Sunday, April 17, 2011

Jamie Mason

Fiction by Jamie Mason

Ever since the accident Corrine had problems with doorways.  Some girls had problems with organizational skills or menstruation or their emotional lives; Corrine dematerialized in a fine quantum spray of atoms and reassembled elsewhere each time she stepped through a doorway. She could never predict where. This was the price she paid for having a theoretical physicist for a father, and playing too close to the quantum destabilizer with her Barbies when she was a kid.
Boyfriends never stuck around long.
Robert was a jock—captain of the boys' hockey team. To his credit, he would risk the social stigma of dating a geek girl because he prized intelligence. Once he accepted her habit of climbing through windows to enter and exit buildings, they had a lovely autumn romance. They took long walks, shared secrets and traded books. Robert said his favorite novel was The Bell Jar.  "It's so sad," he whispered, tears in his eyes. Corrine decided he was a keeper. Hockey season came and he started inviting her to games. She demurred upon learning the arena had no ground-floor windows. When he threatened to leave her if she missed the finals, she promised to come. On game day, she glimpsed him waving excitedly to her from the turnstiles. She took a deep breath, entered the building and rematerialized on a construction site in Beijing. He stopped returning her calls.
In desperation she began dating Zach, president of the Physics club. She knew she was just playing out her daddy issues but Zach's understanding of general relativity gave him a real shot at appreciating her problem. But Corrine found it surprisingly difficult to be frank with him.  She kept talking around her dilemma, hoping to buy time. Meanwhile, Zach was pestering her to come see his positronic isolation chamber. Corrine pacified him with laudatory texts in response to the photos he e-mailed her. But when he lowered the boom and demanded she enter the lab with him or else, she broke it off. Memories of Robert's ultimatum were too fresh and besides— plane fare home from overseas was a bitch.
She could never make it to parties, so people just stopped inviting her. The remainder of high school passed in a cloud of isolation. She spent prom night alone in her room, surfing the Web and guzzling Diet Pepsi. At some point she switched to gin and, in a moment of drunken depression, walked directly into the kitchen. She rematerialized in Pittsburgh and had to hitch-hike home. A trucker named Dave was sympathetic.
"I didn't go to my prom, neither," he admitted and gave Corrine a Three Musketeers from his stash of candy bars.
College presented major problems. Corrine didn't even want to imagine what switching buildings for each class might do to her. So she decided an online education was the solution.  And she found a one-room apartment on the ground floor of an apartment building near the train station. Things were looking up.
She graduated with an IT degree and found a good job to which she could telecommute.  She made oodles of money so having groceries delivered was no problem. The only hassle was loneliness. She climbed out her window one afternoon and bought a kitten from a pet store down the block. She named it Albert (after Einstein—who else?) and spoiled him rotten. Because he was a cat and attuned to quantum nuances, he taunted her by continually stealing her wireless mouse and running into the bathroom with it to see if she'd follow. Once, distracted during a conference call, Corrine did just that and rematerialized, Albert in hand and the wireless phone receiver sandwiched between her shoulder and ear blaring a disconnect signal, outside a U2 concert in Los Angeles. She hiked to the highway and stuck out her thumb. A familiar truck pulled over.
"Pets're a hassle," Dave admitted. "But it sure beats bein’ alone. Wanna Mars bar?" He treated Albert to some ham from a truck-stop sandwich.
Corinne teleconferenced in for her next Monday morning staff meeting and saw a stranger sitting at her boss's desk.
"Marjorie's on maternity leave," the stranger announced gleefully. Corinne experienced a sinking feeling in her chest but soldiered through the meeting, contributing the bare minimum to demonstrate she was paying attention.
The baby-boom spread like a plague. Corrine's job security grew as her coworkers migrated to split-shifts, half-time, quarter-time to accommodate emerging domestic realities.  She scheduled a day off when Marjorie invited her to participate in the baby shower via Skype.
"Oh, this is wonderful," Marjorie gushed, voice squeezed fuzzy across the connection as she un-wrapped the jammy set Corrine had Fed-Exed. "Corrine you're going to make an amazing mother. When are you planning to have yours?"
Corrine tried not to feel jealous. But she logged off a half-hour later and got smashed on Chardonnay. In her tipsy upset, she almost followed Albert outdoors but stopped herself in time.  Blinking back tears, she fired up her PC and tried to work. But it was pointless. She finished the wine and stepped through her front door, not caring where she ended up. It turned out to be a beach in a rainstorm. She sat in one of the changing rooms and cried until dawn. Then, barefoot and drenched, she climbed up the path to the highway. A woman bicyclist stopped and asked what was wrong.
"I'm just so lonely," Corrine sniffed. "I'm turning thirty in a month and I have no man, no family. I wish I could have a baby so I wouldn't have to keep ending up alone when I go through these doorways. But it's never going to happen."
The woman in the helmet and track suit told her to hang in there, patted Corrine's arm and pedaled away.
Corrine pondered her child-birth options. There was always artificial insemination. Or she could just go to a bar and pick up a stranger. But the complications would come after—not before—the act of conception. She shuddered imagining them trying to wheel her into the delivery room. What if she ended up in labor on the other side of the world? She had been lucky this time; the license plates on the cars said Florida. What if she ended up in Siberia? The best she could hope for would be someplace like Canada that had socialized medicine, but luck had never been her strong suit.
A truck pulled over. The passenger door opened.
"Long time no see. I been thinkin’ about you," Dave said.
"I'm miserable," Corrine confessed. "I'm so lonely. I don't know what to do."
"Marry me."
The abruptness of his proposal surprised her. Haltingly, Corrine explained her problem with doorways. It was a long drive and Dave listened sympathetically. When she was done, he said he still wanted to marry her.
"You mean it?" For the first time in years, she was hopeful. 
Dave laughed. "Why not?  Listen, you think you got problems with not being there for people? Try bein’ a trucker."
Corrine said she could sympathize.
"I run through Vegas this trip." Dave glanced at her. "I know a nice little place we can get hitched. We can tie the knot, then go play some slots. It'll be fun!"
She smiled. "You won't mind if I keep disappearing through doorways?"
Dave shook his head. "We all go through ‘em alone. Important thing is to have someone waitin’ on the other side when we get there. That's my job. Now stop crying and have a Hershey bar."

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