Since I started at Columbia University I’ve only met great lecturers, and even in a place like this Professor Miles stands out.
His voice surfs assured on the background of busy pencils scribbling notes, on the attentive silence of a full classroom.
I am sitting in the first row, without taking notes, and when the class ends I don’t move. My defiance burns against Arthur Miles aplomb as he throws glances at me, his eyes ironic but attentive.
We’ve established a ritual. After each one of his physics lectures I walk up to him and ask for a meeting. Everyone else meets him during his regular office hours, but not I. I go to his office right after each lecture, and raise all sorts of objections. I love these one to one discussions, and I know Miles does too. I suspect there’s some gossip going on about my ways, but how important can this be?
Miles lets me in his office, and asks, “What is it this time, Iris?”
My coat and backpack are balled on my lap and I reply, without taking the time to make myself comfortable, “Your description of time arrow didn’t sound very convincing.”
Arthur Miles smiles, his brows arched.
I am unsure about how to articulate my thoughts, and noticing my inner struggle he nods encouragingly and says, “I’m listening.”
I place my jacket and backpack on the side, shift on the chair and smile.
“Don’t you think that all events simultaneously co-exist in an infinite plane, and that I am not only here, leading this life, but also elsewhere, in a different time zone, leading another life?” I start.
Professor Miles rounds his eyes, I cannot tell if in true or simulated surprise.
I lean forward and ask, “Do you know what I mean?”
“Not exactly,” he replies.
“Don’t you think we can simultaneously exist in different times and places? Isn’t this what you once told us about the electrons orbiting around the nuclei of atoms? Electrons are in certain positions with a high probability and in other positions with a probability which is low, but not zero. So why can’t it be the same for humans?” I continue.
“Do you believe you have an alter ego elsewhere at this very moment?” Miles laughs.
“I do. But when I say ‘this moment’ I am not talking about year 2016, I am talking about any moment belonging to the plane of time and space that defines me. I can be ‘Iris the Norwegian Warrior’ in year 1850, and ‘Iris the Galaxy Explorer’ in year 2200,” I explain.
“What you’re telling me is that if we were to browse some Norwegian archives from 1850 we’d find your name?” Miles laughs again.
“Focus on the concept, not on the specific example. If the probability of ‘Iris the Norwegian Warrior’ is low, but not zero, a shift in the events might cause my name to appear in those archives. The lower the probability, the greater the shift in the events required for me to be ‘Iris the Norwegian Warrior’,” I reply with seriousness.
“And how does this shift happen?” Miles asks.
“Well, my plane of probabilities is linked to other planes of probabilities which can influence it,” I say.
Miles studies my expression in silence, and I sense a sudden turmoil whirl within him.
“How does my plane of probabilities influence yours?” he asks, unleashing forgotten memories.
“Once upon a time you and I travelled to a place of death to find something of infinite value. There was a large metal door, but I hesitated in front of it, swaying between awe, fear and desire. You stood beside me and took my hand, and for that one instant I felt safe. Do you remember?” I ask.
Arthur Miles cannot speak.
“Do you remember?” I ask again.
“You had this same dream?” Arthur Miles whispers.
“This same dream…yes. Was it a dream, Arthur?” I say.
The streets of New York City project cones of light through my windows, penetrating the darkness of my flat. The objects in my bedroom flicker between my sleep and wake as I lie in bed, eyes closing, opening, closing again, as I slowly lose awareness of my surroundings.
Then, at once, a wave of brightness washes over me and the night dissolves from my grainy vision.
The sky is clear, the sun hot. This is Boulder CO, I think, and I wonder how I got here. The city bears no similarity to its past appearance, and yet I know I am walking in Boulder. Isn’t Boulder close to the Rockies? Of course it is. And yet the path is covered in fine sand, and I am sure the sea isn’t far. The sand grinds between the laces of my sandals and my feet as I make my way through an open market. A myriad of colours blossoms on each stand: there are silken scarfs, earrings, hand-crafted items. I am fascinated.
And yet I decide to leave the market and to follow a new trail which snakes on a green hill, perfectly mowed. Once I get to the other side of the hill a familiar view opens before me and confirms that I am in Boulder, right in the neighbourhood where I used to live as a kid.
Shadow Creek Dr. has not changed. The wooden houses are painted in the same light brown colour, the pool is there, and people are playing in the tennis court. I can smell the pine trees and the asphalt softened by the burning heat of this summer day.
