STAN ARRIVED HOME LATE AND flopped like an upright dolphin into his and Linda’s house.
Dolphins are almost never upright. When they are it doesn’t last.
They don’t have feet. They barely have skeletons. So when they try to go upright they hit the beach with a wet slap.
They swim upward all the time. But that’s not the same as being upright. Being upright is like standing.
That’s really all it is.
Stan was getting home from Craig’s house. That was where he went to see Craig, who was usually drinking. Stan drank, too, when he was with Craig. He had too much. He tried to keep up with Craig, which was a terrible idea.
Plus he smoked weed with Craig. It was the only place he ever did that.
He stepped through the foyer into the living room, like a wobbly dolphin with legs who had on clothes and boots. He tied his boots tight, which made them a bitch to take off. He kept stopping as he untied his boots and staring into space. He was high, and something about the house and the long walk home didn’t feel right.
He felt like his world was tilted.
And what was time, really, anyway, but all matter in existence being pulled in a direction we can feel but have no way to see?
Stan was thirsty.
He went to the kitchen and drank a glass of water. He went upstairs to the bedroom and found the lights were on and Linda was on her hands and knees, naked with a man he’d never seen. He was naked, too, and hunched over Linda.
“Wait a minute,” Stan said.
Linda looked up and saw him there. She leapt to one end of the bed, her new guy’s penis hanging stiff in midair, the man attached to it watching Stan in surprise.
Everyone was silent for a second.
“What’s going on in here?” asked Stan.
The man was off the bed, now, pulling on boxer-briefs.
“It’s not what it looks like,” Linda said, covering herself with a sheet.
“Really?” said Stan. “Then what is it?”
“Um,” said Linda.
The guy with the dick pulled on sweatpants.
Really? Stan thought. Sweatpants?
“It kind of is what it looks like,” the guy said. “Who are you?”
“I’m Stan,” said Stan.
“Are you kidding me?” said the man, pulling on a white t-shirt. “I’m Stan.”
It was true. When searching online for men to cheat with, Linda had sought out other men named Stan. She’d made a list of them and narrowed the list down to this one. She thought if she cheated on Stan with another Stan, it wouldn’t be 100 percent cheating. It would be 85 percent cheating, maybe, or possibly as much as 95 percent. But not 100 percent.
And she was right about that.
It doesn’t count as much as it does otherwise, when you cheat on your spouse with someone who has the same first name as the one you married. It’s kind of like how it’s not really cheating, not completely, when the one you cheat with resembles physically the person you’re cheating on.
There are degrees to all things. It’s basic math.
One other benefit to this approach was that if Linda shouted her husband’s name during sex with this other man by mistake, he wouldn’t feel hurt. She’d be shouting his name, too, and so he’d feel seen and empowered.
Stan was looking back and forth between Linda and the new Stan.
He would start to cry soon, or shout, or whatever.
Linda shut her eyes hard and pressed her hands against her temples.
Think, she thought. Quickly, Linda! Aphrodite of the Midwestern Plain! Seductress Supreme! Everything depends on what you do in the next moment.
Think, you crazy bitch!
“He’s you!” she shouted at her husband Stan.
“Yeah,” said the other Stan. “What?”
“He’s you,” Linda said. “I finally figured out what’s going on. Don’t you see? A portal must have opened on your way home. A doorway from another universe.”
Husband Stan looked puzzled. He sat on the bed.
It was where he often sat when he was puzzled. And still he was drunk and stoned.
“It’s the only plausible explanation,” Linda went on. “Somewhere between here and Craig’s house—in your universe, I mean—you walked through an invisible passage to another world. Our world. This is unheard of. You’re a pioneer, Stan! An intrepid explorer between dimensions. Like Crying Man, on the TV show Sliders.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,” said Stan. “Hang on. Slow down.”
“Explain this to me again, please, Linda. In English this time.”
All right, Linda told herself. Take a breath, girl. You got this.
“Our universe,” she said, sitting back, still holding the sheet on her naked body, “is one of many universes.”
“Many universes?” said impostor Stan, upright in his clothes. “How many universes are we talking about?”
“An infinite number,” Linda said. “I know. It’s a lot to take in. But this is dimensions theory. People have devoted their whole lives to studying this.
“Here’s how it is. The world we know, the universe we know, is one among billions and trillions and gazillions of universes. There are any number of Earths, and an infinite number of Stans.”
“And an infinite number of those beautiful tits?” asked impostor Stan.
“Yes,” Linda said. “But my breasts don’t exist in every universe. In some of them I’ve died. In others I was never born. In some of them, maybe I was born without boobs, but it’s safe to say that, yes, there are at least a couple million universes with my rack in them.”
“Fucking awesome,” said impostor Stan.
“You see,” said Linda to her husband, “this is not your home universe. In this universe, this Stan is my husband. It’s true. He’s you, but in another universe.”
