A Truth Universally Acknowledged
It’s raining when Osmundo stops me by the crosswalk. It wasn’t raining a moment ago. In another reality a half step to the left of this one, the sun is shining and Osmundo is a skater punk who goes by Oz. In that reality I never told you anything I shouldn’t have. But only because I never met you to begin with.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person who has been cut off from her dearest friend must be in want of a reality shift.
This Osmundo is wearing a tight black t-shirt that says Glitter Queer in sparkly pink writing. He is built in this reality. Really ripped. He must work out a lot. I think about my Osmundo watching The World’s Strongest Man on TV and idly saying he thinks it would be cool to try that, and I wonder if this Osmundo actually plans to.
“Carrie,” he says. “What the hell are you doing?”
“What does it look like I’m doing?” I ask. It’s the kind of question that might sound like friendly banter, but it should also buy me time, and maybe if I’m lucky, give me an actual answer. Because of course I have no idea what I’m doing. I just got here.
Osmundo shakes his head, disparaging. “Don’t do it, girl. This is a mess, and it’s only gonna get messier.”
“How do you know?” I ask.
Osmundo snorts, which is not really helpful, but is totally Osmundo. My home Osmundo makes exactly that noise when he’s exasperated with me, which is...not infrequent.
Osmundo is never too far away when a shift happens. The me who designed the shifts made that a condition. Her Osmundo has a sort of homing device. A key.
“Okay,” I say. “Look, I obviously need help. Can we get out of the rain while we discuss this?”
Osmundo jams his hands in his pockets in that way that says he needs them there so he won’t use them to shake some sense into me, but he follows me to stand under the awning outside the coffee shop across the street.
“I can’t believe you want to go in there,” Osmundo says.
“Why?” I ask, desperately hoping this question will turn up some useful answers about who I am.
Somewhere in another reality, another me is doing the same thing to skater punk Osmundo, and to tax accountant Osmundo, and to my original reality Osmundo, who hasn’t decided what he wants to do yet, even though he’s 27.
I don’t know what made all the other mes want to shift, but the desire has to have been unanimous if I understand science genius me’s notes. I wonder if any of us has found answers, or satisfaction. I guess
not, since we’re still shifting.
I’m starting to think I would rather be home again, though. Even without you in my life. ... Maybe.
The part of me that felt so ripped raw apart that I yearned my way into a different timeline is still there, a little voice, but a persistent one. What if you can have her back here? It asks. What if you don’t have to have ruined that friendship forever?
So, no, I’m not ready quite yet.
When we walk into the coffee shop, I understand immediately why Osmundo was freaking out. It’s familiar, wooden floors that creak underfoot, skylights, mismatched tables, and heavy ceramic cups. Everything in the place feels comforting and warm, like my favorite cafe back home. But in this one, you’re a barista.
Osmundo notes the panic that must be apparent on my face and smoothly guides me to a table.
“Sudden change of heart?” he asks. “Don’t worry. You don’t have to talk to her.”
“More like she doesn’t have to talk to me,” I mutter.
“Oh, she’ll talk,” he says. “I just don’t know why you would want to invite that.” He has no goatee in this reality, but he still strokes his chin the same way he does in the ones where he isn’t clean-shaven. I can’t help smiling at that. All the little tells are a comfort, wherever I land. My people are still themselves. I am still me. Something of us is intrinsic, fixed.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a Carrie in possession of the chance to talk to Alicia will absolutely take that chance,” I say.
Osmundo’s brow furrows. “Why are you talking so weird right now?”
I pull out the copy of Pride and Prejudice I keep in my bag in every reality and point to the famous first sentence. But it’s different here.
“Everyone in the world knows that a single man in possession of a large fortune will one day or another need to find a wife.”
Okay, things in this reality are definitely odd.
“I don’t get it,” Osmundo says. “Just stay here and I’ll bring us drinks.”
He comes back with two cappuccinos and some almond biscotti. I usually get a black coffee and a croissant, myself.
“Thanks,” I say, trying not to seem disappointed, but my poker face is no good at all.
“Sorry,” he says. “You get my usual instead of yours. I couldn’t let Alicia know you were here. She knows your order by heart.”
“Right,” I say. Because of course you do. We know each other too well in every reality. Except the ones where I never met you at all. I don’t know if those are better or worse. All I know is that in all of them, the chances of being close are ruined now. Every single time. I don’t know exactly how things fell apart in this one, but it’s clear they did. And I’m not over it.
I wonder if any of the other mes are.
“Okay, Osmundo. I know you want to help me. And I know I’m a giant mess. So... let’s try a little thought experiment.”
Osmundo waves his hand in a circle, beckoning. Go on, he’s saying. This gesture is another one of his tells, consistent in every reality. There’s a lot I don’t know about this Osmundo, his hopes and dreams, his everyday routine, but I know his soul.
“Tell me about my life,” I say. “Give me all the details. Pretend I have amnesia. The basics and the good things and all the things I obviously need to fix.”
Osmundo frowns, skeptical that this will do anything good for me. “Why?”
“Just humor me,” I say.
Osmundo is a good sport in every reality, so he does.
In short order I learn that I am 25 (like always), I am Carrie Anna Cynthia Gonzalez (sometimes true, one letter off from my home reality, where I’m Carrie Ann instead of Carrie Anna), Osmundo is my cousin who isn’t a cousin—our dads are besties from childhood (always true), I was mostly doing okay with my lifeplan until this last year when I started messing everything up (mostly true), I’ve got a lot of friends (always true), I’ve never dated anyone (50/50), I met you three years ago (true except in the realities where I never meet you), we were always in each other’s pockets for two years (same), you’re an evangelical Christian (usually not true—usually you’ve rejected that by the time I meet you), you’re super bad news for me (can’t possibly be true... can it? I refuse), you’re coming over to our table right now (0% true in every other reality...).
