Probert Dean


To the microscopic insects that live in my eyelashes, I am a planet. It feels good to be a planet on which generations of microorganisms have lived and died. My living room is to them what distant space is to us. The street outside where I put the wheelie bins is an incomprehensibly distant sphere, implying, I suppose, that such things exist in our world too.

         We tend to think of ourselves as one, but we are legion. Death is an Armageddon.

         Do the lice contemplate the possibility of there being billions of universes just like theirs? No, they are too small to contemplate.

What if we also live on a similarly delicate and insignificant precipice. What if our Earth is a zit on the face of a grand extra-terrestrial. The perceivable universe: some alien’s mattress. Are we flies buzzing against a giant window, too small, too frail to break into the world? Countless universes, beyond the glass, peopled by galaxy-sized things with pock-marked faces. Perhaps they too have a panoply of parasites living in their pores.

         I imagine our universe as a sort of life-form, walking around, talking to other universes.

         ‘To the microscopic humans that live on my planets, I am a universe,’ says one universe.

         The universes laugh about how they must seem like the dreams of gods. They even consider that they too are merely microbes, living in the nostrils of a colossus.

         Unimaginable beings. Ignorant deities. For no reason at all I picture a crawling beast, hairy like a dog, with starry orifices in which our universe and all the other universes live. Going up another level, the hairy beast scampers about in the pubic mound another infinitely vaster creature. Maybe some kind of giant whale (yes, a whale with a pubic mound).

         Remember – our universe was just a speck-sized pest to the dog, to the whale it would be smaller than words. We simply do not exist in their perspective, just as we can’t conceive of anything smaller than a non-existent thing.

         So does this go on for infinity? For argument’s sake let’s say yes. I like to imagine that deep inside the bellybutton of every louse, somewhere amongst the nothingness, there are universes so small that any explanation of how small they are would cause your brain to switch off. Every subatomic civilisation has their own equivalent of lice, too small for them to see with the naked eye – or whatever they use for sensory perception (perhaps a sort of antennae which detects changes in ionisation).

         Sometimes when I concentrate I can feel our universe scuttling around, and the lice tickling my eyelashes.

         What I like about this is that we’re all just infections of each other. I could be from anywhere in the hierarchy of existence. I may not even be human, I could be a horseshoe galaxy from ten universes up. And you could be a gnat’s teardrop. It wouldn’t matter. We’re all connected, supporting each other without even knowing it. Being born and dying together. In a line that (maybe) never ends.

         I told this idea to my lice yesterday, while staring into my eyelashes in the mirror with a magnifying glass. I decided they liked the idea.

         ‘It makes perfect sense,’ I imagined one of them saying. ‘I bet we’re not even that different in size. As the phases of reality increase in distance there would be room for greater spacetime. So the host creature of your universe could be similar in size to you.’

         ‘Yes, perhaps spacetime is stretched at the plateau, but condenses again further out. So our universe seems vast to us, and tiny to the creature it lives on, but if we were to cross over into the next plane, the size difference between the three of us may not be all that much.’

         ‘You may be right,’ said the lice. ‘I’ve enjoyed this discussion. I will seek further insight from the civilisation of nanoscopic coral that live in my liquid discharge.’

         I went to bed that night thinking about our conversation being passed down from universe to universe. I dreamt I was in space. Or rather, space was in my room. There was a black shape amongst the stars and galaxies – the shape of a personesque sort of thing. He or she or they (or whatever) explained the ladder of existence to me, the lice in my eyelashes, and the river that flows between the universes. The starry thing said they heard it from the reality above theirs (or its), and told me to pass it on to the one below me. Then it (or one) was gone, and I woke up in normality.

Probert Dean is from Liverpool. Last year he won the PFD prize for his yet-unpublished novel. His writing has appeared in a few spots here and there. On his days off he likes to work part time in an office.


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