The Compact Universe, His

solarCayde asks me for a peppercorn this morning.

“Do you have peppercorns, Daddy?” he asks as we pull into the gas station on the way to Family Friday at school.

I deadpan: “Black, white, Tellicherry, Cubeb, Sizchuan, or green?” because I am obnoxious about food.

“I dunno. A peppercorn. I’m making a diorama at school.”

Turns out, it’s that time of year we make solar systems. WE meaning it’s that time of year, like last year when it was Mission project time, when kids trundle up to school with their dangle-some solar system projects, Styrofoam Jupiters clanging off ringed Saturns, and everything painted just so, Dads doing their work in the garage to paint Uranus the right shade of green and Mars the right shade of red. I thought I’d be that kind of Dad. But, naw—I’m not.

I took Cayde to the SD Mission last year and took a bunch of pictures so he could create his project with Minecraft. And this year my contribution will be a peppercorn, because—I’m so proud—my kid wants to make an ugly but ACCURATE scale model of the solar system, which could span the entire length of the school were he and I to paint Styrofoam balls and do some Calder thing all suspended and pretty. No—he tells me the sun is the size of a soccer ball and—he’s done his research—everything else is going to be right tiny in comparison so that it’s transportable in the back of a mini-van and not exploding the school grounds.

The sun is a soccer ball. Earth and Mars are pinheads. Other planets are peppercorns. I provide the peppercorns, while he measures out, exactly, the particular scale.

I came from work tonight, everyone asleep, and find a papier mache sun dangling over the kitchen sink, the start of Cayden’s solar system, and the spice cabinet is conveniently to the right; all that’s needed is to shake out the grains of the universe from some spice bottle and the project is complete. My sun, my son, glaringly stubborn and brilliant and me not having to paint the red eye on Jupiter, just having to give him a single peppercorn which he’ll plaster to a board and offer as evidence that, when, after shaking the hair from his eyes, the universe is in fact compactable, and it’s ultimately his.

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