How could she be alive? My daughter was in the back yard as if she hadn’t died. She was playing on a swing set as if she hadn’t died. She was singing a song as if she hadn’t died. My wife was cleaning the dishes, looking out over the yard as if it was perfectly normal for our daughter to be not dead, to be not struck by a train – to be alive and playing in the yard.
“Honey,” I said.
“Nothing,” I said. “Nevermind.”
“Just… Don’t worry about it.”
I had been sweeping up the mess in the bedroom where my wife had torn apart our pillows. She had been so angry that she had tried to burn down the house. I had stopped her. Then, when I cleaned up that mess, I found the pillows. I had swept the pillows up. I had put all the feathers into the trash. I had taken the trash into the back yard, behind the shed. I came back in the house, and gone into her bedroom to fall into her pile of stuffed animals. When I came out, I went to the bathroom. I washed my face in cold water and soap. I went to the basement to run the trains around the tracks in a perfect, serene world, where she had never been so fascinated by my trains, never climbed the back fence and gone to the tracks at the edge of the street, and never tried to climb on board a train like a hobo. I was in the basement, at my train set. I heard her voice in the air and thought I had lost my mind. I went upstairs. It really was her – my beautiful daughter – playing in the yard and singing, and my wife was washing the dishes like there was no accident.
My daughter was singing in the yard, on a swing set that I had never built for her. My wife was doing the dishes, and happy.
Do not take chances, I said to myself. Do not look upon a miracle and doubt. Praise whatever power brought you here into this world.
At dinner, I saw other things that were different.
My wife placed the salt and pepper shaker on the wrong side of the table, away from her left hand. I had watched her eat for eight years, and she only ever picked up the salt and pepper with her left hand. My daughter, who had always preferred the seat where she could see out the window and watch squirrels. Tonight, she sat on the other side of the table, where she could watch the television. The television was on, which was against the rules. Except, it wasn’t against the rules. We were watching cartoons.
Little differences, of course, meant nothing to me. My daughter was alive.
However I came to this place, I had to find a way to remain here forever.
At night, when everyone was asleep I went to the basement, and found a model trainset. The trains rolled over the hills someone had made with their own hands. I unplugged the power. I turned off the lights. I covered it with a tarp and considered how I could destroy it, the way my wife had tried to destroy it. She had tried to set fire to mine before I had swept up the pillows. It was all I could think to do, though it could have been anything or nothing that brought me here.
Somewhere in my house, I took a step upon a path I did not know into a different house. There is a house somewhere, and my wife is alone and believes I walked away forever.
But, in this world there should be another me, who does not know his daughter died in the shed behind the house. Perhaps he stepped into the world I left behind, or another far worse.
I feel sorry for him, wherever he is. I hope my other self finds happiness and peace in his life.
There are worlds.
Scientists are very good at describing things they can reproduce. This experience is not conducive to laboratories. I wonder, in the morning, if this happens all the time, to all sorts of people, and no one wants to talk about it because they’re afraid of losing it – if they even notice.
I keep an eye on her, all the time. I set up webcams to watch from my desk at work in an open browser window. I watch her all the time, to keep her here. I don’t know what else to do, or if it works.
Someday, no one will ever lose the one they love. They’ll just move into a new world, where the one they love is still alive.
I slip into her room when she’s sleeping and watch her breathe. I spend every weekend with her. I come home from work and seek her out. She is still here. She still remembers me, and she still loves me.
Nobody’s saying anything. Nobody seems to notice that I’m the wrong father.
To whomever I stepped over when I came here, I have stolen your life, and I’m sorry, but I will never give it up.