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String Theory

Emma-Rive A. Nelson lives in New England, where she roasts coffee by day and writes by night. Her other work and assorted ramblings can be found at her blog, Piscataquacryptid.tumblr.com.

The only real reason I think we might be happy together somewhere else is because of something you said as you hoisted one of your moving boxes onto your hip and gave me one last look on your way out the door.
"Find me in another timeline," you said. "Maybe we can make it work there."
You know me. Always up for a challenge.
And, as it's turned out, it really has been a challenge. I've been skipping between timelines for ages, sliding between the pages of reality like a silverfish. In each timeline I slip into my other self's life, seeking you and trying again. Don't they say it's madness to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results?
If that's the case, then I'm a raving lunatic. And anyway, each time it's a little different--the manner in which I see it collapse, that red thread being severed, is never the same twice. Sometimes, it's my fault--sometimes it's yours. Other times, fate intervenes, tearing apart the pillowy fabric of the universe and leaving us on opposite sides with hands grasping but never quite touching. Even in the strangest timelines--the ones where everyone has feathers, or music is outlawed, or the sky is a bright and permanent shade of purple--it seems as though we can never quite fit all of our puzzle pieces together, and before I know it, things are falling apart in front of my eyes.
And this time, things are literally falling apart. When I arrived here, the little device that has been allowing me to slip between the cracks of reality (purchased down a dark alleyway with the warning that when it stopped working, I'd be stuck wherever I landed) disintegrated into a handful of screws and bolts and chips that I have no hope of understanding, and now you're walking away down the street, and I know that I have officially run out of options.
"Wait," I call after you. "Wait!"
You turn around. There's a cold look in your eye that never fails to pain me, no matter how many times I see it.
"Find me in another timeline," you say. "Maybe we can make it work there."
"I tried," I say, but you're already walking away again.
My stomach twists, and I turn and start walking in the opposite direction down the sidewalk. I know it'll begin to dawn on me in a moment--this is the end of the line, I'm trapped in a strange dimension far from home, without you--but as I put one foot in front of the other on the unfamiliar pavement, all I can think about are all the moments where I thought that things might work out. Those brief little flashes of hope that, after all, we might end up together. Hand in hand, watching that bright purple sunrise--calling out to each other in bird voices across that vast city of trees and nests and skyscrapers--composing songs against each other's skin where none were allowed.
This timeline is close enough to my own to feel familiar, but not so close to shake the disorientation of living in a world adjacent. How many times have I watched you walk away now? Dozens? Hundreds? The sense of loss has blurred it all into a smear of disappointment and heartache. There was a time when I thought that us being together was a certainty, an inevitability--now, I realize that it's almost an impossibility. I'm being crushed under the weight of all our unhappy endings.
Out of options. End of the line.
I'm thinking about stepping out into traffic, but I'm also thinking about how the hell I'm going to live my life going forward (at least this reality doesn't involve feathers), when I feel a hand on my shoulder. I turn around.
It's you, and for a moment I think that you've come back for something (do I still have your keys in my pocket? Did you notice that I stole a picture of you out of one of the picture frames in the living room?). But when I meet your eyes, I realize that this is a different you--you've got a scar on your cheek (rakish, rather endearing), and you look as though you've been on the road for a long time.
"Hey," you say, holding your hands up as if to soothe a frightened animal. "This is going to sound crazy, but I've been looking for you for ages."
I see a device identical to mine in your hand. And the red thread snaps tight--and holds.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022
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