Pushcart Prize Nominee: Daniel Hudon

Along with publishing emerging writers, one of the public roles and great pleasures of an independent, small literary journal is to nominate individual poems, essays, and stories for awards like the Pushcart Prize. This is one more way to say “thank you,” to the hard working writers, without whom LPR wouldn’t exist. These nominations also require renewed attention to the craft and presence of the pieces LPR publishes, and often that attention is rewarded with renewed joy.

Possibly Showing Tonight at the Quantum Theater:
*colon is part of original title

You want to go to the theater tonight because it’s a random Tuesday in May and you’ve heard that the Quantum Theater will be presenting one of all possible plays. What are the chances of seeing Molière, you wonder, it’s been so long, or Chekhov? Maybe some little-known Scandinavian drama or an ancient Greek tragedy? In some universe tonight, they’re presenting Beckett—could it be yours?

You pick up the phone and for a moment you think about calling all possible women with a phone number, women whose numbers you don’t even have but are out there at the other end of the phone line, oblivious to your momentary dialing dilemma. Women who you’ve seen at the grocery store or while out jogging. The sexy Russian woman you met at tango class who always wears the spiked heels, even to the practica, the woman in the strapless black dress you saw at the concert last week but who you didn’t have the nerve to strike up a conversation with at intermission, Grace, who you met at the bookstore, the cinephile you sat next to at the Godard film last weekend who, with much more subtext than context, gave a breathless interpretation of the penultimate scene involving a man and a woman, women you used to know who percolated into your mind, the girls from your school days now all grown up, some happily, some miserably, many who wouldn’t know what to make of a phone call from you for a random theater invitation.

You dial. It’s busy. You dial another. This time there’s no answer, not even a voicemail pickup. You try again. Finally, she picks up. It takes you a moment to connect her voice to the number you dialed to the image of her face to your idea of where she could possibly be in her apartment on her cordless. Is it really Erica, who hosted the crazy birthday party last month? You’re impressed by the warmth of her voice; she sounds poised, something you find terribly attractive—a calm self-confidence that, try as you might, you can’t achieve for yourself. You tell her about the play. She seems interested but wants more details. You fear she takes your information reticence as game playing, or worse, a sign that you lack the very quality of intelligence that she finds attractive. Perhaps she’s not the spontaneous type. Maybe she needs a more reliable indicator of the possible outcomes—she could be the fastidious sort who needs to know exactly how things are going to proceed, what the parameters are, the trajectory of start middle finish for the evening. You imagine endless honest talks that suffocate the relationship in a vast cloud of verbosity.

Sometimes you just have to take a chance, you say, as much to yourself as to her.

This seems to resonate with her and she agrees to come with you. Because the Quantum Theater is small—in the past some have described it as microscopic—you recommend getting there early to improve your chances of getting one of the few seats.

That sounds logical, she says.

The time might be a problem, you explain, because, being uncertain, there’s a small but nonzero chance the play has already started. In fact, you can’t rule out the possibility that the actors have taken their bows, the curtain has come down, and the audience has long since drifted back out into the downtown streets, their minds infused with existential angst and emotional bravura.

I see, she says.

Fine with me, she says.

Oh, she says.

But that’s unlikely, you say.

Okay, she says.

She doesn’t sound reassured.

She laughs.

You suggest picking her up at seven, parking randomly in the theater district and hoping for the best.

She likes the sound of that sort of optimism and gives you her address. You hang up the phone and pace about the room. Such luck, you think. Your mind fills with possibilities: theater, dessert, coffee, her place . . . ; or, theater, drinks, your place . . . ; theater, tea, detailed deconstruction of third act, intellectual sparring, kiss-on-the-cheek, home; or, theater, hot chocolate, awkward silences, car, unexpected and unbelievably good sex; or theater, subscription to entire series, vacation together in Costa Rica, spontaneous wedding in Vegas, two angelic kids, inspiration for best-selling novel, philanthropy, death with a smile on your face, public holiday for grieving; or, alas, theater, headache, just friends, home early.

