Illustration: Ansellia Kulikku.

It was a cool blue morning. Later, at dawn, which was coming too fast—Amy wasn’t ready yet to face the day—sunlight would layer the sky into swaths of paler blues, grays, pinks. But not now. Now the whole world, or at least her ludicrously perfect patch of it, was encased in a clear inky gel, an atmospheric snow globe, seemingly flawless. Amy had just been awakened by a tactile hallucination, sensing her phone vibrating minutes before the alarm actually was set to go off. She’d grabbed it from her nightstand, saving Dan that juddering hand-buzzery sound—a gag that came daily, like Uncle God’s worn-out prank. These days, her nights comprised marathon hours of lacy sleep, in and out of dreams so wild and disturbing the interruption by her own inner alarm clock could be viewed less as a textbook case of conditioning—Pavlov’s wake-up call—and, more accurately, as an act of self-preservation. She moved Dan’s open laptop carefully off his belly, closed it, and set it down onto the cream-colored cut-pile carpeting on her side of the bed. Dan must have fallen asleep while updating his LinkedIn file.

Back in the day, when he first started out in newspapers (ha-ha), he often conked out while writing on yellow legal pads, and Amy had had to pry the pens out of his hand. The attic still held several ink-stained coverlets documenting that period. Time capsules. So last century.

Quietly, she slipped on a pair of running tights and exited their bedroom. If she tiptoed down the stairs and kept Squidward, their psychotic Vizsla, from barking, if she put on the sneakers she’d left to air outside the back door, she could hit the ground running. She’d circle around the faculty ghetto, following the campus blue lights like bread crumbs, then up into the hills. She’d head for the Dish, an old radio telescope that probably sort of functioned, sitting close to the top of one of the highest local gradients. If she were in luck as she ran she’d see the fog lift and the light of day do the lifting. On a clear morning, the view was all the way to San Francisco.

Amy didn’t have time to do the whole seven-mile loop today. Thing One and Thing Two, as they referred to the twins—Miles and Theo—had to be hauled out of bed by six thirty if any of the stuff that needed to happen before they went to school was to occur: the corralling of homework, clothes, tooth-brushing, Puffins cereal. Amy poked a nose in their room before shutting the door carefully: no signs of life in the trundle beds, same mop of carroty curls exploding like a burst of fireworks on each pillow—always a surprise. Both she and Dan had dark hair, although recently Dan’s was shot through with silver, as though he’d stuck his finger in a light socket and it had been electrified. (She supposed in a way, he had.) Then she moved down the hall to check on Jack.

In her oldest boy’s room, Lily was the only one up, still lounging in bed, her loose blond ponytail fanned out seraphically against her flowered pillowcase, blue eyes so bright they startled, black mascara melting prettily beneath her lashes, daisy-eyed. Jack’s girlfriend. She and Amy waved to each other via Skype, Jack’s laptop permanently open on his desk, angled toward his bottom bunk. Lily lived in Texas now, although she was a constant presence in Amy’s household—she’d moved two years ago, two weeks after the kids began dating—and slept under a fluffy pink duvet, surrounded by stuffed animals, a photo of a calla lily framed above her bed. It was a Mapplethorpe; Jack had found the print online; he had it sent to Lily for her sixteenth birthday. Their whole relationship it seemed was conducted over devices, although apparently not all of it.

Amy gently covered up her sleeping son’s bare chest with his quilt out of some weird sense of propriety, even though she knew Lily had seen it all before. They’d had sex. Cindy, Lily’s mother, had told Amy as much in an email after Lily had visited last summer. God knows what the kids did together over the Internet.

Now Amy posed her phone’s clock in front of Jack’s webcam. It was two hours later in Texas and she didn’t want Lily to be late for school. For this, she was rewarded with a sweet smile.

