Archive for August, 2009

BACK DATE

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on August 28, 2009 by unsensible

At 8:30 in the morning, every other morning, I report for a standing meeting with the department. The fact that it is a meeting, in which we stand, around a little white board, is a matter of some amusement to me alone. We stand around a little white board and explain the timing of our projects. We back date the projects – 2 days till creative, 4 days for printing, 1 day for fulfillment, two weeks for mailing. We assign resources based on those dates. It is important to have foresight in this line of work. It is essential and expected of us, to take the time to talk about time so the timing on our projects coalesce and whir like the separate gears of a giant clock.

I remember in the shadow of your room there were no clocks. There was one on the VCR in the living room, and although it was an hour slow it was the only connection I had with knowing when my classes would begin, whether or not I deemed to attend them.

I remember your room had a door one-third too small for the opening, so we were in danger of passer bys peering through and seeing us even in the compromises of some spontaneous passion. I remember it had no ceiling. You had a parachute tacked up above to keep visitors from the rafters descending on us unwanted as we slept on transparent grappling lines like unwanted dreams. The parachute caught them.

Your bed was on the floor. It was a 6 inch piece of industrial foam cut roughly the width of your own body, so lying next to you, as I did for two years, meant sleeping half on your person and half on the straw mat next to your bed. I became surprisingly used to this inconvenience, this lack of comfort. If the accommodations were not plush, you were. In the brashness of my youth I took to holding your breast in one hand. The prod of your nipple in my palm the smell of your neck and the brush of your hair were all that I needed in the way of worldly comfort. There were no reliable clocks. I had fallen into a fairy ring and could sleep all day next to you and immune to the world outside your small cranking window.

I primarily check my phone now for time. I have never cared for watches—I can’t stand the binding around my wrist. After losing many serviceable options of varying attractiveness based on my tendency to cast them off and throw them on any clean surface I gave up the wearing of a watch as a bad job. Now I have my phone, and if the battery is dead my computer, and if that’s closed, the department clock, or if I have no inclination to stand up and look at it, I fancy I can measure times passage by the regular clicking of keys, lifting and falling of telephone receivers from the workers on all sides of my cube. Like insects in a hive we sit unnaturally close but do not as a rule talk to each other. There are deadlines to meet, and we are all deadly serious.

I remember snaking my arm around your waist and holding fast to your bosom, as I did, somewhat crudely for over two years lying on the rough straw mat next to you. It became so you couldn’t sleep without my groping you. It was a strange pact between us. I knew you were unfaithful to me at every possible opportunity, but in your dreams you were mine. I held you, and you wanted to be held, in that space where there is no motion of planets, no regular secession of moments. It was one interminable moment when you were mine, looking into your soul while sleeping, knowing that this time would pass too.

By 11AM I’ve enjoyed four meetings this past Monday. I sit dully taking in what I can. The important part is that I spring on the correct information, grab deftly by the nape of the neck, and go for the kill. All else falls beneath my notice. I am still as an insolent jungle predator, for hours in the midday heat, motionless waiting for the right moment to exert my power. I do what they cannot. I can create. I can make decisions, distinctions, life, project, time out of time. They know this. But for all that my esteemed peers would as a whole rather see me gone. It’s 11AM and it’s time for me to discuss again with my manager my time management skills, or rather lack thereof.

You were an unreal creature to me. Your skin was impossibly supple, every angle turned up to catch the light most favorably. There was a dweomer about you of a changeling princess—a girl touched by sadness so young, that in your defense you learned to change from day to day, moment to moment. As a child you could become invisible; as a young lady you could become the incarnation of the desires of men, dark lips, dark eyes, dark hair, and a smile that killed willing prey. I felt sure I would die to touch you, and that I would die if I ever did.

