Phoebe Phelps is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn. She was a finalist for the Adrift Short Story Prize and has work forthcoming in The Driftwood Press Anthology. Robert de Niro is her boyfriend.

The minutes stretch out longer and thinner and leave room between the seconds for doubt to creep in. Maybe I just hadn’t pushed hard enough on the handles and if I try again with enough force one of the two doors will open to an empty bathroom. But if it is occupied, and I try again, I will anger the occupant. They will assume I am impatient, hurrying them along. I stare at the two doors and do nothing.

“Are you waiting for the bathroom?” an older man asks. I hadn’t noticed him approaching, although now that he stands directly behind me I hear the creak of his breath.

“Yes,” I say and smile, aware that the stakes have heightened now that I have an audience. No choice but to wait now. The man leans himself against the wall with a loud, settling sigh. His hair has gone grey but it is still dark and thick, sitting up around his head and covering his ears.

“We’ve got time,” he says pleasantly. “These modern theaters always show a whole bouquet of trailers before they ever get to the movie.”

“It’s true, you have to add like a half hour to the showtimes.”

I eye the doors, silent and unmoving.

“Are you a student?” he asks.

“No,” I say, quickly, without stopping to think. And then realize that I am, technically, a student. Too preoccupied with the doors, I’d slipped into a lie. But I’m a grad student, and I know what he is really asking is if I’m young and impressionable co-ed. I’m not.

“Hm,” says the old man, like he didn’t believe me or like he was disappointed.

“I do write, though,” I say. The words come out as an amendment, revealing truth I didn’t know I was trying to hide.

“Oh, the arts! Stay in the arts,” he says with such an influx of passion it makes me jump. “I was a professor at Juilliard for half a century,” he says. I am charmed by the sudden light in his face, the way he says it – “half a century,” rather than “fifty years.”

“Wow, that’s a long time.”

“Oh, yes.”

“You must miss it.”

I take a step closer to the dueling bathroom doors, still ominously silent, willing one of them to reveal signs of life. The flush of a toilet, the rush of sink water, anything.

“Oh, yes,” the old man repeats. He has his coat folded over in his arms now, clutched to his chest like an embrace.

“I’m not very musical.”

The words happen without my thought, some strange force or pressure from the schrodinger's bathrooms behind me, both empty and occupied.

“Oh, don’t say that,” the old man says, the sun in his face fading for a moment. “I’m sure you’re only saying that because someone said that to you at some point. Everyone has some kind of musical ability. Don’t doubt it.”

A short story I wrote based on my old college a cappella group had just won a prize and would be published soon. But in the wake of a half of a century, that felt like nothing. I consider this alternate version of me, the one this old man saw. The one who had a stunted relationship with music. He would want to rehabilitate me into the arts. Us meeting for coffee in artistic places and him introducing me to symphonies and orchestras and writing me into his will. Him taking me to foreign countries and becoming estranged from his real children because they never really saw him the way I do. We would grow to need each other and I would hold his hand on his deathbed. In the end, I’d be the only one who truly understood his passion for music, because he’d taught it to me and even though I couldn’t play a note, I was the one who he left his beloved instrument to— whichever it was that he played. This possible future spreads out in front of me in between these two bathroom doors, connected with all the other possible futures or alternate pasts and makes me unsteady on my feet. The feeling of Sylvia’s over-referenced figs falling from her unreachable tree.

“I guess,” is what I say.

The old man shuffles again, looking at the doors behind me, and his coat rustles in his arms. My arms are empty, because my coat is back in the theater seats, being watched over by my boyfriend. My boyfriend. He’s in a band. He holds my coat and anchors me to my life, even when I am telling lies, inventing futures. He loves me and cooks me dinner and takes me out to movies and makes me happy.

One of the doors opens and a woman with bleached hair in an untidy ponytail exits, brushes past me. I breathe easier, push myself up against the wall so the old man can walk past.

“Please,” I say and gesture towards the now empty room. “Go ahead.”

“Oh, thank you,” says the old man. His coat makes noise even once the door has closed behind him.

I grip the handle of the second bathroom door, and push.