Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s theme is “a death in the family.” Today’s tale comes to you from Val Muller, author of the young adult novel The Scarred Letter, a novel about confronting the truth in a world that lives a lie.
The Quantum Life of Mr. Bubbles by Val Muller
Her large eyes popped open as she examined the fish. “Daddy, Mr. Bubbles looks thinner today.” She scrunched her nose and eyed me askance.
I tried not to miss a beat. “You think he went on a diet?”
“Not that kind of thinner. A different-fish-thinner.”
“Hmmmm.” I pretended to read the nutrition information on the cereal box, but she wouldn’t drop it.
“And his tail is darker.”
“Daddy, what happened to the real Mr. Bubbles?”
Nothing escapes a five-year-old. She pulled herself into the seat next to mine. What could I tell her? That Mr. Bubbles was floating his way toward the city’s sewage treatment plant? That her daddy had driven across the county to find the only aquarium open at 6 a.m.? That he’d been waiting when the store opened to purchase the fish that looked the closest to Mr. Bubbles?
When I looked up from my cereal box, she was standing up on her chair, eyes cross and hands on her hips. “Tell me the truth. What happened to the real Mr. Bubbles?”
So I took a deep breath and said what any father would say. “Mr. Bubbles was a very curious fish, and he went exploring in the furthest corners of his fish tank until one day, he saw a strange glow. You know what it was?” I looked up, stalling for time.
“The lamp?” She raised a little eyebrow.
“No,” I said, channeling high school physicals and sci-fi and late-night philosophical discussions from college. “It was a wormhole. A gateway to another universe.”
“What?” She looked again at the fish. Then she slid down in her chair.
“You know: quantum physics.”
“Won ton physics?”
I shrugged. “Sure. It’s the idea that there are all kinds of different worlds out there, each one just a tiny it different from the last. So in this universe, I look like me. But in another one, I might have a beard.”
She smiled at the idea.
“And so Mr. Bubbles went through the wormhole and found himself in a very similar universe. He found himself in a very similar house occupied by a very similar goldfish.”
“And is there a ‘me’ in this other universe?” she asked.
I nodded, glad she was buying in. “Only, the other you has curly hair and likes artichokes.”
She scrunched her nose. “Ewww!”
I smiled. “And Mr. Bubbles met the fish that looks almost like him. And they had a fishy conversation and decided to send the new fish here to live with you. And Mr. Bubbles is going to stay in the new universe. You know, to check things out.”
Her eyes moved from me to the tank and back again.
“Honey, do you understand?”
She studied my eyes, then nodded. “I do, daddy. But it’s okay. It doesn’t take won-ton physics to know that Mr. Bubbles went to Heaven. You don’t have to be sad about it or make up stories for me. It’ll happen to all fish someday. Then she gave me a hug, grabbed the box of cereal, and made her way to the couch.
A moment later, the chirping of cartoons filled the room, and I watched Mr. Bubble’s doppelganger swim from one side of the tank to the next, oblivious to the fate of his predecessor or the complexities of won-ton physics.
The Spot Writers—our members:
RC Bonitz: rcbonitz.com
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Tom Robson: https://robsonswritings.wordpress.com/