Cast of Wonders 493: One Day in Infinity

One Day in Infinity

by Beth Goder

Walrus reaches her hands down into a supermarket in Oregon, willing the roof translucent. Time is frozen like the fish sticks in aisle seven. She weaves her hands through shoppers, careful not to nudge the boy bouncing in the cart or the old man in front of the cake mixes. She breathes in the smell of cucumbers, a loamy quality that speaks of the ground they came from.

First, she removes salmonella from a carton of eggs, sucking out disease until only a swirl of white and yolk remains. She caresses the fish in the display case to tell them they are loved. Next, she sees if anyone is going to die.

Walrus is the goddess of supermarkets, self-service gas stations, and indoor swimming pools. Her hair is centuries long, floating out from her scalp. Her hands were forged in the crucible of a sun when the universe was new. Her power is like a wave, cresting and retreating.

She chose her name when the Earth was born, before there were supermarkets, gas stations, or indoor swimming pools. Before walruses. She has always wished for tusks, but knows she will never have them.

The supermarket is full of shoppers. Their thoughts glide past her–worries about mortgages, lines from a school play, the realization that to get to the next level of Panic in the Pulsar, you only have to walk past the triple-crested blue jay instead of fighting it.

Walrus is glad that no one can read her thoughts, because they are full of sad things. She hates today.

In front of the cereal aisle stands Matheus. He is thinking about which cereal his son will like, and if the one with the rainbow marshmallows has too much sugar.

Walrus sees his past unfold, opening like a water lily, one petal at a time. Matheus grew up in Curitiba, Brazil. He has read all the works of Jane Austen, even Lady Susan. Although he has never written a novel, he dreams of doing so someday. On a summer evening when he was sixteen, Matheus threw a soda from an overpass to impress his friends, causing a car to swerve into a tree. Instead of stopping to see if the driver was okay, he ran. He considers this the worst mistake of his life. Matheus used to volunteer at a science museum for kids, filling plastic volcanos with vinegar and baking soda, until he got too busy with his job at the biology lab, where he studies the proteins in yeast. Before having kids, his worst fear was drowning. Now his worst fear is the worst fear of every parent.

Walrus looks into the future. Matheus will buy the cereal with the marshmallows, although he plans to make vegetable soup for dinner to compensate. He will spend thirteen minutes in the checkout line. His death will occur three blocks from his house. Walrus feels the scrape of metal against metal, the impossible smallness of a car squished tight.

Omniscience gives Walrus headaches.

Since her omniscience is turned on, she knows Chad is coming before he shows up.

Chad arrives by stepping his big feet across the world, until he’s right next to Walrus. He pushes aside the rainbows that are circling his head, and says, “Well, shit.”

Chad is the god of laundromats and pet rabbits. She has never seen his smile, because he hides his mouth behind his hand when he laughs. Often, he gets bored, and when he does, he finds Walrus.

He’s here today because he knows she’s not doing well.

“It’s not always like this. Why didn’t you come yesterday? A seven-year-old girl in Angola swam in clear water, and in her head was a melody she sings to her baby brother at night. She’s going to grow up to be an electrical engineer.”

Chad catches a rainbow and smushes it down, then lets it spring out across the world. “You need me at the sad moments, too.”

“Yesterday the world was the same, so why do I feel like this?” In the supermarket, a basket of strawberries has started to mold. She shepherds the berries to the compost heap, then wipes rot from her fingers.

“Who’s that?” Chad peers down at Matheus, seeing different moments from Matheus’s past, but the same future. He nods once.

“Let’s not talk about him just now.” She doesn’t want to get to the next part of the conversation, which in some sense has already happened. “How is the experiment with the rainbows?”

“You put a rainbow out across the world and people look up. They see.” He hides his mouth behind his hand, smiling.

“Give me a back rub?” she asks, settling her bulk against the sky. They’ve known each other since the beginning of the universe and are comfortable enough together that she closes her eyes before he even moves. He wraps her in rainbows, which are heavier than she remembers.

“What’s on your mind?”

“A problem.” She’s not sure if she means what’s happening with Matheus or the conversation that will come. The outline of her words hangs in the air, all the words she’s going to say. This is the moment when she breaks, out of all the great wash of time, and it’s not even a bad day. She’s been through much worse, so why is it now that she wants to lie down in the rainbows and never get up? It’s coming, that moment where she loses her faith, which is a very bad thing for a goddess to lose. The world is broken, and where are the gods who can fix it? The gods who can run their hands across the Earth and heal all wounds, who can stop the world from shifting and tectonic plates from crashing and pillow all the people in their hands. The gods who can sprinkle empathy like rain, gently on every head.

The future echoes in her head. Omniscience is overwhelming. At times like these, she has two choices:

1) Follow her omniscience farther and farther into the future, until gas stations are historical artifacts, past the time of swimming pools, when people start to favor floating orbs of water, and then to the time when non-waterproofed cybernetic enhancements cause the pools to disappear, too. Here are the humans with their new limbs and new knowledge, and there is Walrus, loving them all. She is there in the supermarkets, which change but never entirely go away, and always her hands are caressing the fish, and saving the humans, and making some small moment in the world shine, although it is never enough. She is skimming past the future to the heat death of the universe, where things begin again, until she circles back to the lived present. Her decisions have already been made, and there is comfort in that.

