Henceforth, your wife declares, Friday night is christened family game night (which will later turn into Friday movie night, which will later turn into leave-us-the-fuck-alone-night, which will probably one day turn into let’s-Skype-the-kids-who-live-3000-miles-away-night). As a Mormon, you are supposed to believe families are eternal and despite your best efforts you are tethered to each other in this life and the next, like a string of cosmic paper dolls. You volunteer to make dessert. You select marshmallow surprises, a kind of gooey cinnamon biscuit discovered in an 8th grade summer cooking class. You are the only boy in class. The girls in your kitchenette wear fake nails and fake smiles and with fake whispers so everyone in class hears compliment you on your tits as you put on your apron. You don’t tell them how you stand at the mirror pressing little boy boobs together wondering if God made a mistake, which you believe is impossible because in the 8th grade you still believe in a benevolent deity. You come home crying, accusing your mother of hating you. Why else would she enroll you in a class for girls? She says one day you’ll thank her and—after thirty years still refuse to admit this to her—she is correct. In college you host dinner parties and discover college girls don’t want Neanderthals for husbands and find your dexterity in the kitchen arousing, as does your wife who has on occasion whispered inappropriate things in your ear as you prepare bœuf à la Bourguignonne. Dip marshmallows in melted butter and roll in cinnamon and sugar mixture. Wrap each marshmallow in pre-packaged croissant pastry dough, pinching dough at corners to seal marshmallow inside. Cook at 350° for ten minutes. Game night is Pictionary. Your turn proves complicated: self-portrait. This is confusing. Which self? As a firm believer in the multiverse you live in many hypothetical realities. You are a 16th century alchemist in the Bohemian court of Rudolf II with a cabinet of curiosity envied all over Europe. By day you are a fin de siècle flâneur in Paris, but by night a steampunk inventor. You are abandoned by your aristocratic parents because of a congenital heart defect and raised by gypsies in Budapest and educated on the high seas by cleft-palate Somali pirates before coming to America where you write leftist poetry loved by millions of New Yorkers. You are a vulture fighting over a roadside carcass. Again and again your lives return to the problem of religion. You practice messianic Judaism with Sabbatai Zevi and atheism with Rousseau. You make love to Rābi al Basri the Sufi mystic, take a vow of silence in Pangboche, protest slavery with the Quakers, spit on Christ as he walks to Golgotha, talk to jellyfish on a mescaline odyssey with a Navajo shaman, run through a busy market in Kabul wearing a fashionable C-4 vest shouting Allahu Akbar, and are a disembodied spirit sitting at the judgment bar before three empty chairs. Smoke fills the kitchen. A few of the marshmallow surprises are crisp sugary delights. Most have exploded into charred goo. You return to the drawing pad and as you draw a stick figure are seized by the possibility that in all these inflections of yourself, all of your transdimensional Whitmanesque multitudes, you have the same wife and the same four children and the same literary anonymity and the same kitchen full of smoke, a hope so impossible—so absurd—you have faith it has to be real.
Ryan Habermeyer’s debut collection of short stories, The Science of Lost Futures, won the BoA Short Fiction Prize (2018). He received his PhD from the University of Missouri and an MFA from UMass Amherst. His prize-winning stories and essays have twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, his work most recently appearing in or forthcoming from Bat City Review, Hotel Amerika, and the Los Angeles Review.