Downstairs, Squidward was sleeping in his crate in the kitchen. Amy dug his chow out in fistfuls so he wouldn’t hear the kibble hit the metallic bowl. Asleep the animal was magnificent, a deep glossy auburn, as he doggy-snored his muscled belly shimmered like sunset on a lake she’d never seen—maybe in Maine or Vermont? Gently she unbolted the crate and shoved the tin bowl inside. He opened a wild eye—he had two settings it seemed, on and off—and then began to scarf down his breakfast. Quickly, she refilled his water bowl, set it down, and then unlocked her back door. Still blue outside. She could smell the eucalyptus. She pulled yesterday’s socks out of her sneakers, which were a little wet with dew, sat down on her back step, and put them on. In five, four, three, two, one, Squidward dashed out past her, jet-propelled and ready for his morning run. They paid a Stanford track star to take him out for an hour at midday. It was a delicate matter right now, keeping the kid on payroll: Dan was around; they needed to think about money. But the last thing she wanted was to further rock his confidence.

She obediently fell into step behind Squidward, and a half-mile in Amy caught her stride, clearing away the cobwebs in her hips and knees as they became oiled by synovial fluid, and then the onset of that weird divine heat that spread across her sacrum like Tiger Balm. It was one of those subtle bodily shifts that signaled the difference from starting a run to running (the way falling in love that first time had transformed the impatience of waiting-for-life-to-begin into the exhilaration of actually living), her breath even and deep. Soon she would enter a different plane. No more monkey mind.

Then she saw him. At the elementary school’s playground up ahead. Fuck no, thought Amy. In shorts, Tevas, and a hoodie—such pretension, he’d have to lose the hoodie; a yesteryear cliché—he was sitting on a swing. Waiting for her.

“Amy,” said Donny. He looked just like her old roommate from college, Lauren—except for the hairy legs—wiry and short, blond, a ferrety handsomeish face, which made sense because he was Lauren’s son. When he’d come to Stanford three years before, to be nice Amy had invited him over for a welcome brunch and to do laundry, although the machines in the dorm were newer than hers—Donny pointed this out—and Energy Star-qualified. Plus, he sent his out to a campus Fluff and Fold. Now he was her boss.

“What are you doing up?” said Amy, jogging in place, uselessly, her heart rate already coming down. Usually Donny trailed in a good couple of hours after her at the start-up off California Avenue. Donny was a sleep camel, often up all night, drinking Mountain Dew Kickstart and writing code, being smart, acting dumb—catching up sometimes with eighteen-hour naps on the weekends. Once in a while he stayed awake to actually do his schoolwork.

“I stalked you via Find My Friends,” said Donny. “I thought I could use the exercise.”

He stood and started pumping his knees, his feet slopping in the Tevas. Hard to tell if he was joking or not.

Squidward was nowhere in sight. “The dog,” said Amy, weakly.

“He’ll boomerang,” said Donny. “He always does. I think maybe I’m thirsty.” Apparently this was a self-revelation. “You could buy me some green juice or a Philtered Soul.”

She looked at her phone. 5:23 a.m. Philz Coffee wasn’t open. Nothing was open.

“Or we can hang in my room,” said Donny. “I’ve got Red Bull and Kind bars.”

He paid the bills, so Amy followed him back to Campus.

* * *

The first three months of the start-up they’d worked out of Donny’s room in the “Entrepreneurs’ Dorm,” but that hadn’t lasted long. Thank God, really, because it smelled like a dorm room, and there was always pee on the toilet seat, just like in the twins’ bathroom at her house. Since the Things were officially school-aged, Amy had gone back to work. In the beginning, she had been commuting three days a week up to the City at her real part-time job, working in PR/crisis management, hoping for employment at Google, where she fantasized about dropping off the dry cleaning on campus, eating in a cafeteria, putting in endless hours, never seeing her family. But some dreams weren’t meant to be. So, when the start-up moved into an office, she’d stayed on the Peninsula to work full-time with them.

Donny and his roommate, Adnan, had been pivoting around several ideas at once when they came up with Invisible Enk. With Invisible Enk emails and texts were timed to disappear after they were read straight through once and therefore the messages were both unsaveable and unforwardable, even with a screenshot and the boys had managed to raise enough seed money for their office. But, of course, there was Snapchat. So, the stakes were higher, and/or it was all really fucking stupid.