2) She can mute the omniscience

She already knows she’s going to mute her omniscience because she can see it. To be contrary, she could change her mind, and watch as the universe puddles around her, until she becomes too uncomfortable and switches back.

It’s not that she doesn’t have free will, but moments of true choice are rare, and can’t be forced or foreseen.

She mutes her omniscience, and Chad does the same.

“Everything is terrible,” she says.

They talk about love and gods and fish and the empathy crisis as the supermarket glistens beneath them, and all the people stand frozen. Matheus is stuck with his hand reaching out toward the cereal.

Walrus feels that a choice is coming. A true choice. Rarely is there a moment where she can take a path and watch the universe rearrange itself. Maybe Chad can feel it, too.

“The universe made the wrong gods,” says Chad, who has never met a pet rabbit he didn’t like, who washes away the dirt of the world when things get rough.

The moment of choice is coming, building like a wave, and it’s too much. Walrus pulls a sticky bun from aisle twelve. In her hands, it grows warm, with a perfect crust of frosting. She breaks it in half and gives Chad the bigger part.

There was once a god who could move oceans, or so the story goes. Great waves would carry water into space, to other planets. This is not how Earth was made. Other planets, though, found oceans in this way and all such life that comes from them. That god is gone now, and no one knows where he went. No one even knows his name.

This story takes on a certain urgency for Walrus as time unsticks itself. For once, she doesn’t know what will happen.

Matheus chooses a cereal box. He heads to the checkout line.

Walrus holds her transparent hand above him. She could choose to save him, but what about the next person, and the next? Her powers are finite. She cannot be everywhere at once, and there are many grocery stores in the world. Many swimming pools. Many gas stations. She thinks of opportunity cost, the weight of it, the knowledge that her choices can never be right, that she can never do enough.

Instead, she could wrap herself in rainbows, curl up tight, and disappear. She wonders if that’s what happened to the other gods, the ones who had the power to fix the world. Did they lie down, bodies quaking? Did they hold their hands up to the sun, hoping to find the center? Did they feel like Walrus does now, as if she has one cup of water to quench the thirst of the world?

Chad watches her but says nothing. His face is a mask of rainbows.

Matheus queues behind a woman in a blue shirt. Her name is Cynthia, and she only wants to get home to eat chocolate ice cream and watch TV. She works for the morgue, standing all day. Her thoughts are buzzing, adding up the cost of her groceries.

The choice Walrus makes is perhaps a cumulation of the stories she tells herself about her existence. Why she is here, and where she is going. Perhaps it is because her hand is poised, like a conductor before an orchestra in that tense moment before the first vibration of strings, and what will happen if she does not act, if the orchestra remains frozen, waiting for a signal that will never come? Perhaps it is the choice she has always known she will make.

Walrus tips Cynthia’s basket over, which isn’t easy to do with time flowing like it should. Out go the oranges, lipstick, frozen dinners, and ice cream. Because Matheus tries hard to be a good person, because he believes in kindness, even in a world that has shown him differently, he stops to help her scoop everything back into the basket.

Just in case that’s not enough, Walrus pulls slightly on the back of his neck. Her hands are cold like fish. Matheus gasps and turns around. No one is behind him.

After he pays for his groceries, Matheus travels home unscathed. He puts away the groceries, then hugs his son and husband. He makes vegetable soup, taking time to simmer the tomatoes. One day, he will climb Mount Everest. When he is seventy, his roses will win the top prize in a gardening contest. He will learn to bake souffles, but he will never write a novel. Like all people, one day he will die, at a point very far away from the heat death of the universe.

Walrus has made her choice and the universe swirls out in front of her. She can see, once again, everything that has yet to happen.

Chad finishes his sticky bun. He reaches to cup her face, then extends two fingers and drops them down by her nose. For a moment, it feels like she has tusks. He smiles, but his face is swathed in rainbows, obscuring his mouth.

Walrus thinks of small consequences, like ripples in a swimming pool, disappearing. One day, other gods will tell the myth of Walrus and they will never say more than this: there once was a goddess who refused to submerge herself in the sea.

Walrus fetches another sticky bun from the grocery store and breaks off half for Chad. She leans back, rainbows twining around her hair.

About the Author

Beth Goder

Beth Goder works as an archivist, processing the papers of economists, scientists, and other interesting folks. Her fiction has appeared in venues such as Escape Pod, Analog, Clarkesworld, Nature, and Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy. You can find her online at and on Twitter @Beth_Goder.

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About the Narrator

Marguerite Kenner

Marguerite Kenner (she/her) is a California transplant living in the UK city named after her favorite pastime.

She runs Escape Artists with her partner Alasdair Stuart, and practices as a technology lawyer in London. She loves to voice minor characters in podcasts and play video games, often where people can watch.

Her contributions to genre fiction include being a 2021 Hugo Award Finalist, editing Cast of Wonders from 2013 to 2019, project groups for too many industry orgs to count anymore, community organising, mentoring, and teaching business skills to creatives.

You can follow her adventures across various social media platforms.

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About the Artist

Katherine Inskip

Katherine Inskip is the editor for Cast of Wonders. She teaches astrophysics for a living and spends her spare time populating the universe with worlds of her own.  You can find more of her stories and poems at Motherboard, the Dunesteef, Luna Station Quarterly, Abyss & Apex and Polu Texni.

Find more by Katherine Inskip