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The Mosquito that Drank the Universe

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I dreamed that I stood on a vast and shadowed plain. An endless line of winged figures stood motionless as a tall pale man in a black cloak paced along the line, giving each a sip from a chalice.

I slipped into the line, hoping for a drink. The winged ones didn’t seem to notice me. I was dwarfed between them. They were not angels or demons or aliens. They were nothing I could comprehend. But they wanted the drink, so it must be something worth having.

The tall man paused when he reached me, and looked directly at me with eyes like galaxies.

“No, dreamer,” he said in a voice like black velvet and waterfalls. “This wine is not for you.”

“But I want it,” I said.

“It is the wine of knowledge,” he told me. “Even a single sip would destroy you. It would be like a mosquito trying to drink the universe.”

Daring, I asked, “What about a mosquito-sized portion?”

His face didn’t change. But I knew, as you know in dreams, that he was amused. “Very well, little mosquito.”

He dipped one finger into the wine, then shook it. All the liquid vanished, leaving only a stain so faint and small that it was only perceptible because his skin was so very white.

He touched it to my lips.

I awoke in my familiar bed, to the familiar sounds of cars and voices and footsteps. There was a taste in my mouth like wine and blackberries, like roses and rain, like ash and asphalt, like grass and peaches and cigarettes, like a thousand flavors and scents I had no name for. It was barely perceptible, but I knew it would never leave me.

Like the taste of the wine, a river of knowledge rushed through my mind, just barely within my perception. I couldn’t search it, any more than I could put my hand in the ocean and pull out a particular fish, but I could dip in my hand and look into my little palmful of water.

I sat up in bed, with the sounds of my neighbors trying to get their kid to put on his shoes coming through the thin walls, and dipped my hand into the universe.

On a planet circling a dying star, amphibious beings prepared a festival to celebrate the end of the world.

A tiny green crab spider crawled into the heart of a white rose, and paled into a living pearl.

A refugee stands on a corner with others, hoping for a day job and thinking of his daughter, lost in the chaos when they fled; his daughter, less than a hundred miles away, serves coffee and tries to believe that her father is still alive somewhere.

In the thick golden clouds of a moon circling a ringed planet, a friendship between six beings is formally consummated in a choreographed flight.

A baby who might revolutionize medicine on Earth, should she live to grow up and be able to get an education, took her first step on a floor made of cow dung and polished to a sheen.

In a nebula not seen or named by man, a star is born.

I yanked my hand from the river, gasping and stunned and overwhelmed, the taste of ash and blackberries strong in my mouth. The little mosquito was full to bursting, and my neighbors had still only gotten one shoe on their child’s foot.

I got up from bed, my knees a little shaky, and took a shower and made coffee. The taste of the wine of knowledge went away when I drank my coffee and brushed my teeth, but returned as soon as I was done.

Just within my perception, the river rushed on.

I would never have been so bold with the tall cloaked man if I’d been awake. We are different in dreams. I had changed my entire life in a strange, unconsidered instant. But maybe that’s not uncommon.

I had an hour before I had to get to work, so I took the subway to a street corner where a group of men were waiting for day jobs. I walked up to one of them, a middle-aged man with strong shoulders and tired eyes.

“Hello,” I said. “I know someone you’re looking for.”