I start to run, a smile printed on my face, and I don’t stop till I reach the house where I used to live: 2932, Shadow Creek Dr. The main entrance of the building is unlocked, and as soon as I step in the smell of carpet and wood wraps around me, the exact same way it did back then.
The wooden door of my old apartment is in front of me, locked.
I stare at it, wondering what’s behind it now. What if someone stepped out? How could I explain my presence here?
I am about to walk away when the door opens. A man stands at the entrance, observing me intensely and yet without expression.
I gasp, unable to articulate an excuse. The man doesn’t seem to need one though.
“Come on in,” he says, “I was expecting you.”
I stand in front of the door, unable to move.
“Come on in,” the man repeats, opening the door further and accompanying his words with a gesture of invitation.
The carpet has changed since I last lived there - it is no longer light brown but green - and the walls, once painted white, are now covered in blue wallpaper. Apart from the poor taste of the new owner there’s nothing objectively wrong with the place. And yet I find the ambience disquieting.
Leave now, I tell myself, and yet I can’t.
The man waits, the door remains cracked open.
“I used to live here,” I say, and the man nods as I walk inside.
I look around the living room.
“May I see my room?” I ask after an indefinite time.
“You know where to find it,” he replies, before letting himself drop on an ugly blue couch.
I go through the corridor and at the end of it, on the right, I find my room. It’s completely barren now, and, apart from its size and shape, it bears no resemblance to what it used to be. There’s an eerie tension in it, as if it were about to fall apart, transform. I stand close to the entrance, hesitating to step inside.
I am still next to the door when I detect a vibration propagate along the floor, although I doubt the reality of my perceptions.
Then, suddenly, the floor squeaks and a crack opens right where my bed used to be. At first the crack is narrow, but then its lips widen and I clearly see that below the room where I am now lays my old room, unchanged.
Right next to my tiny bathroom there’s the sink, with huge light bulbs illuminating the mirror. There’s the fake bamboo chest with my stuffed panda sitting on it. And there’s my bed, covered with the pink flowery duvet I used to love.
I approach the crack. I am so absorbed in my own thoughts that I don’t notice the man walk in the room.
When he speaks his voice catches me by surprise, and I gasp.
“Is this what you were looking for?” he asks.
“I don’t know what I was looking for,” I reply, as I observe the crack into which I am irresistibly tempted to leap.
“Your life will change forever if you do, beware,” the man says in reply to my unspoken thoughts.
I raise my eyes for a split moment, before letting myself slip into the past, oblivious to the present and the future.
What’s with me? I wonder.
It feels like I’ve landed here carried by the wind, just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.
The thought makes me laugh, and I am still giggling to myself when Arthur appears on the door of my room.
He grips the two sides of the door, a relaxed smile mirroring his open arms.
“Hi Iris,” he says, and I light up with happiness.
“Hi!” I exclaim.
Arthur is dad’s friend. I really like playing with him. Perhaps he’s my best friend here in Boulder.
“You seem happy,” he tells me, his smile broadening.
I shrug uncaringly, in an attempt to divert the subject. Talking about my feelings has always made me uneasy.
“You were giggling,” he says, ignoring my attempt.
“I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz,” I explain.
“I see,” Arthur nods, acting serious.
He might have understood me, but I am not completely sure about it.
“Do you ever feel like this?” I ask.
“Like Dorothy?” he laughs, and then, without waiting for my answer, he adds, “No, not really.”
“I mean like someone else, not like your own self,” I insist.
Now we’re both serious, and this time I know Arthur is not faking it.
“I guess I do,” he admits at last, letting his arms drop off the door.
I like it when Arthur talks to me as if I were a grown up.
I approach him and take his hand.
“Sometimes I wish I were a grown up,” I tell him, and as soon as I do an image flashes back to my mind.
“You liked me when I was a grown up,” I say, smiling at the confusion painted on Arthur’s face.
I just woke up in a red convertible on a five lane street. The wind blows through my hair as I drive past a green light and Arthur is beside me, on the passenger side.
I have no clue about how I landed here, but at this moment I am happy. I have the feeling that I’ve known Arthur since I was a kid, although this might really be the first time I am seeing him. I wonder how I got to learn his name.
The broad road unravels under a broad blue sky, promising infinite possibilities. I smile, leaning my head against the seat.
Arthur looks at me, letting my mirth seep into him.
“You are right,” he smiles.
“With regard to what?” I ask.
“You are right about what we were discussing yesterday,” Arthur replies.
