She slipped into the seat across from him, already a little tipsy. He could barely see in the lowlight and what he could, he didn’t care for. Just being there was trouble enough. She smiled. In a kind, uncurious way, her eyes bright and feverish. “And what is your unhappiness drinking?”
He wouldn’t have said anything, but he wanted to say it aloud. Say something aloud. Find the words for the kind of day, if it had only been a day, that he had just spent. Perhaps the telling would make it seem real. Make it a little plausible. A little less like a dream that woke up in a nightmare. She looked like she wouldn’t remember anything in the morning. He ordered another whiskey and told her the story. From the beginning. From the time he met Vyraa. To the time he left. To now.
“I found a way to a parallel universe.” She frowned and studied her glass closely. “I was determined to go and there it was, after a year of knocking on every door, testing every portal, calling every name. I wanted to see what had happened to Vyraa. If she was happy. You see, I wasn’t. I was desperately miserable and I couldn’t live with the feeling that she was happy with me, the other me, in the other place. I was the one who said no. I was the one who went away. I have no idea where she is in my world, but I thought, maybe in a different universe, I had said yes and we were together. We had made it. I wanted to see what that looked like. Live it for a moment. Taste the possibility. Touch the magnitude of loss. If I had lost.”
The woman was drinking steadily now, willing herself into the surreal drama. Her eyes listened like lamps. “So I kept looking for a way,” he said, “and then this morning, I don’t know how long it’s been, but it feels like it was this morning, I opened my door to go to work and found myself here. Here in this place, this transit lounge between universes. I don’t know what happened, but I waited here a while and then there was a strange movement and I was there. And she was there.”
“And happy?” The woman was invested in the story now. A vague glimmer still flickering in her eyes.
“She was with another man. Had been for some time. Happy? She was laughing, the sun was shining and stars the colour of peaches and lemons were dancing around her. Happy? Is ‘happy’ the moment when stars come down to dance around your smile?”
The woman leaned forward to see if he was crying. She signalled for another drink, her eyes flashing.
He was whispering. “Anyway, when I came back here, I ran into myself at the bar. That was an hour ago, if it has been an hour. Me and the other me. Both of us in this transit lounge. At that table, there,” he was pointing towards the curtained booths at the back.
“See, he, I, from there… well he wanted to find out what would have happened if I…he… the man, had said no. If he had ended up happy. If he had ended up with someone other than Vyraa. He was broken. In despair. So I…he…was also travelling… to find out. We both had found the same door. Different…same door.”
“Perhaps there’s more of you and the door opens for all the people that are you, at the same time?” she was sober now, almost. As sober as one can be with that light warm in their eyes.
“How many are there, you think?” He caught his breath, wondering, afraid.
She laughed and reached for the whiskey, “as many as you don’t need.”
The woman had another thought, “well, maybe, no matter which path you choose, you end up at the same place: in a seedy bar, with a stranger, nursing one drink too many, wondering if you had been right. Maybe things are not as parallel as we imagine and given enough space and time, everything converges into a single point. Into a beat-up transit lounge.”
He was laughing now. A shoulder-shaking, tear-spilling laugh. “Is that why you are here? Are you also… me?”
She laughed then, the light slowly fading from her big brown eyes.