I first wrote the following flash fiction piece as a response to the 2015 Quantum Shorts contest—which called for works inspired by quantum physics—and revised it based on feedback from my Red Oak Roundtable group. A guideline of the contest was that submissions be made available via a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license, which I am doing here. The piece is inspired by quantum cognition theory (admittedly controversial but nonetheless intriguing) and Schrödinger’s cat paradox, as well as a real life memory.
The hilly undulations of the dirt road worn hard and smooth by drought and sun were as familiar as the feel of her tongue against the grooves of the roof of her mouth. Why the feeling was familiar not only eluded her but was not a thought she could form. She knew only that the swells beneath the wheels of the car, up and down at specific slopes—how quiet the ride was, not at all like before—were a part of her. She was at once then and now.
Her eyes fell on the barbed wire that separated road from wheat field, and she played the mental game she loved as a child of trying to track only the immovable line parallel to their motion, keeping her focus absolutely still, without allowing her eyes to follow individual posts as they left her view. She could do it only by looking simultaneously at the fence and the line of Badlands formations in the far distance, and she could sustain the focus for only a few seconds at time.
The man sitting in the driver’s seat spoke. When she met his gaze in the rearview mirror, the spell was broken, returning the heaviness of her four score years.
“Mom, you doing okay back there?”
Mom. Yes, she was a mother. This was her son, this impossibly large, hairy man who looked nothing like her Jimmy. They were going to a celebration for someone. A birthday. They were going home.
She would see Francis.
That was why she had agreed to come.
He was waiting for an answer. She smiled her response, knowing it would suffice.
Francis. Her breaths now were shallow, her heartbeat fast. She leaned forward in anticipation. The purpose of their journey was already gone, but Francis remained. Grew more real, in fact, as she entered the memory. How long had it been since she’d held him? Francis. She was holding him now, the first day she brought him home.
These moments happened to her more and more frequently. She had somehow become disentangled from the flow of time, each moment of living slipping into the past as smoothly and surely as the fence posts. She alone remained still, unable to hold on to what had come just before but newly able to ride an emotion to another place, another time, often in the distant past but sometimes—like today—to a space not that long ago.
This state of being was more than remembering, more like an action, and more than a little spooky at first. In the beginning, she had tried to explain the experience to the people in the place where she now lived, to the woman in pink who helped her to the dining room and the man in the green pajamas with big pockets who came every week to move her legs as though they were cranks on a piece of machinery. Their kind smiles told her they did not understand.
The woman who sat in the front next to the man said, “We are almost there, Lillian.”
“I got him from the pound,” she said, hearing the excitement in her own voice. “He was going to be put down the next day, you see, because no one wanted a dog with only one ear.”
The man and the woman looked at each other, their faces now in profile. “You did tell her, didn’t you?” the woman asked in an intense whisper.
“Of course I did,” the man said. “Last year, right after—“ He looked up again at the rearview mirror and she saw him shake his head as his words made their way to her ears: “Don’t worry about it. She’ll forget in a minute anyway.”
Francis was a mere puppy at first, a runt who had got into a fight with a wild dog in town, leaving him scarred and wary. She kept him in the house, fed him half of her meals, cooked him bacon, taught him to do his business outside, even allowed him to sleep in her bed. Chester would be appalled. He did not approve of house pets, but it was just her and Francis now. Chester. She rubbed her temple with arthritic fingers, unable to make sense of who Chester had been or why he was gone and Francis remained.
The car slowed, then turned onto a rough gravel driveway, crunching to a stop. The word home came over her like a fog before dissolving into a white, two-story farm house lined with purple and white lilacs.
Someone opened her car door, and she was suddenly moving as fast as she could into the open air, looking right and left. her vision clouded by a tangle of thick grey hair that had blown loose from the pins holding it in place.
The man who had driven her to this place was walking toward her, frowning.
Her metal cane fell to the dirt as she clasped her hands over her ears and shut her eyes tight. “Do not say it!” she yelled as loudly as she could, unsure if her voice was heard by anyone other than herself, her words drowned out by the insistent barking.
* * *
“Francis” by Lisa Rivero is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.