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Saturday, Apr. 09, 2005 - 4:18 p.m.

Three minutes into the New Year, eight minutes after he didn't give her the letter in his pocket, he was alone on a stone bench on the 1st of January.

Alright I will tell her tonight, he had decided three hours ago, as the airplane circled Changi Airport waiting to land. The letter was on the meal table, one page of text marked with pencil edits that he had made on the six hour flight in from Taipei. His editor had sent him to interview Taiwan's only physics Nobel laureate, and he had gotten the unexciting assignment because he was the newest addition to the newspaper. Evenly his freshly framed diploma from the NYU School of Journalism could not save him.

He had started writing the letter a few days after the interview, while he was still in Taipei. The impetus came during an unexpected epiphany, like the realization that stars exist unintentionally.

He had been in a club on Christmas Eve, full of the drunkest, prettiest women in Asia. They made eyes at him, touched him, but he looked around and realized that he only missed one person. And so he made excuses to his friends and returned early to his hotel. In his room, he took out a paper pad and started the letter with the last sentence, which was the most truthful thing he had ever written. I thought of you and I left.

As the airplane banked he saw the orange and white points of light that covered Singapore, and he wondered which one belonged to her. They were artificial and deliberate, the spatial and semantical inverse of stars. Where was she? But then he remembered the physicist's definition of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle - the more precisely one determines the location of an object, the less one knows about where it is going.

He was going to meet her and her friends at the Esplanade count-down party, ask her aside, and give her the letter at 11:57 pm. Reading it would take her into the new year, which is the suggestion of new possibilities. But there were too many people and he could not find her. And as the crowd cheered at the arrival of the new year, the letter burned in the shirt pocket against his chest.

He sat down alone at a stone bench facing the Singapore River, while the crowd dissipated to clubs for the first drink, or home for the first sex of the new year. He is quite sure his is the first disappointment that marks the calendar. A bumboat decorated with blinking yellow Christmas lights churns across the black water.

The physicist, a professor of Quantum Mechanics, had stopped cutting into his steak, when he saw that the young journalist did not fully grasp the Uncertainty Principle that he was explaining. Think about Uncertainty this way, the physicist said. Imagine you are given a small closed box which contains a single woman you know, and you are told to walk around with it. As long as you do not open the box, this one woman exists as every single possibility of herself - girl, woman, wife, each with a different pattern of thought, location, vocabulary, and answer. But once you lift the flap and look into it, all the possibilities collapse into a single outcome that cannot be reversed or changed.

Then the old physicist smiled at him and continued cutting into his steak.

A tap on his shoulder, and he smiles with surprise. They wish each other happy new year and she sits down next to him, with a letter for her in his pocket half an arm-length away. It is a piece of paper full of crafted text that will change the direction of their story and make it unalterable for both of them.

But he does not give it to her yet, because he is thinking about all the other possible, collapsed outcomes, of giving her the letter seven minutes from now, a new year or ten new years from this moment. The box that contains her, is of infinite perplexity. Every 1st of January marks the completion of the Earth's circumnavigation around the sun; the Earth will be in the same physical point in space every year on this date. But where will she be on each 1st of Janauary, and what will she be like?

On a particular stone bench on planet Earth, they laugh about new year resolutions and people having the first sex of the year. The unintentional light of stars falls to Earth in broken shards, as the Earth crosses a point on its orbit soundlessly - another 1st of January, and the starlight reveals where the uncertainty of her being has placed her.

She is seated next to him on a stone bench facing the Singapore river and there is a letter for her within her grasp, if only she knew it was there. It is like all such letters, impossible to read. And as they continue talking, the letter in his pocket starts to fold itself into a closed box, a container of secret air, one whose inner walls are filled with unspoken and unconsummated words.


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