Water tastes the same in the alternate reality as it does in mine. I don’t know why, but I drink three glasses in quick succession before locking my apartment door behind me. Then I drive all the way across town and pull into Donald Right Park just before dark.
The creek beckons me tonight more than ever. By its side feels like the perfect place to settle into the grass with a laptop I borrowed from a nearby library. I press keys wildly for an hour as the sun sets behind the trees. A cool breeze moistens the back of my jeans against the cold ground. I see the fish once, and then it disappears in darkness just as I intend to do as soon as I can.
A backwards nine-digit keypad was difficult to master in this reality, but typing on a fully reversed keyboard leaves me shaking with frustration. Eventually, I decide that it will be easier to type as I normally do in my own world even though the words that appear don’t make any apparent sense. The left pinkie ‘a’ key is actually a backwards semicolon and so forth. The words, “I love Sara” appear like this:
“E swni l;u;”
This feels like a secret code that I might have left for my Sara to discern. Our own little language. In fact, the pleasant thought of deciphering her words teaches me to read what I’ve written in only a few minutes.
Did the sky get dark a little too quickly?
I take a deep breath and begin to write about my trip through the glass door. At this point, you are probably wondering if you are reading the words I wrote on that evening, but I beg you not to further overcomplicate this journey. You will only give yourself a headache when you realize that such thinking would make this a written product of my own perspective. That figuratively creates two additional realities to keep track of (and thus 16 Fringe realities, I think).
Some creature crashes through the branches nearby, but I don’t care. I’m not afraid of it. The glow of the laptop screen will protect me. I think about the time my reflection first blinked at me through the glass door. The anger I felt in the kitchen swells in me again just like the storm that built high around the house on that first dark evening.
Raindrops begin to smack against my shoulders. I don’t know how to recapture my thoughts when the portal first opened, yet the idea is beginning to feel more familiar all the time. That desire to be with Sara again, to hold her in my arms—that’s never faded for a day.
The idea of having more time, of going back to see her again and changing things in the past is what breaks the dam for good. Why didn’t I think of that sooner? When did I lose hope? I look away from the laptop, my eyes so determined and fast that I immediately follow the first bolt of lightning down, over, down, and over again, but I already know where the light will touch far beyond the trees. I can feel it striking my house even from several miles away.
I jump up in the now pouring rain, and the laptop lands on its side, half opened on the rocks. I take off for my car without it.
As I run, I am already realizing that the water I had earlier make sense after all.
I have to pee again.
I drive 80 miles an hour until I slide off the side of the road and bounce to a stop. The pedal accelerates all too easily, but the Nissan does not budge. I swear and climb out from beneath the glass and twanging windshield wipers. An outright downpour has now taken hold. Water gushes across the street as the wipers sling an additional volley into my face from the top of the car.
I step back and look at how the car sits at an angle, its wheels barely touching anything except the top peaks of wet grass. Will the portal close again when the storm ends?
I abandon my ride, the driver’s door left open, engine still running. The binging of the door reminder alarm fades quickly as I splash along the edge of the road at a full sprint. The pavement is a haze. I slip and fall into the same ditch that captured my car. It takes me a minute to climb out with my lower body covered in mud. A car passes me without stopping.
I think my potty dance actually increases my speed—in other words, the need to pee actually serves a purpose!—but the remaining half mile home still seems to take an eternity. I finally see my neighborhood and house in the distance. The upstairs lights are on, but nothing else. That means no one is home, or at least, it means Harry isn’t. Sara has placed a new metal dog statue beside the front steps. The grass is mowed, so she must have done that too because Harry and I have never been very consistent with such chores.
I almost reach my front yard when Karen Gallup pulls into her driveway. She sits in her car, probably waiting for the rain to stop.
I can’t get by without her seeing me. I look like a lunatic, soaking wet and covered in mud in the dark, so she would definitely follow me without question. To avoid her, I run into the other neighbor’s yard and climb over a picket fence once I’m safely behind the houses.
Even as I fall over the top, I have no difficulty seeing the portal ahead. It glows more brightly than before, as if it is daylight on the other side. Could it lead to a different time after all?
I hit the ground on my side, jump up, and charge the final few feet to the opening. Glass is already spread out on the patio. I crunch across it and pass effortlessly into the light.
This time, I go back, not though a flashback for once, but through time itself.
The glass isn’t there to tear me up this time, so I skid uncontrollably into the kitchen table instead. A drinking glass topples as I whirl around in a panic to find something with a date on it. For all I know, Sara could be hit by four cars at any moment. I throw myself back into the center of the room only to see the very person I’m worried about right in front of me.
She sits at the table by my laptop, fingers still touching the keys.
“Sara?” I ask, amazed at how fast a lump forms in my throat. The room smells like burnt beef, and this time I know she’s real, not because I have to pee, but because I look down and find that I’ve already gone.
“Yes, sweetheart,” she says, getting out of the chair, which squeaks so crisply that all my ingenuity put together could never have generated this simple detail of movement. “But I’m not your Sara,” she explained.
I could think of nothing to say, so she rubbed her stomach and added, “I never thought I’d be in an alternate reality with a period, but I guess this is all happening.
”We don’t say anything for a few seconds. I normally would have laughed at her comment, but I have forgotten about her sense of humor, about our sense of humor, actually. Instead, it slowly dawns on me that she is from the alternate dimension. She has heard about my story from Harry and must have stepped through to investigate after the lightning struck.
