Quantum Sheep

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I couldn’t sleep last night. It was one of those nights where you try everything, and nothing works. I even tried sleeping one the floor. Don’t ask me why I thought that would help. Like I said, I was desperate.

There’s a certain time of night when unusual things begin to occur. I don’t like to talk about it much. I’m a scientist, I don’t believe in that sort of thing. But you know what I mean. Around three, maybe four am? Yeah. You know.

So there I was, wide awake on the floor. I was counting sheep, literally. Why not? Nothing strange had happened yet, but it was about to.

So I was thinking about sheep, and then I realized: maybe the problem was that my sheep were too distinct. Perhaps I wasn’t thinking deeply enough about these sheep. So I imagined a quantum sheep, or rather, a superposition of a sheep and the absence of a sheep. A fifty percent sheep. Well, no, that’s not right. It wasn’t half there, it was both there and not, one hundred percent, simultaneously. And then I realized I didn’t have to stop there, I could superposition different animals onto a sheep. A sheep and a goat, for example. I found my heart beating faster at this realization, I was truly excited by this possibility, though now, it’s hard to say why. It doesn’t make much sense at all, really. Would such a superpositioned animal really act any different than a sheep or a goat? Come to think of it, what is the difference between a sheep and a goat? But I digress.

So as I said, I was lying on the floor, imagining all kinds of unusual things, when my phone rang. Now, this was strange, as no one, really, is going to be calling me, of all people, in the middle of the night. Certainly not around three or four in the morning. But I sat up and grasped for my phone on my nightstand – it took me a moment to find it – and then squinted at the bright screen. It said it was from Norah. Norah is my sister. I answered the phone.

“Norah,” I said. “Do you know what time it is?”
“I guess it must be around three or four in the morning,” she said.
“I guess so,” I said.
“I can’t sleep,” she said.
“Me neither. Why?”
A pause. “Mom is dying.”
I had to stop for a moment to think. "Norah. It's been two years.”
“I know, but I just can’t help thinking that she’s still dying. Every day a little bit more. I know it doesn’t make sense, but I just can’t help this feeling, it’s like this dread, eating me up, that I just keep losing more of her.”

I nod. Silently. Even though she can’t see me.

“Tell me,” I say, “do you remember that time down by the riverbank?”
“You mean with the daffodils?”
“They were so yellow,” we say in unison, and she lets out something that is a little bit like a giggle, and a little bit like a broken sob.

It is peculiar the way the lives of siblings are so entangled.

“It was cold that day,” I said, “but mom wanted us to take her out anyway, so we pushed her chair, you and I together. When we got down to the riverbank, we saw that the daffodils had come up early. It was warm, earlier in the week, even though that day it was cold, remember? And the way the light off the river rippled on the daffodils. It made them look so yellow.”

“I remember,” she said. “There was something so hard to place about the quality of the light that spring. Like we were all seeing it for the last time. It makes you appreciate it.”
“Yes,” I said. “And even though she’s gone now, she was alive then. She is alive in your memories. She is both.”

“But what if I forget? Maybe that’s what I mean when I say it feels like she's dying more every day. Maybe that’s where it comes from. The fear of forgetting.”

“But you have not forgotten,” I told her.

And so she is still alive.

Like I said, it was the strangest thing.

About the Author: 
Jamie Canepa was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, and is currently a biology master's student at California State University, Northridge. He likes to write about how science and nature interact with our personal lives.