The universe is a simulation. Only grapefruits know the truth…

My first thought was “oh, that’s weird.”

The offending fruit was sitting in front of me, still on my cutting board.  The knife I had used to slice it in half lay beside it, set aside as I examined what had been originally slated to be my breakfast.

The whole thing is because of that darn newspaper article.  “Eating a half of a grapefruit for breakfast is only ninety calories, and gives you a burst of vitamins to start the day off right!”  It had popped into my mind as I wandered up and down the aisles of my corner supermarket, and I figured it was worth a shot.

The article had included a lovely picture of half of a grapefruit, sliced open.  The thousands of little tiny packets of juice inside the open grapefruit had seemed to glitter in the picture beneath the headline of the article.

And I had to admit, I’d been looking forward when I woke up this morning to taking a big spoonful of that grapefruit in my fridge.

I leaned forward, poking at the two pieces of fruit on my cutting board.  I was cautious, worried that something would happen to my finger.  The outside of the grapefruit had looked totally normal – yellow-pink, covered in little dimples, slightly squishy beneath my fingers.

The inside of this fruit, however, did not look like the picture in the article.

It looked like some sort of black and white mesh.

And it got worse.  As I tilted the fruit back and forth, rolling it around on the cutting board, that mesh shifted, and I realized that the whole fruit was hollow; that mesh was curved to the inside of the two hemispheres.  There was literally nothing inside this grapefruit.

But it had felt right!  It had been heavy, cold, a little wet with condensation!  What in the world was going on?

I picked up the knife, slowly lowering it down into the open grapefruit half.  The knife didn’t seem to encounter any resistance as it entered, no pressure as it slid into what should be the interior of the grapefruit.  I kept on lowering the blade, closer and closer to that stark black and white mesh.

The tip of the knife touched the mesh.  And then the whole knife flashed into nothing but an outline of white lines.

I dropped it with a gasp.  The thing still felt like a knife in my hand, still hit the cutting board with a clatter.  But it no longer looked like a knife.  It looked like a knife-shaped black hole in the world, outlined by lines of white that showed its curves and ridges.  And it wasn’t changing back.

Over the next half hour, my work forgotten, I cautiously touched other things to the inside of the grapefruit.  Car keys.  A carton of nearly expired half and half.  A rather rusty whisk that I had managed to free from where it was holding a drawer shut.  My refrigerator.

Each item instantly blinked into a black-and-white frame.

I sat back on the kitchen table, staring down at the half of a fruit that was causing me so much consternation.  I had set it on a plate, perhaps in a vain hope that it would transform back.  It wasn’t doing so.  I reached up and scratched at the back of my head.

My thoughts were interrupted by a meowing sound.  I glanced up, and cursed under my breath.  The neighbor’s damn orange tabby had somehow climbed into my apartment again!  The dang thing kept on sneaking in, where it would go running around knocking over all my things.  I would have to catch it, probably enduring several scratches in the process, and then would haul it back upstairs, where I wouldn’t even receive a thank-you for my actions.

My eyes flicked from the cat, to the grapefruit, and back.  An idea began to form in my mind.  A wicked, brilliant idea.

“Here, kitty kitty kitty…”

Prompt: The world’s best oncologist finds out he has cancer.

The first nurse who saw the test results couldn’t hold back her tears.  Her companion had slightly more control, but we all could see the tremble of his lip as he quickly perused the file.

In the hospital bed just inside the room beside us. Doctor Marcus Annoma slept soundly.  He was a big man, in all respects and attitudes.  Even his snoring, the regular sounds muffled slightly by his bushy mustache, sounded like the product of pure testosterone.

We had all been overjoyed when he agreed to join our consulting staff. He had trained in the military, perfected his skills at a top research institution, but he always managed to spend most of his time in a hospital – like ours. We were, of course, one of the top hospitals in the country, if not the world.  We served royalty, the rich and the famous, those who could afford the best.  Our rooms were exquisite and well-decorated, with plenty of natural light and none of the antiseptic green usually seen in hospital rooms.  One patient, an aging rock star, even remarked that the bed was far more comfortable than anything he had at home – and he purchased his own hospital bed to be brought to his mansion.

Dr. Annoma almost immediately became a fixture of the hospital.  He would stride through the hallways, his six-and-a-half foot tall frame towering over the other doctors and nurses.  His deep, booming, hearty voice would echo up and down the halls- especially when he burst into rolls of thunderous laughter.