“Say, where is Adnan?” Amy asked looking at Adnan’s neatly made bed, and then Donny’s sleeping bag covered mattress. “Don’t tell me he got lucky?”

But Donny was already tapping away on the keyboard on his desk. “Adnan’s training for the Deathride. One hundred and twenty-nine miles of biking, 1,500 feet of climbing, and five passes in the California Alps, Alpine County.” Donny tilted the computer screen toward her. “Whenever my grandma was pissed at my grandpa,” Donny said, “she always used to say, “I should have married the furrier.””

Grandma. Was he feeling homesick? She’d been sort of a recluse, Lauren’s mother; a loner who’d loved to cook. There were two fully stocked freezers in her kitchen. One for dinners, one for desserts, although she hardly ever entertained guests—and her husband was diabetic. When Amy visited Lauren back east on school breaks, they’d get high in the backyard, come inside, and eat their way through the freezer burn.

“What would have happened if she had married him?” asked Donny.

“She’d have had at least one fur coat,” said Amy.

“I mean what would have happened in the parallel universe?” said Donny. “The sliding doors. The alternative reality.”

“You and I would not be sitting here,” said Amy. “Your mother would never have been born.” She sighed. She’d been up since 4:45 a.m. “You’re not a sophomore anymore, Donny. You’re a junior. You know that nobody knows the answers to that question.”

Donny clicked on his Facebook page. “Not true,” said Donny. “There’s an algorithm for anything. From now on in, it’s all aggregation of information, plus math.”

“Math can tell you what would happen if you altered history?” said Amy.

“Math plus info, sure. At least a fairly good approximation,” said Donny slowly, as if she were intellectually challenged or deaf. “The universe is math, Amy.” This was the way he talked to his own mother; she often heard them go at it on speakerphone.

“I’m good at math,” added Donny. Big effing deal, thought Amy. You and your perfect SATs. They’re a dime a dozen around here. Plus, Lauren spilled: you had $350-an-hour test prep.

“Look,” said Donny. “This part is easy. The odds that any of us are born are infinitesimal, right? And if we beat the odds once, then there are infinitesimal odds that yet again we could beat those odds twice and so on for infinity. You know, like snowflakes, none are the same except in a world of infinity where there are infinite chances for one to be exactly the same infinite times. You’ve got that much, right?”

Right, Amy nodded. She got that much.

“And at this point in time, we’re all willing to accept that space is infinite because of, you know, physics, but in my gut I know it’s infinite because it’s essentially round. Even back in the day, Einstein thought you just have to go fast and far enough to come back to where you started.”

“A circle,” said Amy.

“Without edge,” said Donny. “So if gazing into the distance is the same as looking at the past, I can also see alternate pasts, streaming alongside them, because there are infinite chances for these alternate pasts to have formed.”

“Interesting,” said Amy, biting at a cuticle. “You mean like a scallop shell? Like the past is fluted?”

“Remember the summer I went to MIT math camp?” Donny said. Well, no, thought Amy, but she nodded in the affirmative. An affirmative nod often shortened a Donny story.

“My counselor there, he was way into parallel universes. Old news, but when I was eleven it made an impression. Multiverses. Where all that can be, is.” He paused. “I want to monetize that.”

“Okay, I’ll bite,” said Amy. Nothing wrong with making money.

“There is no reason to think that the Big Bang was unique, right? That would be arrogant. And you and Mom are always telling me not to be so arrogant. Plus, I never drank the Kool-Aid that wave functions collapse when measured. And if they don’t collapse, all their values coexist but on different planes. The cosmos just keeps dividing into additional actualities, in each of which an atom or unit or a number is always in one of its multitudinous possible locations. Right?”

“Right,” said Amy. Wrong? she thought, with a silent tee-hee. She had no idea what he was talking about. He gave her a look, like, what’s so funny? “I thought you said it was a circle,” said Amy, lamely.

