The Glass Onion


All those religions jostling like hornets and not one of them got it right: when you die, you wake up in a gigantic glass onion. No smell. No moon. Just unbreakable glass layers crowded with people, and a little white sun beyond. Nothing whatsoever seems to hold up the layers, though I’m guessing rotation is what keeps us from floating around and bumping our heads on the ceiling. Centripetal force, if I remember right.

Something else you need to understand: everybody’s reborn naked, and no matter what you looked like before, no matter what race or gender, everybody’s pretty much the same here. Gray skin, long dark hair, long bodies as willowy as you please. And, well, nothing whatsoever between the legs. Not man, not woman.

But that’s not as bad as it sounds. Because when we press together, our flesh sings like ecstatic teenagers at a rave, and all the best sensations and memories from your last life, they flow in and out like water with whoever’s touching you. I guess you could call that sex, and that’s probably how we tolerate being stuck here to begin with. After all, if you can’t get laid in a gigantic glass onion, there’s something seriously wrong with you.

Another thing: you can’t exactly call this hell. Sure, you can circle your whole layer in a few days, and not see anything but other people doing the same thing, but nobody gets hungry here. Nobody bleeds. Nobody can die. In fact, when gentler touching gets old, some people like to team up and take turns kicking each other in the head, as hard as they can, until they’re too tired to move. But nothing yields so much as a bruise. Yes, we sleep. Yes, we dream—mostly of what we left behind—but all in all, I’d say waking up here isn’t half bad.

Something else I forgot to tell you: nobody here has a mouth. That’s no big deal since there’s nothing to eat and no need to breathe, but it’s a little striking the first time you wake up and see the others standing around you, doing their best to smile with their eyes. That brings me to another problem: we can’t talk. Somewhere along the line, though, people who knew sign language from their old lives taught it to the people around them, and that got passed on to the people in the other layers—the ones above and below, so close you can look down or up and see them.

You might not believe this but it turns out that most people’s favorite way to say hello is to make the sign for tree. In international sign language, which is pretty close to what we use here, you indicate a tree but holding up your five fingers and twisting your hand twice. Funny that that should be everybody’s favorite sign, since I bet there are people here who haven’t seen a real live tree in a million years, but there you have it. Personally, I use that one the most when I’m lying down, facing another layer—either above or below—and I notice else somebody looking back. Too far away to love or kick, but the least you can do is wave.

How are you?

Tree. And you?

Tree.

Sometimes, I wonder what it’s like to be on the outermost layer, so that there’s nothing above you but darkness and distant stars. Personally, I happened to be reborn third layer from the top: close enough to see the sun, and the stars once the onion turns. Here, the upper levels aren’t quite so crowded, so the people aren’t really obstructions so much as passing clouds. You can wave at them and they’ll wave back, then they move a little, and you can see stars and the yawning darkness beyond.

To be honest, there’s really only one thing that scares me, and that’s looking down. In my last life, I had a problem with heights. I remember riding in a glass elevator once and my friends teasing me because I refused to look down. But here, it’s worse. You see one layer, then another, then another, as deep as your eyes can go. And you start to think maybe it just goes on and on forever. But it doesn’t.

Word came back that there is a bottom to all this—a core, if you will. A little sphere way down at the heart of our onion. And just like the other layers, people pop into existence down there, too. Only the core is tiny compared to the rest, so they’re packed in so tight you can’t tell where one body ends and another begins.

Sounds awful, I know, but the folks on the layer right above them—who are pretty much shoulder-to-shoulder themselves—they say it doesn’t look at all like what you’d think. In fact, they say the core appears to be a never-ending orgy. And the heat wafting off it, radiating through those glass ceilings and floors, so high that sometimes we feel a little of it up here, too... well, that gives us hope.

If you’re new enough that you can still remember your old life, maybe you remember sitting in a science class somewhere, learning how everything grows out of dust. That’s it: just dust. Only dust is a lot more impressive than it sounds. Because if you get enough of it, it clumps up on its own power, then the parts really start moving and it gets hotter. Eventually, it gets so hot and so dense that it forms a star, with plenty of dust left over to make whatever planets and the white-tailed comets lurk beyond.

One day, that’ll happen here. I know it. It’s just a matter of time. And when it does, when this gigantic onion becomes a star, even this unbreakable glass won’t be able to hold. Our onion will finally break open like an egg. Or maybe it’ll all turn to fire. I don’t know. But whatever happens to us then, I don’t think it’ll be bad.

I can’t prove that, of course. It’s just what I believe.  

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