Calls from work grinding the bedside desk, exponential nagging from Carol: I reckoned I’d probably convalesced enough days and got up and dressed. I almost trotted down the spiral stairs to the minimart, taking money she’d lent me, thinking well why shouldn’t I get champagne? Champagne and, and tubs of ice cream! It’s alarming how easy it is in moments of luck to forget the general spite of fate.
I was at the chiller cabinet baring my eyes to check a price sticker when the tub crackled louder, and for over a second there scrolled before me: frost, snow, wire diagrams, square dances in huge halls, white pyramids, then vanilla ice cream. Slumping on the cold door, I looked down the aisle. With sickly fear, I looked at the Bargain Bin.
Of course Eddie Murphy was in it: unnervingly doubled in a DVD double-pack. No longer a huckster guru in Holy Man but a singing monk in Brother Act and in Brother Act II - Kicking the Abbot. (Fade in sad piano: the Goldberg Variations.)
Bedtime had to be cut to an unspooned minimum, regardless of how much it hurt me and her. As for daytime, I’d hold open my eyes and pipette in water whenever they itched. Dozy fool, the storm hadn’t been passing at all. These ‘scrollings’ preceded each variation.
More than that: now I’d caught sight of them, they were showing me something. Using Carol’s diary, I started a log… After 88 hours, I caught another one.
Madness is disorder. There might be hints of looming structure, but they scatter like giggling children when your mind moves closer for a better look. But after the 88, the next scrolling came in 104 hours, then 120. Something else was happening here (‘else’ being an understatement). Deceleration. I cracked the pattern then extrapolated back and forth. The next variation came on time.
A breakthrough at last! Beyond all hope.
So did I go and tell Carol?
I opened a window to chat and got as far as swapping heys but then just sat there with it stupidly blinking.
Carol’s concern for me had of late gone through some troubling changes. She’d migrated her toiletries back to her flat. She’d even chastised me for giving her a compliment, staring at me, her tongue moving under her bottom lip, after she’d replied in front of our colleagues, “Why’s it always ‘adorable’ but never ‘I adore you’?” (I may have rolled my eyes at this so she added, “Oh you never get it when I’m making a joke.”)
We tried to see who could ignore the other for the longest; George and Lewis would have to keep me company for now. At least they were still familiar; when I got home, they were watching an episode of Star Wars for the (possibly literal) hundredth time.
She had no cause to be like that with me. Never mind — watch the film.
I too had seen it, though I couldn’t remember much of it, or its pre- or sequel, instead remembered the cavernous local cinema where it had begun, that whole saga. Even dubbed, that first trailer had been portentous: ‘Somewhere in space this may all be happening right now!’ Portentous but urgent.
To my flatmates, I must have seemed naively shocked by the climactic paternity revelation, those howls of denial in fact proof of assent — confirming a live DNA test would be unnecessary for young Anakinovich, while repeating my own thoughts, like I’d been psychic: ‘No! That’s not true! That’s impossible.’
We were not watching actors pretending to be star warriors. We were looking through a window into another world just as real as our own.
Even if it was not an actual window, then at least what was happening onscreen had to be a coincidentally accurate depiction of events from a long time ago and to come in galaxies much further away than previously thought. All that was needed for this to be true - ‘all’! - was the total manifestation of the possible.
Search your feelings, you know it to be true: every space opera, sitcom, game narrative, advert, Saturday morning cartoon was somewhere happening right now; and worse, every trivial life story was a short story, a musical, an epic in verse, your personal melodrama the tragic opera you’d always thought it to be. Canon endings degraded to alternate ones on otherworldly DVD extras (somewhere the Empire not only struck back, it never ended (a lysergic vision meant for a complacent Rebel Alliance all along)). Not even our most intimate words or thoughts were safe; scripts and lyrics ripped them off, while in our chit-chat we inadvertently quoted lines from other, unfathomable pop cultures.
I hadn’t been going mad at all! Neither had I been witnessing a localised and ongoing warp in my own world. My mind was moving through a set of alternate worlds. Worlds where I was the constant and the variable was Eddie Murphy.
“Dear, did we watch Willy Wonka the other month?”