You shower and get dressed. You whip up a stir fry with chicken, carrots, shitake mushrooms, and asparagus over a tasty bed of rice. God, you’re good. You put on loud music to pump yourself up. You imagine the sort of comfortable, thoughtful conversation that you’ve been missing recently. She has a voice you could get used to. You shovel down the last two bites, put the dish in the sink, and do a few twirls around the living room in case she wants to go dancing later. Good idea, you think: theater, drinks, dancing, closer dancing, even closer dancing, she sleeps over even though it’s a week night, and hot, steamy sex in the morning.

You go to the bathroom. You clip your nostril hairs and adjust the collar of your shirt. You dash out the door.

All possible routes to her place converge into the route with the fewest turns, despite the unpredictable traffic. You park and ring her door. As far as you can tell, she lives in any of the apartments inside because you see no light go off and hear no particular door close. You wonder if you’ll be privy to this information later.

She looks lovely, even prettier than you remember. As planned, you park randomly, walk to the theater, and line up at the ticket window. Ticket pricing is random. You ask for two tickets and the woman behind the glass asks for an astonishing amount of money. You ask if they are good seats. She tells you that all seats are treated the same. You open your wallet and see that all possible amounts of cash collapse into a random amount. Fortunately, it is enough. You count out the exact amount and hand it to her. She hands you the tickets. You give one to Suzanne and join the queue of people waiting for the house to open.

Have you been to the theater lately? you ask her.

No, she says.

Yes, she says.

I don’t remember, she says.

Oh, really, you say. You must be busy.

Oh, I see, you say. What did you see?

Oh, well, it must not have been very dramatic then.

You’re tickled with the timing. In a moment, one of the doors opens and people begin filing into the theater in an orderly fashion. The queue moves a few feet and—just as you begin to trudge forward—that door closes and the door next to it opens. As if nothing has happened, people continue filing in. From what you can tell by standing on your toes, they take the seats directly beyond the doors.

You are about to say something about the seating to Maggie, who, in the steady progression of the queue, has slipped in behind you, when you see the first door swing open again. Both doors are now open and the queue presses forward. You aim for the door on the left but, as you approach, the door on the right seems more tempting. Out of the corner of your eye, you notice Rachel moving independently of you, targeting the right-hand door. You feel you should take her hand but it’s both too soon and too late—theatergoers crowd up from behind and suddenly you’re pushed through. Buoyed along, disoriented, it’s like you surged through both doors at once and met your alter ego on the other side. You feel vast, like you contain multitudes, too much to be confined to a mere theater seat. You could take up a whole row, an entire section.

Instead, down near the front, you spy a pair of seats that are perfect.

Where is Julia? She was right behind you. There, you see her, two sections over, on the far side of the theater where she has already thrown her coat over a couple of seats. You wave to her, point to your prime location, and when she comes over you take her hand so that she doesn’t disappear again. You take your seats.

Well, that was chaotic, you say.

Yes, she says, squeezing your hand.

And strange, she says.

I didn’t notice, she says.

Around you the theater fills up, though slowly, as if no one really knows the time the play will start and they tentatively take their seats as if to try their luck for half an hour and see if it starts and if not, maybe they will find some little French café for a bite to eat and come back in an hour or so.

You ask Samantha, What time do you think it is? You explain: some people try to imagine what breed of dog or animal other people look like; your game is guessing the time. It’s amazing how often you can come within five minutes of the correct time when you have no real cues; it’s just some random time of the day.

But as soon as you say it you fear two things: either she thinks you’re bored or, worse, boring.

I have no idea, she says.

7:42 and a half, she says.

Why? Do you think we missed it? she asks.

I never wear a watch, she says.

Why don’t you just ask that basset hound over there? she says.

Oh, I see, she says, trying not to laugh.

She bursts out laughing at something you hope is truly funny and not truly pathetic.

You look at her, wait for her to say something.

Do you know any more sophisticated games? she says.

My game is to imagine what sort of face a man makes when he comes—but not necessarily inside me, she says, adding the last bit after a dramatic pause.

What happens when you win? she says, or lose?

