Charlie has plans after the game, so they drop him at a friend’s house in Logan Square, stop at the brownstone to change clothes, and then head out into the evening, just the two of them—downtown-bound, no itinerary, no specific destination.
A Saturday-night ramble.
Cruising in heavy evening traffic down Lakeshore Drive, Daniela looks across the center console of the decade-old Suburban, says, “I think I know what I want to do first.”
Thirty minutes later, they’re in a gondola car on a Ferris wheel strung with lights.
Rising slowly above the spectacle of Navy Pier, Daniela watches the elegant skyline of their city as Jason holds her tight.
At the apex of their single revolution—one hundred and fifty feet above the carnival—Daniela feels Jason touch her chin and turn her face toward his.
They have the car all to themselves.
Even up here, the night air is sweetened with the scent of funnel cakes and cotton candy.
The laughter of children riding on the carousel.
A woman screaming with joy at a hole-in-one on the miniature golf course far below.
Jason’s intensity shreds through all of it.
When he kisses her, she can feel his heart through his windbreaker, jackhammering in his chest.
They have dinner in the city at a nicer restaurant than they can afford and spend the entire time talking like they haven’t talked in years.
Not about people or remember-whens, but ideas.
They kill a bottle of Tempranillo.
Thinking maybe they’ll spend the night in the city.
It’s been a long time since Daniela has seen her husband this passionate, this sure of himself.
He’s a man on fire, in love with his life again.
Halfway through their second bottle of wine, he catches her looking out the window, asks, “What are you thinking about?”
“That’s a dangerous question.”
“I’m thinking about you.”
“What about me?”
“It feels like you’re trying to sleep with me.” She laughs. “What I mean is, it feels like you’re trying when you don’t have to be trying. We’re an old married couple, and I feel like you’re, um…”
“Exactly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. At all. It’s amazing. I guess I just don’t see where it’s all coming from. Are you okay? Is something wrong, and you’re not telling me?”
“So this is all because you almost got hit by a cab two nights ago?”
He says, “I don’t know if it was my life flashing before my eyes or what, but when I came home, everything felt different. More real. You especially. Even right now, it’s like I’m seeing you for the first time, and I have this nervous ache in my stomach. I think about you every second. I think about all the choices we’ve made that created this moment. Us sitting here together at this beautiful table. Then I think of all the possible events that could have stopped this moment from ever happening, and it all feels, I don’t know…”
“So fragile.” Now he becomes thoughtful for a moment. He says finally, “It’s terrifying when you consider that every thought we have, every choice we could possibly make, branches into a new world. After the baseball game today, we went to Navy Pier and then came here for dinner, right? But that’s only one version of what happened. In a different reality, instead of the pier, we went to the symphony. In one, we stayed home. In another still, we got into a fatal wreck on Lakeshore Drive and never made it anywhere.”
“But those other realities don’t really exist.”
“Actually, they’re just as real as the one you and I are experiencing at this moment.”
“How is that possible?”
“It’s a mystery. But there are clues. Most astrophysicists believe that the force holding stars and galaxies together—the thing that makes our whole universe work—comes from a theoretical substance we can’t measure or observe directly. Something they call dark matter. And this dark matter makes up most of the known universe.”
“But what is it exactly?”
“No one’s really sure. Physicists have been trying to construct new theories to explain its origin and what it is. We know it has gravity, like ordinary matter, but it must be made of something completely new.”
“A new form of matter.”
“Exactly. Some string theorists think it might be a clue to the existence of the multiverse.”
She looks thoughtful for a moment, then asks, “So all these other realities…where are they?”
“Imagine you’re a fish, swimming in a pond. You can move forward and back, side to side, but never up out of the water. If someone were standing beside the pond, watching you, you’d have no idea they were there. To you, that little pond is an entire universe. Now imagine that someone reaches down and lifts you out of the pond. You see that what you thought was the entire world is only a small pool. You see other ponds. Trees. The sky above. You realize you’re a part of a much larger and more mysterious reality than you had ever dreamed of.”
Daniela leans back in her chair and takes a sip of wine. “So all these other thousands of ponds are all around us, right at this moment—but we just can’t see them?”
Jason used to talk like this all the time. Would keep her up late into the night positing wild theories, sometimes trying things out, most of the time just trying to impress her.
It worked then.
It’s working now.
She looks away for a moment, staring through the window beside their table, watching the water glide past as the light from the surrounding buildings swirls in a kind of perpetual shimmer across the blown-glass surface of the river.
She finally looks back at him over the rim of her wineglass, their eyes connecting, the candlelight quivering between them.
She says, “In one of those ponds out there, do you think there’s another version of you that stuck with the research? Who made good on all the plans you had in your twenties, before life got in the way?”
He smiles. “It’s crossed my mind.”
“And there’s maybe a version of me that’s a famous artist? That traded all this for that?”