“Charlie and the. Most of it.”
“And who played Mike TV?”
“One of the bad kids. Obsessed with - look, the clue’s in the name.”
“Not Eddie Murphy?”
“Who’s Eddie Murphy?”
Had Mrs Archimedes been so blithe? I insisted there was such a film star; she got angry back; we started shouting while George and Lewis popped eyes at each other. (How many of our lowest moments are gossip or comedy material to our friends?) When she asked what on Earth was the matter, I told her about my latest breakthrough.
“Well that’s just you to a tee: ‘I can’t be wrong’.”
“Carol, this is not like you.”
“‘I must have just dropped into a parallel dimension! See, I can leap around the universe!’”
“You mean the multiverse.”
“Oh fuck off.”
Why did Eddie Murphy have to be the variable? These worlds, the lives of their Kons, they were otherwise so similar, down to the pencil that would remain snapped after each subsequent scrolling. Was it a trick then, or test? Was he a sinister agent patrolling pan-dimensionally, tormenting me because he knew I’d jumped over a line when, unlike him, I was not allowed to do so?
I had to find him and find out.
Carol had been right, he wasn’t a film actor: he was a retired baseball player. An auction on a signed bat led to a fan-site (known in the past as ‘a creepy shrine’) where I learnt where he was, or rather would be: hosting a tribute show at a Brooklyn sports bar in just a few days.
The next scrolling was tomorrow.
Once it happened, he vanished off the internet. If existence was, after all, a predicate, then he may well have varied into nothing. Suppressing my terror at having been abandoned, I reminded myself he might just no longer be famous. I had to go deeper, I had to descend into the Deep Internet. There had to be a simpler way to keep track of him, or so I agonised until at last I discovered down forgotten data mines the home address of an ex-Father Murphy, diocese in the other England (‘The Church of Needful Prayers’).
You’d forgive me for no longer believing in coincidence. Who else but a real Holy Man could aid me in my quest? Filled with a new hope I went for the first time in a month to Carol’s.
She was displeased with the idea of a US holiday, asked if I’d even renewed my passport like she’d told me to, and said she wasn’t going to lend me ‘any more’ money. Any more! Well, it was to be expected. She really hadn’t been herself of late.
Like she was varying.
It came on like illness. The first tickle or pang that heralds an unavoidable period of suffering. There was a consequence to my discovery about the nature of these variations. If with each one I scrolled into another life then this Carol was not my Carol; I’d left mine, and long ago.
I had been unfaithful then, or, as it were, inconstant. Yet I still took refuge from this discovery in between her ersatz breasts. Lying awake with her asleep in my arms, I missed her so much it was like there was a rope in my guts that coiled up through realities, up to where it was attached to her, tossing and turning without the real me.
The final time I took refuge was the worst. She was quiet under me once we were done, though maybe because I hadn’t yet made eye contact. I was staring out the window, as if hoping to warm myself in the light of better suns. She walked two fingers up my back (whorls to my moles) but paused after a few stiff steps. We waited until she asked what I knew had been coming.
“Do you love me?”
And I told her no.
The look on her face: as if she’d been checking what time her parents were due and I’d replied that their train had crashed. Stab me, I told her no.
Controlling her voice: “And why not?”
“You’re not my Carol. And I’m not your Kon.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
She turned and sat off the bed, head, shoulders and back in a gravestone. She was quiet for longer than I knew how to deal with so I got up and left. Only when I’d reached the last spiral of the stairwell did she shout down: “What have you done with my boyfriend? Where’s my Kon gone?”
There was a pause in my step, but I didn’t turn back. Or take it back. Or make excuses or lie or make her feel better. No, all I did was think: Good question.
How readily we’d fallen apart. Had my counterpart in this variation been a bastard too? Was I a bad boyfriend in all possible worlds? Fine, Eddie Murphy would be my companion now. He might have started this, he might be the shiftiest of all, but he was all I had.
On the platform I checked my calculations like a nervous traveller would their passport. If I missed him in this variation, it’d be a month’s wait now until the next. I looked for the train down the joining and parting rails, munching a travesty of a croissant bought with coins whose monarch I’d not recognised, and I asked myself where all this was going. Those lunatic lines - where were they drawing me to?
