The Physics of Falling (in Love)

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I’d been expecting a chubby little chap with a mop of blond curls, so it was a considerable surprise when Cupid rocked up, tall and lean and bald as an egg. He offered a firm handshake and a flash of perfect white teeth. His bronzed skin gave no hint of age; he could have been anywhere from his mid-thirties to early sixties. Although, obviously, he was way older than that. As old as time itself, he told me, before adding, ‘Metaphorically speaking.’

Our first assignment took us to Ellie and Ben, two postgrad students working late in a laboratory. Everybody else had gone home, leaving the pair of them hunched in front of a computer screen in the otherwise darkened room. They sat in silence, watching a progress bar slowly turning green as the workstation chugged through the results of that day’s experiment. The computer was tucked into a cramped corner of the lab and the students had shuffled their chairs as far apart as the space allowed.

Cupid nodded towards them. ‘What do you reckon?’

He’d explained we didn’t need to worry about the students hearing us. Although we temporarily shared their timeline, we were exploiting chronological eddies, occupying the moments between their moments. While they were borne aloft on the peaks of each second ticking past, we were safely hidden in the valleys. Even so, I whispered. It seemed more, well, respectful. ‘They… I don’t know.’ I wasn’t entirely sure what he was asking. ‘Can’t you tell? Isn’t that the general idea?’

Cupid smiled. ‘Did you learn physics when you were at school?’

I shrugged. ‘Sort of.’

‘Imagine you’re standing outside a house,’ he said. ‘The sun’s shining. A beam of light hits the window. That beam is made of photons—tiny, tiny particles of light. Most will pass straight through the glass, illuminating the room inside, but a small proportion will bounce back. It’s the ones ricocheting off that let you see your reflection in the window.’

‘Okay,’ I said. I wrote “photons?” on my notepad.

‘Thing is, there’s no way of knowing whether a given photon will pass through or bounce back. Pick any photon in that beam of light—in theory, you could follow it all the way from the sun, measure its speed, how quickly it’s spinning, the thickness of the glass, anything you like. But even if you knew every last thing about that photon, you could never say for certain whether it’ll bounce back or keep on going. All you can determine is the probability that that particular photon will pass through. That’s all, just the likelihood. You can’t be certain what will happen until it’s actually happened.’

‘Right…’

‘The human heart works the exact same way. There’s no way of knowing what will get through, what will stick. You can’t predict it, which is why this job’s so damn tricky. Everything—the couple, the setting, the timing, every last detail—can seem perfect, but sometimes it just won’t take. There’s no certainty to any of it. So all we can do is play the probabilities.’

I frowned. ‘The heart? But—’

Cupid shot me a look. ‘I’m talking metaphorically.’

‘Ah. I see.’ I started to ask another question, but Cupid held his finger to his lips.

Ellie removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes. ‘I’m starving. How much longer do you think this’ll take?’

‘Not long now,’ Ben said. ‘Shame we can’t bring food in here—we could’ve ordered pizza.’

‘I can’t really do pizza,’ Ellie said. She patted her stomach and puffed out her cheeks. ‘The wheat.’

‘Oh, right,’ Ben said. He opened his mouth, closed it again, and turned back to the screen. He scratched his neck. ‘There’s, er, a Thai place nearby. It’s basic but the food’s good.’ His gaze flicked to Ellie’s face for a moment. ‘We could go there, maybe. If you fancied.’

Ellie looked a little startled. ‘Um…’

Keeping his eyes on the couple, Cupid plucked a golden arrow from the quiver slung across his back and fitted it to the string of his bow.

‘Sorry,’ Ben said. ‘That’d be awkward, wouldn’t it? Weird. Forget I said anything.’

Cupid swung the bow up and drew back the string, holding the arrow level and still. Its sharp tip glinted. I held my breath.

‘No,’ Ellie said. ‘I mean, no, not awkward. I like Thai food. We could go there; it’d be, er…’

The arrow shot across the room, too fast to follow. A trail of tiny stars shimmered and popped in its wake.

Ellie smiled. ‘It’d be great.’

Ben looked away, but he was grinning. For a moment, the lab fell silent.

Cupid laid his hand on my shoulder. ‘That’s us finished here,’ he said.

‘That’s it?’ I pointed towards the students. ‘Did it work?’

Cupid patted his bow. ‘I didn’t miss, if that’s what you mean.’

‘No – I meant have they, you know, fallen in love?’ It seemed such a strange thing to ask. ‘Did the probabilities work out? Did the arrow get through, or bounce off?’

He chuckled. ‘That’s their business, don’t you think?’ He shouldered the bow. ‘Besides, this isn’t their only chance. If it doesn’t work out for them here, I’ll have another go. Other places, other times, other universes… Sooner or later, it’ll happen. Or it won’t.’

‘And that’s all you can do?’ I said. ‘Just keep trying until everything somehow happens to be right? That could take forever.’

‘Perhaps.’ Cupid shrugged. ‘I never claimed this stuff was easy.’

We were slipping away, dropping out of Ben and Ellie’s time and space, moving on to the next assignment. I gestured towards the youngsters in the corner. ‘They’ll be okay, won’t they?’

Cupid smiled. Behind him, the lab was dissolving. ‘They’ll be fine. But keep your fingers crossed.’ He winked. ‘Metaphorically speaking.’

I took one final look at the students. As they disappeared from view, I saw them both reach down, grip the sides of their chairs, and shift them closer together.

About the Author: 
Dan Purdue is a writer and design engineer living in England. His stories have been published in the UK, USA, Canada, and Ireland, and have occasionally won prizes. For more information, see www.danpurdue.uk