Everyone makes decisions in their lives, to go to the grocery store or not, to buy that hat or save money for something else, but once you make the decision you must move onto the next one. At least that’s what Mr. and Mrs. Hue believed when their son Everett was born. They were so consumed by their own silly problems and decisions that they barely remembered they had a son. Had they paid less attention to the noisy twins and more attention to Everett they would have seen that he was something special.
Without the help of his parents Everett had to learn things on his own. Over time, he realized that if he wanted to do something, he had to figure out how to do it alone. Every morning the twins were corralled out the door for school, his mother took the bus to the beauty salon she worked at and his dad walked down the street to Hue Televisions, where he did a lot more watching than selling TVs. You may recognize him from his commercial, the man with the strange eyebrows yelling at you to “buy a TV in every Hue you can think of.” But by 9 am, Everett was left with a list of chores and an empty house. Today Everett’s list was a usual length but at lunchtime the whole family was going to Mrs. Hue’s hair competition so he had to work fast.
Blinds open, radio on, Everett raced from chore to chore, knowing the peril he would face if anything were left undone. The twins’ room had to be sanitized, the shower drain had to be unclogged of his mother’s blond extensions, and all items must be removed from his dad’s reclining chair. Just as he was wiping off some rogue barbeque sauce from the window, Everett’s eyes landed on the house across the street.
The Victorian-style purple house was inhabited by a woman named Dr. Dewitt. Everett always mowed her lawn during the spring and shoveled the path to her house when it snowed. She often chatted with him when he did these nice things but he had never seen her interact with the other neighbors, least of all any of the other Hues. Every birthday since he was 4 years of age, Everett had received a card from Dr. Dewitt and a book about science. His parents hadn’t even noticed that he had been reading TV guides and hair magazines since the age of 2, but somehow Dr. Dewitt knew that he would need these books. Each one had earmarked pages and notes in the margins explaining the extraordinary world around him and how it all worked. He devoured these books and would write down questions for Dr. Dewitt to discuss when he got the chance.
Everett was still gazing at the house wondering, will I ever go in? Just then, the door swung open, “Hey kid! We’ve been waiting here forever, get in the car.” Mr. Hue spit into a plastic cup and motioned for Everett to come, brownish liquid splashing onto the carpet. “You can clean that up later, NOW MOVE.”
The tobacco spit would stain but Everett saw no use in putting up a fight, he slipped on some shoes and headed for the car. Inside he could see the twins fighting in the backseat while what appeared to be a blond blob contained the passenger side. With a point to the back of the car Mr. Hue shouted, “TRUNK!” and Everett climbed in the trunk just as Mr. Hue slammed the back door, nearly slicing Everett’s left foot.
Mr. Hue got into the car and the engine reluctantly breathed into life. Just as they reversed out of the driveway, Everett saw Dr. Dewitt come racing out of her door in nothing but a lab coat and flamingo pajamas–her shouts muffled out by Fernando.
Everett sat on the folded up lawn chair wondering what Dr. Dewitt was trying to tell them. What did we do? Did Dad run over something? Was her house on fire? Then he felt something warm on his leg. He scooted back in alarm, but to his surprise, there stood a small black cat with a white patch surrounding its left eye. The cat let out a soft, “meow?” and looked up at Everett expectantly.
In the seats in front of him came two synchronized sneezes. The twins were allergic to any pet under the sun. ABBA’s Greatest Hits was still blaring as Everett inspected the cat’s collar. The name Schrödinger was engraved on the small circular charm. Everett chuckled- recognizing the name from the physics book that Dr. Dewitt gave him for his birthday a month ago. He knew that this cat was hers, now he understood why she had raced after them. He stroked the cat’s fur but was interrupted by Mr. Hue’s sharp turn, launching Everett and Schrödinger into the other side of the trunk. The music cut out and Mrs. Hue shrieked, “OH MY GOODNESS WE ARE HERE!” Mrs. Hue’s face was finally visible and her hair was over a foot high. The blond curls were filled with fake birds and small nests as well as rhinestones and colorful feathers.
Everett stuffed the cat under his shirt just as Mr. Hue opened the trunk door. “Move stupid!” Mr. Hue bellowed, “Don’t make your mother late.”
Schrödinger’s little claws clung to Everett as the family approached the large pink building. The sea foam green doors led them into a hall filled with women with hair of all shapes, sizes and colors. Each one of the women had numbers pinned to them, as if they were about to run a marathon. Mrs. Hue headed over to a table and retrieved a number, immediately the twins lurched at the number and covered every bit of white space with sticky jewels that matched their mother’s hair creation. Mrs. Hue put on a fresh coat of red lipstick as the twins put on their own finishing touches.
