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Diorama, after Milton

Rebecca Baird


after Milton

On the fourth day he frowned into the tinny, clanging nothing and poured in an oil spill of space; a sticky and quiet tar to thicken the noiselessness into renderable muck. He pulled dips and mounds into the clay of time so it oozed and rippled like the flying trigonometric furls of a vast, shaken dust sheet. Into this endless fabric he poked holes, scored seams, so that when the giant bodies he would send spinning slowed to a momentous keel, they would trickle, like marbles, out of the picture; out of the game.

He was not alone; by now, word had gotten out about what he was doing, and they all watched; the flashbulbs of a trillion Hellish paparazzi blew and sparked an irksome cacophony in his periphery. Vexed, he visored a heavy hand across his brow and froze their lights into long, sparkling cicles in one frigid exhale. Then he picked them up, one by one, holding each cold and delicate spindle of light between immense thumb and forefinger; chuckling, he crushed them, and littered the inky canvas with their dusty shards, casual as salting pasta water.

Satisfied that the chaos was muted, he paused, stepped back and blinked out his next idea. A word came – moon – and he could see it. Sudden and clumsy with vim, he swiped up a fistful of the stardust and mashed it into a bumpy ball, moulding in some tarry cosmos to bind all the light particles together. Then with a small stroke and the hint of will, he set it gently aglow. Grinning, he pasted this lonely bulb alongside the tiny planet, setting its brightest, whitest side to face the little ones. He looked with narrowed eyes. It was so small. In the starkness it hung dull amid the perfect LED scatter of stars, a disused disco ball in an empty club, casting rogue glitters into a phantom party. Like that, melancholy existed, and the sad prettiness of what he had made squeezed his almighty chest. His burst of inspiration was replaced with something like lack, and the Moon became instantly mundane; a buzzing fluorescence on the ceiling of his Eden. Even so, this poor orb deserved context – so limply, he carved out a black track around the world, and set the little rock rolling around it. He rigged up a haphazard thread between it and the quilt of ocean, so the Moon dragged the sweep of water in its wake. Better. Function made it beautiful again.

Setting his heft in his shoulders, he renewed his focus and steadied his knocked confidence. Now, the big one. He was glad he’d made it earlier, on the first day, bending all that leftover genesical light into a heavenly vat and hammering out flares of photons well into that night - that very first night. With a deep breath and careful arms, he picked up his piece de resistence, his grand and golden chandelier, and suspended it in pride of place, crowning the mantel of the sky, like a precious pendant dripped between celestial collarbones. The great globe smouldered and warmth – delicious warmth! – blued the black for hundreds of thousands of miles around it, softening every sharpness in that diffuse and equal and concise way only a sphere can do. He bared his heavenly teeth and gnashed them and threw his colossal head back in delight! That splendorous sphere! A lifegiving beacon, yellow light pure and shining and gentle as a lover’s sigh. He set it alight, and it began to burn in earnest; that heat, fearsome red in its blistering spin, mighty and unbearable!...the Sun was his self-portrait for them, the only way they could truly see him, and it was perfect.

Turning, he surveyed the rest of it in the radiance of this new and sublime centrepiece. The stars, all frivolity and flourish, twinkled a dirty sheen in its fiery brilliance, like broken bottles under hissing, sulphuric streetlamp filaments. And the sad Moon’s anaemic desolation now popped, purported an intentional and stylish contrast, its cool heightened by hotness. Yes. Yes, yes, yes! Contentment settled his features like the smoothing powder of snow, and with a chest already loosened by the anticipation of success, he turned each element and circuit of the past three days off, checked every wire and calibrated process – day and night, tide and turn, seasons, orbits, life, death – everything from the eventual spiralling suicide of the Sun to the bloom and bearing of Eden’s fruit. With the precision of a Swiss watchmaker, he lined up the timings of this embryonic galaxy – even trial runs should be taken seriously – and without missing a beat between the end of his checklist and the start of everything, he levered up the mains switch. A slow chug echoed through the cosmos, virgin as the gears of merry-go-round horses, and the whole system began to turn.

Rebecca Baird is a Scottish poet and journalist based in Dundee. Her writing focuses mainly on music, the mythologizing of the feminine experience and the romanticism of the mundane. You can usually find her among trees, fairylights or gravestones, writing things in her head, or her notes app.


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