By John McDonnell
"I wish Murphy made a profit from that so-called business of his,” Dolores said one day, sitting at the kitchen table with a stack of bills in front of her. “We need money."
"Money is a social construct that does not exist in every universe," Larry said. He was eating some buttered toast in the form of the Duke of Esperanza, a conquistador in Pizarro's army. His metal conquistador helmet was on the table next to him.
"What do you mean, 'in every universe'?" Dolores said. "You mean there are other universes?"
"Of course," Larry said. "An infinite number of parallel universes."
"You mean there are other versions of me?" Dolores said.
"I'd like to meet an alternate version of Victor Mature," Edna said. "He had quite a set of pectorals on display in those old gladiator movies."
"Are there other versions of Murphy?" Dolores asked.
"I’m afraid so," Larry said.
"More successful ones?"
"Well, that depends on your definition of successful," Larry mused. He was peeling an orange with his sword.
"Would it hurt if you switched them for a time?" Dolores inquired.
"I am not authorized to do that," Larry said. "It could be dangerous to the stability of reality."
"Oh, bosh," Edna said. "Reality is such a silly thing. All those rules about not listening to voices in your head. What fun is that, anyway?"
"Well, if you insist," Larry said.
Just then Murphy shuffled into the room wearing only his threadbare pajama bottoms and his usual two-day growth of beard, with hair that looked like it had seen the wrong end of an electric current. There was a shimmering in the air and he disappeared, and in his place was an exact double, only this version of Murphy had perfectly coiffed hair, clear eyes, a toned body, and he was wearing monogrammed red silk pajamas.
"Where am I?" he said.
"A parallel universe," Larry said.
"Oh," the alternate Murphy said. "Is this where I live?" He looked like he was hoping to wake up from a bad dream.
"This is your abode," Larry said.
"I must not be one of the winners in this universe," the alternate Murphy concluded.
"No, you're not," Dolores said. "But that was the old Murphy. You seem like you have a lot on the ball. What would you change about this place?"
"Let me draw up some plans," the alternate Murphy said. For the next week and a half the house was filled with the sound of power tools and the smell of sawdust in the air and Mexican helpers tramping through the place as the alternate Murphy built a new kitchen with a larger stove, dishwasher, refrigerator, and new tile floor. That was just the warmup, though -- the new Murphy also threw out all the junk food in the house, forbade Willow from coming over till her boyfriend Horst got a job, put Dolores on an exercise regimen, cleaned out the kitchen cabinet, refinanced the house and created a budget, drew up plans for converting Murphy’s bar into a Thai/Swiss pastry shop, and fined Larry $100 every time he went backward in Time.
But it was when he insisted that Edna stop wearing a hat indoors and stop referring to soap opera characters as if they were real that he met with resistance.
“Why that young Dr. Hasselbrook is as real as you are,” Edna said. “He got his degree from Harvard, you know. That’s more real than wherever you came from. Parallel universe, my eye. Of course, I never was much good at science, and I don’t understand all this quantum physics palaver, but really, people should stay in the universe they were born in. I’m not one for changing universes, you know. My father used to say that one universe was good enough for him, and it should be good enough for everyone.”
“If you insist on this kind of irrationality,” the new Murphy said. “I will have to send you someplace where they can deal with your condition.”
Larry, who had taken the shape of a trained seal, and was balancing a beach ball on the end of his nose, spoke up. “I miss old Murph.”
Dolores, who had lost ten pounds in a week and was eyeing the furniture ravenously, said: “You and me both.”
“Why?” the new Murphy said. “He was just a screwup, wasn’t he?”
“Yes, but he was our screwup,” Dolores said.
There was a shimmering in the air and then the old Murphy was standing there in his pajama bottoms, scratching himself thoughtfully. “What the hell happened?” he said.
“You were transported to a parallel universe,” Larry said.
“Parallel?” Murphy said. “It was a hellish experience. Everything looked familiar, but it had more. . . intensity. All the people were skinny and had good muscle tone and dressed well. I didn’t quite fit in.”
“What did I look like?” Dolores said.
Murphy’s face lit up. “Dolores you had the biggest. . . uh, well, want I want to say is. . .”
“You were a pale shadow of yourself, my dear,” Murphy said.
Dolores gave him a hug. “I missed you too, Honey,” she said.
“There are lots more universes out there if you want to try it again,” Larry said.
“The problem with parallel universes is you never know if you’ll run into a version of yourself you wouldn’t want to drink a cup of tea with,” Edna said.