QUANTUM SHORTS 2013: SHORTLISTED, OPEN CATEGORY
The Red Thread's waiting room is showing Betsy's Entanglement on its wall-mounted television. It'll be a while before their turn, so Anna turns her attention to the screen. The film's past the boring part with the exposition and the accidental entanglement, and playboy tycoon Stewart Brewster is currently falling in love with poverty-stricken receptionist Betsy Page.
It's the famous montage, the one that won the film an Academy Award in 1953. Betsy's shivering in her unheated apartment, causing Stewart to start sweating profusely during the middle of a Christmas banquet. As Betsy sobs over her father's death in a hospital ward, Stewart's face involuntarily stretches into a rictus grin as he tries to make a toast at a New Year's ball.
Before the film gets to the scene which started a whole new trend in entanglement proposals, Henry passes her a liability form. Anna scrawls her signature on the bottom, and they both place their belongings in lockers, changing into bright red hospital gowns before entering Entanglement Room 1.
A bored-looking man glances at them before launching into legalese.
"Entanglement might exacerbate physical or mental issues. Please contact an entanglement counsellor if you experience problems. If you're ready, please step into the chamber. The entanglement will last exactly 720 hours."
Anna reaches over to Henry, running her thumb across his knuckles to reassure herself.
Henry grasps her left hand, and runs his finger along the tan line where her entanglement ring usually is.
"It'll be okay," he says. "If our relationship can withstand the next month, it can withstand anything."
They step into the chamber together. Anna presses her cheek against Henry's chest, and he wraps his arms around her.
Light swirls around them, his heartbeat pulses in her eardrums, and she feels their fates entwining with every breath they take.
A few days later, Henry's work calls him away.
"I'm sorry about this, there's a negotiation issue," Henry says frantically, cramming shirts into his luggage. "I'll be back as soon as I can, please bear with it. I know entangled couples are supposed to work as a system..."
Anna pats him on the back, trying her best to override her relaxed reaction to Henry's distraught state. "I understand, Henry -- it's just spooky action at a really long distance, anyway."
Despite her initial optimism, the next ten days are hell. Henry's too tired to update her on the contract negotiations, and sends periodic emails to reassure her that she's alive. Entanglement's anti-correlation, and each partner's meant to experience opposite emotions, but she'd never realised the practical implications before. The movies led her to believe she'd have ten days of periodic happiness corresponding to Henry's anguish, but it's not as simple as that. She spends the days alternating between euphoria and misery, and tries to regulate her emotions, but even hot baths and nature documentaries can't calm her down, and Henry's emotions are simply too strong to neutralise.
Happiness bubbles up intermittently, and despair comes like clockwork. She considers breaking off the entanglement -- how can she possibly cope with someone halfway around the world having such power over her? His simple existence makes her heart beat out of her chest with joy, or overflow with sorrow, and it feels like half of her soul is walking around where she can't reach it, completely unprotected.
As wave after wave of misery washes over her, she thinks of her elation when Henry proposed, and how delighted she was at the chance of sharing her life with him. She remembers the broad, silly grin on his face when he met her at the airport after graduation, and suddenly it all makes sense.
Anna meets Henry at the airport the next day, and as they wheel his luggage to the taxi stand, he updates her on the previous week.
"I was really stressed most of the time, and I tried to neutralise it by thinking about you every night. I'm sorry."
"Control your emotions, you ridiculous man," Anna laughs in between jagged little sobs. "I felt like I had a split personality!"
Before their taxi arrives, she throws her arms around him, listening to his heart as her own heartbeat hammers in her ears. Their pulses aren't perfectly in sync, but they echo each other, fitting together in imperfect harmony.
After Henry's trip, they pay a visit to the entanglement counsellor, and everything goes fairly uneventfully for the rest of the month. The counsellor’s relaxation methods help them to normalise, levelling out the highs and lows, approaching equilibrium.
This changes on the last day of their entanglement. Henry's at a company function, celebrating his recent promotion, and Anna's having brunch with her friends.
"I think it's wonderful that you're entangled," Karen says. "It's such a good way of stress-testing the relationship!"
"I don't know," Christine chimes in, all saccharine sweetness. "The pressure is simply too much for most relationships to bear. I don't mean yours, but..."
As Christine tells them all manner of horror stories about how entanglements lead to doomed marriages, Anna curls her fingernails into her palm, trying her best to contain her fury and dismay, and excuses herself, pleading another appointment.
When she's at the bus stop, she pulls out her phone, and realises there's a missed call from Henry. She pushes redial.
"You called me?"
"I was feeling apathetically happy just now. What happened to you?"
She explains, and they agree to meet at his apartment and spend the remaining hours of the entanglement together. After some Chinese food and old cartoons, they curl up on the sofa together, and wait.
"Two minutes left," he murmurs, checking his watch. "Did you like it?"
"Yes. It's sort of like...concrete proof that you aren't alone in the universe."
"You won't be," Henry says, tenderly brushing his thumb against her cheek. "Even after this. Ten seconds now."
She reaches out to him, and he reaches out to her, and as their connection bleeds away, they twine their fingers together.