Uncollapsed

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I travel to Buenos Aires to see my mother at her assisted-living residency, but deep down I want to check that time passes at the same rate there than back home. Each time, the country makes less sense to me; it is as if, with the years, the boundaries of reality’s logic are becoming blurrier.
Before going upstairs to share our weekly breakfast, the receptionist—whose long hair, large breasts and bright blue eyes invaded the lonely times on each trip—dwelled over my question regarding the weather. In July, it should have been either cold or very cold, but her answer was typically Argentine, bringing up such a range of possibilities that one wouldn’t know if it was summer or winter.

The sun was hitting my mother’s face straight on, in a way that erased twenty years’ worth of wrinkles and gave her brown eyes a shine the medicines had taken away many years ago.
“Are you going to ask Eduardo for the deposit?” She said, surprising me. It was odd she’d talk again about the apartment; it broke the illusion that her past was gone, and that that old hotel would be her only home.
“No, I’m seeing him on Monday.”
“You know, if he doesn’t want to give you the money, you can ask him for two extra months of rent.”
I didn’t know what to say. I had visions of boxes crowding the hallways of her apartment, and cringed at the impossibility of her return and the absurdity of getting money back to both close the apartment and keep it ready for her. It was so wrong in so many ways.
I looked up and she was staring at me, with an intelligence that negated what had taken her to that place.
“I can, maybe, go from time to time there, and have a nap.” She kept watching me, expectant.
I had run out of words, and my mind slowed down to her pace, a sublevel where contradictions were distant enough to be seen as possible—even likely—truths.
As I was leaving, I noticed that the receptionist’s eyes were actually green.

The streets were in the peaceful shade of the afternoon, most buildings too tall to allow for more than reflected sunlight. I started to search for a taxi but then something hit me, weakening my legs and making me fall backwards against a marbled entrance. The world I could see was stable, scattered by a herd of passerby; but the world I was feeling was at the edge of collapse. A great invisible hand was ready to fold the buildings, and the people, and even my own dizzy self.
I stayed against the wall for a few minutes, pondering if I should go back to my mother’s cozy hotel—after all, they had a doctor in house—or attempt to cross the street and sit down in a café, let the malaise dissolve itself.
I knew the corner café well enough to have been a waiter there, and had tried every single one of their offerings. But I also knew it enough to notice, even from the outside, that it was different on that derailed day.
There were bright red tablecloths on every table; I’d never seen them before.
And then, there were the waiters: I could only recognize one of them—if at that, since he had combed over his hair in a blatant change of style—and the other two were too young to be the staff of a coffeehouse that catered to noisy groups of old ladies and businessmen with a few stains on their ties.
Feeling the increasing tilt of my world, I opened the door—the place’s name had been changed from having to do with caverns to be about cellars—and barely made it to a chair. The owner waved from behind the counter; same guy but he’d gained a few pounds since the last time.
When a beeping horn made me turn toward the café’s street side, I was shocked—those tables had again white tablecloths, of a very pure and hand-washed white.
I tried to stay steady, but my hand fluttered in the proximity of a suddenly quite small coffee cup. The black liquid inside had a beige rim of foam; the individual bubbles, trapped near the white ceramic, had stories to tell. Perhaps the story of why my world had decided to lose coherence.

Coherence. Degeneracy. Quantum Uncertainty. Those years as a hobbyist physicist—with an incomplete degree in Architecture—came back to me, all those nights trying to understand the evanescent identities of the nuclear particles. One moment you’re a neutron, and the next, something hits you and you are now a proton.

Instability. Collapsing wave functions. Down there, it’s all up for grabs, and nothing definitively is until a fateful choice intervenes.

What if our world, so large and secure of itself, is not more stable than the twilight of a proton? What if it’s just waiting to be one thing or the other?
My mother saw it, in her own twilight. Her waning senses can’t separate any more all the possibilities of the floating waves; they don’t have the force to make them fold. And so she sees the world as it is—a whirlwind of chaos; held but not secure; adopted, but not for a long time. A world that’s as undefined as an abstract painting.
Picasso saw it, like her. It is really dimensions over dimensions, possibilities on top of possibilities.
And I saw it too, a world where nothing is black or white, but black and white. Until the hand comes and crashes the wave; and, for a moment, it all makes sense.
There are a few bubbles left on my espresso cup. All the tablecloths are finally white. My old, trusted waiter, Julián, appears out of nowhere—or everywhere, who knows—and asks me if I want another cup, a free one if mine had gone cold.

About the Author: 
Scientist and educator, who has taught many of the biophysical and biomedical sciences, including Quantum Mechanics. Science writer, magazine editor and contributor to “The Scientist”. After living in China and Argentina, he now resides in North Carolina (USA). Recipient of the 2015 Literary Fiction Award (The Writer’s Workshop, NC, USA).