This one’s fiction, which will hopefully become obvious when we start talking about wormholes. I’ve had it in drafts for absolutely ages, and I am still not entirely sure it’s right, but I’m running a bit short on stuff at the moment, so please enjoy this dimension-jumping, universe-splitting love(?) story.
She’s been staring at him for weeks over sticky pub tables and board games and jokes. Each time she catches his eye there’s this absurd teenage chest-blush feeling – the warmth of nurturing a crush and holding it close to your heart. The debate – if you can even call it a ‘debate’ – that she’s having with herself about asking him out, is all part and parcel of the fun of it. Will they? Won’t they?
She is shy, and he’s shy too, although you wouldn’t think it to look at him. When he flirts with everyone there he seems like the most outgoing, the most lively, the most astonishing man. His shyness is kind of a secret – one he confessed to her once when they were alone, when the board games were packed up and everyone else had made a move for the tube, and they shared a final coffee and some silly, token secrets.
Now it’s coming to the end of another day, and her pulse is racing as she wonders whether the same thing might happen again. She watches him from the corner of her eye as he pulls friends into deep bear hugs, and waits for the thrilling moment when it’s her turn. When his arms encircle her shoulders and their hearts beat close to each other and she can turn her head – just slightly – to breathe in the scent of his skin.
Will they? Won’t they?
He doesn’t stay, today. But she tells herself that in a way that’s good: it gives her time to decide. There’s a choice to make about whether to invite him further into her life. Whether to risk the fragile happiness that she’s built here, all alone. The independence and control and comfort. She likes him, a lot, and she knows he likes her too. He’s shown her, over the course of the last few weeks, that he’s capable of treating her gently. Of course, he’s capable of setting fire to her cunt too and that’s no small thing: he’s the first person she’s burned for since the last time she got burned. And it’s that which is making her hesitate.
She takes a step outside into the garden, nursing one more decaff as she watches the birds, and knows that it’s time for her to decide. Will they?
Someone else has their eye on him (why wouldn’t they?) and this someone has far more guts than she does. Has less baggage, so moves faster. Is happier to lay their lust out in the open – making innuendos and touching his knee and boasting about conquests past to try and hint at fun to come. All these gestures and overtures make the otherwise-shy guy – the object of her ardour and dilemma – prick up his ears.
She has to decide, so she splits the universe.
It’s easier than you think to split the universe: just toss a coin. Heads you do, tails you don’t. Works for any big decision. The coin toss itself means there are now two timelines – in one you made the leap, and in the other you stayed safe, so whichever way the coin falls you know that somewhere there’s a shadow-you who did the other thing.
Either way, a version of you wins.
As the coin spins in the air she feels a rush of madness, and knows that she is hoping for a head.
It’s heads. They will.
She feels almost high with the rush of it. The sudden realisation that she landed in this universe makes her want to hug herself with glee. She’ll wait till the morning to text him, but when she does she will say ‘listen, I know this is probably a bad idea, but do you want to fuck me? I want to fuck you.’ The boldness comes from the confidence of knowing that this is what the universe chose, and as the seconds tick away between her text and his response, she pities the version of her in that shadow-universe: the one in which the coin decided ‘tails’.
Over the next four years, she carries that pity with her: every date they go on, every fuck that ends in whispered love and comfort, every giggle-heavy night they spend with legs entwined, she pities the version of her in that shadow-universe. The one who lost the coin toss, and didn’t make that leap.
Then later, three more years, she starts to wonder how the other version of her is getting on. What life could she have had if not with him? Less fun, for sure. Less sex. Fewer nights spent laughing and burying themselves in each other. But also fewer fights. Fewer evenings spent holding sobs until her muscles ache, because he’s lying next to her in bed and she doesn’t want him to know that cracks are forming.
Less knowledge, too, that’s for sure. The last few years have taught her much, especially about her faults. She’s needy, nagging, nasty. Her pleas for reassurance only serve to highlight that she doesn’t really deserve it. But he loves her. She bathes in his love – soaking up every possible drop of it to tide her over during the times when he’ll turn off the tap. In an effort to not look needy, she’s grown hard. Her face is now marked by one thick line between her eyebrows, because she too often frowns instead of smiling.
He mentions it.
She wonders how that shadow-her is doing, her initial pity now transformed to curiosity, which curdles into envy over time. What life could she have had if the coin said ‘tails’?
He writes her little notes to keep her on her toes. Where once they said ‘I love you’ and ‘here: I drew a bird!’ they now say ‘Milk!’ and ‘Don’t!’ and ‘you’re so forgetful!’ And in her bravest moments she reminds herself that there’s another version somewhere who doesn’t have to see these things. Pink post-its in every corner of her life, itemising all her failings, blanketing her confidence bit by bit with paper squares.
She’d been so happy when the coin came up heads, it’s only when she hits rock bottom that she wonders if the other choice was better.
