I am not James Bond. Not in this universe, anyway. In this universe, I am walking down a hill with Ben at half past ten in the evening, and I am not James Bond. Perhaps in another reality, I have a licence to kill, but in this one, I don’t even have a licence to drive.
The hill is steep enough that I can feel my jerky movements, am acutely aware that I could topple and fall at any moment. Any fall could be my last, hypothetically speaking. Bones are brittle here. We’re all terminal in every universe, except for the ones in which we’re not. We turn left in a million and we turn right in a million and there are a million others in which we stop moving altogether.
It’s true. It’s physics. Every action that occurs is just one action in an ocean of a thousand. Just because something’s red, doesn’t mean it couldn’t be blue. For every red balloon, there’s a universe where it’s green. For every green balloon, there’s a universe where it’s purple. For every purple balloon, there’s a universe where JFK was never assassinated. The possibilities are infinite. The combinations are more than infinite.
In a parallel universe, I am James Bond.
Ben looks at me, a wrinkle of worry between his brows. I hate it when he worries. I think he hates it, too. I wonder if there’s a version of him that’s as carefree as I’d like him to be, if there’s a Ben Joseph Watkins of 37 Kingfisher Drive who doesn’t spent two hours every morning arranging his cutlery drawer. I think I’d like to meet him.
– Are you all right? he asks. I nod. I briefly wonder if there’s a universe in which nodding means ‘no’.
– Just thinking, I reply tersely, adding the clarification just in case the universe bleeds.
Ben nods slowly, and I find it jarring that his nod might just as well mean ‘no’ as ‘yes’. My blood runs cold. My breath is spectral in the night. A nod is both ‘no’ and ‘yes’. Ben counts his cutlery and he doesn’t care. Ben cares and his cutlery is a mess. The universe is bruised. Parallelisms run like spilled ink. Not spilled milk. There’s no use in crying over spilled milk, except for when there is. There’s a universe where spilled milk is like spilled blood. There’s a universe where spilled blood is like spilled milk, too, although sometimes I think that might be this one.
In a parallel universe, I am James Bond.
– Seems like it was important, he says. I shrug. I know that there’s a version of Ben who doesn’t care. It’s not this version, not this universe, but if the universe is running, then I’d rather not take the chance.
– Not really.
We kick our feet as we walk down the hill, halfway to the bottom now. The incline is gradually steepening. This town is built on the graves of tall men, my father says, and we walk on their bones and ashes. They’re probably still alive somewhere, or perhaps they just didn’t lose. Either way, there’s a version of my town that’s flat. There’s a million universes in which my town doesn’t rise and fall like a breath. There’s a thousand universes in which my town is stagnant and Ben doesn’t care, and there’s a thousand more in which the streets are flat and Ben worries, counts crockery at dusk like he’ll die if he doesn’t. It’s like veins, stretching out into the sinew and leaking all the possibilities that can only happen elsewhere. Here, Ben counts and cares and I don’t have a licence to kill. I don’t have a licence to drive. Perhaps another me is a race car driver. Perhaps another me is James Bond.
– Are you sure you’re OK? Ben asks, eyes narrowed. I don’t know. I always wondered what ‘OK’ actually meant. It must stand for something. Perhaps it doesn’t. I’m not sure. Another me knows, but I don’t. I envy the alternate. I look at Ben. He is small and thin, like a bird, and I wonder if all that counting helps him sleep at night. It doesn’t look like it. He wants to know if I’m OK. He didn’t ask me that elsewhere. Perhaps he asked me about the weather, or about my mother, or about the state of things in South Korea. Perhaps he was silent. It’s cold here and it hurts to speak. Of course, it might be warm elsewhere. Another us is hot. Us is not freezing, chilblains and chapped lips. We are.
I haven’t answered Ben. Somewhere else I might have, but that’s not important here. He looks at me like I’ve vanished, and I clear my throat.
– I’m sure.
I’m sure. In a parallel universe, I am James Bond. In a parallel universe, I have pink hair and six fingers. In another world, I like fish fingers. In a different life, I was born a boy, or perhaps I was born a girl, or something else entirely. A cat, perhaps. This me likes cats.
– You don’t look sure.
Ben still worries and his cutlery is aligned, but a version of Ben didn’t say it. A version of me can ignore it. I can be that version. The universe is bleeding and a nod of the head means ‘yes’ and ‘no’. The hill is getting steeper still. I could fall at the next step. Another me has already fallen at every step.
If me has fallen, then so have I.
The sky is red. A nod of the head means ‘yes’ and ‘no’. In this universe, I am James Bond.