She looks over my wild exterior, hair plastered to my forehead, rips in the sleeve of my shirt. Water pools around me on the floor, or at least mostly water. Behind me, a dark waterfall pours perfectly along the door frame, occasionally splashing across worlds. However, the kitchen window to the left reveals that it’s actually sunny in this world.
I see a half eaten burrito in her hand, meaning it is the same afternoon I crashed through the glass to leave this world so long ago. In other words, my Sara is already dead. I have undershot and will have to try again.
The rain softens behind me, signifying that the portal is weak. We both glance at it, knowing that she must leave immediately.
She approaches me and touches my face, her expression changing to one of worry.
“What is it?” I ask.
“You really are him,” she says, gesturing to the pizza boxes, beer, and the portal of rainfall. “It’s hard to believe he’s capable of all this too, but he is, isn’t he?”
“You need to go,” I say, and she does so without another word. She gives a little exhale on her way, as if she has not said something on her mind but I can’t force any words out either. I wave, but she doesn’t see me. Her body passes through into the storm of her world. The burrito goes with her, becoming the first trans-dimensional food item. I wonder if she’ll finish it over there, and then decide she absolutely will. I try to focus on that meal and the stink it leaves behind because I’m afraid any other thought will send me chasing after her.
The rain blinks out of existence, its steady drumming reduced to nothing in a millisecond before the portal is gone.
I stand in silence for over five minutes before removing my shoes and going toward my bedroom to change. I barely make it halfway across the kitchen before I see my laptop is on. I know I wasn’t using it the day I left here, so glance down to first line of text on the screen.
“E swni twt,” meaning “I love you” backwards.
I remember how Sara was seated at the computer when I arrived. This world is backwards to her just like hers was to mine, so I drop to the chair to decode the words she left behind.
I have no difficulty with the rest of her letter except due to tears.
“I love you,” she wrote. “I’m not exactly her, but I know how she felt. You’ll never guess how much you meant to her. You are her hero. You brightened her day. You inspired her to teach. Every second the two of you spent together has been a joy, and please don’t ever change that. Please don’t change anything. This place obviously exists at a different time, a new day so to speak, so it doesn’t take a genius to know what you’ll want to do next. Darling, do not erase your precious memories. Believe me when I say Sara wouldn’t want that. Don’t cancel what you had out, don’t even risk a second. Even in death, your relationship will never really end. This is only a low point, okay? If you love me—if you love her, I mean, you’ll leave the past alone. I know you desperately believe you’re meant to be together. Don’t worry. You’ll see her again soon without having to redo a thing.”
I break a second laptop in an hour. I slide it right off the side of the counter. Then I get up and change my clothes, but not the way I feel. I know she’s right. I have doubted the strength of what I had, and now she has halted my plans, embarrassed me, and strengthened the love of my wife all in a single paragraph. That is just like my Sara.
I use my own toothbrush again, and I’m almost ready to go to bed early when I hear Karen Gallup shouting from her window. “Harry! Are you okay?”
Harry, I think. That’s me again.
I go back into the kitchen, where the glass is shattered across the patio. Karen leans out her window, a telephone still gripped in her hand. She actually finished a lengthy phone call with her husband before investigating what she saw? Just how long had she left me laying on the patio that day before calling the police?
“Yea?” I shout.
She crosses her arms over her daffodil apron. “What happened?”
“Kids must have thrown a rock at the glass.”
“Were you there when it happened?”
“Yes. I was here.”
“I thought so,” she says, but she clearly didn’t see or know as much as I had guessed before. Rather than deal with her hearsay, I walk away from her, already determined to see someone who always knew more than I expected instead.
If I cannot change the events of my marriage, if I cannot prevent the death of my wife for fear of altering the precious moments in our relationship, I can at least fix the times I had with others that were bad.
“Who are you?” the Edith of my world asks every few minutes when she looks up from her bed.
“I’m your son,” I say.
She wrenches her face. “You’re not my son, cause my son always shouts at me and hates me. You never shouted at me once. You’re always quiet and good.”
Of course, this hasn’t always been true, but I don’t tell her that. I did shout at her in another world, but not here. Those bad memories are the one remaining thing I am determined to change. I will never know how much she remembers, but at least this time I’ll know her words are true. She can say whatever she likes. It won’t get to me again.
She smiles at my silence and soon falls asleep.
In the meantime, I pause to rewrite my adventures, which I started on the laptop in the other world before I dropped it during the thunderstorm. However, this time the story will have a conclusion, and readers will know how much I have grown.
In the same way that the other Sara and Harry’s alternate world is similar to mine, this new written version is nearly identical to the previous. Thus, there are now six realities, including the two real realities, the two written realities I typed about on the backwards keyboard in Donald Right Park, and now the final version about the two written realities that I am completing right now (which equals roughly 24 Fringe reality references too). Additionally, this estimate does not count any possible duplicates I may have created when I traveled back in time to the same afternoon I left in the first place. Also, there is no telling how many versions my other self wrote about too.
I chuckle at this disorienting mess, because this is always the point where I get bogged down and uncertain. At last, I doubt that I can stretch the number of realities any further without utter confusion. Instead, I will have to make peace with the reality I was given all along.
THANKS FOR READING!
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