The man was an instant hit.  He would pause at the nurses’ station and drop a ridiculous dad joke, adding a bald-faced wink to make them all titter in delight.  He’d invite the other doctors out on manly activities like hiking or rock climbing, and would make sure to thank them for any consultations, making them feel wanted.

He was more than just a great oncologist, possibly the greatest cancer doctor in the world.

He was a great man.

Dr. Annoma had never showed concern, fear, or worry, even when patients were on the brink of death.  He would merely ruffle his mustache, nod, and then confidently declare that he’d “have this damn thing licked in no time at all.”  Patients would draw on that utter, unshakable confidence, replacing scared expressions with shaky smiles.  And it always somehow seemed to help.

The nurse brought the chart to me, holding it out like a live snake.  She didn’t have to tell me the results of the biopsy.  Her face betrayed the answer to my unspoken question.

I took the file from the nurse, took a deep breath, did my best to steady my own nerves.  I had known Dr. Annoma for his entire time at the hospital, had grown close to him.  As had we all.  I had volunteered to be the one to deliver the news.

To my surprise, the doctor was awake when I entered the room.  He was sitting up in the bed, gazing down at the morning paper.  A cup of steaming coffee sat on the small table next to the bed, a little vapor trail rising up from the porcelain.  The man was dressed in the typical hospital gown, but he had insisted on wearing his doctor’s white coat as well, making him look almost as if one of the doctors was playing a joke by sitting in the bed.

Dr. Annoma glanced up at me as I stepped in.  I was doing my best to keep my face straight, but I could feel my expression cracking.  He set the paper down on his lap, his gaze fixed on me.

I nodded to him, but didn’t waste any time on small talk.  The man didn’t deserve that.  “The test is back,” I spoke up, holding up the folder, opening it up to confirm the diagnosis.  “And I’m afraid it’s bad news.  It looks like the tumor is cancer; it’s likely metastasized by now.”

I didn’t know what I had expected.  Perhaps I was thinking that the man would crumble, or shut down at this terrible news.  But Dr. Annoma just gave me a single brisk nod, a military nod.  He reached out and picked up his coffee cup, his big hand wrapping around the entire cup.  He took a sip, careful not to dip his mustache into the hot liquid.

“Ah,” he said, after lowering the cup from his lips.

“Finally!  A real challenge.”

Welcome to Heaven! Now what?

Something definitely wasn’t right.  I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

I stared around.  It was really bright here, I noticed.  Everything seemed to be pure white, glowing and radiant.  There wasn’t even any graffiti.  They must be constantly repainting.

Everything seemed to be curved, too, and slightly squishy.  It felt a bit as though I was standing on a floor of marshmallow.  But that wasn’t what was off.

I looked at the man standing in front of me.  Well, he was kind of standing.  His feet didn’t seem to be quite touching the floor.  Was that what was off?  No, I don’t think so.

My eyes roamed up from his feet.  He was wearing some sort of white robe, somewhere in between a toga, a monk’s robe, and one of those Snuggie blankets with the sleeves.  Just like everything else, it was pure white.  I wondered how he kept stains out of it.  But that wasn’t what was bothering me.

My eyes kept on going up, reaching his face.  He had blonde hair, trimmed fairly short, and a chiseled jawline that would probably make most movie stars fall to their knees and weep.  His eyes were big and luminous, his pupils looking like they were shaped from burnished gold.

Was that what was off?  No, that wasn’t it.

My eyes kept on moving up.  Something above the man’s head was glowing, hurting my eyes something fierce.  It looked like a ring, a disc carved out of the sun itself, shining out in all directions.  It was about the size of a salad plate and was bobbing about six inches above the man’s blonde hair.

That was it.

“What the heck?” I said out loud, raising up one hand to shield my eyes from the glowing halo.  “That’s so bright!”

The man floating in front of me (man wasn’t the right word, was it?) jumped, as if I’d just revealed a secret to him.  “Oh, my apologies!” he said quickly, his voice melodious and musical.  “Here, let me turn it down.”  The brightness dropped by an order of magnitude, and I could open my eyes all the way again.

“What’s going on?” I asked him, now turning and looking around at the sea of white marshmallow-ground.  “Where the heck am I?”  I paused.  “And why do I keep on saying ‘heck’ instead of ‘heck’?  I mean, heck.  Heck!”

The man (yeah, there was another word.  I just couldn’t quite remember it.) winced.  “Er, you’re dead, I’m afraid,” he said, quite apologetically.  “This is, well, Heaven.”

