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304 pages, Kindle Edition
First published October 18, 2022
Thirty-six year old Pepper Rafferty lives a happy average life. Abandoned as a baby, she was raised by the lesbian doctor couple who found her on their veterinary hospital’s doorstep. Pepper is married to Ike, an ordinary, easy-going man with excessive interest in historical journals. Pepper herself is a forensic anthropologist and loves her job.
There’s one thing about Pepper that no one knows: when she was fifteen, she discovered the identity of her biological mother, who was none other than Ula Frost, a notoriously reclusive painter famous for her paintings that supposedly summoned the subject’s doppelgangers to this world from an alternate universe.
Now Ula Frost is missing, presumed dead. Pepper suddenly finds herself at the centre of attention of various parties, good and bad—all of whom want to crack the secret behind Ula Frost, not realising that she is a secret to Pepper too.
“It’s a self-portrait,” Iphigenia said. “It’s a portrait of Ula, young, maybe even a teenager, holding an infant. It’s called Self-Portrait with Nothing.”
When Pepper couldn’t sleep — at least since she was fifteen — she imagined the alternate universes that might be out there if alternate universes really existed. A universe where antibiotics had already stopped working. A universe where cancer had a cure. A universe where that man had never become president and started that war, and all the people who’d died and the cities that’d been destroyed still lived and stood perfectly intact. A universe where she hadn’t met Ike in the hotel lobby of a conference about the evolution of human sexuality. A universe where they’d met but hadn’t skipped out on the conference in favor of drinking hurricanes at the hotel bar and ended up in Ike’s room shortly thereafter. A universe where they’d broken up that time she told him she couldn’t see herself married instead of staying together. A universe where the pregnancy scare had been an actual pregnancy, and now they had a couple of kids, and two dogs and a cat, who was the boss of them all, and it was chaos and she mostly loved it.
In every universe there was still plenty of uncertainty and grief, and kindness and anger and suffering and joy, beautiful things and miracles and tragedies that knocked people on their asses, there were mistakes and forgiveness, second-guessing and the question of what else might be out there — all constants in every universe, all existing at the same time. Pepper felt the innumerable universes around her, and then she let them go.
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