Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.
QUANTUM SHORTS 2013: SHORTLISTED, OPEN CATEGORY
Kid’s nodding along like he knows what I’m talking about.
He’s got no idea.
The light goes on, I flick the switch. That’s it, that’s what I do. Got my fifteen years of service last March. The work’s not hard and it pays well for what it is; dental, disability, it’s all included. Not bad for a guy like me.
Couple a months ago, the manager calls me into her office. I’m nervous at first, right? But then she starts talking about how I’ve been with the company for a long time; says I’m always on time, making quota, that sort of thing. She tells me there’s an opening on nights and she wants me to take it. Pay’s better. Work’s the same. It’s a great opportunity, she says.
So I say yes.
First couple a nights aren’t so bad. I keep to myself mostly, settle in to the new schedule. But something feels different, something I can’t quite put my finger on.
People up there’ve been around for a long time you see, some a lot longer than me. I mean forty and fifty years of service is the norm up there. That’s a lot of time spent flicking switches, you know? And some of them, some of the older folk I mean, are… well, they’re pretty superstitious.
They act like flicking the switch actually does something. Or means something. Like it matters whether you flick the switch left or right.
We’re re-routing energy, the kid tells me. The light goes on—
I’ve seen the damn training video.
We’re making decisions I tell him. At least, that’s what the folks working the night shift believe. A week in they tell me the light goes on whenever there’s a decision to be made, and we make that decision by flicking the switch. Left or right’s really yes or no. I know how it sounds. Just bear with me. So even if we’re just making quota, that’s twenty-five thousand decisions we’re making every day. And there’re floors full of us switch-flickers here! Well what the hell are we deciding?
Don’t look at me like that. I know you don’t know. Nobody knows.
I asked around but all I got were blank stares. No, not blank. They just got all quiet, like I wasn’t supposed to bring it up.
Do yourself a favour, one guy said, and don’t even think about it.
Well how was I supposed to do that? Every time I sat in front of that light I was thinking about what kind of decision I was making and who I was making it for. Got to a point where I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t flick the switch. I just sat there, staring at the light until the end of my shift. I missed quota that day. First time ever.
I missed it the next day too.
And the next.
And the day after that.
That’s when one of the night shifters told me about leaning. She said if I let the light sit long enough it’d start to lean left or right, as if whatever was on the other side was trying to help me make up my mind. Like there was an awareness there or something.
She said it took practice to recognize, and warned it wouldn’t happen all the time, but she said it was worth watching for. She said it might help.
It took me three weeks to spot my first lean. It was just a little flicker, you know, a little flash along one side of the filament, but it was enough. Left. The light wanted me to flick the switch left. I was so excited I could barely stand it. I flicked the switch and finally felt some relief. It wasn’t me making the decisions anymore.
But then I started thinking about what I’d done. About what I’d just said yes to. I couldn’t help it. I thought maybe it was just some kid out on a date, you know? Some kid keen on kissing the girl he was with. I felt pretty good then. Thinking that I was the one that pushed him towards yes, and that he kissed that girl because of me.
But then I thought, what if it was some guy on a bridge, wondering if he should jump. What if he was leaning over the edge and I was the one that pushed him over.
The light came on again and my hands started shaking. I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t be anywhere near that light. So I left. I just got up and left.
That got me a warning.
Missing my next shift got me sent back here. The manager was all apologetic doing it too, like it was her fault or something. Then she started talking about counselling and coverage and how she knew somebody she could recommend, but I wasn’t listening.
I left without saying a word.
The break horn sounds and the kid downs the last of his coffee. He nods at me politely but doesn’t say anything as he leaves. He’ll probably be laughing at me for the rest of his shift. Laughing as he re-routes his energy this way and that, oblivious.
When I sit down at my desk, the light’s already on, waiting for me. I sit there for a while, watching to see if it’ll lean one way or the other, waiting to see if it’ll make the decision for me. But it doesn’t. And then I think, who’s looking at my light while I sit here? Who’s gonna make my decision?
Will it be that kid, flicking his switch towards some quota, or somebody like me, wondering who’s on the other side of their light?
I hope it’s the kid.