“Without edge,” said Donny, annoyed. “That’s what makes it infinite. If there is infinite space, there are infinite Grandmas making infinitely different decisions, and therefore all these Grandmas lived infinitely different lives. In one she shacked up with the furrier.”

“Sounds very Twilight Zone to me. Infinite Grandmas? A nightmare,” said Amy. “No offense,” she added. She loved that phrase. It was offensive in its essence. Use it and you could get away with saying anything and still leave a scorpion’s sting. “Grandma was a very sweet woman,” she murmured. Amy was enjoying herself.

“With math and info I can approximate what happened to all of them,” said Donny. “We already do some of this 2.0. For example, if you’d taken that gig at MGM? When Dan was offered the job at the San Jose Mercury and you moved up here?”

One of those marriage crucibles. They had one child. Dan was at the Hollywood Reporter, but he’d been stuck. He wasn’t into covering the movie industry. He’d been so full of fire back then; “Democracy is built on good reporting”—he said that all the time. “Local journalism is what keeps government in check.” It was one of the reasons Amy had fallen in love with him. So, she’d agreed to move, even though she’d wanted that job at MGM. She’d done what was best for him. It was a “girl” decision, one of the many she’d lived to regret. Dan got an editorial job at the Chronicle. Not a lot of money but a green light in the kid department, but then Amy couldn’t get pregnant. That part had really sucked. She couldn’t find a job at Lucas or Zoetrope or Pixar. She started working in PR. When she finally did get knocked up, God laughed: twins. Dan was downsized; he wrote a column; he tried and failed to write a book; he freelance-edited for magazines; adjuncted, took a stab at custom publishing; blah blah blah and blah. And then nothing. And then now.

“I already know,” Amy said. She googled sometimes, late at night, when she was miserable and couldn’t sleep; she also gorged on real estate porn and knew what that MGM salary might have brought her. They could have bought a place in Venice and lived by the beach. The Chronicle was a shit paper anyway.

“They laid off the three women they hired for similar positions in 2009 and in 2010 and 2012.”

“Hmmm, sexism. So, it was a wise choice,” said Amy, “choosing love.”

“See, you’re already buying happiness,” said Donny. “I’m making you happy. You’ve seen the road not taken, and you can congratulate yourself.”

Amy broadcast a smile.

“Okay, so we establish that you made the right choice between MGM and Dan and that happiness makes your eyeballs sticky. You’ll keep coming back for more. You love the reinforcement. So will the advertisers dying to sell you face cream.”

“I don’t use face cream,” said Amy.

“You should,” said Donny. “Mom does.”

Instinctively, Amy’s hand reached up to the softening skin around her throat.

“Now we can know a lot of things—what Grandma and the furrier’s children might have looked like. I have an algorithm for that. Easy peasy. We can estimate their offspring’s interests and intelligence. What might have happened had she lived where he lived, which was, get this, Omaha, Nebraska. Her own career opportunities. Grandpa would never let her work. With the furrier, she could have modeled his fur coats. She could have been the queen of Omaha. We could even make a fair approximation of their sexual compatibility over time. Grandpa was a skunk and a hound dog. Anyone could have charted that disaster, even before they took their vows. But with what I’m working on now, the math of it, I can go even further into one of those alternate realities. I can create a virtual reality, so that you could be there then and be here now. What I’m proposing is Our clients can ask: What would have happened if I’d taken that job? Who would I have met? What projects might I have worked on? How much money would I have now? All of life’s regrets and little mysteries answered with more than some bullshit poetry and endless waxing about the road not taken. A scientific approximation. Using AI. It’s a natural for luxury advertising—spas, makeovers, fitness getaways.

“Isn’t that just Google married to Facebook plus Foursquare?” said Amy. “This is the kind of cocktail my best friend Lauren, your mother, drinks online all the time.”

“It’s a personalized crystal ball. And it’s boomer focused, which means people who are used to spending money, unlike my friends who expect to amass stuff for free. Plus, it plays from Scarsdale to Peoria. It we’re smart, if we’re really daring, we could use AI to go VR and produce the whole nine yards in a three-hundred-sixty-degree Sensurround. Remember those old-fashioned hair dryers? They looked like cones?”