Schrödinger squirmed beneath Everett’s shirt, clearly uncomfortable with the loudness and the scent of hairspray. “What’s the matter with you boy?” Mr. Hue shouted and he gripped his hands hard on Everett’s shoulders, “it’s your mother’s big day and you are on the sidelines holding your stomach like you’re gonna be sick? Get it together.”
“Yes sir.” Everett squeaked out as the cat scratched his belly button.
A shrill voice came on the loud speaker, “Will the contestants please make their way over to the coat racks? We will begin putting you in order for the contest to begin.”
Mr. Hue loosened his grip on his son and gave Mrs. Hue a kiss before she scurried over to the coat rack. Everett watched her maneuver in her Marie Antoinette period gown and could have sworn he saw a lab coat on the rack she was heading towards. Is that Dr. Dewitt’s? The twins woke him from his thoughts by giving him two synchronized flicks on both his ears and the family went to find seats to watch the show.
Schrödinger stopped clawing at Everett once they sat down. The contestants came on stage like floats at a parade. Whirligigs and flowers were piled on top of the large hair contraptions. The crowd “oohed” and “awed” at each bizarre model that came on stage. Everett was just waiting for one of them to tip over from the immense weight of these crazy hairdos.
Just as Mrs. Hue was about to go onstage, Everett reached to pet the cat under his shirt- but there was no cat. He looked around frantically; wait how long has it been gone? Is it under the chair? With a crash and a scream- his question was answered.
The drinks on a waiter’s tray had soaked the panel of judges, there was Schrödinger, jumping on the different judges and making a mess of the papers on the desk. Another waiter rushed over to the scene but slides uncontrollably spilling his pitcher of water infused with lemons on to the stage. Mrs. Hue slips at the end of the stage, landing flat on her back, revealing the ruffled petticoat and her lucky leopard print bloomers! Little Schrödinger is chased off the judging table and unfortunately pounces onto the feathery haired mass above Mrs. Hue’s head!
His little paws are caught in the blond extensions and Mrs. Hue tries to reach up and smack the little cat off of her creation. Everett runs to the stage in a panic. He dives onto his mother’s nest of hair and untangles Schrödinger from his blond chains.
All eyes were on Everett. He took a scan of the room. The soaked judges glared at him, the crowd was standing to see what had happened, the lab coat was still on the rack, but before he could pan the entire room, his eyes stopped on his father.
Steam was rising from the red-faced television salesman. His eyebrows formed a “V” that pointed down to a terrifying scowl. Mr. Hue made a beeline to the stage and with one tug, yanked Everett off it. Everett still clutched the black cat as Mr. Hue began to yell.
“DO YOU KNOW HOW IMPORTANT THIS WAS TO YOUR MOTHER?”
Everett felt a tingling in his stomach. No make this stop, please.
“SHE WORKED DAY AND NIGHT ON THAT HAIR!”
The tingling spread to his chest and legs. How did this happen?
“HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK FAKE BIRDS COST?”
Everett kept thinking, why didn’t I hold on to the cat?
“SHE WILL BE A LAUGHING STOCK BECAUSE OF YOU!”
The tingling filled every inch of his body and he was getting warmer, I wish I held onto the cat, I wish this didn’t happen. I believe this didn’t happen.
“SHE EVEN WORE HER LUCKY BLOOMERS!”
Then it all went black. Everett felt two synchronized smacks on the head and looked up. On stage was his mother, smiling and balancing the mountain of curls on her head. He glanced at the judges table- they were all dry and clapping. He felt for the cat and it was in his lap. Did I dream that? It just felt so real.
The judges presented Mrs. Hue with a golden comb and an envelope filled with prize money. The Hues raced home in time for Mr. Hue to catch the final minutes of an infomercial. Everett slipped out of the house and headed over to return Schrödinger to Dr. Dewitt. He put the cat down; Schrödinger trotted ahead bouncing on the stones leading to the purple house. Everett followed after, stopping at the door he had longed to open for so many years. His index finger pressed the ornate doorbell- gears shifted, pulleys moved, and the door swung open.
Everett picked Schrödinger up and walked into the house, spying a familiar white lab coat tossed over a broken grandfather clock. The ceilings were high and every inch of the wall was covered in both photographs and clocks.
