Sophie O’Grady is a literary fiction writer pursuing her undergraduate degree in English Studies between Trinity College Dublin and Columbia GS, New York. When not babying her cat – the most beautiful tabby mackerel – she writes with a focus on stylistic innovation and refinement, hoping to capture and elevate the everyday.
A young man stares transfixed at the hands before him. They are, of course, his hands, and over the short course of his life they have held many things, from panicked fistfuls of prescription pills to paintbrushes. As he thinks back over some of the most pivotal points in his life, he comes to a simple revelation: there are people in this world who are meant to create and there are people in this world who are meant to destroy, and if we’re not one then we’re most certainly the other.
All that’s left for him to do is to embrace that much.
Hubble Constant is the first entry in the Scintillations series, a picaresque novel narrated by the world-weary Nathaniel Milsom as he traverses his teenage years with resentment and remorse. The narrative spans five years and follows the most significant relationships in his life from their brilliant beginnings to their seemingly fated failures.
In the next moment I feel myself involuntarily take a breath; the air is clean and smokeless, cold in my throat, and it drags me back to the present, where I’m unsticking my hand from the table and looking at the damp outline it leaves behind. It dries in just a few seconds, innumerable little droplets of sweat dissolving into nothing as they force something sharp and shapeless into my chest, an uncomfortable sensation that threatens to suffocate me. What is this sensation, so hostile, housing itself inside my ribcage? To set my heart hammering so — what is this? Breath after breath after breath, I try to find the rhythm again, but it keeps catching, snagging on the edges of whatever this feeling is, cutting itself up, shredding itself to pieces.
The boy’s sweeping brush appears at my feet before I can fully gather my thoughts, and I raise my gaze to meet his, my blank face reflected perfectly in his clear eyes. “You alright?” he asks, raising a brow. “You’ve been at that one for a while now. It looks pretty spotless to me.”
I immediately move back a step or two and set to work on another desk, but I can feel his eyes on me all the while, an unnerving force that obliges me to answer against my best wishes. “I’m fine.”
“You’re sure? You seem out of breath. If you’re not feeling well, I’ll finish.”
“I’m fine,” I repeat, a little steadier this time. “You can go.”
“Huh? Oh, no, really, it’s no problem for me. I’m almost done anyway.” He’s silent for a short moment, and then, seeming to realise he’s not going to get any voluntary conversation from me, speaks up again. “You know, I’ve been trying to get a chance to talk to you for a while now, but you’re pretty impossible to find. It’s a weird coincidence that we’d meet again, don’t you think?”
I continue wiping down the desks.
“I was so surprised to see you at orientation. I wasn’t entirely sure it was you in the beginning, to be honest. I wanted to talk to you after, but you were gone before I got the chance.” A gentle laugh, and then a short pause. “Wait, you do remember me, right?” I glance up just long enough to shake my head and force him to stop speaking only to see his face fall ever so slightly. “Oh, you must have been so confused, then!” he says with a smile, sallow cheeks taking on a dusty pink. “It’s Alistair…we spoke a little last year, back in Hampshire?”
It takes a second for the name to come to me. “Fellows?”
“Yeah, that’s me! I gave you my number back then and told you to call if you were ever in the city, remember?” I’m back to shaking my head, but he shrugs it off, ignoring my attempt to cut the conversation short. “I’m glad I was able to bump into you today, actually. I’ve been wanting to catch up, but I seem to keep missing you. It’s been such a long year, right? What are you doing in London?”
I’m staring at the wooden desk again.
Looking at it now, I can’t help but think that if Alistair and I were to be represented by this table, as arbitrary a thing as that may be, then he would be the side farthest from me, the one that seems almost to glow. There is something to him that I can’t quite put into words, a warmth to his nature that can be felt from just a simple glance — he radiates an unmatched gentleness, as though enveloped in this comforting light that he appears to extend indiscriminately. The more I look towards the table, thinking of our respective positions, the more my heartbeat picks up, getting faster and faster until I can feel it hammering away in my wrists, my neck, my temples, everywhere but my chest.
I’m staring at a wooden desk, trying to come up with a lie to quieten him.
“You must be living here, right?” he asks, continuing on without even bothering to wait for my answer. “There’s no way you could make that sort of commute, even if you wanted to.”
“Really? So you’re here by yourself?”
“I can’t even imagine. Still, it must be pretty convenient living right by the main building though, huh?” he says with a laugh, shifting his gaze to the window just opposite, and right as he does I can’t help but spy a small trail of yellowing blotches running from his ear along his neck until they disappear beneath his wrinkled shirt collar…bruises? “I thought I’d like to board, but my house is only about a half hour drive, so it would hardly be worth it.” Alistair is looking out at the tennis courts as I look at him. “Even so, I’m pretty envious, to be honest.”