The Quantum Cop
Lesley L. Smith
If I'd known my morning was going to split into two possibilities, I would have bought two cinnamon rolls--one for me, and one for the other me.
"What time did you get into town last night?" my cousin Ryan Martin asked me.
"About one a.m. Thanks for leaving the door unlocked and thanks for letting me stay with you guys." We stood on the corner across from campus, waiting for the light to change. We were on our way to work and had just stopped at Boulder Brews for coffee and cinnamon rolls. Ryan was the chief of the university police and I was a new physics professor.
"I'll be out of your hair as soon as I can." Shifting my book bag on my shoulder, I took a big bite of my roll. It was still warm with gooey cream-cheese icing. Mmm. My other hand was starting to cramp as it held the almost too-hot paper cup of coffee.
"No hurry, Madison," he said. "But if you're still staying with us when the baby's born you'll have to help out."
"My pleasure." I squinted up at him. The sun was as blinding as a laser. Colorado definitely seemed sunnier than Missouri. I wished I'd worn sunglasses. I wished I owned sunglasses. "I volunteer to help no matter where I'm living." Who wouldn't want to help with an adorable little baby?
"Thanks." He smiled at me from his six-foot-plus height. "So, are you excited about your new job?"
As I stood there, it was taking all my self-control not to break into a happy dance right there on the sidewalk. "Does a supernova spew heavy elements?"
He raised his eyebrows at me.
I grinned. "That's a yes. I'm excited. I've been working towards this for the last decade. It's a dream come true."
"What did Ted say about it?" Ryan asked, staring at me. "Did you guys break up?"
My boyfriend Ted was still back in St. Louis. Debating what to say, I took a sip of coffee. "We didn't break up, but it wasn't pretty."
"Tell me what happened," he said. "You owe me. I confided in you when I was getting ready to propose to Sydney. And look how good that turned out. Five years of bliss."
"True." I pointed at him with my coffee cup. "And now a little one on the way. How many more days until she's due?"
"Nice try, but you don't get to change the subject that easily. What happened with Ted?"
"At first he seemed supportive," I said. "He said congratulations and everything."
"And then?" He prompted.
"He asked me if I took the job--as if there was some question about it." My voice started rising. "Obviously I took it, anybody would take it, which is what I told him. Then he got all whiny, asking what it meant for him and me. He actually brought up that we had talked about talking about getting married." Some coffee slopped out of my cup as I gestured with it.
"Talked about talking?" He laughed. "So, he didn't ask you marry him or even talk about getting married? I never liked the guy."
"I know." The crowd waiting to cross the street was getting quite large. There must have been twenty or thirty people on the sidewalk. "Geez, this is a long light."
"Don't change the subject," he said.
"I knew Ted was just upset because he loves me and he thought I was leaving him, but I started getting a little torqued. So..."
"So, let me guess, you blew up at him?" Ryan asked.
"Yeah, there was some yelling then." I grinned. "But later we made up, and let me tell you, the make-up sex was great."
He frowned. "Too much information."
I laughed. "You're such a guy, Ryan."
I took another sip of coffee and thought about Ted. It was wonderful being with a guy like Ted who actually understood what I did for a living. Mentioning elementary particles like quarks and neutrinos to most folks made their eyes glaze over.
I was still thinking about him when the walk sign finally lit up and I absentmindedly stepped off the curb into the crosswalk.
Something slammed into me. My coffee and cinnamon roll flew out of my hands in slow-mo and my book bag thumped against my back before taking its own trajectory. My left leg and hip crumpled as I hit the pavement with a splat. As my fingertips dug into the gravel and asphalt, I struggled to lift my head up off the ground. What was going on and why didn't it hurt?
"Oh, my God. Madison," Ryan screamed as he dropped his coffee and kneeled over me. "Madison, say something. Are you all right?"
I knew I should answer him, but I felt like I was separated from him, separated from everything, by layers of cotton batting.
Curiously, I had also hesitated before stepping into the crosswalk and a car had whizzed by against the light. I felt odd, disconnected.
Ryan screamed and lurched forward into the street. He knelt over a woman lying in a heap in the crosswalk. "Madison, say something. Are you all right?" Who was he talking to? It couldn't be me. I was right here on the sidewalk.
"Did you see that?" a bystander said. "She just flew into the air."
Students in a variety of leggings, jeans and t-shirts crowded around to get a look at the woman who had apparently been hit by a car.
I craned my neck to get a look. She was in her late twenties, of average height and weight, had long blonde hair, and was wearing a killer suit. Actually, her suit looked just like mine. Come to think of it, the rest of her looked just like me, too. I stared. Was she blurry?
One thing was clear: Ryan looked really worried.
As I lay in the street, to my left, a car's tires squealed as it backed up and swerved around me and the other people in the crosswalk.
My fingers on the asphalt looked blurry and insubstantial.
A couple of the bystanders yelled. "Hey, watch it."
"Hey, you can't leave."
"Come back here."
Ryan stuck his face right in my face. "Madison, please answer me. Blink or something."
This fuzzy, floaty feeling couldn't be good. I concentrated on lowering my eyelids.