The pictures were of famous places like the Eiffel Tower or the St. Louis Arch but there were also faded photos of a little girl playing with what looked like her family. Some of the pictures were of Dr. Dewitt smiling next to the type of people you would find in magazines or on television: in a lab coat surrounded by the members of Led Zeppelin, with the Pope, and even with the Queen of England. Everett stood gazing at the images. Are these fake? How would she have seen these people? What was Robert Plant like in person? Everett’s thoughts were interrupted when the cat let out a loud “Meow” and hopped down from Everett’s arms. The little cat headed towards a room at the end of the hall. The door was partly opened and Schrödinger trotted inside, shortly followed by Everett.
Everett looked up in amazement. He was surrounded by books, not on shelves against a wall or in boxes, but stacked high and engulfing the room in paper and ink. He made his way through the mountains of literature, scanning the titles of the books, recognizing some but reading most titles for the first time. Schrödinger was leaping from stack to stack, heading towards the center of the enormous room. There, surrounded by a fortress of books, was Dr. Dewitt.
She looked up with an expecting smile, “I wondered when you would get here.”
“I wanted to return your cat.” Everett stammered. “I didn’t see you coming to the car until it was too late! I should have made my dad stop but ABBA was playing so loud, and I didn’t want to interrupt Fernando, I’m so sorry! Why were you at the hair show? I thought I saw you before my dad started to–” Everett stopped, maybe he didn’t yell. “When my mom won the contest.” He mumbled.
Dr. Dewitt leaned back in her book throne, resting her arms on what looked like encyclopedias. “Yes, I was there, I saw it all.” She got up and descended from her throne, walking towards a mass of books. “Are you tired? It wears on you, you know.” She reached up and took something out of what looked like a shelf cubby. “Don’t go with out eating some chocolate or a bit of sugar, otherwise you will fall asleep on the go.” She walked back up the hardback steps to her seat and handed Everett a bar of chocolate. “How often do you cross?”
Everett’s puzzled expression must not have hinted anything to Dr. Dewitt. “What are you talking about? What is cross?”
Dr. Dewitt looked at Everett, “Crossing. It’s what you did while your dad was yelling at you!”
“You saw that??” Everett got up and started pacing. “Wait but how did you see it? My dad hasn’t said ONE WORD to me about it, and my mom wasn’t all wet and the twins would be teasing me right now if it had happened.” A wave of exhaustion went through Everett and he nearly collapsed.
“Sit down or you will faint.” Dr. Dewitt directed. “First of all, those twins are the most annoying humans on this earth so ignore them at all costs, secondly, I will explain it to you but you really need to eat that chocolate or else you will fall asleep right here in this library.”
Everett hadn’t even noticed the chocolate melting into his hand. He took a few bites and returned to his book stool. “I just– well I didn’t think that really happened.”
“I know, but it did. You crossed.” Dr. Dewitt went back to the shelf that the chocolate had come from and pulled out a pen and paper. “Crossing is a tricky business but I think if I draw it, you might understand it a bit better.” She began rendering something on the blank page and continued talking, “Have you ever thought after making a choice, ‘I wish I had done something else,’ that a different decision would have been the right one? Some people believe that there is finality in action and that you must keep going down that path that you have chosen. But some people believe otherwise. I believe otherwise.”
Everett had made it halfway through the chocolate bar and already felt the energy coursing through him again. He watched as Dr. Dewitt revealed what she had been drawing. In her hands was a sketch resembling a family tree.
“Take this bubble,” she pointed to the top of the tree, “this is one decision or event, in your case, bringing Schrödinger into the hair show.” Everett scooted closer to get a better look. “These bubbles coming down from it represent just some of the outcomes of bringing him. You picked this one,” she pointed to the bubble with small writing saying, he escapes from your shirt when you aren’t looking, “That is what happened instead of the other options like ‘he purrs the whole time’ or ‘he coughs up a hairball and you hide it in your dad’s hat’ but these are just some of the million things that could have happened. And then from that decision- there are a million more things that can happen.”
“But then how did two things happen? Your cat escaped and he didn’t!”
“I’m getting to that Everett! Besides his name is Schrödinger, what did you expect?” She giggled then continued, “You made the choice to let him get away, that led to the entire crowd seeing your mother’s ridiculous undergarments and your father yelling at you. But then you chose a different decision. You chose that you hadn’t let go of the cat. Very few people can do this, but you can choose what outcome happens, even after you’ve tried once.
“But I fell asleep! I woke up and my mom had won!” Everett was shouting as he stood up, “And even if somehow I really did magically change the past- you wouldn’t have seen it!” He stared accusingly at Dr. Dewitt, thinking he had outsmarted her.