So one day, she goes looking for other worlds through wormholes.
There are many other worlds she falls in love with, in which coins past and future came up heads. ‘Should I take this job?’ ‘Should I buy this plane ticket?’ ‘Should I put on my sparkly shoes and go dance at this fancy party?’. Worlds upon worlds upon worlds, where she can be people she barely recognises and do things she’d never have dared. She visits worlds in which she teaches, or creates, ones in which she explores or fights or succeeds. In one world, an early coin comes up heads on a drastic decision: ditch study, leave the country, see the world. In that world coins plot lines on maps, as she stands in stations in Shanghai or Paris or Osaka flipping heads or tails at ticket machines to decide a route.
And of course, there are many worlds in which she falls and fails. Where the coin plotted journeys which led her into ruin, and there were no lucky flips to guide her out.
In every single one she creeps quietly, unnoticed, never showing her face to those other versions of herself. In the good worlds it feels too pathetic – to stand in front of shiny versions of yourself and announce ‘it’s me, I failed.’ In the bad worlds it feels too much like crowing – what, after all, could these sad versions gain from knowing that somewhere else she’d experienced a little bit of joy?
So she wanders through these other worlds, learning about herself and growing hard. Understanding that the coin can split the universe, but the responsibility for the journey still falls at her shadow-selves’ feet.
After years, and decades, and millennia, she eventually stumbles on the world in which this story began. Except this time, instead of ‘heads’, the coin said ‘tails’: they won’t. She watches from the shadows, heart hammering, as she realises that this is what she was looking for all along.
And as she watches from the sidelines at the hope-brightened face of her other self, she realises that this is one of the many universes in which she’ll ignore the coin. The pull of him is too strong – her belief in love, and eager lust, congealed in exactly this version of herself at exactly this moment in time, is so strong that it will overcome the power of splitting the universe. So she’ll live that same life, over and over, for eternity, never swerving into the new paths that were carved by different shadow-hers at other stages of their lives.
Whatever the coin said, the story would come out the same: the girl she was back then could never have accepted ‘tails.’
Should she intervene?
She flips a coin.
Universe split, decision made.
Later that night, as she’s lying in bed, wondering whether to ignore the coin’s decision, the door to her bedroom opens softly and a gentle, familiar voice says ‘don’t be afraid.’ She didn’t need to be told that, because she isn’t. Something about that presence – a stranger, in the dead of night, in her bedroom – is somehow comforting. There is nothing to be afraid of. The voice almost sounds like a recording, her own voice played back on cassette tape for the very first time.
The visitor sits on her bed and tells her ‘keep your eyes closed, I won’t be long. I’m just here to tell you a story.’
The story she tells is a fun one: of wormholes and dimensions and the possibility of infinite lives. The knowledge – confirmation – that each decision you make spawns new and better worlds. She tells her that those regrets she always had, about not traveling or not passing or not taking risks, those opportunities were seized in other worlds. And sometimes they failed. The stranger soothes her into dreams with stories of herself, doing things both fantastical and mundane.
When the stranger gets up to say goodbye, she forces herself awake. Drags herself out of the nice dreams of other possibilities, and back into the solid reality of this one. When she opens her eyes she is not surprised to see a version of herself looking back. Ten years older, dressed for travel, with a solemn look on her face. What she is surprised by is the way this second-self has aged: years of frowning have carved a neat line between her eyebrows, and a couple at the corners of her mouth. This is not a face that smiles too often, it’s one that’s been in pain.
And although she wants to ask ‘how?’ to this dimension-jumping stranger, the first word that comes from her mouth is ‘why?’
‘Why did you come here right now?’
Romantic that she is, her hope is that this stranger’s here to tell her: ignore the coin. Follow your heart. Take the risk. Say ‘they will.’ She wants it so badly that she pushes aside her curiosity about the bigger, wider picture – her dreams of learning how to jump through space and time, and visit those other selves she so desperately wants to meet. She doesn’t ask ‘how can I do what you do?’ but ‘why did you come here right now?’ Big dreams abandoned pathetically, easily, in her desperate and hopeful need for love.
In the moment all she wants is to be told the correct answer. To not have to rely on coins and tricks, but understand truly that this love will be The One. All she wants to hear is: ‘ignore the coin. Go for it. Tell him how you feel.’
The stranger doesn’t give her what she wants. Instead, she looks her dead in the eye, frowning in the way that formed those lines, and whispers:
“I got heads.”
She feels a rush of pity and despair, reaches out to touch the stranger’s hand, and the universe collapses. Two branches recombine to make just one. The shadow version disappears in a single gasp of stardust, and she’s left in bed with nothing but the tingles of a very weird dream.
Tails: she won’t.
Or will she?
If you’d like a story that’s similarly weird and fictional, but which has a load of shagging in it, check out Sin.