“I’m sorry. I woke you.” She swallowed, looking around the shadowy room as if trying to anchor herself in wakefulness.
“It’s not your fault you had a nightmare,” Ray said, running a hand through his hair and hoping that he hadn’t let any annoyance seep into his voice. “Sounded like you were being murdered.”
“No… but I thought I’d jumped again.” She shook her head. “Can’t really remember any more than that.”
No wonder. They had spent the remainder of the previous day discussing the possible physics of her jumps, what might have triggered them. She had explained that his physics-major counterpart had believed she’d been crossing the space-time continuum, that somehow she’d walked into a rift and now she kept on getting pushed out at random intervals in random places. Even though this explained the jumping, it didn’t explain how she always ended up on a world where she could survive. He had said it was just luck. “He” being Ray of the other universe. Ray wondered if that Ray had also been simply humouring her, or if he had actually believed in the existence of many Rays.
And then he wondered at what point he had started believing in the existence of many Rays.
It was an appealing thought – the thought that there were other universes like this one and that no matter what mistakes he made there was a chance he wouldn’t make them elsewhere. As to whether this girl jumped between universes… that was a bit more difficult to believe.
Ray contemplated her in the dim grey light that filtered into the room from below the curtains. “Do you often suffer from nightmares?”
She nodded. “Though I never remember them.”
“I wonder…” he began, and then stopped himself, seeking a more tactful way of suggesting what he was about to suggest. “Don’t you suppose that maybe… maybe the jumping is in your head?”
She eyed him curiously. “If I was jumping in my head I’d make it stop.” Her gaze moved to the window. Even though it was covered, Ray got the impression that she was imagining what was out there. “All I desire is to stay in one place long enough to build a life for myself. Yet sometimes I fear I’ll stop jumping in one of the dark places… my dreams are filled with picket fences and my nightmares, with prison cells.”
One thing was becoming increasingly clear. This was no con. She really did believe that she jumped between universes.
“I have a friend,” Ray said. His mouth felt dry. He couldn’t believe what he was about to suggest. “She works for the university counselling centre. I think we should visit her in the morning.”
There was laughter from within and then the door opened. Ray shoved his hands into his pockets. He was standing in the one place he’d sworn he’d never stand again – outside Hannah’s office, asking for a favour.
Hannah didn’t see him immediately because she was talking to someone behind her. But when she turned, the reaction was electric. All signs of joy fell from her face and four months of tension found a place in one word, “Ray.”
She was wearing a burgundy v-neck that brought out the auburn streaks in her otherwise brunette hair. She’d had a haircut – her hair was now in a boyish crop – but other than that she hadn’t changed at all.
“What can I do for you… Ray?” her eyes slid to the pretty blonde standing next to him.
“Can I talk to you for a minute?” he asked.
“Jeez Ray… I haven’t heard from you in months and now you show up at my place of work with some girl and you want to talk?” Her voice was low enough so neither Erin nor the woman in the room behind Hannah could hear.
“This isn’t about us.” He kept his voice equally low. “You made it clear you never wanted to talk about us again. This is work.”
“I believe my words were, ‘there is no us’.”
“Exactly,” he said, pretending the words didn’t smart. “There isn’t. I’m here about her.” He inclined his head towards Erin, who had wandered off to examine some paintings on a wall nearby.
Hannah frowned. “What about her?”
“Can we go somewhere private?”
At the word “private”, Hannah’s eyebrows knitted, but she spun, pushing her office door open wider.
“Ray,” the woman sitting inside said evenly.
“Denise,” he greeted her politely.
She was a tall skinny woman with medium-length mousy hair. Ray knew her as one of Hannah’s work colleagues, in other words someone who most probably knew more about Ray than he did.
“I’m sorry Denise, Ray wants to talk to me.”
“Say no more.” She rose to her feet and threw Ray a dark look as she passed him.
Hannah crossed the small office and began leafing through some papers on her desk. “Okay, Ray. What is it?”
He closed the door behind him and hovered awkwardly in the middle of the room as he told her about Erin and the events of the last few days. When he finished, Hannah looked at him with something that could possibly be labelled disappointment.
“Ray for goodness sake, you don’t believe any of this stuff do you?”
“No! No, of course not. I’m not an idiot, Hannah.”
“No, but you’re gullible as hell.”
“So you’ve said before. But this isn’t about me.”
“You think the girl is psychologically disturbed?”
He paused before nodding
“And,” she continued, “you want me to use up university time and money to check this for you?”
“God, Hannah. You’d think I was asking you to walk in front of a moving vehicle. I’m just trying to do the right thing.”
Her expression softened slightly and she put the papers down. “Alright. My first appointment is at nine. I can fit her in before then.”
“Thanks a mil. I owe you one.”
”You can pay me in coffee,” she said with a smile. A smile that made his throat close up. This had been a terrible idea. But he’d been truthful, this wasn’t about him. This was about Erin.
“She’s delusional.” Hannah concluded as she tipped a spoon of sugar into her black coffee (“Why ruin the flavour of the coffee by adding milk?” she had once said).
“That much I knew.”
They were sitting at the Bean, where they’d managed to catch a table before the lunchtime crowds arrived. A girl with a sour expression eyed them over the counter, but otherwise the place was empty.
Hannah stirred her drink. “She spent the whole of our session telling me about the various universes she’s visited.”
“She tends to do that.”
“She’s quite besotted with you.” She eyed him over her cup.
“Really?” he took a sip of his own drink, playing innocent, wondering where Hannah was going with this.
“Well… she sees you as the centre of her universe. Quite literally.”
“Ah, yes. That”
“What did you do to her?”
