I hate the taste of coffee.
It smells nice. It smells like the silence of late afternoons with Sarah, when she sits at the table and drinks it and reads the newspaper while I sit on the couch and read alchemy books.
But it tastes like hell.
Hello, Jasper. Good to hear from you again.
How is my last letter sacred? What do you consider sacred?
I am not sure if I think anything is sacred. Maybe the moment when an insect slips into the pitcher of a Sarracenia purpurea plant, and the rainwater closes over it.
I am glad that you have your friends, and that you have no expectations of them. Do your friends drink coffee? I have been trying it out, these last few nights. I am making some now.
Sarah comes out of the bathroom and sees me at the coffee brewer. “Coffee again?” she asks. “I thought you hated it.”
I do. I do hate it.
I tell her, “People say it’s an acquired taste. I am trying to acquire it.”
“Do you need to acquire it at ten o’clock at night?”
Yes. Yes, I do. Can’t sleep, the sun will eat me.
“I read on the internet that coffee tastes the best late at night.”
She snorts. “Really? I don’t believe you. You didn’t click on a headline about one weird caffeine trick, did you?”
I smile, so she’ll think that everything is okay, and I say, “Meth dealers hate me.”
She laughs. I like it when she laughs. “All right, well, just be careful. I don’t want to come home from work and find bullet holes in the walls because you muscled in on their territory.”
I reassure her that I will keep my one weird trick to myself. She goes into the bedroom, and I am left to contemplate coffee versus meth as a method for staying awake and outrunning the sun.
So you are saying that you became a different Jasper every time you interacted with another person or you engaged in an activity? That would result in an enormous number of cracks, wouldn’t it?
You should be glad that when you finally had so many cracks that you dissolved, no one came to take your place. I have a friend who specializes in that sort of thing. Although, true, I’m not sure if the people whose lives she takes over when she goes through a door were completely cracked before or not.
I can imagine that losing your wife would have shattered you. I know this is very personal so it is all right if you cannot tell me, but how did you find the bridges back to yourself afterwards?
If Sarah died, if she smelled the smoke and choked on it and did not come back, I don’t think I would be able to find any bridges.
This coffee may taste like hell, but it’s better than the dreams.
What do you dream about, Jasper, when you sleep? Do you dream of your bridges with their thousand points of light? Do you dream of your cracks sealing themselves up? The memories snapping back into place, the emotions settling back in, the skin sewing itself back together?
In my dreams, Sarah’s skin turns white and red and splits apart.
I think it’s best for her if there is not One Seth.
I read an article the other day about some recent research on consciousness. Some people still get to work in their labs.
The authors of the study used the fMRI results from twelve people they’d dosed with propofol to posit that consciousness is chaos. If your neurons are all firing off on their own and exploring and making new pathways, you’re awake and alive and flying. If your neurons are firing off in lockstep together around the same old pathways they’ve always known, then you’re falling into the Sarracenia purpurea.
I am trying to feel that I am conscious. I am trying to stay above the pitcher.
The coffee helps.
Are you able to become my friend? Do you see the universal Seth and this particular individual one? Does that help? I hear some Seths are worse than others.
Does your editor friend often go through the doors he collects? How long is he gone? Is he different each time he comes back? He must be, if he has at least six different selves that you know of.
It is possible that he has an affinity for the Spanish colonization of the Americas and that he likes to steal the lives of people who lived in that time period. Does he steal the lives of the colonizers or the colonized? I would hope the former. The latter has had more than enough stolen from them.
Do let me know if that’s what he is doing. It would be evidence for my theory that the appearance of the doors are related to the life that they lead to. Although my friend says that she does not choose to go through the doors that come for her, so I may be completely wrong and he may just like the Spanish colonial doors for his own reasons.
I’ve been looking at the doors in the apartment. None of them give an appearance of leading to a life other than the one I’m in.
This coffee looks like a door. One that leads away from the worst Seth, perhaps. I hope.
So your editor friend sees printing as holy. Do you know what makes it holy for him? Is it the restoring people? How do his books restore people? What is he restoring them to?
I am not sure why the drowning of an insect inside a carnivorous flower occurred to me as something holy. I think maybe because it seems so peaceful and quiet and…restorative, to use your term. The insect does not have to dream anymore, and the Sarracenia purpurea’s hunger is satiated.
Do you think the sun’s hunger could ever be satiated? How large a meal would that require? What if I fed all the dreams of all the Seths to it?
Your editor friend is very brave, to hum along with the bridge as a train is bearing down on him. Perhaps he has seen enough horrors on his trips through his Spanish colonial doors, and he is tired now of restoring people only for them to break each other apart again and again. Or maybe he thinks that when his time to break apart comes, he will be able to handle it gracefully and well. Or maybe he thinks that if there is enough of him left, you could get him to his printing press and he could restore himself.
I wish I had his confidence.
I am bound to Sarah, no matter where we are located in spacetime. All the Seths have Sarahs, and all the Sarahs have Seths.
Not all the Sarahs are still alive. But mine is. For now.
She’s on the computer. Probably searching for information on local meth dealers. I should ask her about fire alarms, if we have any and if she’s checked their batteries lately.
You say you think it’s shared experiences that connect people. What experience do Sarah and I share, to the point that all of our possible selves are connected through all the possible universes? I feel like I should know.
There’s so much about Sarah that I don’t know.
She says, “So, how is therapy going?”
She says, “I know the coffee is so you stay awake. I know the nightmares came back. You wake up in the middle of the night and you scream, and I try to hold on to you but I don’t think you see me. I’m scared.”
She says, “You never talk about it. So I thought I’d ask.”
So, Jasper, here we are. I knew this was coming. Do I continue to soften her perception?
I look at my coffee. Swirl it around a bit. Sniff it. I really do like the smell. It’s just the taste that’s awful.
I really do like Sarah being happy. It’s just lying to her that’s awful.
I hear the mouse clicking. She’s still looking at the computer. She hasn’t turned to face me.
How many more cracks can she bear, you think?
So you think that all the Jaspers were wearing different suits of clothes?
What suit of clothes do you think the Seth who sets the fire in my dreams is wearing? What clothes was the Seth who decided to tell Sarah that he was going to therapy when he wasn’t wearing? What clothes are the Seths who are all living in endless loops of events that feel to this Seth as if they are in the past wearing?
I am wearing a gray button down shirt, a blue cardigan, and brown slacks, and I am the Seth who does not know who I am.
I think right now breathing is not enough for me, like it wasn’t for you then, but maybe one day it will be. We’ll see.
For now, the coffee helps.
I take a sip of it. It burns and it’s bitter and it’s awful, but it helps. I swallow it down, and I tell Sarah, “I haven’t been to therapy in weeks.”