“Yep,” said Amy. “Your grandma had one. She bought it at a bankruptcy sale at a local salon.”

“Exactly,” said Donny. “I could blow your fucking mind sitting under one of those things. You’ll grow eyes in the back of your head. Feel the wind blow. Smell the saltwater spray. I don’t know, Amy, maybe we’re a potential decacorn.”

“That’s unicorn shit,” said Amy.

“It’s business,” said Donny, simply, as if that one little noun solved everything. “Do you want to know what happened to the guy who interviewed you at MGM? The one who was so hot?”

Fucking Lauren. Lauren and her big mouth. This is what happens when women didn’t work. She had no life, Lauren. “I’m bored, Donny,” said Amy. “I’ve got to go home and get the twins to school.” She picked up her phone—no texts.

“What if?” said Donny. Amy looked up at him. “’What if I’d married the furrier?’ Finding the answer to that question with accuracy, that’s new. And if ‘what-if’ looks better than what-is, well, why not?”

She put her phone down. “You’d really use this thing to find out about a furrier? What about wars or global warming, cures for cancer, California’s turning into a desert—we’re drinking processed pee water! Besides, I think what you’re really talking about is flirting. Can’t picture Grandma doing that,” said Amy.

“Grandma’s dead,” said Donny. “But you, if we’re acquired by Google? We’ve spent the last few decades getting to know everything about you by what you do online, far more than your husband or your shrink or your BFF, my mother, ever did. Your shopping habits, your reading habits, your medical records, when you Dumpster dive for frenemies and old crushes, your political views, what you paid for your house—everything money. Of course, the porn…

“From that data alone we can predict your behavior. We know when you’re stressed and when you’re vulnerable. When the biopsy comes back. When you wonder what’s a better way to go, fighting with chemo, or downing Xanax in a bathtub. C’mon, Amy, what messages in a bottle do you send out into cyberspace? We can factor in your secret secrets. All via algorithm, so you don’t feel busted. That’s the beauty of math. We could even do it behind your back.” He paused.

“Donny, that sounds illegal and immoral and like outing and indoctrination.”

As if he’d read her subconscious: “Do you want to see what your daughter would look like now? I could probably do that for you with a high degree of accuracy. I don’t even think I need the DNA samples. Image-wise. You know, your hair, his aunt Elizabeth’s tits.”

A block of ice shattered somewhere in her cranium, sending cold spiky shards down her spine and through her shoulders, piercing the veins in her arms with its frigid needles.

A girl.

“Mom told me,” said Donny. “About the miscarriage.”

It was an abortion. Not even Lauren knew that much. “No one knows,” said Amy. “Dan doesn’t. He doesn’t.”

“The Cloud knows,” said Donny. “But I won’t tell. You can trust me.”

Trust Donny?

“They had fertility issues. His sperm’s been tested. Unless he lied to her, Amy, they don’t know. His wife is younger than you are. Want to see her? She’s got a little chub. I think you could take her, maybe if you cared more. Face cream and all that.”

She wouldn’t fall down that rabbit hole. “I don’t want to take her. I love Dan. I haven’t seen him in a million years. I actively don’t think about him.”

“He’s a runner. You’re a runner,” said Donny. “I know Dan’s got a gym membership, but Dan’s a sitter. His wife throws pots. She’s nutty for Pinterest.” Donny rolled his eyes.

“That doesn’t mean it would have worked.”

“It didn’t work,” said Donny. “The question is, would it have worked if the kid had lived? Would you have married him or done it on your own? Gotten a divorce? Or would it work now? IRL or in cyberspace? I’m a little confused myself.”

“Nothing works now,” said Amy, rising. “Including me. Which is why I am now going home to take a shower and then over to the office.”

As she turned to go, she noticed her hands were shaking.