“ Everett, when you are about to cross, that heat rushing over you gives off a glow, I knew you were crossing. With practice and focus it is possible to double cross with someone. I did that. Not a lot of people can do this Everett, I had a feeling that you could ever since you were little.” She gazed at him proudly, “I can help you with this, it is confusing, but it’s a powerful gift.”
Everett had finished the candy bar and was wiping the melted chocolate on his pants; thoughts were racing through his mind. What is this woman talking about? Is she crazy or am I? She sounds right, and this is a good thing right? He straightened up in his stool, “I get that I did it, I crossed, but how exactly did I do it? Can I do it again or is it a one time thing?”
“Well everyone is different.” She got up, stretched her arms and began walking around the space. “I first crossed at about your age. I was eating breakfast and I spilled my bowl of cereal into my stepfather’s briefcase. I thought I would die.” Her face turned solemn, “He chased me up to my room, screaming at me, I got to my room and locked the door. I had no next move, there was no plan and I had no clue of what to do. I closed my eyes and wished so hard that I hadn’t spilled. I wished that I didn’t even eat cereal. I wished so hard, every ounce of me was wishing that I didn’t spill or eat cereal and that my stepfather would leave me alone. The room went black. I woke up on the floor of my bedroom; there was no pounding on my door. I tiptoed back down to the kitchen and at the table was a plate of toast and my stepfather’s briefcase– dry.”
“Does it only happen when someone is mad at you?” Everett asked.
She returned to her book throne and gazed down at a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and replied, “No, you can draw on how you felt and use that to cross. But sometimes no amount of feelings or yelling can allow you to change the past. There is no messing with love, you can’t undo that, and there is no messing with death, you can’t bring something back to life by crossing.” Her voice quivered and one tear came from her eyes, but she immediately wiped it away and continued, “I haven’t quite figured out the feeling that makes you cross, but when I think about running from my stepdad– the heat returns almost instantly and I know I can cross.”
Everett’s mind was whirring with ideas. Could I really change what has happened? I have before so why not? There was too much for him to process, he had to get out. With a quick thank you to Dr. Dewitt and a little scratch behind the ears to Schrödinger, Everett made his way toward the door, but turned when he heard Dr. Dewitt’s voice.
She yelled after him, “Be careful with what you change, crossing takes its toll!” She turned back to her little cat and Everett saw the faintest little X mark on the back of her neck. He shrugged it off and made his way out of the house.
He ran back to his own home and slipped through the back door. The family was right where he’d left them. Mr. Hue was on his recliner, flipping back in forth between a game show and an enthusiastic woman selling blenders that could purée a water bottle. Mrs. Hue was still pulling out the colorful feathers and miniature birds from her blond mass resting on her head. The twins were trying on every article of clothing in their wardrobe then throwing it to the floor. Everett grabbed several Hershey’s bars and crept up to his attic room with only one thing on his mind: Practice.
He flicked on the lights and sat down at his desk. He reached for the red pencil cup and dumped its contents onto the center of the desk. Now he had to concentrate.
He thought of all the times the twins had bullied him, of all the times his mother had ignored him, of all the times his dad called him “stupid” or “worthless,” with his eyebrows furrowed, a tingling started in him.
I wish the red pencil cup hadn’t tipped over; images of his father’s angry face filled Everett’s mind and the tingling started to spread.
I wish the red pencil cup didn’t tip over; he replayed his father yelling at him at the hair show and the tingling got stronger.
I wish I hadn’t tipped the pencil cup over; he could see the anger in his father’s eyes and heat was flowing through Everett’s body.
It didn’t happen, I didn’t tip the pencil cup over; he could almost feel hot spit on his face from his father’s screams and the heat was pulsing through him.
IT DIDN’T HAPPEN. Everything went black.
Half of Everett’s face was lying on the wooden desk when his eyes opened. He wiped the bit of drool from his mouth and stared at the desk. There, in the middle, was the red pencil cup– Full of pencils.
The familiar tiredness came over him and he ate one of the chocolate bars and got under the covers of his bed. He felt proud and even powerful- two feelings that he rarely experienced. Everything is about to change. He rolled over on to his side and behind his neck you could see two faint X’s.
In the following days, Everett received his lists of chores but instead of doing them, he would go over to Dr. Dewitt’s house. She would tell him of all the amazing people she has met from crossing and all of the adventures she had. He would ask her questions and techniques to use, and she would answer and give him ideas on what to do. At the end of their chats they would double cross, as Everett chose a reality where he had finished his chores in record time. This continued for weeks and Everett was a welcome guest at the huge purple house. Schrödinger even started coming over to see Everett in the morning, hopping through a window after the rest of the Hues had left.
