Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The sign over the cathouse door reads simply “Preacher’s”. There will be liquor up front, and women for sale out back. Pulling a stool up to the empty bar, I know I’m here for neither.

“What’ll it be?” She studies the lines on my face, waiting for a reply.

“Whisky, rocks” I pull out a crumpled pack of Marlboro’s, shake two free and offer one. “Smoke?”

“No thanks”, she answers, placing my drink on the bar. “Five bucks, run a tab?”

“Sure.” I speak around the cigarette clenched between my teeth.

“You look familiar.” There’s a glimmer of recognition, and she reconsiders the cigarette, helping herself. “Do I know you?” Retreating to the back bar, she searches my face quizzically while lighting the cigarette.

“Not exactly, but there’s an interesting story there.”

“Shoot.” Her reply is indifferent as she hoists herself up on the back bar, boots beneath wide denim cuffs bracing her against the cooler between us.

“You ever hear of a guy named Schrödinger?” She raises an eyebrow and shakes her head. “No? Well – pretty famous physicist in his day, he took issue with some quantum mechanics theories.” I pause for a quick slug of whisky. “He came up with this experiment where he’d stick a cat in a box, with some random killing mechanism, one where he could be sure of the cat’s inevitable demise. At any given moment there’s an even chance that the cat’s either alive or dead, but he suggests, based on the theory of the day, that at any given moment the cat is simultaneously alive and dead.” I pause here for moment, to see if she’s still with me, and continue.

“So, having had way too much time to think about this, I start to wonder, not about the cat being dead or alive so much as the future of each particular cat. See, if the cat is both dead and alive, then each cat has its own future, one where it lives, and one ‘sans le chat’. Schrödinger’s poor cat, being both alive and dead, finds itself existing in two possible futures.”

“It made me think about my own life.” I stop to drain my glass, spinning the ice around a few times before sliding it across the bar. “In eighty-seven, my Peugeot and I fought with a cement truck. I came out ok, but what if I didn’t? What if I lived and died? Then again in ninety, I took a bullet from some prick robbing a Sunoco. Same thing – what if I lived and died then? The more I thought about these possible forks in my past, more stood out. In ninety-five, there was one of me whose girlfriend slept with my best friend, and one of me whose girlfriend didn’t. I beat my best friend to death with a three wood, but again, one of me didn’t. There was one of me that married my faithful girlfriend, and one of me that skipped town. In ninety seven, after the married me saw his wife drive her car into a bridge abutment, one of me quit drinking, found God and moved down here to Nevada. That’s pretty obviously not the me you’re talking to now though.” I grin, which if it fazes her, doesn’t register on her freckled face. “While one of me was being born again, one of me was arrested for manslaughter. It was during my incarceration that I really tuned in to all the fragments of me, spread across all the parts of my fractured timeline.”

I stop here, motion to the empty glass, and light another cigarette. I’m looking to her now for some reaction, but she’s a blank slate. Maybe she’s heard shit like this every night her entire life and just puts up politely hoping for a good tip, or maybe this doesn’t sound that far out after all. I can’t tell, she just fills the glass and helps herself to another of my cigarettes.

“Anyways – it all pretty much came into focus then. I’d felt for a long time like I’d been spread too thin, like I wasn’t ever really all in one place. It took a while, but knowing where and when else I was, I started cleaning up, consolidating myself. There’s only two of me left now, which is what brings me here.”

“Up those stairs is the man that I remind you of, the Preacher that owns this place.” This wasn’t a question. “He’s the me that quit everything, the me that found God and never beat his best friend to death.” I smile now as I push the stool back, stand, and lean forward placing both palms on the bar. “How about you go up there and ask him to come down here. Probably best if you don’t stick around after that. When we’re done, there’ll just be one of me that lives, and one of me that doesn’t. Funny we wound up here though… I guess the universe really does have a sense of humor. Go on now, I’m likely to be expecting me.”

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