Donny opened his desk drawer. “Here, Aim,” said Donny. He handed a her joint. He also handed her a pack of matches.

Amy lit up. The smoke felt good curling down inside her lungs.

“You can sit at my desk,” said Donny.

She sat, took another hit and held her breath.

“I’m going to put headphones on you, and you can wear these little cardboard box goggles I got snail mail from the New York Times. They use them for VR,” said Donny.

“You subscribe to the New York Times?” Amy was surprised.

“Life long bar mitzvah gift,” said Donny, “that is if the paper outlives me, which I doubt.” He pointed to the goggles. “Okay, put it on. It’ll be better when I build my own instrument, but this will have to do for now.”

Amy put on Donny’s headphones and those weird little cardboard glasses. Donny leaned over her and typed. She took another hit, then handed the joint back to Donny. He took pressed enter on the keyboard.

. . .

Amy ran.

She ran, and she ran, and she ran. She hadn’t known that it was in her, that she even had the capacity to run this fast: she couldn’t catch her breath. Her heart was beating up into her throat; it had already abandoned her itching, aching chest. Her shoulders ached and her back burned, her lungs had sunken almost flat, they couldn’t inflate fully enough or fast enough. It felt like she was drowning.

Amy was drowning as she ran. There was no air. She couldn’t pull enough oxygen in. All the energy she had was spent in moving her legs forward, one after the other, her feet slapping against the pavement in those stupid flip-flops, all the strength with which she had been born was exhausted, it had leaked out the bottoms of her feet. She was fueled now only by fear.

She tripped, she tripped and she fell, but it felt instead as if she were flying. Like she fell up before she fell down. Floating above the sidewalk, Amy could see her little boy grinning up at her; he turned his face back to look. She must have screamed. He was all cheeks and golden-red curls; he was grinning because he thought that he was winning.

(She’d only put him down for one hot second to unfold the stroller and strap his twin brother in. Stupid, stupid. She should have secured him first. She wasn’t thinking. Her mind had been on someone else.)

This was her punishment. He was grinning at her and running ahead of her straight into the street, so small still that the drivers of the cars whizzing by on El Camino could not possibly see his sturdy little body over their hoods and bumpers; he kept turning his head to smile the happiest smile she’d ever seen as he pulled farther and farther away from her. Was he thinking this was all a game? This is no game, Theo, she’d shouted when he’d first taken off, and then: Stop! Stop! Until there had not been enough air to run and to shout with at the same time.

There was a man up ahead. He was texting on his cell phone. Surely he would turn and stop the little boy, but the man’s head was locked down, a swan-necked lamp, whatever light he possessed was fixed and shining onto his own keypad. Stop him! Amy had shouted when she could still shout, but the man didn’t look up and Amy’s shouts only made Theo charge ahead faster. Then, when she’d finally been running on pure adrenaline and the liquid smoke of her bones, her marrow vaporizing, she tripped and Theo burst out laughing. Theo laughed as Amy flew through the air like she was a graduate of Clown College, and as she fell onto the sidewalk scraping her palms, tearing her pants, the skin on her knees, blood welling where her teeth met her tongue and entered it, Theo ran laughing into the street and she could not reach him. The cars screeched and the man screamed, Oh, my God! He hit him! He hit him!

I am entering hell, thought Amy.

Amy ran.

She ran and she ran and she ran. She did not know it was in her to run this fast; she would do anything to get away from her brother Michael. He was chasing her. They were on a family picnic in Golden Gate Park. He was coming up from somewhere behind her where she could not see him. She was running so hard trying to keep away that there was no time to waste to turn and look back.

Her parents were eating cheese and bread and vegetable slices—cucumbers and green pepper and carrots and celery sticks—her dad was drinking a beer; his eyes were closed. He seemed to like the feel of the sun on his face. His glasses were in his right hand, giving the bridge of his nose a rest; there was often a little red dent on it. Her mother in her ponytail and plaid shirt and Levi’s had the newspaper spread out before her crossed legs, reading and talking out loud about what she read. Sometimes she took the glasses out of Amy’s dad’s hand and put them on herself to read the fine print.

