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Small Differences

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "So you're not Jack," she said. It wasn't a question.
"You're not Sarah," he replied.
He went to the cupboard to get her favourite mug. There were two of them, so he grabbed both. Then he poured boiling water into them. "What kind of tea do you want?"
"Coffee," she said, but when he looked at her she was smiling the way that his Sarah did when she was being coy.
"Peppermint?" he asked.
"Yes," she replied.
With the mug in front of her she slipped both her hands around it as if to warm them. Her feet stretched out to rest on the rungs of the wooden chair across from her. He looked at her in her old Reebok sweater. For everything that was different, so much was the same.
"I loved you," she said to him while looking at her tea.
"You mean you loved him."
"What's the difference?"
"I don't know."
"Neither does anyone else,” she said, finally looking back at him. “Things just come in, and no one knows how they're different. They just are and in ways so subtle the differences don't matter."
"Something else was happening from my point of view--on my side of the curtain, I guess."
“Are you worried about her?” She said, a note of panic had crept into her voice. “Was she expecting you to be home by now? Because if things are so similar, I’m not expecting Jack home. He’s--”
“What?” he said too harshly.
“Jack left me.”
They sat at the table in silence for a few minutes, holding on to their identical mugs of tea like anchors. The sun was setting, but neither of them got up to turn on the light.
He broke the silence first. “I didn’t leave her by choice, Sarah,” he said. Sarah put her head down and began to cry quietly.
“I don’t know how you got here,” she said through her sobs. “I know as much about how we’re connected to the other universe--to your universe--as anyone: nothing. But if you are here to stay, would you stay with me, Jack?” She lifted her head and looked at him. “Stay with me, Jack,” She repeated. Jack stood up and gently lifted Sarah to her feet. Then he held her in his arms until she stopped crying. By then the room had grown dark.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Author Comments

I wrote this story to explore why and how relationships last. Is it the small things that combine to create the relationship? Or is it necessarily something more? The science fiction conceit of the story attempts to frame those questions. It allows each of the two characters, I hope, to be contrasted against a range of possible selves. As a result, their relationship can, in some way, comment on every relationship.

- Tim Patterson
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