“I’ll see you tonight.”
No, you’ll see a very lucky version of me who has no clue how good he has it.
She hangs up.
Goes back to her desk.
I return the phone to my pocket, shivering, my thoughts running in mad directions, toward dark fantasies.
I see the train I’m riding into work derailing.
My body mangled beyond recognition.
Or never found.
I see myself stepping into this life.
It isn’t mine exactly, but maybe it’s close enough.
In the evening, I’m still sitting on the bench on Eleanor Street across from the brownstone that isn’t mine, watching our neighbors arrive home from work and school.
What a miracle it is to have people to come home to every day.
To be loved.
To be expected.
I thought I appreciated every moment, but sitting here in the cold, I know I took it all for granted. And how could I not? Until everything topples, we have no idea what we actually have, how precariously and perfectly it all hangs together.
The sky darkens.
Up and down the block, the houses light up.
Jason comes home.
I’m in a bad way.
Haven’t eaten all day.
Water hasn’t touched my lips since morning.
Amanda must be losing her mind wondering where I am, but I can’t drag myself away. My life, or at least a devastating approximation of it, is unfolding right across the street.
It’s long after midnight when I unlock the door to our hotel room.
The lights are on, the television blaring.
Amanda climbs out of bed, wearing a T-shirt and pajama bottoms.
I close the door softly behind me.
I say, “I’m sorry.”
“I had a bad day.”
“You had a bad day.”
Charging toward me, she shoves me with both hands as hard as she can, sending me crashing back into the door.
She says, “I thought you’d left me. Then I thought something had happened to you. I had no way to get in touch with you. I started calling hospitals, giving them your physical description.”
“I would never just leave you.”
“How am I supposed to know that? You scared me!”
“I’m sorry, Amanda.”
“Where have you been?”
She has me boxed in against the door.
“I just sat on this bench across the street from my house all day.”
“All day? Why?”
“I don’t know.”
“That isn’t your house, Jason. That isn’t your family.”
“I know that.”
“I also followed Daniela and Jason on a date.”
“What do you mean you followed them?”
“I stood outside the restaurant where they ate.”
The shame hits me as I say the words.
I push past Amanda into the room, take a seat on the end of my bed.
She comes over and stands in front of me.
I say, “They went to a movie after. I followed them inside. Sat behind them in the theater.”
“I did something else stupid.”
“I used some of our money to buy a phone.”
“Why did you need a phone?”
“So I could call Daniela and pretend to be her Jason.”
I brace for Amanda to lose it again, but instead she steps toward me and cradles my neck and kisses the top of my head.
“Stand,” she says.
“Just do what you’re told.”
She unzips my jacket and helps slide my arms out of the sleeves. Then she pushes me back onto the bed and kneels.
Unlaces my boots.
Pries them off my feet and tosses them into the corner.
I say, “For the first time, I think I understand how the Jason you knew might have done what he did to me. I’m having some fucked-up thoughts.”
“Our minds aren’t built to handle this. Seeing all these different versions of your wife—I can’t even imagine.”
“He must have followed me for weeks. To work. On date nights with Daniela. He probably sat on that same bench and watched us moving through our house at night, imagining me out of the picture. Do you know what I almost did tonight?”
“What?” She looks scared to hear.
“I figure they probably keep their spare key in the same place we keep it. I left the movie early. I was going to find the key and let myself inside the house. I wanted to hide in a closet and watch their life. Watch them sleep. It’s sick, I know. And I know your Jason was probably in my house multiple times before the night he finally worked up the nerve to steal my life.”
“But you didn’t do it.”
“Because you’re a decent man.”
“I don’t feel very decent right now.”
I fall back onto the mattress and stare up at the ceiling of this hotel room that, in all its inconsequential permutations, has become our home away from the box.
Amanda crawls onto the bed beside me.
“This isn’t working, Jason.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’re just spinning our wheels.”
“I don’t agree. Look where we started. Remember that first world we stepped into, with the buildings crashing down all around us?”
“I’ve lost count of how many Chicagos we’ve been to.”
“We’re getting closer to my—”
“We’re not getting closer, Jason. The world you’re looking for is a grain of sand on an infinite beach.”
“That’s not true.”
“You’ve seen your wife murdered. Die of a horrible disease. You’ve seen her not recognize you. Married to other men. Married to multiple versions of you. How much more of this can you take before you suffer a psychotic break? It’s not that far off from your current mental state.”
“It’s not about what I can or can’t take. It’s about finding my Daniela.”
“Really? That’s what you were doing sitting on a bench all day? Looking for your wife? Look at me. We have sixteen ampoules left. We’re running out of chances.”
My head is pounding.