Emily roles fotso

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.

i. all the things we see when awake are death, even as all we see in slumber are sleep

It was only in his dreams that he was still. Even now, lying awake in the dusky light of the evening, eyes closed in a final attempt to fight consciousness, swirls of chaos dance across the backs of his eyelids. The ceiling is no better, it shifts and sways above him, he can see it coming together and falling apart, again and again and again and again and

ii. the former are shifted and become the latter, and the latter in turn are shifted and become the former

They hadn’t let him keep his space suit, even after everything. They had taken it to be repurposed and resized, had altered the material that had protected him, the only thing standing between his body and the endless vacuum of space. It is probably a new suit entirely by now, he thinks, molded for a new body.

His helmet, they had let him keep. And his flight suit.

It hangs in the closet with the rest of his clothes: jeans, t-shirts, Sunday dress shirts, blazers, a suit that could withstand the subzero temperatures of space. He takes it off its hanger and puts it on.

iii. most are at odds with that with which they most constantly associate—the account which governs the universe—and ... what they meet with every day seems foreign to them

He looks down at the Earth through the station window. It’s hard to imagine that what was always so inconceivably big to him now fits within the scope of his eyesight. Swirls of white shift over blues green and browns, pockets obscured and revealed, heaving and churning in ephemeral designs.

It reminds him of the ocean.

iv. time is a child at play, moving pieces in a board game; the kingly power is a child’s

The walk to the beach takes longer than usual. It’s the same walk he’s taken thousands of times, fifteen minutes there and fifteen minutes back, but this time it feels like hours pass between each step. His legs ache, still adjusting to the weight of gravity. Maybe while he was gone, the Earth had expanded, little by little, until the distance between his house and the shore grew impossibly great, farther than even his journey to the stars.

It wouldn’t be the first thing that changed. It wouldn’t be the last. Even now he can feel it: entropy. Or is it atrophy? Everything is crumbling around him, the ground under his feet, the air around him, reforming again and again until it’s unrecognizable. Direction seems ludicrous in all this mayhem; is this the path to the beach, or somewhere else entirely? It’s hard to see through his helmet, but he is afraid to take it off; there’s something alien about this land, something menacing in the gap between his memory and what little he can see of his surroundings. He pauses, watches his eyelids dance again, lets muscle memory carry him toward the ocean.

v. and it is the same thing in us that is quick and dead, awake and asleep, young and old

On his second month in space, he turns sixteen thousand four hundred and twenty-five days old. There is no cake; the crumbs could scatter and damage equipment, are scattering and damaging equipment, scattered and damaged equipment. There is no sunrise or sunset. Sixteen thousand four hundred and twenty-five days, sixty-one of which should not count.

vi. the sea is the purest and the impurest water. fish can drink it, and it is good for them; to men, it is undrinkable and destructive

The beach is just as he remembered it. It is completely unrecognizable. The silence is almost chilling; there are no signs of life save for the occasional gull. It’s hard to walk through the sand in his boots, but he keeps moving forward, like he has for all the two thousand one hundred and twenty-eight steps it took him to get here, like he has his whole life.

By the time he reaches the water’s edge, the sun is just beginning to set. The world feels quiet, like it’s waiting, like this is the end of something or another beginning. Every moment is the last of its kind, every second gone before it begins.

The ocean is always in motion, but doesn’t try to hide it; there’s a consistency to that, a stillness, reliable like the tides following the moon’s guiding hands. He watches the water rise and fall, lets his toes skirt its edge. The waves roll up, swallowing his footsteps and leaving smooth sand behind, untouched, as if he had never been there. He sinks to his knees.

vii. eyes and ears are bad witnesses for those who have souls that do not understand the language

Sometimes he wonders what exactly it is he’s doing here, or if he should be here at all. Hubris, he thinks, fatal pride. It hits him hardest when he’s spacewalking, when he looks out into a blackness his eyes can barely process. It seems ridiculous that humanity could ever think to know it all, to think that they should even try. 

He feels the wrongness deep inside: the way he gets tired, even though the sun never goes down, or comes up, the way his body is attuned to a planet he can no longer even see at times. To think that, at one time, he had stood on the ground and looked at the sky and not seen, not realized that the only thing separating him from the all of this was gravity and a couple of layers of atmosphere.

He floats alone in the vacuum of space, and hundreds of thousands of miles below him (Or above him? In front of him? Behind him?) life goes on, always moving, never stopping.

viii. how can one hide from that which never sets?

The sun sinks behind the waves but he knows that it does not move; the ground beneath his feet is spinning, flinging itself on its charted path again and again, and though his hands grip the sand and his feet are planted firmly beneath him, he cannot, will never feel it.

He thinks he should run, should scream, should stare at the setting sun in defiance until his eyes burn up like dying starsbut he is so tired. He wants the waves, their cool lulling, the grounding burn of their salt in his lungs. He wants his mind without his senses, without all the illusion and chaos. He wants the dark oblivion of space, the feeling of a weightless body drifting through the quiet without having to leave the Earth, launch himself violently through space, punch through the atmosphere in a blaze of fire and glory. He wants gentle he wants quiet he wants still. God, he wants the stillness, just a moment’s peace.

He can feel everything; a chain, one thing feeding into the other, life to death to life to death; he can feel them all churning and churning within him until he can’t breathe. Even now, he is a different man than the person who made the trek to the water’s edge, than the man who drove his kids to school, hands clenched around the wheel like a lifeline, than the man who looked down at his whole world from outside and nearly lost his mind.                                                                                                                                                 

It feels inevitable when he starts to move, first crawling on hands and knees, then stumbling, then finally trudging steadily forward. He feels the pull of the ocean like a force of its own, an assigned path like the planets’ course around the sun, closes his eyes and surrenders.

ix. what opposes unites, and the finest attunement stems from things bearing in opposite directions, and all things come about by strife


this world, which is the same for all,


no one of gods or men has made  


but it always was, is, and will be:


an ever-living Fire,


with measures of it kindling,


and measures going out.


x. the way up and the way down is one and the same

Even as he feels the water lap against his chest, he knows that it does not touch him. It’s something to do with electrons repelling each other, creating a minuscule gap that can never be crossed, but it’s getting harder to remember these things. His suit gets heavier and heavier as water soaks the fabric, and he can feel the pull of the waves, like gravity, watches them beat against the outside of his helmet.

The sand beneath him constantly shifts, shell and bone and rock stirred into clouds by the waves, but it never falls. He wonders if, like on the beach, he is leaving little footprints for small pockets of time, or if the waves swallow them immediately before he can lift his foot to take another step. It doesn’t matter now anyway, he can barely keep his feet on the ground, already beginning to float a little; if he keeps going there will be no sand, no ground, no air. He’s neck deep now. It won’t be much longer.

Will he miss it? The world as he knew it, before space, before everything? He already does. It doesn’t matter now; it’s too late. Time flows on, his choice is made and unmade millions of times in a moment.

Finally, finally, he takes a deep breath and sinks into the sky. 


Emily Roles Fotso is a Cameroonian American woman raised in Miami, Florida. She currently studies film and philosophy at Mount Holyoke College in western Massachusetts. Writing and story-telling have been an important part of her life since childhood, and she hopes that her work can help give voice to other marginalized groups. This is her first published work.

Emily is one of ORP’S Emerging Voices in fiction.