Across Light Years

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Across Light Years

As far as I can remember, I’ve heard Alex utter her name only twice.

The first was at a pub in Camden, just shortly after his divorce. Summer of ’07, if I remember rightly. Funny thing is, I can no longer remember the look on his face, or most of what he said. What I do remember is seeing his outline, a near-silhouette carved against the lights at the bar, all hunched up and small. I remember his voice, fuzzy and tiny, audible only because the place was closing up and almost everybody had left.

“She just got married.”

“Who, Wendy?” I asked, somewhat surprised. The divorce had been a relief for him, or so I thought.

“Not Wendy.” His voice seemed to burrow deeper into his shirt sleeve. “Julie.”

That was the first time I heard her name.

***

Funnily enough, it was in that exact same pub that I met Julie nearly ten years later.

“To think that you’ve been living close by all this time,” I said, after we had exchanged pleasantries.

“Oh, no. I’ve only just moved back to London. For the baby, really.”

At five in the afternoon, we were among the first of the evening crowd. The warm lights within did little to keep out the early dark that had by now, courtesy of winter, crept into every unwatched space. Flurries of fragmented conversation, here and there, mostly about how she’d met Alex (Oxford, where she’d been doing her master’s, and Alex his bachelor’s). Then, a little about her time in L.A., where she and Glen, her husband, had lived for much of the past decade.

After a minute or two of staring at our drinks, I finally raised mine.

“They say only the good die young . . . To Alex, the best mate anyone could ever ask for. May he rest in peace.”

We clinked glasses and drank. When she set her glass down it was nearly empty.

She spoke rather suddenly.

“I’m so sorry I couldn’t come for the funeral.”

“It could hardly be helped,” I said gently. “What with you just having delivered and all.”

“Ironic, isn’t it? That he should die the day little Ethan came into this world.” She was biting on her lip so hard I was afraid the bulging bit of crimson flesh would burst and bleed.

“Well, that’s how it is, I suppose. Circle of life and all.” In my mind I was already thinking about how best to go about my next task, the final one Alex had entrusted me before he finally asked to be taken off the respirator.

The second last had been difficult enough: find Julie. All I had to go on was her maiden name. No address, nothing. If she hadn’t returned to London a few months before Alex passed, I would have gone on looking for a long time, with nary an inkling that she was almost half a world away. But the final task was simple enough, thankfully.

I cleared my throat. “There was something Alex wanted me to tell you.”

She became very still.

“He’s always been confoundingly mysterious when the mood takes him, as I’m sure you know, so I suppose . . .” My eyes met hers, and it was like a firm hand came down and squeezed the tap right off.

“Entanglement,” I quickly said. “He said you would understand. Entanglement.”

She looked mystified, as I thought she would, but that soon cleared. A soft smile broke upon her lips.

“I was doing theoretical physics back in Oxford. He, engineering.” Her words might have been addressed to me, but I never would have known, what with the faraway look in her eyes. “I may have talked a bit too much about my thesis.”

“So what’s that about? Entanglement, I mean.”

“That’s when two quantum particles interact once, and thereafter there exists a connection between them that no one can quite explain. So if one was spinning clockwise and the other anti-clockwise when they first met, they’ll always be in that state of opposition. No matter how long after. Or how far apart.”

I considered this. “Kind of like star-crossed lovers, I suppose.”

She nodded. “‘Most odd,’ he would always say. But he listened all the same.” Her eyes were misting over now, and words trembled heavily on her lips, then fell.

“I loved him, you know. But he was married.”

I started slightly.

“He never spoke about me, did he? I mean, before he was dying.”

“Just the once.”

I told her about that night nearly a decade ago, in the very same pub we now sat in.

She grew pale. For a long moment she sat still, her eyes unseeing, her lips opening, closing, opening, without sound.

She turned to me sharply. “Tell me, when exactly did he divorce his wife?”

“Oh. Let me see. It was summer, that I recall. Nearing the end of it, so perhaps September—”

“September 7th. It was September 7th, wasn’t it.” There was a curious anguish in her voice, and she was tugging absently at the wedding band on her finger.

“Now that you say it, it does seem possible.”

Possible?” Her voice teetered on the edge of breaking; her eyes seized mine. “There are only two possibilities: yes or no!”

She buried her face in her hands. “I’m so sorry,” she said softly, her voice muffled. She had finally succeeded in pulling her ring off, and the small circle of gold glinted coldly on the table.

The mists of shock slowly cleared, and it finally occurred to me. Alex died on the very day she gave birth. Could it be that Julie got married on the very day he . . .

Entanglement. Bloody hell.