The Uncertainty Principle
I built my son a quantum booth from an old refrigerator box. I went all out, painted it up, glittered the top, strung rope for a doorknob. The inside was simple, matte black, no frills. I thought about adding buttons to press and pretend with, but the dark quiet of it seemed like enough. He’s an inward kid, not a lot to say. I didn’t expect him to enthuse or anything.
“Go in,” I told him. “When you come out, you’ll be in a different quantum universe.”
He seemed to believe it. Maybe he was indulging me.
“The trick,” I said, “is to figure out exactly what’s changed.”
He went in and closed the door behind him. I waited. When I’d been in there earlier, I’d noticed my breath. I like how contained spaces make you realize your heart’s beating or that your eyes blink regularly. After a minute or so, he came back out. He looked at me carefully. I grinned, but it felt fake. He got back in the box.
I left him to play. I had laundry to do. He came down the hall a couple times, looked around, and went back. I was pretty happy with how well it kept him entertained.
Around lunchtime I made us sandwiches – ham and mayo. We sat and ate them together. He stared at me, but that wasn’t new. He’s a contemplative kid. Still, something about it put me off. I took too big a bite and had to wash it down. He watched me chew and swallow, chew and swallow. I tried to act natural, but the minute you think, “act natural,” you’re done. He ate his sandwich in measured bites then went back out to play.
I don’t know what I thought would happen. I know he isn’t some regular kid who’d pretend it’s a spaceship or a racecar. I guess I wanted to connect with him and his interests. I guess I didn’t expect him to get so into it. He’s been back there all day, going in the box, coming out. I don’t know what he’s looking for, but apparently he hasn’t found it. Sometimes he’ll venture further, into different rooms or out to the yard. I’ve looked where he looks, up in corners, at the parts of our carpet that have been tread down. It all seems the same as ever. But how would I know?
When I think about it rationally, I understand nothing has actually changed. I’ve been in this same universe the whole time. He’s the one moving from world to world. If the thing really works, I’ve been stuck here getting slightly different versions of my son, each one slipping in and out of slightly different boxes, trading lives, looking for a place that fits. Is there somewhere they’re all ending up, these copies of my kid who come and look and leave, an end universe just different enough to feel like home?
At bedtime I tell him he can play more tomorrow. He lets me tuck him in and kiss his forehead with dry lips. I hit the lights.
The box is still in the garage. The glitter looks cheap, the paint smeared. It’s cardboard, plain and simple. I have no idea what I’m hoping for when I get in or what I expect to find when I get out. I close the door and there I am, alone – just me, the dark, the breath, the beat, the blink.
Mika Taylor is the 2015-2016 Carol Houck Smith Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin and an MFA graduate from the University of Arizona. Her work has appeared in The Southern Review, The Kenyon Review, Tin House Open Bar, and others.