Angel!  That was it.  “Dead?” I repeated back.  “Are you sure?  I don’t think I’m dead.”

The angel waved one hand vaguely in the air, and a screen shimmered into existence, floating in space.  On the screen, I could see a man who looked suspiciously like the man who stared back at me in the mirror every morning, standing at an intersection.  The footage was slightly grainy, as if it had been shot by a security camera, but I could still recognize myself.

I was jabbering into a phone, bouncing on my heels at the edge of the intersection.  The light changed, and I strolled quickly and confidently out into the intersection.

An instant later, I was gone.

“Let me play that a little slower,” the angel said, and waved his hand again.  This time, as I watched the footage in horror, I was able to see the semi go barreling through the intersection before splattering me across its grill like an insect.  Even the angel winced at the impact.

There didn’t seem to be much arguing with that.  “Okay,” I agreed.  “So I’m dead.  Now what?”

The angel clearly had been waiting for this question.  “Now, you’re in Heaven!” he announced, the screen blinking out of existence beside him.  He turned and gestured grandly at the marshmallow landscape, and from some unseen location, trumpets and horns blared out in fanfare.

I looked out at the landscape without much excitement.  “It looks kind of dull.”

This was not what the angel was expecting.  “Dull?” he repeated.  “But it’s heaven!  We made it just like in all the movies and things!”

I gave the marshmallows another look.  This didn’t seem quite right.  I had only a vague idea of what Heaven was supposed to be like, but I thought that it was a huge party of some sort.  Piles of cheeseburgers, pools of jello to swim in, sexy supermodels lying on the cheeseburgers, things like that.

“Okay,” I finally let on.  The angel looked so downcast, I had to say something to cheer him up.  “This is Heaven.  Do I get a tour or something?”

This made the angel blink a couple times.  “Well, I suppose so,” he said, his tones full of uncertainty.  Follow me…”

The Bechdel Test

“Oh, hey!  Over here!  Honey, you’re late!  I’m already on my second cosmo!”

“Yeah, sorry.  Traffic was crazy.  Valentine’s day, you know.  All the panicked husbands rushing out at the last minute to buy up any remaining flowers and chocolate.”

“You know, hon, you’re always so pessimistic.  I know you’ve been single for a while, now, but isn’t it time to get back on that horse?”

“Look, could we talk about something else?  Isn’t it kind of a cliche for us to be here, two single gals getting drinks, and to just be talking about men?”

“It’s still a point, hon.”

“Yeah, I know.  I just haven’t met anyone yet.”

“Ah, but I’ve got the perfect guy for you!  He’s a little bit older, and one of his eyes tends to roll around a bit, but he’s totally a sweetheart…”

“Please, no.  Just – okay, have you ever heard of the Bechdel test?”

“Isn’t that a type of sauce?”

“No, that’s bechamel.”

“Ooh, yeah, it’s really creamy!  I love getting that with pasta, even though I always end up hating myself for it later when I’m on the scale.”

“Er, sure.  No, the Bechdel test.  It’s a way of analyzing movies.”

“I usually use IMDB.”

“Shut it and drink your cosmo.  No, the Bechdel test is supposed to check whether a movie is balanced in terms of gender.  To pass the test, a movie has to have a conversation between two named female characters that isn’t about a male character.”

“Well, that’s easy!  I bet most movies have that.”

“No, you’d be surprised.  A lot of them either don’t name enough female characters, or all the female conversations are about men, and nothing else.”

“Okay, hon, I’ll believe you.  But what’s your point?”

“My point?  I feel like every conversation with you fails the Bechdel test.”

“I don’t-“

“I mean, every single conversation is about men, or dates!  Maybe we’ll chat a little about our work or something, but we basically just get together and gossip over men.”

“But you gotta look at the situation, too!  Where do we meet up?”

“Well, at a bar…”

“That’s right.  And has anything interesting happened at work?”

“Well, no…”

“Uh huh.  And even more than that – what day is today?”

“It’s Valentine’s Day…”


“Fine.  So you’re saying that it’s the circumstances causing us to fail the Bechdel test right now.”

“Dear, I’m saying that if you had a man in your life, maybe you wouldn’t be so hung up on tests and such like this!  And that’s why I think this guy would totally be perfect for you.  Just let me set you two up.”

“Ugh, fine.  If it will get you off my back.”

“Ooh, I can’t wait!  Now here.  Drink up.”