Everett was the happiest he had ever been and he was learning so much about his gift. The little X’s on his back were multiplying but he hadn’t noticed- he was too busy appreciating what his life had become.
On a sunny Tuesday, he woke up on the floor of his living room, all the chores had been done and he patted himself on the back at how clean the carpet was when a car screeched into the driveway. Everett leapt from the ground, saw the tiny cat on the couch and stuffed it under his shirt just as the door swung open.
In came Mr. Hue, bandaged and bruised with two crutches under his armpits. Behind him was Mrs. Hue, with a worried look on her face. “Your father fell from a ladder today! Help him over to his chair!”
Everett guided his huffing and growling father to his chair, steering clear of the enormous cast on his father’s left leg. “I NEED YOU TO WATCH THE STORE TODAY- TRY NOT TO MESS THINGS UP LIKE YOU ALWAYS DO!” He motioned to Mrs. Hue and she brought over a whisky to the bruised Mr. Hue. “I SAID GO YOU LITTLE RUNT!”
Everett nodded and ran out the door. His father rarely allowed him into the store and this would probably be his only chance to be alone in it. He opened the door and heard the little bell chime at his entry as he let Schrödinger down to walk on his own. The different colored television sets lined the walls, there in the middle of the store was a turned over ladder with a broken light bulb under it. Scene of the crime, Everett thought to himself and he put the ladder in the back room. The ladder and a dustpan were the only logical objects in the back room; the rest being bags of chips, jars of salsa, nude magazines, and a half-eaten hot dog. Everett heard a crash in the front room. Schrödinger. He opened the door to find the little cat staring at a bright pink television set, its screen on the ground with broken glass all around it.
Everett ran to the cat hoping no glass had gotten into its little paws. He panicked; Dad is going to kill me. What can I do? Should I explain? Why did this happen? But then a sobering idea broke through his stressful thoughts, HA wait I can fix this.
The familiar tingling returned as he centered all of his focus.
I wish the TV set didn’t tip over; images of his father’s angry face filled Everett’s mind and the tingling started to spread.
I wish Schrödinger hadn’t tipped the TV over; he replayed his father yelling at him at the hair show and the tingling got stronger.
I wish I hadn’t brought Schrödinger to the shop; he could see the anger in his father’s eyes and heat was flowing through Everett’s body.
It didn’t happen, I didn’t bring Schrödinger to the shop; he could almost feel hot spit on his face from his father’s screams and the heat was pulsing through him.
Everything went black.
He woke up in the middle of the shop; he got up to find all the televisions in tact and sat at a desk until 5pm. He whistled on the nice walk home, thank goodness he had crossed.
As he turned the corner he saw something he had never seen. In front of his mailbox stood Dr. Dewitt and her arms were shaking at Mrs. Hue. Mrs. Hue seemed to be holding a box of some sort and seemed uninteresting in Dr. Dewitt’s words. Everett ran to the scene.
“What is going on? Is everything ok Dr. Dewitt.”
“SHHH! Adults are talking, go to your room boy.” Mrs. Hue commanded.
“No, Everett stay.” Dr. Dewitt scowled at Mrs. Hue, “You should know that evil that lurks in your home.” She took a deep breath to yell, “ACTUALLY EVERYONE IN THIS TOWN SHOULD KNOW! THIS STUPID MAN KILLED MY SWEET CAT!”
Everett fell to the ground. He now knew what was in the box. Tears streamed down his face as he realized what had happened. When he had chosen not to bring Schrödinger to work in the shop, the little cat had stayed in the house.
“He is on painkillers that don’t mix well with alcohol FOR YOUR INFORMATION!” Mrs. Hue was about ready to hit Dr. Dewitt when the scientist took the box and ran back into her home sobbing.
Everett couldn’t believe what he had done. There was no changing it now, he could see the twins peering at him through the front window but he didn’t care, they can see him cry. He didn’t care about one person in that house.
He didn’t want to change the past anymore, he couldn’t ignore the X’s that were accumulating on his back and most of all he couldn’t change what had happened with Schrödinger. There was one thing he could change that would actually make him happy. One thing that would make him never cross again.
He let the heat fill him one last time. The memories of his father echoed in his brain and he wished for the one thing that would truly make him happy.
Everything went black.
He woke up on the sidewalk, turned towards the purple house and went home.