REMAINING BOB • by Nelson Lloyd

At the end of the universe, after everyone that had ever lived had passed into the afterlife, there was a dance. Over a hundred billion soulmates from across millennia finally found one another, coming together in pairs that in effect shrunk the population of the seemingly infinite ballroom by half. Half plus one, that is. Because at the end of the dance floor, alone, shuffled the only half-soul ever made: Bob.

Kicking his toe against the end of the parquet, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his white-on-white tuxedo, Bob pretended to be deep in contemplation. His performance, as it turned out, was unnecessary. The few others who saw him were so overjoyed to find or be reunited with their other that they simply did not register Bob’s isolation. The hosts, however, took note; some will say they always knew it was coming, some will say they did and they didn’t. Either way, they saw him and understood and — to their credit — tried to explain.

“Hi Bob,” they said, surrounding him with gentleness.

“Hello,” he said without looking up.

There was nothing to discuss. Everyone knew what was happening.

“We’re awfully sorry about this,” they said. “We want you to know that we’re excited you’re here.”

“That’s right,” they added, “as excited as we are about anyone else. You’re just as special as the rest.”

“More so,” they said, chiming in. “You’re like no one else, ever!”

Bob rolled his head back and forth without raising his face.

“So I was made whole?” he asked with suspicion. “I don’t feel whole.”

“Oh no, yes. You’re a perfect half.”

“The idea of your other is clearly imprinted in your being,” they said.

“So,” asked Bob, foreseeing the answer, “there was a miscalculation?”

“I wouldn’t say that,” they said.

“Oh no,” they added, “not that.”

“What happened, you see, was how it is. That’s just how the numbers come out.”

“The numbers are, after all, odd.”

“Are,” echoed Bob.

“Yes,” they said. “Uneven.”

“And you can’t,” asked Bob, knowing the reply, “make one more?”

“Oh Bob!” they said, “Out of what, when?”

“It’s true,” they said. “There’s nothing to be done.”

“Nothing to do that hasn’t been done,” they said.

“That’s not how it works,” they said.

“You know better than that,” they said, “now.”

“And nothing will ever change,” asked Bob, “It will always be like this?”

“Well,” they said, “it will continue to be what it is.”

“As it has always been.”

“There’s nothing else it could be,” they said.

“So,” said Bob, “I’ve always been alone.”

“That’s it — always.”

“Absolutely.”

“No question about it.”

Bob peeked out across the dance floor. The others’ steps merged as one light note of self-applause, their faces full of smiles and laughter and awe and relief.

“Am I,” asked Bob, turning to look the hosts in the face, “undesirable?”

“What, Bob?” they said. “No, no! Why would you say that?”

“You’re fine, Bob, fine!”

“Extraordinary, amazing, special!”

“But I’m being punished,” he said. “Just me.”

“Bob, oh no, Bob — not at all.”

“You did nothing to deserve this,” they said.

“For better or worse,” they said.

“No one did,” they added. “This is just the way things are.”

“But I can tell,” said Bob. “I can tell the difference.”

“Yes, that’s an effect,” they said.

“We saw that that was going to have been happening,” they said.

“Will have always been happening,” they added.

“We feel, well, exactly as we do about it,” they said, surrounding him with more and even more gentleness.

“There’s nothing I can do?” asked Bob, knowing the answer. “No form I can fill out?”

“‘A form I can fill out’!” they squealed. “How amusing of you!”

“How creative!”

“How thoughtful!”

“How Bob!”

“But I want,” said Bob. “I still want.”

“Yes,” they said, “that’s it.”

“That’s how it all came out.”

“There was a surplus-deficiency.”

“A lack,” said Bob.

“An opening,” they said, patting Bob on the back. “Like a hole in a bottomless pocket.”

“But something’s missing.”

“Oh no,” they said. “We know where everything is.”

“And when,” they said.

“It’s all over you,” they said. “How could it be missing?”

“I just thought.”

“Of course you did.”

“It’s only natural.”

“There’s nothing else you could have done.”

“Nothing?” he asked with despair.

“Nothing in the universe,” they said.

“Nothing in this universe?” he asked with hope.

“Nothing in any universe,” they said.

And indeed, at a distance immeasurable by years or miles, in exactly that same spot at exactly that same time, was another ballroom, and another hundred billion soulmates, and another Bob.

And another Bob.

And another Bob.


Nelson Lloyd is a critic, creative writer, and cartoonist living in Bethlehem, Palestine.


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