SCHRÖDINGER’S GIRL • by Peter A. Hempel

There was a girl. An average sort of girl. Not an average girl exactly. But average in the way that you wouldn’t notice her, wouldn’t remember her. On the street, your gaze wouldn’t follow her — there would be other girls, prettier girls, sexier girls, even uglier girls, to notice. You wouldn’t remember her from high school. If she was in a class with you, it would be as if her seat was somehow unoccupied. If she was in an office where you worked and she left, no one would ever say, some time later, “Hey, do you remember so and so?” No one would ever add, “Oh yeah, remember the time she did such and such?” She was like Schrödinger’s cat — she existed and did not exist at the same time.

Her name was… well, actually I’ve forgotten. We’ll have to make up a name for her. Is Rebecca okay? Or maybe Jane? Okay, Rebecca Jane it is. We can call her RJ for short, although that might make her memorable in a way that she never was.

Look, I know you still don’t remember her. Even now, with all my prompting. But she was always there. For you, she was like wallpaper. Old wallpaper, with no color or design worth noticing.

Today, however, that’s a problem. Because she always noticed you. And she wanted you to notice her. She wanted that very much.
And when you didn’t notice her, RJ was disappointed. Then very disappointed. But she was also very shy, and couldn’t bring herself to talk to you.

And so she waited.

And after high school, she went to State, same as you. She had good grades and had other choices, but she wanted to be where you were. She took as many classes with you as she could. And you still didn’t notice.

In college, you liked parties. She was too shy to go to parties. So no chance of a drunken one-night hook-up. Who knows? It might have made all the difference.

After college, you went to work at a big accounting firm. She got a job at the same firm. You got an office. She got a desk out there with all the other drones. She saw you come in every morning. You never saw her at all.

So, fast forward five years. You got married last year. To your hot secretary. Kid on the way. Life is good.

But for RJ? Hell, let’s just drop this whole “RJ” thing and use her real name — Emily. Emily? You remember now? Does that help, at all? I know, I know — of course not.

It’s Emily’s 5-year anniversary at the firm. She started a week after you. A week ago, the other guys took you out for drinks. Today, Emily is as unnoticed by the people around her as she is by you. Just another day of existing/not existing.

Something has been building up in Emily. All these years. If you, or even someone else, had done something, anything, in all these long years, today might be different. But that never happened.

In college, Emily didn’t just take accounting. She also took chemistry, and advanced chemistry. And despite her wallpaper demeanor, she learned some badass stuff.

She was also in the gun club. You didn’t know that, did you? Of course not. She never entered any competitions, but she was good. Very good.

So, I’m worried a bit. About you. And about Emily. 4 years in the same high school. 4 years in the same college. 5 years in the same office. You never noticed?

Look. I’m thinking this week is it. Either it happens, or it passes. But as for me, if I were you, I’d be really careful this week. Really careful.

Peter A. Hempel lives in New Jersey and is working on a collection of short stories. He is a slow but regular lap-swimmer, and at one point taught two-step in an Austin honky-tonk.

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