He choked, splattering coffee across the table top. “Do to her? Nothing. She found me. I told you. It was creepy. She already knew my name. Knew I’d wanted to study physics.”
Hannah offered him a serviette. “Perhaps you went to school with her or something?”
“No. There’s no way I would have forgotten her.”
Too late he realised how that must have sounded. Was Hannah jealous? “I mean… she’s strange. Odd. Stands out in a crowd.”
Hannah nodded but her eyes had lost focus. He knew better than to interrupt her when she had that look, so he waited for her to speak.
“You know where delusions like hers are found in the DSM?”
It was a rhetorical question. Ray had only taken psychology for one year and that was to get close to a certain honours student TA. One year was enough to tell you what the DSM was – the ‘bible’ of psychologists, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – but not what was actually in it. He shook his head.
“Under schizophrenia,” she stated.
“You mean that thing where people have multiple personalities?”
She glared at him, “No. That’s dissociative identity disorder.” She seemed to recall he’d only done one year of psych, and let it slide. “People with schizophrenia are severely ill. They need help.”
“Okay. What do I do with her then? Are there meds I can give her?”
Hannah raised her eyebrows, “That you can give her? Since when did she become your responsibility?”
He wondered the same thing. “She didn’t. I mean, she’s not. I just want to help.”
“The kind of help she needs is not something you can give, Ray. She needs to be in a hospital, at least until they figure out what’s going on with her. There’s a chance it can be treated through medication, but she’d need to be assessed…”
“You mean at a loony bin?”
She glared at him. “That’s not what we call it.”
The thought of putting Erin through that chilled Ray to the core, but he didn’t say so. Instead he ventured, “surely there’s another way. I mean it’s not like she’s a danger to anyone.” He drew on his vague memories of that Psych 101 course. “In order to admit someone to a mental hospital against their will, they need to be a danger to themselves or others.”
“Granted. But that’s in an ideal situation. What you have here is Erin Doe with no known family, running from God knows what, completely obsessed with you. She may not be a danger now but I’m not sure I feel comfortable letting someone so unstable live with you and…”
“Hold on a second. You’re not sure you feel comfortable letting…”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“That’s what it sounded like.”
“Why do you have to make this about us. I mean as a psychologist. As a psychologist I’m not sure I can just let you keep this unstable person around without treatment.”
“So, give me some meds.”
“You know I can’t do that.”
“Can’t… or don’t want to?”
Hannah stood up abruptly. “You know what? You do what you want with her. Count me out. I refuse to take any responsibility. Maybe when she flips out and kills someone, you’ll finally grow up.”
And with that she was gone, blasting through the café doors and startling a young couple on the way in.
Ray sat and finished his coffee. That could have gone better. Now he was no closer to helping Erin than he had been before and he had stirred up a whole bunch of old crap he’d been intent on keeping buried.
He had deposited Erin at a Physics lecture she’d been intent on attending. She didn’t know that he’d be meeting with Hannah, and now she didn’t need to know. It’s not like anything had come of it.
He was half way across the foyer to the lecture theater, where he intended to wait for her, when he realised he could hear her voice. He shouldn’t be hearing her voice. Not in a lecture she was observing.
Shit. As if the day wasn’t bad enough.
He slipped into the back of the theatre and sure enough there she was, standing up in the second row next to a very frustrated and embarrassed Ed, in the pink hoodie she had borrowed from Gina.
“But then it would follow,” she was saying, “that one could travel from one point in the continuum to another.”
“Theoretically.” The red-faced professor said, sounding rather exasperated, “but practically a human being could do no such thing.”
There was a diagram on the board that looked like a box and it had various points drawn inside it.
“If it’s theoretically possible then surely there is some way…”
“Not for a human being. Our bodies would not be able to take the pressures within a wormhole – if we even discovered how to create one – and we would arrive at our destinations in a million pieces.”
“But the theory…”
“You’ve been watching too much sci-fi.”
“But antiparticles… you mentioned…”
“Not. Possible. Look at Einstein. Theory of relativity. If you don’t get Einstein what are you doing here?”
She looked at the the professor for a second without saying anything, he took this as a sign of defeat. “Now, if you’ll all turn to page 72 – Black Holes.” And turned back to the board. Erin stood in place for a second, then grabbed the pad she’d been jotting notes on, lowered her head and darted from the lecture theatre. Heads turned after her, voices tittered. As she ran right past Ray, he noticed that her face was tear-streaked. He slipped out after her.
He found her sitting by the fountain in the main quad, staring at her reflection in the water. Or maybe she was staring at her teardrops hitting it. He sat down silently beside her.
“It’s impossible for me to exist,” she said, without looking up, voice thick with tears. “I know you don’t believe me either.”
He didn’t say anything. What could he say? She wasn’t wrong.
“I say it doesn’t bother me when they don’t believe me… and it doesn’t. It’s not that they don’t believe me. It’s that the universe doesn’t believe me. The laws of physics… they all say I don’t exist. That I can’t exist.”
He shifted uncomfortably, wishing to be anywhere but where he was. He wondered what the other Rays would have done now. Reach out and hold her? Pat her on the back and feed her lies about how everything would be okay?
“You say it’s not in your head…” He waited for a reaction. When she didn’t cut him off, he continued, “But maybe it is. Wouldn’t it be nice if that was the answer? If you could get better?”
She smiled a small, sad, smile and brushed the tears from her eyes. “This is the part where you say that I should go to a mental hospital. That they’ll be able to help me there. Well I’ve been to more mental hospitals than you can count… and you’re doing accounting in this universe so I guess that’s pretty high.” She gave a hollow laugh at that. “But none of them could help me. The only way they ever helped was making me glad to jump.”