“You know,” said the real Stan, “I had a weird feeling downstairs, when I took off my boots. Like everything was—off.”
“Then you must have entered this dimension before you came through the front door. Stan. You don’t belong here. You have to go back.”
“I don’t get it, though,” said husband Stan. “How could this guy be me in your dimension? He looks nothing like me.”
“Oh, he’s very different, believe me,” Linda said.
“This does look like my bedroom, though, from my universe.”
“Of course it does. Don’t you see? In this universe, it could well be that everything is the same as your home universe except that you look like this man and have a hog dick.”
“And you have more money in this universe,” said the fake Stan. “I’m really rich.”
He was eating an orange.
Where, wondered Stan, did he get an orange? Is that how it is in this universe? There are more oranges?
“My point is,” said Linda, “that’s how many universes there are. There are infinite variations, and every variation, every possibility, is manifested out there in another universe.”
“This is so much to take in,” Stan said. “I feel dizzy.”
“That’s not confusion, Stan, that’s interdimensional fatigue. You’re losing integrity at the atomic level.”
“What if I want to stay? This version of me seems awesome.”
“I am awesome,” said the new Stan.
“Stop,” Linda told him, and turned to her husband. “You can’t stay. If you stay, you don’t get to be the Stan in this universe, you’ll be an extra Stan. No one wants that. And the longer you stay, the greater strain you put on the fabric of space-time. Tell him, my husband.”
The new Stan said, licking juice off his hand, said, “It’s true, fellow self from the great beyond. Here in this dimension, I look good. I feel good. I am good. I’ve got money and I’m an expert in a lot of things. I fuck all kinds of women, all the time, and this Linda’s cool with it.
“She likes it when I tell her about my encounters with other women. She’s like, ‘Stan, I’d never keep a cock like yours to myself with all those lonely ladies out there.’ Aren’t you like that?”
“Yeah,” said Linda. “Sure.”
“But yeah, Stan,” said new Stan, “you don’t belong in this universe. I belong here. I should be right here, having sex with this Linda. My Linda. She lets me do anything I want to her, because I’m the only one who can get the job done. We do everything together. She’s a freak.”
“It’s not like that at all in my universe,” said old Stan.
“Yeah,” Linda said, “and that’s not really an accurate portrayal of what it’s like here, either, so don’t get ideas when you go back.”
“What are dolphins like, here?” asked Stan.
“Do they ever stand up? Like, do they leave the water and stand?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Are you sure? Are there ever any upright dolphins?”
Linda looked at the new Stan. He shrugged. She looked back at her husband.
“I’m not completely sure what you mean, Stan, but no, I don’t think we have those here.
“You don’t have time for this. The portal you came through must have been somewhere on your walk back here. So you need to retrace your steps. Don’t do anything weird. Don’t look for the doorway. You won’t see it. You might not even feel it. But if you walk all the way back to Craig’s, then walk back, you should be restored to your rightful place.
“And you have to go all the way there and back. It’s the only way to be sure you’re in the right universe when you return.”
“Wait, though,” said sweatpants Stan. “If he does that, won’t he leave this universe on his way to Craig’s place, but then come right back like he did the first time?”
“No.” She slapped his arm. “Of course not, my husband. The portals never stay open more than twenty minutes. It’ll take this Stan that long to walk back to Craig’s, and by the time he returns it’ll be closed and all will be well.”
“So,” said the new Stan, “we’ve got, like, forty more minutes.”
He took off his shirt again. Then his sweatpants.
There was that dick again.
“You’d better go, Stan,” said Linda. “Before it’s too late.”
“Okay,” said the old Stan. “My god, I hope this works.”
“I’m sure it will. I mean—yes! Hurry! Godspeed!
“Or, actually, don’t hurry. Walk normal. Regular speed. Remember, the portal needs to close before your return journey, so give it time.”
Now old Stan was on his way out of the house, and Linda and the new Stan were right back at it again. It was like they were never interrupted, and somewhere out there was a universe where they truly hadn’t been.
Stan made it outside. “That was so close,” he said.
On his way back to Craig’s house, he looked for subtle differences between this universe and his own: a streetlight that was in a different spot, or a kind of car he’d never seen.
He saw no such thing.
It truly is remarkable, he thought, how many universes there are.
Each one is subtly different. And there could be billions of them.
Trillions of them.
And in at least one of those universes, dolphins from the ocean enjoyed the benefit of sturdy bones that would help them stand.
Maybe they had feet, even. Maybe sometimes they got to walk around.
Mini-interview with Robert Long Foreman
HFR: Can you share a moment that has shaped you as a writer (or continues to)?
RLF: A little under five years ago, I was a professor on the east coast. I had to leave the job for reasons of geography and mental health. My partner and I had two kids out there, and as soon as they were born we felt the constantly pressing need to be near family that we’d never felt when we were childless.
