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Fiction

Quantum Eurydice

Eurydice has never felt as if she fits in her own myth. It doesn’t belong to her, not really, because the story doesn’t end when she leaves it. Orpheus gets to keep going to the land of the living, and he gets to grieve, and he gets to die a brutal death, and then the story ends. She is left abandoned in the aftermath.

So, out of pity for her sad fate, we will try to tell a different tale. It goes like this:

When Orpheus turns and Eurydice vanishes, she does not return to Hades. She does not return anywhere. She lives (does not live; she is not alive, not quite) in the place between narratives. It’s white and vague, like being wrapped up in a cloudy wedding veil. Time is thin here. Fate stretches out long red strings, wafting with frayed ends in the wind. Eurydice takes a string and twists it around her finger. She pulls.

Now it is 2005 and Eurydice’s literature professor says tragedies should always be told in past tense. Since the characters are doomed by the narrative, they might as well already be dead. This, he says, is Fate.

Eurydice does not feel dead. She checks her pulse. It’s so faint she thinks she might be imagining it. She breathes just to remind herself that she still can.

Her professor says that tragic characters are like stationary bikes—always in motion, but never going anywhere. He says they are the most futile kind of people. Pitiable and pathetic. The opposite of heroes.

Eurydice hates her literature professor. She reaches under her desk and pulls the red string taut.

Now it is 1985 and Eurydice is a cardiothoracic surgeon. She likes fixing lungs; she loves seeing her patients draw their first breaths of fresh clean air. Sometimes she forgets to breathe herself. It’s easy to slip away in the busy hum of the hospital, to become nothing more than a white coat and gloves.

Her work reminds her of Orpheus. She loved the way his throat bobbed when he sang. She loved the warmth of his breath in her ear. She loves him, present tense, but she does not miss him. He has his story, and she has hers.

Or rather, she will have hers. She has not found it yet—she’s just haunting the life she could have had. Eurydice pulls on the red string and slips away once again.

Now it is 535 BCE and Eurydice is back in Greece. She stands in the meadow where she died and feels the fresh grass brush her ankles. The sun is as yellow and perfect as she remembers. The wedding decorations are still up, but she is alone. No one to see her now.

It hurts. This is her home, and it hurts. Maybe because she’s already lived through this myth. Maybe because her literature professor was right about past tense.

Eurydice is not in this story anymore. She pulls on the red string so hard it nearly snaps.

Now it is 2015 and Eurydice is failing her quantum physics class. They’re studying Schrödinger’s cat. She hates cats. She could make a metaphor of this, but she won’t. She’s not undead, she’s not unalive—she has only ever been Eurydice. She has only ever been. She will continue to be. She knows nothing else.

In class they learn about the observer effect: particles are the same as waves, depending on how they are measured. The way we watch things changes their nature. Eurydice wonders who is watching her. She’s sick of voyeurs, but to go completely unseen seems terribly lonely. She draws flowers and snakes in her textbook to fill up the blank spaces between words. She leaves no room for interpretation, no place to sneak in unseen. E is always mc2.

This story only exists if you don’t look at it. This is only a tragedy if you measure it that way.

Eurydice pulls the red string.

It breaks.

Avi Burton

Avi Burton. A cartoony drawing of a young white man from the shoulders up. He has white hair, an eye patch, and a troubled expression. He is looking away from the viewer.

Avi Burton (he/they) currently moonlights as a writer and daylights as a university student. He enjoys studying theater and mythology. His stories often feature queer characters, revenants, and—on occasion—laser swords. You can find more of their stories in Escape Pod, PodCastle, and Apparition Lit, or find the author themself on their website (aviburton.com) or on twitter under @avi_why.