And which breed of dog do you think I resemble? she says, taking care not to blow smoke in your face, though she’s not smoking.

Is this your idea of foreplay? she says with a wink.

Shouldn’t we be betting on what the play’s going to be? she says.

Considering that space is already occupied, time is the only unknown at the moment, she says, relatively speaking.

I should caution you, she says. I’m a sore loser.

Oh, look, she says, it’s starting.

Much to your surprise, the curtain rises.

A country road. A tree. Evening.

Elsinore castle. The platform of the watch.

A street in Venice.

Galileo’s sparsely furnished study.

A room painted yellow.

A streetcar.

In front of the palace of Oedipus at Thebes.

Daytime. The stage of a theater.

I can’t see. Let’s have a little light please . . .

        Yes sir, yes, at once.

        Come along! Come along! Second act of Mixing It Up.

Is this a rehearsal? she whispers.

This looks like one of those detestable postmodern plays, she whispers.

What’s going on? she whispers.

Six Characters in Search of an Author! she whispers; I should have bet you.

Much dialogue. Characters come and go. Gesticulations, laughter, weeping, some shouting.

The curtain falls.

She smiles at you.

She squeezes your arm.

She puts on her coat so slowly that you help her.

She stands up without looking at you.

Good choice, she says.

Did you like it? you ask.

Are you kidding? she says; I loved it!

It was interesting, she says.

Parts of it, she says.

It’s one of my favorite plays, she says.

How could you not? she says.

Only one exit door is open but the audience exits in an orderly fashion. Outside, the crowd disperses all directions into the streets, and in no time the street is full of cars unable to get anywhere. You’re glad that parking randomly gave you some distance from the theater.

Where should we go? you ask.

She smiles alluringly.

You know, she says, I don’t really go to bars, so you can just pick one.

I’ve got the play at home, she says; why don’t you come over and we can reread parts of it?

Things appear promising. You park randomly in front of her building and go inside with her. Natalie puts on some music and brings out two glasses of wine and a tray of cheese and crackers. You look at her books and CDs. You find a collection of Pirandello’s plays on the shelf. You admire the view out her front window.

You flip through the book and quote from the play: We have no reality beyond the illusion, you must not count overmuch on your reality as you feel it today, since, like that of yesterday, it may prove an illusion for you tomorrow. 

Subtle, she says, aren’t we?

And just what is our present illusion? she says.

Oh, she purrs, I love illusions.

She sits on the couch and you sit down near her. With every new slice of cheese, you reposition yourself slightly closer to her on the couch. Laughter ensues. And silence. Boldly, you kiss her. She seems happy to be kissed. You kiss her again and let your hands caress her neck and shoulders, her arms, all over. She moans. It’s nice. You nibble on her neck, her jaw. Your heart beats harder, her breath deepens. Then, you stop and pull back. She looks at you quizzically. You hesitate, then lean forward and whisper that you prefer to stop at foreplay because then you can enjoy the superposition of all possible future positions.

She pulls back and looks at you.

Super-what? she says.

Is that some kind of joke? she says.

You can’t be serious, she laughs.

What’s the matter? Don’t you know how to satisfy a woman? she says.

Sorry, she says, it’s not the superposition that matters but the probability of the various end states and, at the moment, yours isn’t looking so good.

Hey, she says, don’t pull that macroscopic quantum shit on me!

Well, she says, why don’t you call me again some other random Tuesday and we’ll take it from there.

Nice try, Schrödinger, she says; your illusion just collapsed into my reality.

You know she could say anything. She smiles, keeps you in suspense. So, she says finally, shall we have a game of Scrabble?

At last, you think, someone who gets you.

About the author: Daniel Hudon, originally from Canada, teaches astronomy, physics, math, and writing at various colleges in Boston. He has new work appearing or coming up in Canary, Toad, Dark Matter, and The Chattahoochee Review. He is the 2011 winner of the Tiferet Nonfiction Prize. Some of his writing links can be found at people.bu.edu/hudon. He lives in Boston. This work originally appeared in Little Patuxent Review’s Winter 2014 Science issue.