No one cared about the things Michael did to her. When he was bored, for fun, he’d kick her so hard in the stomach when he babysat her and her parents went to the movies, that sometimes blood would come out of her vagina and stain her panties. She’d throw them away because they were evidence that the way he tortured her was real. Too painful for her parents. Too painful even for her.

Tag you’re it; Michael had called as he started to chase her. I’ll give you five four three two one, but Amy had already taken off out of a bolt of sheer unadulterated terror at the number four. Because she’d taken off, her mother would later say she’d agreed to play the game. Amy, wait up! She ran as fast as she could, already mourning the lost sovereignty of her body, running over a hill when she tripped on a rock and she fell, sprawling flat on the cool wild lawn that hadn’t been trimmed in forever. (Those budget cuts, her mother said later, when trying to ascertain whether Amy needed stitches below her chin or not.)

The grass was tall, so tall if Amy spread herself thin, thinner even than she already was—she was trying to disappear—then maybe Michael wouldn’t be able to find her. She thought, God, let me die now, I’ll believe in you if you just let me die now. The sun feels so good and Michael hasn’t found me yet.

Amy ran.

She ran and she ran and she ran. She’d taken the subway to Fifty-Ninth Street and then jogged on the molten asphalt, heat steaming up to scald her bare legs. She entered the sultry, shabby park where it began, at its mouth, on Fifth Avenue, around the corner and across the street from the Plaza Hotel, where the horse carriages gathered, surrounded by flies and little haystacks of manure. She breathed that earthy odor in—it was moist and thick—and the stench of the sweat of the men sleeping on the wooden benches as she ran farther into the park, until she found a running lane next to one of the car arteries and hit her stride. There was so much on her mind! She needed to dump some stress! What was she doing in this crazy, polluted city, wasting her life on him?

He’d come home the night before after she’d already gone to bed and was curled up with the cat, LMNOP (they called her Elle), a little gray tabby, a runt, Amy’s book opened near her face; she’d tried so hard to stay up reading. She saw double when she was that tired. She’d had to close one eye to see straight and lean the hardcover against the wall because she was too tired to hold it ajar, but then the other eye must have closed, too, because she woke up to the smell of another woman’s vagina on his face when he climbed up into the loft bed, naked because of the heat, it was so hot up there, and leaned over to kiss her.

Sorry I’m late, he’d said. It was 3:00 a.m. They had a digital clock that glowed in the dark. It sat next to the little fan he’d brought home; he’d found it on Avenue A. He’d built a small shelf for her to put it on, plus her books, and his glass of water. He made gestures like this in the name of love; he brought her flowers during the day, and sometimes when he came home so late it was almost morning he brought her fresh cinnamon buns from the bakery on Second Avenue. She was pregnant. She was going to tell him. She was going to ask him: What should she do? What should we do? But what if he wanted to get married? Who could be married to him? He had no job, he wanted to be an actor, he read her poetry and talked politics and philosophy and strummed all day on his guitar. This summer with him, following him to this hot urban place, living with him in this stupid overpriced dump, paying the rent when he went on auditions and was out every night, this was the last straw.

When she woke up, he was still dead to the world. It was too early to fight and too hot for her to fall back asleep again. She’d made her way down the loft bed ladder, pulled on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt and her Pumas, and headed out to East Seventh Street. The punks were already up or maybe they’d never gone to bed. They were drinking their morning beers in their dog collars, some of the guys in leather vests. She stopped at the bodega and got a cup of coffee, with milk, no sugar, and a bagel with butter. She walked over to the 6 train, and took it uptown to the park.

It felt good to run, to sweat not just from heat, but also from exertion. It felt good to see trees and grass and dogs and little children in bathing suits in strollers and their tired parents heading to the sprinklers. She ran up to Sixty-Fourth Street, outside the zoo. She imagined she could hear the sounds of the animals waking up. Maybe she would stop there on her way back. Maybe she would go into the penguin house and watch the birds in the cold water zip and zoom like swallows through an empty barn. That’s what her thoughts felt like anyway, they zipped and zoomed.

