Schrodinger’s Pocket, a short story
“If you can guess what I have in my pocket, you can have it.”
I looked up to see a man regarding me with warm brown eyes, the quirk of a smile playing on his lips. Sitting alone in my favorite coffee shop nested in my usual corner with latte, cinnamon roll and my nose in a book, I was virtually invisible. Or so I’d thought.
The low hum of conversation buzzed around us punctuated by the violent hissing of the milk steamer as the barista prepared someone’s drink. The comforting scents of coffee and vanilla saturated the air.
“Excuse me?” I asked, hoping I’d misheard him.
“Guess what I’ve got in my pocket and you can have it,” he repeated.
I suppressed a groan. Really? Just who was this guy interrupting my solitude? This was not a bar. This was a coffee shop for crying out loud, a safe haven for introverts the world over. Furthermore, I needed sugar and caffeine solace for the week I’d had. Cranky customers and demanding bosses can take a toll on a person, and I needed desperately not to have to please anyone but myself.
I had my hair in a messy bun. I wore my comfiest sweater that sported a hole at the elbow and sweatpants tucked into cozy boots. I had skipped make-up figuring my cats-eye reading glasses acted as a “do not disturb” sign for my face. Everything about me should have whisper-shouted, leave me alone. But there he was, waiting expectantly for some witty response on my part.
My expression must have implied righteous indignation because he shifted his weight a bit. I wanted to be rude, to tell him to take his phony pocket pickup line somewhere else. But, he gave me a small, hopeful smile and the twinkle in his eyes promised…something. But what?
I concentrated on relaxing the annoyed crease between my eyebrows and forced my slack mouth into a polite half-smile. It wasn’t that difficult, actually — he was easy to smile at.
His build was tall and lean, his chestnut hair fell in tousled locks and his weekend beard almost hid the kiss of a dimple on his chin. He wore a graphic tee under a tweed jacket. And, even though his khakis were comfortably rumpled, his casual but put-together aesthetic put my coffee-zombie look to shame. For the first time this morning, I wished I’d made more of an effort.
He might be older than me, but not by much. Anything more than that was hard to guess. What did he do? Where was he from? I decided it didn’t matter. There was a sense of warmth to him that enticed me. He lifted his coffee to take a sip and at the bending of his elbow I noticed his jacket’s suede patches. They made me think of Indiana Jones as a professor at Oxford, an intellectual concealing a secret life filled with adventure.
He arched an eyebrow at me as if to say, Well?
At the unspoken prompt, my gaze traveled down to his waist. His jacket pockets looked flat and empty. No lumps hinting at treasure hidden behind a layer of fabric.
He cleared his throat softly. Not the obvious “ahem,” and I realized I might have been staring at him below the waist a bit too long. My cheeks grew uncomfortably warm and I tore my attention back to his face. His lips curved into a sly caught-you-looking smile.
I squirmed in my seat and focused on the riddle at hand to regain my composure. So, what could he have in his pocket?
It could be nothing, lint, a paper clip, a penny. That thought irritated me. He was a time-waster, a cad, a prankster hoping to make a fool of me and walk away. But…
It could be something, a hundred-dollars, diamond earrings, the key to a mansion. He could be a gentleman, a philanthropist, a hunky, fairy god-father coming to me when I needed a break and helping me in an unexpected way. Or…
It could be everything, all the nothings and the somethings and the infinity that fills the in-between. Disappointment and sorrow and regret. Hope and happiness and adventure. The probabilities were vastly different and endless.
As I looked at him the shop door opened and closed, sending a flash of reflected sunlight that sparked amber highlights in his eyes and hair.
Potential. That’s what he offered me, in a Schrodinger’s Cat sort of way. Whatever I sought from him was what I could find. Nothing, if I turned him away. Something, if I decided to guess. It was entirely up to me. In this moment the cat, our prospective relationship, was both dead and alive. And, I got to choose which it would be when I opened the proverbial box by guessing at the contents of his pocket.
I smiled at him. He smiled at me. He knew that I knew.
I yearned to keep the box closed tightly, preserving our relationship-cat in suspended animation. I wanted to stay in this moment forever. This moment when anything and everything was conceivable, perfectly balanced on the fulcrum of creation.
“So,” he said. “Care to guess?”
“Oh,” I took a sip of my latte. “Hmm,” I tapped my chin in a play of feigned concentration. “I’d have to say…endless possibilities.”
He pulled out the chair opposite me and sat down, setting his coffee cup next to mine. I closed my book. He proffered his hand to me and I slipped my hand into his. It felt warm and his heat travelled through me, turning my bones to honey.
I had opened the box after all, and the cat was very much alive.
This short story was based on the Writer’s Digest writing prompt: Write a short story, of 750 words or fewer, that begins with the following line of dialogue: “If you can guess what I have in my pocket, you can have it.”
I exceeded the word count a bit, but then this is a prompt from 2013 so there was no chance of my entering it into the WD competition for publication. This story was submitted to my writing group in January 2017. What I’ve submitted for this post is result after the feedback I received. If you have any thoughts or comments, I’d love to hear them.
Keep your mind and heart open to the endless possibilities!