An Orderly Life

A short story by Fleur Helsingor

Monsieur Jean-Dominique Laval lived a very orderly life. He woke up precisely at seven every morning, showered and shaved, got dressed, and headed downstairs. He lived in an apartment above a small cafe, and the barista served coffee and a croissant to M. Laval every morning.

After the light meal and a thorough review of the morning paper, M. Laval walked the few blocks to the insurance agency where he worked. Each morning, he passed a chic boutique with a clock in the window and he made note that the time was precisely 8:30.

When he arrived at work, there would be a stack of claims in his In box ready for him. By the end of the day, all of the paperwork would be stacked neatly in his Out box, ready for the junior clerk to pick up.

After a leisurely supper at a neighborhood cafe, he would head home for an evening of television or a good book. Occasionally, he would go see a movie or a play with a friend or coworker, but his usual habit was early to bed, early to rise.

His weekends followed a similar pattern, with lunches with school friends, a walk in the park, or a visit to the museums. Sometimes he visited his brother Georges-Henri Laval and his family at their home just outside of Paris for Sunday dinner.

One Sunday in April, Georges-Henri decided to come to Paris for a change of pace. After a long afternoon of sightseeing, the two brothers joined several friends for dinner. The food was rich, M. Laval had more than usual to drink, and it was after two o'clock in the morning when he finally got to bed.

To make matters worse, M. Laval forgot to set his alarm and so he overslept. To his horror, it was already eight o'clock! He rushed through his shower and shave, got dressed as quickly as he could, and ran down the stairs to the cafe.

Instead of the usual barista, there was a scruffy man on duty.

"Er, is Jacques not here today?" M. Laval sked.

"Jacques who? He don't work here. So what do you want?" the lout replied.

"Er, a small, er, well, I'm in a hurry, just a coffee and a strawberry croissant."

"We're all out of the croissants. Wanna doughnut instead? That's all we got left."

M. Laval winced. "Er, no, just the coffee," he replied.

Since there was no time to read the paper, M. Laval gulped down the piping hot coffee and rushed out the door.

When he checked the clock in the boutique's window, he stopped in his tracks. The clock said precisely 8:30, as usual. M. Laval checked his watch, and it was already after nine o'clock. At that moment, M. Laval noticed that the second hand on the boutique's clock wasn't moving at all.

How can this be? he thought. Why did this clock stop today?

At that moment, he realized that the boutique specialized in vintage clothing rather than the chic new styles, and it was called Stop The Clock!

By the time M. Laval arrived at work, he was out of breath. At least I can work during my lunch hour, he thought. I'll just get a sandwich.

When he arrived at his office, however, his beloved In and Out boxes were gone and a technician was installing a computer system on M. Laval's desk.

"I didn't order this!" M. Laval exclaimed. "Let me see your work order!"

The man shrugged and handed the form over without a word. M. Laval was horrified to see that the information was indeed correct and that his supervisor's signature was on the work order.

M. Laval grabbed the phone and dialed his supervisor's number. "What is the meaning of this?" he demanded when Anne-Marie answered.

Anne-Marie asked him to stop by her office, promising to explain everything in person.

"Didn't you see the memo about the new office system?" she asked. "I sent it out last week."

"I don't remember seeing it," he replied. "What will I do now?"

Anne-Marie handed him a printed schedule of computer training classes. "I've signed you up for these, as I explained in the memo," she replied. "You'll start processing the claims again in a week, after you've had your classes. Alex will help you in the beginning."

"Alex?" he said, startled. The junior clerk?

"Alex had the computer training classes earlier this year, and he's good enough now to help get the rest of you get up to speed," Anne-Marie said. "Since things have been slow lately, it's a good time for us to make this change."

M. Laval sighed and looked at the schedule. The first session would begin in five minutes!

By the end of the day, M. Laval was exhausted and depressed. It was slow going, paging through all of the documents on the screen and trying to learn all of the software's menus and functions. He also had to learn how to use the office's new e-mail system.

After working late to make up for the time he missed in the morning, he ate a quick dinner of soup. After nodding over a book, he went to bed early.

The time dragged during the rest of the week but, finally, it was Sunday again. M. Laval decided to have dinner at his brother's house. At least that didn't have to change!

During the meal, M. Laval told Georges-Henri about what happened on Monday, and how everything was different, that even the coffee that he used to enjoy so much in the morning was no longer available.

"I keep wondering what happened," he said. "Maybe I'm just dreaming, that I'll finally wake up and everything will be as it was."

"Well, maybe there is another explanation," Georges-Henri replied, "Some of my colleagues at the Physics Tank believe that there are many universes existing at once, and perhaps each universe is quite close to its neighbor. Maybe the universes are all almost touching."

"I fail to see how this applies to me!"

"Well, start by assuming that two universes are quite similar, but they are separated by just a millimeter. They wouldn't be alike, though."

"I don't understand!"

"If you take one wrong turn somewhere, you might wind up someplace unexpected. Just sleeping in one morning might be all it takes!"

"I want my old life back!"

"I'm afraid that I don't really know how to fix this problem," Georges-Henri replied. "The parallel universes aren't really under anyone's control, after all, and no one has any explanation that I know of about how this all works or, indeed, if the cosmology really does work this way at all. No one has opened up a pathway from one universe to another … not that I know of, anyway. This is only a theory, just an explanation. Most of this probably just belongs in a science fiction story."

"But what will I do?"

Georges-Henri gave his younger brother a stern look. "Are things really so bad for you now?" he asked.

"Er, no, I guess not," M. Laval replied, shrugging. "I can manage. And perhaps I was in a rut."

- FIN -

Genre: science fiction, a story about life among the parallel universes and how much things can change even without any effort on an individual's part