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In the Timeline Where the Moscow Metro Opened in 1934

S. L. Harris lives with his wife and daughter in Chicago, where he studies archaeology and occasionally manages to wake his dog up for a walk. He tweets occasionally @SL_Harris.
In the timeline where the Moscow Metro opened in 1934, we live together in a khrushchyovka on Bourbon Street and eat green caviar on waffles. Times are hard but we love each other like we never love each other, like we never love anyone else, in all the hundreds of millions of timelines I've seen.
I leave because I think I might find something better, and I've been trying to find my way back ever since. Not back, you can never go back. But trying to find another life where we have what we had in the khrushchyovka on Bourbon Street.
My first stop after I leave--the timeline where great Alexander's army never revolted--I lose you in the crush of the party where I meet you and never find you again. That's all right. I've been through enough lives to know not to expect immediate success.
A few hundred timelines later--the one where Apollo 1 made its launch--we're married. We have two children, good jobs, a small circle of friends. When we're alone we're polite but distant. I go to sleep each night aching for those mornings listening to Leonard Cohen and Vladimir Vysotsky on the crank radio while the garbage truck rattles down the street. I slip out one night while you sleep.
In the timeline where Santa Anna crushed Winfield Scott at Cerro Gordo, our fights are so terrible that I leap away and seek timelines in which I die horribly: cancers and mutant wolves and zeppelin crashes. But I can never go through with it. At the last minute, the pain closing in, the jaws clamping shut, the spark catching fire, I leave. I am a coward.
Hope returns to me in the timeline where Abdul Rahman won the Battle of Poitiers. We spend languid afternoons walking in the orange gardens of the Gulf, and I sing to you sad songs in which your lips are carnelian and your eyes those of a young fawn. Years we live in what I think is perfect harmony, but I find you in the arms of another poet. It is a brief thing, and we could perhaps have talked it through, but I cannot forgive you. I cannot forgive myself for not knowing your unhappiness. I slam the door and step into another life.
We do not meet in every timeline. But in most. People might be surprised at this, but people don't generally understand anything about time or destiny. The odds are not small where destiny is concerned.
In the timeline where bronze working never takes off, we huddle together in a little lean-to, the night wrapped around like a python the size of the world. We make passionate love, and with stones we chase the hungry world away. But we do not have the words to make it like it was on those nights in Novii Orlyon. I sit beside the dying fire and watch you scraping skins, and my heart is filled almost to overflowing. I try to banish the voice calling for something else. I sing boisterously and dance the spirit dances to banish it. But it will not go, so I do, hating myself.
I dash angrily through a dozen timelines, good and bad, finally opening the door on another--it's the one where Malcolm Lowry sobered up--where we seem happy at first. But it all feels wrong. Choreographed, somehow. It is like living with perpetual déjà vu. I notice you watching me carefully. One morning you look at me and say you're leaving, and suddenly I see it. You can do this, too. Who knows how many times you have done it? How many perfect lives of ours you've shattered?
Everything that can snap inside me snaps. I blast through universes; chronospheres shatter like fine glass before me. I jackhammer through all the people we have ever been, could ever be. We live lives of perfect domesticity, towering success, abysmal failure. In every one I make myself see perfidy in you. In every one I see you mocking me, running to some other timeline, seeking a better me.
I land exhausted in the timeline where evolution stalled out with the trilobites, and I lose myself in the wet and endless sand. My thoughts become colder and emptier every day. If I stay the hurt will pass and there will be only the dark waves and the roiling mass of shells.
I can't stay.
In the timeline where Henry VIII was monogamous, I'm a real estate agent between jobs and you're a freelance journalist. Times are tough, tougher even than back on Bourbon Street. The rent is past due, and our neighbors wake us screaming, so there are no lazy mornings with Vysotsky, who was never born in this timeline anyway. I get lato from a Filipino market and take it in a Mason jar to Waffle House when we go on Sundays. It doesn't taste the same. I sometimes grouse to myself that, even with the Bill of Rights intact, this timeline suffers by comparison with the timeline where the Moscow Metro opened in 1934.
But this timeline has something that no other timeline has. I think of it when we sort through the pantry trying to make something palatable or stare wearily at each other over bills or our crying child, and I imagine that you are thinking of it too. We never speak of it. We've learned that it is impossible to speak of it, this choice we make each instant. But the secret knowledge of it is the knowledge that this timeline is unique. This is the timeline where we stay.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

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