster of various sized planets in solar orbit. Some four billion years after the origin of one of those planets, life formed. Many millions of years later that life form evolved into what is questionably referred to as intelligent life. People named their resident planet earth and claimed knowledge of the rest of space appending appellations on everything they observed.

As miraculous as the story of creation goes it is a mere gossamer in the coincidences that occur without the least bit of help from man. Man, a being whose conceit is the only challenge to the enormity of the universe. From that vast explosion that took place those billions of years ago, matter was ejected that coalesced into the meteor that wandered the universe until one fateful night it crashed into the desert near Zeke and Jake thus providing them, upon discovery, a shard large enough to sell for nearly $1 00 and another week of nonstop drinking.

On a sadder note, one of the by products of that cataclysmic eruption was the formation of several gaseous molecules that ultimately arranged themselves into a volume containing among other things approximately 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen, a su ficient amount of air to provide dear Mrs. Thurgood her last breath. A tear formed in her niece’s eye as she watched from the hallway where the nurses had ushered her, the futile attempts at resuscitation as futile as mankind’s attempts at living in harmony with his neighbors.


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