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Catching his reflection in the rearview, you stopped short, because sitting there—somewhat older, graying at the temples, slightly more wrinkled—was another man who was also you.
Well, do you want me to get out? he said in a huff.
No, you said.
He was wearing a black tuxedo, a black bow tie, and stylish rectangular glasses. He held up two fingers. Two stops, he said. Is that a problem?
Good, he said, settling back into the seat. I thought for a microsecond that you were going to be one of those self-hating cab drivers who didn’t take us anywhere.
No, you said, feeling inexplicably tired. All you had the energy to say was no. No, no, no.
Soon, this other you took out his phone and called someone. Hello, he said. Yes, we’re on the way now. You thought his voice sounded softer as he spoke to the person on the other end. The traffic is letting up. We should be there in a few microseconds.
What was with the microsecond business? you wondered.
After he hung up the phone and sat gazing out of the window, you sat up very straight, more straight and rigid than you had ever sat, ignoring the shooting pains in your back, and you said to him, You look…familiar.
His eyes, quick and direct, caught yours in the mirror. Do I? he said.
Careful, you thought, adjusting the rearview so that he could more clearly see your face, and you his.
Would I know you from anywhere? you said.
You nodded as though he had revealed something momentous. All this Perhaps and Microsecond business. You wondered where he had learned to use words like that, where he had gotten the money to dress like that.
Have you ever studied at The University? he said.
A strange question, you could not help thinking, which somehow carried the aftertaste of an accusation.
No, you said. Are you a student?
He laughed in that way you recognized as the way you laughed when you knew someone was doing a bad job of concealing their disdain for you. I am a professor, he said. There was a bit of a silence. Perhaps you know my book, he said.
Your book, you said. No, I’m sorry.
Here, he said, as he reached into his jacket and produced a warped paperback and handed it to you through the partition window. The cover read Realms of the Possible: Life and Death in the Multiverse. You did not want to get into an accident, so you glanced quickly from book to road, road to book, trying to read the smaller quotes peppering the front cover. You saw that he had a different name than yours. There was a small black-and-white image of him on the back and more quotes. Blah blah blah one of the brilliant minds of his blah blah blah Associate Professor of Astrophysics at The University blah blah blah.
I only have it on me because I’m reading from it tonight, he said, in the voice you recognized as your own embarrassed-at-your-own-lack-of-humility-in-the-presence-of-a-stranger voice.
What is it about? you asked, handing it back.
He told you something about bubbles and strings and probability, and you nodded as though you understood.
For example, he said, pointing to the furry cubes hanging from the rearview, when someone rolls a pair of dice, one could ask why they land the way they do. All possible outcomes happen. Each occurs in a separate universe that is parallel to ours, but also different in crucial ways.
Cautiously, you asked, What if a possible universe intruded on our universe? Maybe even on our city? Maybe even, and your heart was pounding as you said this, in one’s taxi?
You looked at his reflection in the rearview. It was your reflection. You wondered if he had noticed that you were the same person happening in two different places.
Now we’re getting into the terrain of fiction, he said, and both of you laughed.
Everything that happens today, he continued, hints at an infinite number of unknowable events that might happen tomorrow. We might not notice these hints as they’re happening. We might wonder why we are so blind to them in the present. But what eventually does end up happening, the thing we call history or the circumstance of life, is understandable as the accrual of those hints, which is still—oops!
The man had become so agitated as he was speaking that one of his cuff links came loose from its sleeve and shot through the narrow window in the partition, ricocheting with a snap off the glove box. My apologies, he said. He seemed embarrassed as he leaned his head as close to the opening in the partition as he could to see where the cuff link had landed.
It’s okay, you said. You glanced over, and there it was, resting like a tiny gold passenger in the seat beside you. You saw the design: three overlapping circles, arranged like a Venn diagram, with circles within those circles. It registered as something scientific to you, perhaps the symbol of a rare molecule that he had discovered. How did you know so many things? Even if you were still hallucinating, which now seemed improbable, how did you understand so easily all of this esoteric knowledge?
When you reached over to grab the cuff link and examine it more closely, you saw that it wasn’t anything esoteric or scientific, but instead showed the smug, gold-plated face of Mickey Mouse.
He snatched it a bit roughly from your fingers and thanked you. Silly gift, he said. From my daughter.
Oh, you thought. Your daughter.
You pulled up to his first stop. He told you to leave the meter running in the patronizing professorial voice he had been using throughout the ride. He darted into a hair salon, and before he emerged, holding open the front door for her, you already knew whom he would walk out with, his arm wrapped around her waist.
Of course, you thought. The Multiverse.