There’s more to it than that, but once I’d made that move—to Kansas City, no less—and I didn’t have a job where continuing to write and publish was expected of me, and I wasn’t being worn away by heavy teaching, advising, and other duties for four intense months at a time—I never realized how draining that schedule was until it couldn’t drain me anymore—my relationship to writing changed. And not just in that I now write paragraph-long sentences that are strung together using em-dashes
I didn’t stop writing when I left teaching, nor was I energized by the move; not exactly. Instead I had to reevaluate what my goals are as a writer. When publishing a book no longer helps with earning tenure, since no one will ever give me tenure now, why publish a book? It takes a long time to write books, and it isn’t likely to pay well, at least not when I do it.
I still don’t know exactly what my goals are—but I feel strongly that it’s a good thing for these goals to be always in question. I ask myself all the time why I’m writing, what I’m getting out of it, and what the point of it is when I could spend all that time being a better father, learning to cook new things, volunteering somewhere, or just calming down and trying to enjoy my life.
I have no intention of doing any of that. There is too much I want to write, and wanting to do it feels more like a need than anything.
Why is that? I don’t know! It’s not like I have a vast readership who hotly anticipate my next novel.
I have no firm explanation for why I keep writing, but I think it’s good for a writer to be hounded by that question. And it’s a question that I think helps steer what you write, in a good way. In recent years, my work has more and more been reflecting my politics, which are nebulous but decidedly leftward, in a way they never really did in my former life. Before, I would have kept away from all of that, because injecting potentially divisive politics into writing makes it harder to publish. Right? Now that I don’t have a career, one that hinges on publishing short stories in magazines, that’s not a problem in the same way.
HFR: What are you reading?
RLF: I’m reading Ulysses for the first time. It’s taking forever. I thought I might take a break and read Red Comet, the new Sylvia Plath biography—only to learn, once it arrived from the library, that it’s longer than Ulysses.
I love that the book is that long; it’s great for the world of Plath, for us to have that much new biography. But I don’t know if I want to read it all.
Between work and childrearing, I don’t get to read much, so I have to be selective.
HFR: Can you tell us what prompted “Dolphin Adventure”?
RLF: Eleven years ago, well before I started writing fiction, I made a series of short, poorly animated films using the website Xtranormal. They featured a married couple named Stan and Linda who despised each other and always wore the same clothes. I used them to amuse my friends and achieve a grand total of about eighty views on YouTube. I had a good time making them (some examples are here, here, here, here, and here).
Not long after the pandemic started, I recognized I was in a situation not unlike when each of my children was born: I was stuck in a house with my kids and couldn’t leave or do anything that I loved or even liked, because of conditions that were out of my control.
So I did what I did when my younger daughter was born: I went from writing longish, probing, thoughtful short stories about many varied things to writing much shorter stories that probe nothing and instead start out by barreling into something and continuing to plow forward after they’ve crashed through whatever initial thought led to the story getting started.
The first time I did that, after the birth of my daughter, I ended up turning all of the short things I wrote into my first novel, Weird Pig, which came out last year (I also published my first short fiction collection). This time I’ve revived Stan and Linda from the Xtranormal films and put them into different situations, like marriage counseling sessions and a dinner party where they’re the only ones who don’t want the party to turn into an orgy.
When times get tough, I don’t stop writing, I write differently. It’s like the difference between taking shallow breaths and long, patient ones. My writing at times like this one is less consistent; I start a lot more things I have to give up on, or I finish them and then abandon them. But then I get occasional things like “Dolphin Adventure,” which I think turned out well.
HFR: What’s next? What are you working on?
RLF: I’m writing a novel for children. I’m revising a novel for grownups. I have a batch of longer short story drafts I’d like to finish writing, and there are essays I want to write.
I don’t know if any of this stuff will ever be done, or if it will come to anything when it does.
I feel like I’m trapped on a carnival ride that won’t stop so I can get off. I have not found peace.
HFR: Take the floor. Be political. Be fanatical. Be anything. What do you want to share?
RLF: I kind of always knew it, I think, but it took me a long time to internalize the knowledge that our world is run by people for whom our lives are meaningless beyond how much money they can make from us spending many hours of every week working to make them richer. And it’s not just factories and investment banking firms that are like that, it’s universities and the federal government, too.
I don’t how to talk about this without sounding like someone who was born yesterday, or who just figured out that the people who have been eager to grind him into the dirt since he was born aren’t his friends after all.
Our cities are in the hands of pirates, James Baldwin once said, and while I understood what he meant when I first heard that, I didn’t realize what it meant for me, or for my children, who hadn’t been born yet.
Now my children have definitely been born.
Robert Long Foreman’s latest books are Weird Pig (SEMO Press) and I Am Here to Make Friends (Sundress Publications). He lives in Kansas City. Find more at robertlongforeman.com.