“Carrie, I didn’t think you would come in today,” you say. You look only at me, not even nodding at Osmundo, which is a little weird, but I don’t care. Your voice washes over me like a warm shower after a long cold walk in the dark. I am a tangle of love and misery. In my home reality, you haven’t wanted to talk to me in months. I don’t know if you ever will.
“Hi,” I say, shy, smiling.
“Does this mean you’ve thought it through?” you ask.
I nod, as if I know what you’re talking about.
Your face lights up. “Oh, that’s wonderful!”
I think, in this moment, that whatever it is I have agreed to, it’s worth it.
“Do you want to sit with us?” I ask.
Osmundo gives me a look that says WTF are you thinking, woman!?, but he’s saved because you say, “I have to get back behind the counter. But I’ll see you tonight?”
“Absolutely,” I say. I’ll have to figure out where, but if you want to see me, I will be there.
“What was that?” Osmundo asks as you walk away.
“Me fixing things,” I say.
“How on earth can that possibly fix anything?”
“She wants to be friends again,” I say. “I’m miserable without that connection.”
“She thinks you agree that your “connection” as you call it, is a spiritual bond centered on Jesus,” Osmundo counters.
I frown. He did say you’re an evangelical in this reality, but... “But I’m not religious and she knows that.”
“You just volunteered to go to Wednesday night church with her.”
“Oh,” I say. “Right. But how bad can it be?”
Osmundo sips his cappuccino like he’s in one of those reaction gifs where people sip tea and throw shade. “Do you seriously think she isn’t going to press you to go to conversion therapy again? We’ve been over this. You can tell yourself you don’t have a crush on her, and you can date only guys, or no one at all if that’s what you want, but studies show that it’s actively harmful to try to pray the gay away.”
For a moment I consider, seriously, allowing myself to convert, to try to embrace the Jesus stuff. I imagine the future where you and I are soul friends who plan church events together and talk every day. I imagine the warmth of knowing you love me. It’s brilliant, that feeling. Surely any trade would be worth it.
But then I look at Osmundo, my not cousin, my champion. I think about how the future comes together without him in my life. Because that’s why you didn’t look at him when you came over. If I choose you here, I lose him. And how many other people?
I sigh, long and deep. “You’re right,” I say.
I feel it, then, the crackling at the edge of the room that signifies a shift is imminent. This time I don’t wonder where I’m going. I know. It’s time to go back home.
What will the me from this reality do? What will her visits to the other realities have taught her?
It doesn’t matter. I have a feeling she’ll be all right.
The next moment I am in a coffee shop, but it’s a subtly different coffee shop, and I’m here alone. I have my black coffee and an empty plate with the flaky traces of a croissant on it. The barista catches my eye from behind the counter and waves. It’s not you. You’re definitely not a barista in this reality. You’re at home with your baby, enjoying maternity leave from your high-powered job. I pull Pride and Prejudice out of my bag. Its opening line is the one I expect.
Going to church won’t bring me to you here, but you also don’t care if I’m gay or straight or bi or whatever. And you definitely don’t mind if Osmundo is. Just so long as I don’t expect you to be more than a friend. Because you’ve never felt that way about me, and you have a husband, and you’re happy.
I wish I could go back to a year ago and stop myself from confessing anything to you. Or, failing that, I wish I could make past me respect your boundaries once the horrible rush of words was out. Your friendship was worth so much more than that.
I can’t, though. If I’ve learned one thing through all the shifting, it’s that there’s no going back, only forward, or sideways, I guess. The hurt is familiar, but not so acute as before, I think. At last I’m ready to face it.
I clear my dishes and head out into the chilly spring day. There are flowers opening—daffodils and crocuses—the early sprays of purple and yellow that herald new growth and lush greenery to come. A year ago, I would have texted you a photo. A month ago, thinking of this would have made me cry. Today I don’t do either.
Maybe we’ll get to be friends again, or maybe we won’t. Flowers will continue to open and bloom. And me? I’ll still like them. Life will go on.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a Carrie Ann Cynthia Gonzalez in possession of a phone must be in want of a flower photo to text someone.
I snap the photo and send it to Osmundo.
Julia Rios is a Hugo award winning editor, and a writer, podcaster, and narrator. Currently the Fiction Editor for Fireside Magazine, Julia's own fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, and among other places. Julia is also a co-host of The Skiffy and Fanty Show, a general SF discussion podcast, and has narrated stories for Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders. You can follow @omgjulia on Twitter if you would like to learn more.
Patricia Coral was born in Puerto Rico, where she developed her passion for words and earned a master's in Spanish Literature and Linguistics. In 2014, she moved to Houston, where she set off on the adventure of writing in a borrowed language. She writes nonfiction and poetry, but her words often find their home somewhere between the two genres. In 2017, she co-founded Fuente Collective (fuenteco.com), an organization dedicated to experimentation, collaboration, and hybridism in creative writing and other arts. Her work in English has been published in Yellow Chair Review and Crab Fat Magazine.
The eighth issue of Latin American Literature pays homage to Nicaraguan writer and politician Sergio Ramírez, winner of the 2017 Cervantes Prize and an important voice in a country currently gripped by crisis. We also feature poetry from Octavio Armand, as well as special sections dedicated to four indigenous writers of Mexico and Guatemala, bilingual sci-fi from Worldcon 76, and the poetry of Marosa di Giorgio, Olga Orozco, and Elena Garro.