To Carol? My Carol?
To the Platonic Eddie Murphy. The ur-Eddie Murphy. The Eddie to end all Eddies whose Cosby-mocking cry of DAAAAAA would be the affirmation of the universe. His earlier variations had only been cosmetic, to trick me, to warm me up. He’d then started getting stranger as his masks and impersonations fell away. Because what I was being drawn to was the answer, the truth. What truth?
Eddie Murphy is the core value from which existence extrapolates. He is the principle that survives all the creations, all the dissolutions.
Still, I had my doubts, thoughts — ravings.
Sat in the quiet carriage, re-checking the time. Stood in the vestibule to be the first off, being stared at by an en vogue little girl. She leaked unfamiliar music, and her t-shirt had the latest idol, and all at once I felt a different pity for my superseded flatmates, a trivial mourning - “Erm I don’t know sir; is he one of the passengers?” She stared on through her toy x-ray specs, and so I checked the window. She had a point: I looked like Rasputin.
I tried to smarten myself up before Departures. Smoothed-down beard, tucked-in shirt — oh it was all so transparent. Queues threaded long and slow round the hall before reaching any of the desks. The clerk frowned at her screen, at me, then back. So much for the thaw. With smirks of relief at finding an excuse, she said my counterpart hadn’t renewed his passport.
Despair took me in Terminal One. Fearing signal, I left by foot; nearby farmland would have to make do for those black remembered steppes. I bought beers at a village shop and slotted my change into their domed charity box where coins spiral on their rims towards a central black hole. Dodging cowpats as I spun in my own circles, I waited for the sun to go down or even implode — better that than the next variation. And the next, and the next, and the next.
How many did I have to go through? How many worlds was ‘I’ even in? Star after star came out to spin Van Gogh-wise above. Considering the improbability tree that had led to my birth, there should only ever have been one world with me in it. But then, what did ‘me’ even mean?
There might be worlds that contain someone with my genes but not conceived by my parents; given enough chance, coincidental twins will occur. There might be worlds that fool me into thinking I’m home, but where in fact there’s a comma instead of a colon in a book written centuries ago, up there, around a star in a distant frond of the galaxy. This was never going to end — not till I died; I’d never get back to her to say I was sorry. A whirlpool now in my stomach from all the spinning.
Yet, so far, I’d not scrolled into any extreme madworld. Nor into a distant future or past. The Murphy variations were each time only a degree more ‘out there’ than the previous. I had to get a grip. I had to stop getting dizzy, so I stood still and looked up.
The dome of night, slowing around me.
My God: it’s full of spirals!
Bursting through my bedroom door, looking for a roll of tape measure. On it I marked the spans of the variations so far then pinned the whole length to my wall. Why had I thought Eddie Murphy would have the answers? Pacing up and down, pressing my fingers to the markings, to my lips. Why had I so wanted him to? He wasn’t special. He’d never been exceptional. This was though.
Did I work it out, or had it worked itself out? There certainly was an element, as I drew an x and y axis on the wall at the start of the tape measure, of showing something to myself that I already knew. I took the tape down at the other end, let it dangle, then pulled it round and looped over. There was structure here. With more pins, I fixed the tape every time it crossed the negative y: every time was at the start of a variation. The storm forecast grew on my wall.
This thing of ours: it wasn’t a deceleration towards some core Murphy, it was the steady drawing out of a spiral. The centre was my original life; the further out I went, the more Murphy varied, and I was spending longer in each variation in the same way that I’d spend longer on each pass of a spiral.
Keys jangling, tapping for the lock, the shush of the front door and voices — I switched off the bedside lamp. Always the same avoidance tactics, my flatmates the boulder forever blundering back into my life. The spirals grew instead by laptoplight, the threads, theories, calculations, the name ‘Murphy’, now dashed, with a title of professor, to a New Mexican highschool. I managed a smile at what someone might think if they found such notes. From the sound of the stairs, ‘someone’ was most likely to be a Carol. I stopped smiling.
I had to go back — back to Eddie Murphy. Not because he was the man with the answers, not because he had a holy or sinister part in all this.
He was the proof.