I wait for him to continue, hoping for an explanation that doesn’t come.
“Can you remind me of our conversation?” I ask after a pause.
Arthur laughs, shaking his head.
“You’re strange today,” he says, and I shrug.
I am perfectly comfortable sitting beside this man.
“You remember that you and I are business partners, yes?” he teases me.
I laugh, pretending I do.
“Yes we are. What about it?” I ask.
“Of course you remember we’ve been building a time machine, your idea. If it works the way it should the world will no longer be the same. It all started from a lecture in which I discussed time and at the end of which you had some objections, as usual. And I must admit you had a point,” Arthur says with an unmodulated voice.
The plainness of Arthur’s tone is intended as a mockery. He’s far from guessing that I am learning about us from the fragments of information he’s delivering to me just now. I have a vague recollection of a lecture about time, but I would not be able to ascertain if this memory is real or imagined.
“And oh, I do hope you know we’re married,” Arthur adds, looking at me with a sardonic smile.
“I’ve always known,” I say, and the realization dawns on me at the same time I voice it.
“You’re crazy, but I care about you,” Arthur says, taking my hand.
I squeeze Arthur’s hand for a moment before I say, “You still haven’t told me what I was right about.”
“Yes, I haven’t. You always manage to divert the conversation, and every time I fall in your trap,” he laughs.
“You said that we should find a volunteer to test the time machine,” Arthur tells me.
“Did I say that? It makes sense. What if you and I volunteered?” I propose.
Arthur frowns and retreats his hand from mine.
“Well, we should believe in our project, no? If you and I want to defend our invention we should have the guts to be the first ones to try it out, don’t you think so?” I insist.
Arthur looks at me for a long moment, and I sense his resistance vacillate.
“Gosh Iris, you really are crazy,” he says.
“Is this a yes? I love you so much Arthur. So tonight’s the night?” I reply hastily, without leaving Arthur the time for any afterthoughts.
“Tonight’s the night,” Arthur agrees, as a shiver runs through his body, subtle and yet detectable.
The electrodes are connected to our temples, to our forehead, to our wrists, and to our chest. We’ve set the machine to operate in automatic mode, and the switch will trigger in one and a half minute from now. We look at the timer count down, and we sit immobile, thrilled and scared.
When there are only ten seconds left to go, Arthur turns my way and asks, “Are you sure?”
There’s no turning back now. I nod, my heart pounding.
Then the switch triggers, and I sense something huge elate inside me, like an explosion, an immense ball of darkness expanding into blinding light.
It might tear me to pieces, efface my identity, and yet exhilaration is what I feel. I keep my eyes wide open, fascinated by my own evolution.
I float in a white immensity for an undetermined time. I am everything and nothing in this domain of infinite possibilities.
Then I sense my body gain weight, materialize, and recompose itself into a defined form. I perceive my own fall. The noiseless whiteness channels itself in a narrowing tunnel, the light turns into darkness and the silence into noise. I condense into a black dot of unbearable loudness, and jerk awake astounded at my own material existence.
I have a body and five senses, the same way I used to.
I see a broad extent of water.
I smell salt, and I taste it in my mouth.
I touch the moisture of what must be sand, based on its grainy texture.
I hear the waves sloshing rhythmically and I hear a voice, Arthur voice, calling my name.
“Iris…Iris, where are we?” he asks
I get up slowly and, at a distance, I see a monastery.
“We’ve been here before…” Arthur says, slowly getting up to his feet.
“I know…but when?” I ask.
Arthur observes the monastery, bugging his eyes.
“I cannot remember,” he tells me.
I landscape the monastery, struggling to recollect our past.
“Something about that monastery scares me, and yet I feel that we have to explore it to understand a story that concerns us,” I say, and Arthur nods.
“Are you scared too?” I want to know.
“Uneasiness is perhaps a better description for what I feel,” he replies.
We’re silent for a while, and I sit on the sand, pensive. Then Arthur smiles a crazy smile and winks at me. This flash of unexpected playfulness uplifts the eeriness of the moment.
“Come on,” he tells me, offering me his hand and pulling me up.
“Come on,” I echo, “let’s go.”
The monastery seemed close to the beach, but the appearances were deceiving. The beach fades into a land where grass and sparse bushes alternate, followed by trees, twisted and dry. After a whole hour walking, we’re still not there. The distance appears to shorten, and yet the position of the monastery is like an asymptote we can only
Publisher: BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
Publication Date: 05-11-2017
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