Author: David Henson
Loretta Saunders tapped her father’s kitchen table. “Imagine this is our universe, Dad, and these five oranges represent all the particles in it.” She laid the fruits in a row.
Whenever Jacob’s physics professor daughter summarized one of her lectures, he radiated pride as a star does light. She explained stellar fusion to him once. He kind of understood that one and knew his daughter was the hydrogen at his core — or something like that. But today’s lesson about a finite number of oranges and an infinity of universes was sounding like it might be beyond him — a galaxy far, far beyond him.
“Now pretend we have another table, a second universe.” She moved the oranges. “Now another table, a third universe.” She repositioned the oranges again. “See where this is headed, Dad?”
“Sure, Sweetie.” Not in a million years, Honey.
“There are a finite number of oranges — particles — in each universe. But, if, as some of us believe, there are an infinite number of tables— universes — at some point, the arrangement of oranges will create every possibility. It has to.”
“Orange juice for everyone?”
“Dad, if you’re not going to take this seriously.”
“Everything in the universe … this table, the house, you, me … is an arrangement of particles. So in an infinity of universes, you and I will have duplicates, but we’ll have alternate lives, too. In some universes, I’ll be a fighter pilot, a ballet dancer, the president, a plumber. Some universes will be almost like this one but not quite. Maybe I’ll be a physics professor, but instead of riding my bike to school, I’ll take the bus. In some, we won’t even know each other. And on and on. Anything that can be, will be. Pretty cool, isn’t it?”
“I always knew you could be anything you wanted to be, Loretta.”
“That’s sweet, Dad, but not what I’m getting at.” She looked at her watch. “I’ve got a class. You’re going to your meeting this evening, right?”
“Haven’t missed in weeks. I get my red chip tonight.”
Loretta squeezed her father’s hand. “I’m proud of you, Dad. I know it hasn’t been easy since Mom died.”
“He’s been staying with us for a couple of months now,” Dr. Roberts said as they entered Jacob’s room. “Jacob Saunders, this is Dr. Loretta Schmitt. She’ll be looking after you while I’m on vacation.” Jacob ignored the two psychologists.
“You said he has PTSD?” Dr. Schmitt whispered. “What happened?”
“You heard about the physics professor killed biking to school by a drunk driver? Jacob was the father and—”
“That’s horrible, but in and of itself shouldn’t trigger such strange behavior. What’s with the oranges?”
“You didn’t let me finish. Jacob was the drunk driver. He killed his own son.”
“Apparently he’d been sober 20 years but started drinking again when his wife died… The oranges seem to pacify him. He sits there repositioning them over and over on his little table. I can’t imagine how horrible he must feel. I lost my father unexpectedly not long ago, and that was bad enough… Are your folks still alive, Loretta?”
“My adoptive moms are. I never knew my biological mother and father.” Loretta knelt and squeezed Jacob’s hand. “We’re here for you, Mr. Saunders.”
Jacob froze and stared at the woman. “You,” he said, “you.”
“Yes,” Loretta said. “What is it, Jacob?”
“I need more tables.”