She decided to run across the mall. There were trees by the mall and probably it was shadier and maybe she wouldn’t have to run on cement, maybe she could run on dirt. That’s when she turned without looking and she heard a guy call: Heads up! He was on a bike and he whooshed right by her. She turned toward his voice, and as she stepped down she landed on her foot funny and her ankle gave. She heard it pop and she fell. She had no health insurance. She was here on an internship. She knew it was broken, even before she tried to stand up. They lived in a fourth-floor walkup. Their bed was a ladder’s height off the ground. She knew she was fucked, even before a nice older couple stopped to see if she was okay. I’m a doctor, he said. He’s the best, said his wife. Can he arrange for my abortion? Amy wanted to ask but didn’t. He requested permission to touch her ankle.

She’d rubbed her forehead with her right hand and then ran it across her nose when she sniffled—she was trying not to cry, it hurt so much, even though the doctor was gentle—and she smelled the other girl’s cunt on her fingers.

Your ankle is broken, said the doctor. Yes, she said. I know. I could tell. She’d known her ankle was broken before the rest of her hit the pavement, while she watched the biker stop. He was wearing a Walkman. He stood the bike up and leaned it on his kickstand and came over. He said, Are you okay? I’m Dan, he said. I’m pregnant, she said. The doctor’s eyes opened wider. I think her ankles broken, he said. My wife and I will call an ambulance.

I’ll stay with her, Dan said.

Amy pulled off her cardboard glasses. She felt like she was going to throw up.

“You look like you’re going to hurl,” said Donny. At the suggestion, she began to heave and he got his wastepaper basket underneath her just in time. “Eeww,” said Donny.

“Sorry,” said Amy. She wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. “Sorry,” she said. “But not. How could you?”

“I think it will be better with the hair dryer,” said Donny.

“What?” said Amy.

“You know, the hair dryer apparatus. I told you about it already. The cone.”

“I don’t care,” said Amy. “None of that happened, except for some of it. All of it was wrong.”

“What? What was wrong with it?” asked Donny.

“Are you kidding? How dare you show me something where Theo is hit by a car? That day, when I yelled, he stopped running and climbed back into the stroller. That’s all. Now how am I supposed to unsee the horror that I just saw?”

“I don’t think it’s a real bug in the algorithm,” said Donny. “I’d term it a ‘code smell.’ I’m sure I can correct for it. All I have to do is stare at it for a couple of hours. It shouldn’t be a problem.”

“It is a problem, Donny. It’s already in my head. I spend so much time running that shit out of my mind and there you are repopulating my brain with stuff I don’t even have to worry about.

“And that’s not how I met Dan. I met him at a party in a loft on West Twelfth near the Meatpacking District. It was one great big space and the people who lived there lived in five different teepees. Plus, wasn’t this whole stupid thing supposed to be about my choices? I thought this was about me choosing to find out what I want to know.” She was crying now, for real.

Donny handed her the towel hanging on his closet door. She held it to her face. It stank of mildew. She blew her nose in it, because she had to and for revenge.

“It happened in different multiverses,” said Donny.

“Fuck different multiverses,” said Amy.

“The hair dryer idea? The big cone? It will help it feel more real.”

“Real I don’t want,” said Amy. “I want her.”

“I’ll get you her,” said Donny. “I promise.”

Amy was still crying. Donny put his hand on her shoulder. But it was too late. Because of him, there was even more now to unlive, to pack away and forget. He was going to have to find himself another guinea pig. Amy and The Furrier were over.


From the book:
COME WITH ME: A NOVEL by Helen Schulman
Copyright © 2018 by Helen Schulman.
Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, on November 27, 2018.

Helen Schulman

Helen Schulman writes fiction, nonfiction, and screenplays. Her last novel, This Beautiful Life, was a New York Times bestseller. She is a professor of writing and the fiction chair of the MFA program at The New School. She lives in New York City with her family.

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