He nodded. "Good. Can you talk?"
The entire world had shrunk to Ryan's freckly face, and his eyes bored into mine through his wire-rimmed glasses.
I should be able to talk. I used to be able to talk, didn't I? This whole scene was just wrong. It was all wrong. I should still be on the corner.
I looked at the corner and there I was, still standing on the sidewalk. That was much better.
On the corner, the guy standing next to me said, pointing, "Is that your twin?"
I didn't have a twin. Was that me in the crosswalk? I looked down at my panty-hose-clad legs and the sidewalk under my shoes. I was still standing on the corner. I could feel my bookbag weighing down my right shoulder and my big toe chafing against my fancy shoe. I looked kind of blurry.
The woman in the street looked kind of blurry, too.
"I'm calling 911," one of the bystanders yelled.
I was getting a nagging sense of deja vu. Had I been blurry before? Had I been in two places at once before?
Standing on the corner felt better, more right. I focused on that. The morning rush hour traffic on highway 36 a half-block away sounded like ocean waves breaking on a beach. My heavy bag, filled with books and papers, kept banging against my hip as I shifted my weight slightly. Both my hands were full, one with a very hot paper cup of coffee, and one with a cooling pastry. It was really too much to carry at once. Geez, that cup was hot. My toe hurt as it pressed up against the inside of my fancy shoe.
How could I be standing on the sidewalk and lying in the street at the same time? How could I be in two places at once?
My odd feeling of deja vu solidified into memory...
I tripped headlong into frigid water. I gasped and couldn't breathe. An icy liquid vice crushed my chest. I didn't even have enough air to scream for help.
And at the exact same time, I felt warm sun and a light breeze on my face as I crouched on the deck of a boat. I'd been in two places at once back then, too.
Now, apparently, I was standing on the corner and I was lying in the street at the exact same time.
In the street, I thought, a car must have hit me. Excruciating pain started to seep into my awareness.
I struggled to calm down. Focus, Madison. You can get out of this if you focus like you did when you fell off the boat. Back then, I focused on the situation I wanted and the other one disappeared, leaving only memories.
I knew which circumstance I preferred now--the one where I still had the cinnamon roll and wasn't crumpled in the crosswalk. I picked that possibility.
Purposefully, on the sidewalk, I opened my mouth wide and took a bite of roll. I tasted sugary-sweetness on my tongue. Bite. Chew. Cinnamon was real.
The woman lying on the ground surrounded by crouching people was dimming. I did my best to ignore her. She was not real. Not real. Not. Real. I was real, not her.
On the corner, I jostled my coffee and a few scalding drops fell on my foot. Ouch.
The other woman faded away.
I did it.
The people trying to help injured other-Madison stood up in confusion.
"Where'd she go?"
From the distance, a siren approached.
"Madison, is that you?" Ryan asked. "What just happened?" He stepped back onto the curb, his face ashen. "I could have sworn I saw you get hit by a car. But here you are." He shook his head. "Madison, answer me." Ryan's face beaded with sweat beneath his sandy brown hair and steam grazed the bottom of his glasses where they touched his face. "What the hell's going on? Are you okay?"
Not sure I could talk, I nodded. That was a close one. Too close.
We were jostled as more people came up from behind and joined the crowd.
"C'mon, let's go," someone in the crowd said.
"You've got the walk signal."
"Go for Christ's sake."
Students flowed around us into the crosswalk.
Glancing up at the red decreasing numbers in the walk signal, my hands started shaking violently. Coffee slopped out of the cup, splashing onto the sidewalk. I dropped my partially eaten cinnamon roll. I looked down at the splattered curb, reluctant to step into the crosswalk. I couldn't move.
The ambulance pulled up and the EMTs jumped out.
"Who got hit?"
Everyone who hadn't crossed the street yet pointed at me.
"That lady, there."
I tried to take a sip of coffee to calm down, but my shaking hands just spilled more on the curb.
The EMTs came up to me.
"Miss, are you all right?" the balding one asked. "You shouldn't have moved."
"We need to assess your injuries," the other said.
I shook my head. "Near miss." I attempted a smile. "Wasn't hurt." Thank, God.
"Glad to hear it," one of the EMTs said.
"No," Ryan said, shaking his head. "I saw her lying in the street."
"You don't look so good," an EMT said. "You better let us check you out."
"I'm fine. Need to get to class. Right, Ryan?" I looked at him for support.
"Madison, you should let them check you out," he said uncooperatively.
They led me over to the back of the ambulance.
"I wasn't hit by the car," I said repeatedly. I was starting to get a huge headache, though. "I have to get to class. I'm a professor. It's my first day. I can't be late on my first day." I needed to put this bizarre incident behind me ASAP.
I jerked away from the ambulance and started speedwalking to campus. When I reached the safety of the other curb, I sighed in relief.
Were that tall good-looking kid and the chubby Asian kid next to him staring at me? I was careful not to make eye contact as I walked past them.
"Madison, come back here," Ryan yelled after me. "I need to know what the hell just happened."
But I couldn't explain it to him. I didn't understand it myself.