QUANTUM SHORTS 2013: SHORTLISTED, SINGAPORE YOUTH CATEGORY
Gingerly, Tom pressed his chapped lips against hers. Her strawberry taste lingered only in his memory, and the dead fish underneath his tongue felt cold and foreign.
He tried again, heaving in a deep breath with his eyes closed, and dived. Sam’s stale teeth stood stoically. Tired and desperate, Tom pumped his feelings into her, in slow, long whispers against her lips: “Sam, I Iove you. Sam, I miss you. Sam, I love you, still,” until his lips went numb. He lied awake next to his breathing wife the next morning, cheeks tingling with tears. “Another day,” his sore neck reminded him, and he smiled.
Sam slept peacefully. Her chest rises and falls with the calmness of a lullaby. Her fine caramel hair melted around pale jaws. Her green vein trickled down her neck, bloomed into a pea-shaped dot at the collar bone and branched out in tiny tentacles.
He used to call that dot “Shellie the jellyfish”- another of those things that helps him find her in the crowd. Sam has the sort of nondescript face that resemble anyone you meet on the street: small brown eyes, half-tight lips, nose economically shaped, and sometimes giggled in the middle of their kiss.
The tubes buzzed in a laboured way, methodically pumping transparent sludge into Sam’s shoulders and nose and spine. His watch ticked, toc, tic, toc, tic. The door seethed, metal grinding on ceramic floor. The doctor was pushing the door open with her butt.
“Hi, Tom, how are you doing today?”
The silence was thick.
“Hey, are you alright?”
“Call me Meth.”
“Alright, Tom, here’s your wife’s medtrition for today: six of these pills, 2 hours each, and two of that. I brought extra fluid packs, hook them up as per usual, alright?” She spread the pills on the table.
“Tom, ” Methione sighed, “call me Meth.”
“Look here, Tom.” He vaguely saw her hands akimbo on wide hips. “I know it is hard, and it has been seven months, but… will you just consider the option?”
The silence was cold, too.
Meth signed and took the tray. She stole one last look at the drooped shoulder by the bed. The tattooed eagles are mourning, she knows. She chanced upon him taking his shirt, once. She knew how magnificent those feathers look stretching in mid air. Such a waste.
Tom reached out to brush his thumb against Sam’s cheek and heaved a deep breath. “Seven months, Sam” he croaked. “I’ve missed you so.” He fumbled with his other hand search for the comb on the table, but a stack of papers met his fingers instead. Tom froze. He knew what they were. He expected anger to bloom, and was surprised when a heavy resignation settled in his lungs. Meth showed him the stack of papers after Sam’s, their, fifth chemo-treatment.
“Tom, the chance that Sam will wake up is slim to none. We are trying real hard to reprint her cells, but our speed cannot compare against QM42. There’s another option, though…” Meth glanced sideways.
“I will do anything,” he choked out bitterly, “if it helps her, anything.”
“Not her, Tom. You.” Meth reached out to cover Tom’s hand with hers. “Quantum jump. It’s an opt-in option for partners of patients snared by QM42. It teleports you into another quantum world, a parallel universe.”
“A parallel universe?” Tom knitted his eyebrows numbly.
“Yes, it your chance to start again. QM42 is a… peculiar virus. It exists in two superimposed states- dormant and active. The probability of its attack is exceedingly rare. That’s why your chance of finding yourself in another world with a healthy wife is very high,” Meth’s thumb rubbed his wrist in small circles as she explained.
“You won’t remember anything,” Meth squeezed his wrist gently. “Your memory from the moment your wife get infected would be wiped out, not the rest. Everything would be exactly the same as it is, sans tubes and pills and cold nights in the hospital. No, Tom, listen to me. You wouldn’t want to watch her in this wretched state, would you? And… Sam is in pain in this world too. If you consented, we can end the torture for you both.”
“Are… are you mad? You are telling me to leave my wife for a proxy wife in another world?” Anger coursed through his body as Tom restrained from lashing out at the brown eyes in front of him. Almost the same colour as Sam’s- his stomach twisted bitterly. “And what in the world would happen to the Tom in that world, when I appear? Can you imagine how he would feel when another person takes his place besides his wife?” Tom snarled.
“There’s no ‘another person’, Tom. If you are there, the Tom there will disappear. It would make no difference.”
“I would kill myself before giving up what we went through together in this world,” Tom bared his teeth in Meth’s face and jerked his fists out of her grasp.
“But you went through the same things in the other world, everything but the virus. Tom, wait!”
“Thank you, doctor. I’m sorry but I have a wife to attend to.” And with that Tom slammed the door behind him.
Tom winced at the memory. He was so angry then. It’s hard to feel angry when his shoulders ached and his eye-bags sagged. Hope drained away a bit every day, just like the colour on Sam’s lips. He held her hand against his cheek, and chuckled at himself for hoping fervently she wouldn’t wake up right then, because surely Sam would laugh at the hot tears rolling off his eyes. He missed her laugh.
His watch ticked, toc, tic, toc. The stack of papers fluttered on the table. At the corner, pain, and what he thought was hope, shrivelled into a dot next to his name.
Thomas Samantha Hugh.