"Everything Everywhere All At Once" (even here): A brand new story | Fiction | Fresh Soup
I just met a woman on the street who told me that she likes my stories, she’s not a stalker, and she was sent from the future to tell me to go and see Everything Everywhere All At Once. I’m not sure about the “not-a-stalker” bit, but she did seem to come from the future, so just in case, I’ll go and watch it very soon. To be honest, I already had a karmic connection to this film long before time-traveling women began not-stalking me, because I wrote a brand-new story for A Vast, Pointless Gyration of Radioactive Rocks and Gas in Which You Happen to Occur, which is a tie-in anthology about the multiverse, created and edited by the EEAAA filmmakers and designed by someone really, really talented (the book looks amazing). So here’s my multiverse story. I’m sure there’s an infinite number of parallel universes in which you love it.
It was only broken in two places, and the doctor said the bone would fully heal in a few weeks. With a little physical therapy and some exercise, three months from now—four, tops—Ryder would barely remember the accident. “How many times have I told you?” Charlie grumbled while Ryder was getting her cast put on, “How many, huh? Don’t ride your bike when the sidewalk is frozen!” “Sir,” said the doctor in a stern voice, “would you please stop? This is not helpful.” When Charlie asked, “What isn’t helpful?” the doctor lost her patience and asked him to wait outside. “Did you see the way that bitch threw me out?” he said to Ryder when they were sitting in the ER waiting for their discharge forms, “like I was some kid talking back in class?” “It’s just that she could see how much pain I was in and how hard it was, and she didn’t want th…” Ryder fell silent mid-sentence. Charlie was also quiet for a moment. “I’m sorry,” he finally said, “you’re right, I shouldn’t have attacked you like that. It’s just that when I see you hurting, I think, hell, I’d do anything to make it stop. And when I can’t, it just makes me want to smash something. You get me, don’t you, babe?” Ryder nodded. “It’s like…,” Charlie continued, “it’s like there’s some parallel universe, where you listened to me and you didn’t skid with that goddamn bike. And in that world, instead of waiting around to get discharged from the ER, we’re having sex on the kitchen table, or eating Cherry Garcia and watching some lousy series on Netflix. And I’m jealous. I’m jealous of that other Ryder and Charlie who live in that parallel universe, and I wish I could switch places with them and…” He hesitated as if he wasn’t sure how to go on, and then abruptly stood up: “I think that tight-ass receptionist is back at his desk. Wait here, okay, babe? I’ll just be a minute.” While Charlie took the forms over to the young guy with the eyebrow piercing, Ryder tried to imagine Charlie’s parallel universe. She pictured the two of them eating ice cream in front of the TV, or fucking in the kitchen. Or maybe all at once: watching Netflix while fucking and eating ice cream. She could see Charlie arguing about something with the guy, and she shut her eyes, and for a moment she could practically taste that ice-cream on her tongue in that parallel universe.
It was only broken in two places, and Charlie immediately apologized and said it could be fixed. “Two drops of glue for three seconds and it’ll be like new,” he said in a trembling voice, and quickly added, “I’m sorry, I just lost it there for a second…” Five minutes earlier, Ryder had come home from yoga. Her class was on the other side of town, but she’d decided to walk instead of taking the bus. It took her almost fifty minutes, and half-way there she realized she’d forgotten her phone. By the time she got home, Charlie was flipping out. “Your class ended an hour ago!” he yelled, “I’ve been calling you for a whole fucking hour and you’re not answering! Do you know what was going through my mind? I thought you’d been mugged, or murdered, or rap—Forget it, I don’t even want to say it out loud.” Charlie flicked his wrist sharply, like he was slapping someone invisible with the back of his hand, and knocked the blue vase off the table. It was a housewarming gift from Ryder’s grandmother. They both froze, and then Charlie bent over, picked up the pieces, and mopped the water with a paper towel. “I’m sorry, babe,” he kept mumbling while he dug through his toolbox for a tube of super glue. When he found it, he grinned and said, “I’ll have this fixed in no time. It’ll look brand new. Better than new.” He put the ceramic pieces on a sheet of newspaper and breathed in dramatically, like an Olympic swimmer about to dive into the pool. They both knew that with his two left hands, even if he managed to glue it back together, the vase would always be cracked and look it. They also knew that this exhausting ritual was unavoidable, because Charlie was intent on showing Ryder and himself how remorseful he was. While he applied a thin strip of glue with a Q-tip, he said to Ryder, “I screwed up. I got stressed ‘cause I thought something happened to you and I screwed up. You know I bought us ice cream and everything for tonight? That cherry flavor you love. And I thought we’d watch that show about the Korean English professor that Tom said was really funny. And now…” He looked at the pieces of pottery on the newspaper and tried to figure out how they fit together, but after a few moments he gave up. “That’s the last thing I got from Grandma before she died,” Ryder murmured, and Charlie got up to hug her. “I know. I’m sorry. I know… You know what I can’t stop thinking about? How there must be some parallel universe where instead of flipping out and breaking things, you and I are together on a desert island, with no blow-ups, no stress, no freezing cold weather, no broken vases. Just you, me, a gorgeous beach, and some tropical trees… Can you imagine something like that? I can literally feel the sun warming my face.”
It was only broken in two places. Charlie shook the coconut over his mouth but nothing came out. He picked up a rock and bashed the coconut again, as hard as he could. The rock struck his thumb and he screamed in pain. Ryder said he should put something cold on it to stop the swelling, but there was nothing cold anywhere nearby. Only golden sand, lush coconut trees, and a spectacular, endless ocean. “Maybe dip your hand in the water?” she suggested, but Charlie grabbed his throbbing left thumb with his right hand and yelled, “Why did we even get on that sinking boat? Why did we have to waste all that money on a lousy sailing tour? Just think, we could have been in Middletown right now, in the park across the street from home, building a snowman, having a snowball fight, goofing around together like kids. Hey, babe? Could it be any better than that?” Ryder didn’t answer. She just looked up at the blue sky, and instead of thinking about Middletown and Charlie and the snowman, she savored the warm sun caressing her face and the monotonous crashing of the waves.