“According to modern Quantum Mechanics, there are an infinite number of realities, each diverging from the choices we make. These realities, though intrinsically connected, are entirely separate from one another. They cannot be accessed.”
– Dr Horatio Cainer, The Mirror Effect. 1924
Her dress was blue tonight. He caught sight of its edge as she disappeared behind a stack of books to his right.
Jacob looked up from behind his book, distracted by the movement. He knew it was her. As always. But he didn’t get up to follow her. Not this time. He was tired of that game and in no mood to play. Taking a deep breath, he re-settled himself in the armchair and carried on reading.
The library was silent. He couldn’t even hear Alastair shuffling about in the archives. The others had long since gone to bed, leaving Jacob, with his active mind, to occupy himself. He had soon found his favourite, battered copy of Old English Verses and settled himself down for the evening. But now…
He tried to put the flash of colour, the cornflower blue cotton, from his mind, but the memory lingered. It was the one she had bought for the coronation. The one with the white sash. Jacob remembered it well. She loved that dress.
He shook his head and tried again to focus on reading. The book lay open at a familiar poem: Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann. Her favourite.
Jacob closed the book sharply and tossed it onto the small table beside him. He screwed his eyes shut and covered his face with his hands.
Please, he thought. Not tonight.
A gentle, teasing giggle drifted through the stacks to his ears. The sound made his stomach flutter with a mixture of guilt and longing. As he heard it again, his resolve waivered.
Before he could warn himself against it, he rose from his chair and followed the sound of her laughter.
“Where are you?” he called out.
She didn’t reply.
He caught a glimpse of her dress again as she passed by the end of his row of books. He followed her, quickening his pace, determined not to lose her again.
As he turned the corner, he saw her ahead of him. Her back was turned and she was walking away from him. Her long, auburn hair was tied back loosely with a ribbon that matched her dress. Light briefly caught the red of her fingernails as she lazily trailed her hand along the bookshelves as she walked.
“Abbey!” Jacob shouted to get her attention.
She didn’t look round or slow down. As she turned the next corner ahead, she began to sing.
“It’s only a paper moon… Sailing over a cardboard sea…”
“Abbey!” Jacob called again, jogging to catch up with her.
“But it wouldn’t be make believe… If you believed in me…”
As Jacob reached the corner, she was disappearing around another, always just too far ahead for him to see her face.
Jacob sighed. It was all too familiar to him. Try as he might, he could never keep up with her. She was always and forever just out of reach. All he could do was follow her voice, keep looking for glimpses of her up ahead, and hope that eventually she would stop.
“Without your love…” her song continued. “It’s a honky-tonk parade.”
He wasn’t sure when he started running, but he reached the end of the row of books a lot faster than he expected to. Even so, by the time he got there, he couldn’t tell which way she had gone.
“Abbey!” he shouted, desperation seeping into his tone. It took a moment for him to find her voice drifting towards him in the darkened library.
“Without your love…” His head spun in the direction of her singing. “It’s a melody played… In a penny arcade…”
Jacob could see a light up ahead of him. Her silhouette flickered across it. The light came from the lamps at the centre of the library, the place that Alastair used to carry out his research. A frown creased his forehead. She had never gone there before. In fact, she had actively avoided anything to do with Alastair in the past.
“What are you up to?” Jacob muttered to himself as he came closer to the light.
At the end of the bookshelves on either side of him, he could see the cabinet of index cards that Alastair kept so meticulously, cataloguing every book, essay and scrap of paper in the library. Beyond that was his desk and the stack of papers he was currently working on.
“… But it wouldn’t be make believe… If you believed in me.”
As her song ended, Jacob stepped into the study area and at last he could see her clearly. Abbey was stood looking at a collection of old essays, strewn across one of the tables. She had her back to him, the white satin bow at the back of her dress caught the light and shimmered slightly as she moved to pick up the next page in front of her.
He still couldn’t see her face, but at least she wasn’t walking away from him. Ignoring his nerves and the sudden dryness at the back of his throat, Jacob slowly made his way towards her, trying hard not to startle her. As he came closer, he reached his hand to touch her shoulder.
“Abbey,” he said gently. But before he could make contact –
Jacob jolted awake. His eyes flew open. In that instant, she was gone.