In August they go walking down the Skunk Train tracks to their favorite swimming hole on the river. Redwoods shield them from the sun for the first half mile. Rays from that nearest star stream through chinks in the dense green canopy, shafts of light choked with dust and pollen, millions of small deaths and possible births suspended in a golden shimmer sticky as dessert wine. The ground is spongy, carpeted with a hundred years' worth of fine needles sloughed by the tallest of all living things, their ragged crowns wagging in the hot updrafts like plumes on the helmets of silent hussars awaiting the order to charge.  
  At a bend in the tracks they leave the shade behind. Alders with supple gray trunks mottled a greeny white lean out towards the river. White parasols of cow parsnip flower above grasses with their roots sunk in a sunny, swampy hollow, and cabbage white moths flit among the tangled canes of blackberries, which form a natural barbed-wire fence along one side of the railroad embankment.  
  The blackberries are at their fattest, their juiciest. They tumble into the hand easily, at the merest touch, like the blessings that issue from the throats of blind beggars at the clink of small coins tossed into a battered felt hat. To live, to survive, the blackberries must be devoured by passing animals, the sugars fermented by the furious energy of the sun digested, melted and transformed, the hard seeds deposited elsewhere along a trail.  
  But why do they call it the Skunk Train? she asks, licking sweet purple from her lips, her hips cocked to one side as her fingers reach through the thorny vines for another handful.  
  Coils of curly dark hair are piled high on her head, loose strands trailing down the graceful curve of her neck. In this moment she looks to him for all the world like the ingenue in the famous fresco unearthed in the ruins of the Palace of Knossos by Sir Arthur Evans, the woman painted thirty-six hundred years ago that he dubbed La Petite Parisienne.  
  Because of the crude diesel the engines burned back in those days, he tells her, people used to say you could smell the train coming long before you heard it or saw it.  
  She turns and holds out her palm. He chooses the most succulent berry, pops it into his mouth and closes his eyes. The ripe fruit melts on his tongue, swells like the crescendo of a perfect, crystalline aria against his palate. Suddenly he wants to sing. Suddenly he senses how empty the cosmos would feel without this one woman.  
  But the cosmos is mostly empty, and getting emptier by the second, as the galaxies formed from the fiery gases of the Big Bang expand outwards in their mad dash away from the beginning of time. Astronomers reckon that a whole galaxy could pass right through another galaxy without a single one of its billions of stars bumping into one of the other's stars, much like the passing crowds of oblivious strangers at commuter rush hour in New York's cavernous Penn Station.  
  She's like a hazel switch in the hands of a dowser. When he takes her in his arms, he knows where there's water and light, where there's life. He also has a rough idea of the odds against this happening. Loving is as utterly improbable as the tangy black fruit which is an outcome of the billion degree Fahrenheit, pre-elemental, pre-atomic quark soup bubbling in uncreated, quirky space a nanosecond after the cosmos explodes into being. If a modern factory that could turn out zeroes at a rate of a zillion a second were built, there would still never be enough zeroes to accurately compute the odds.  
  And yet, crazy things like blackberries and love do, in fact, happen, right here on this humble speck of home floating in the nearly vacant, nearly frozen reaches of an ever-expanding hollow of space and time.  
  Perhaps the two of them, and all other stuff, are the result of an experiment. Those who study the tiniest and largest parts of the cosmos have calculated that a technology only slightly more advanced than ours could artificially create a black hole, one of those matter-sucking, warped singularities our radio telescopes spy in the far reaches of the universe. All it would take is the wizardry to crush a grapefruit down to a density of about 1075 grams per cubic centimeter. The black hole would mark the creation of a new universe, perhaps a place with more than the four dimensions normally encountered on this crusty ball of molten lava circling an insignificant yellow dwarf of a star.  
  In any event, every scrap of matter we see on moonless nights in countless galaxies aswarm with countless suns might've been an alchemist's mistake, a science project flop in the basement of a high school Einstein in another universe toying with the packed atoms of an artificial, accidental black hole.  
  Before he can tell her any of this, their lips meet in a kiss. A warm, moist blackberry passes between her teeth into his mouth. His skin feels new, as if he were a eucalyptus shedding bark in its quest of more sky. The loser's long-shot odds of physics are forgotten. The world is again as unlikely and as simple as a blackberry, and they continue down the tracks and over the trestle bridge to the spot where the stones of the river give way to white sand and the water deepens.  
  A belted kingfisher skims along the surface of the river, gone ripply green with the reflection of summer foliage. The bird alights for a moment on the bleached twigs of a deadfall oak trapped against a boulder. At the sound of the current tugging at their legs, adding the faint gurgle from these newcomers to the water's ongoing song, the kingfisher flies downstream, towards the sea. The river embraces their bodies when they enter, smoothes their hair flat against their skulls. When they leave, part of the river leaves with them, in the form of silver droplets sparkling in the sun.  
  And there, near where the water deepens and tosses fine granules onto the bank, somehow the doleful laws of physics are defeated. Le petit mort, the trees might call the act the bipeds perform to achieve this victory, if trees spoke French, if they spoke at all. The act is a chrysalis for invisible butterflies, a crucible in which mesmerized plus and minus atoms blend to form a new molecule. The act is a gamble, an adamant refusal to be skunked by a cosmos which the scientists claim holds all the cards and makes up the rules as it goes along.  
  Sunlight bouncing off the mauve coverlet under the naked bodies paints them both the color of blackberry juice. The man and the woman seem to be dying into something else. And long after they ante up everything they are in their desperate gamble, their very bones are still ringing like cymbals crafted from the finest brass, and rings of jade light ripple from each small, unknown country their fingertips discover.