I couldn’t stand the changes, so I kept hold of you firmly. All day and all night, if I stayed with you, with one hand around your waist and one around your breast, I could keep you in human form. Not a series of moments but one elongated moment. I remember you woke up early and tried to sneak out of the room before dawn, leave me slumbering in your house with your family who hated me, so you could run to the city to meet your estranged lady friend. You had so many “friends.” It was never a question of “if,” it was a question of the circumstances arising with the same certain answer. Every new situation called for a new lover, or a series of new lovers. My teachers, my bosses, my friends, my counselors, my enemies, all rivals for your desire, and I accepted it. I had a single spell at my disposal, one to hold you still in thrall for the run of the night. You would come back to me after being with them and cry and I would hate you but you were mine and I would hold you, hold you still long enough to sleep.

I don’t remember when the spell was broken. We had traveled a hundred thousand miles; changed addresses six times, made our home everywhere, and sometimes had no home except my car. Time passed, I was a stranger to everyone that used to know me, but I had not changed since the day I met you. Not grown up, though grown older. I was in the woods of Western Pennsylvania, having gained enough lucidity to quit my night job and try to finish school. You had moved out, fallen in love with some lawyer from D.C. twice our age. Predictably, you were back, looking for the spell again, the soporific mixture I could give you to help you sleep. You didn’t want me during the day, but you needed me at night, and you couldn’t stay away long.

You found me on campus, took me back to your new place where you were living with some woman (were you sleeping with her? It didn’t matter at that point.) We cried. We talked. We had sex, and I selfishly turned on the chameleon in you, made you the fulfillment of my desire. And I turned to go.

“You win,” you said. “You’re cooler than me now.” I knew it was meant to sting but it didn’t matter. I had no more medicinal elixers for you; I couldn’t accept your pain any longer. I walked away, long shadows trailing from house to campus, and your adventure had to continue without me as your apothecary and mendicant.

There was a new intern today. Dark hair, dark eyes, dark lips, skin impossibly supple. I met you as I have in one hundred other people, doppelgangers haunting me with shadows. This you called me “sir”. I am no longer the brooding Heathcliff. No longer the Faustian hero, lean and dark. My time has past. I smile at you and you have no idea why.

It’s nearly the end of the day. I’m well past deadline. I need to back date my projects, keep them on schedule, make every step click into the next in a continuous motion that takes me from here to there. My room has clocks now, many of them. But in the shadow there is a room with no clocks, and no time means no definitive beginning or end. Perhaps I am still sleeping next to you. Perhaps I always will be.

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Timestop (short story)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on August 2, 2009 by unsensible

It was a bad day for the clocks to stop, Jason thought sullenly. The power must have gone out—or maybe a power surge because the time wasn’t blinking 12:00 like he’d expect. It was standing still at 10:11AM. He wondered if the lit up numbers, unused to staying in one place for so long, would bore permanent impressions in the LCD display. “It’s a crap clock. Ten bucks from Rite Aid and I’ve had it for at least five years.”

He heard a banging from the other room. Her bedroom, for now. The distinctive slam of the lacquered lid of an old jewelry box with one wobbly hinge. He could see the black surface and the white..day lilies? He would probably not get the chance to ask her. He listened and imagined her rolling up the Indian prints that hung over the floor-to-ceiling windows in her room, like a gypsy picking up camp for good.

It was still 10:11AM and that bothered him. He had been up most of the night talking – but not to her. And now she knew that. He had been looking forward to a good sleeping in, till noon or 2pm. That was a good time to wake. The kind of lazing about only young men are really capable of.

But she had come back early. The other girl, was sleeping on the couch. He had that kind of foresight at least. But her presence was enough for Julia. He blinked groggily, it was 8:11AM, perhaps she had meant to surprise him. She looked pretty, he had noted, her shoulder length hair bronze in the unwelcome morning light, drawn into two thick pigtails, the effect he supposed was meant to be adorable, along with the ratty denim overalls she favored while travelling.

She had said his name a little too loudly, like someone alerting him to the presence of a small fire. In this case, a fire still sleeping on his couch.

“Jason, why is she here?” he hadn’t the wakefulness to make up a story. Or maybe he was out of excuses. He knew he was just tired. It was 8:11AM in the fucking morning after all and he had gone to bed…when? 5AM? 6AM? It didn’t matter. Changed nothing.

He just looked at Julia without answering. He almost told her she was pretty, but didn’t think it was the right time. Julia shifted uncomfortably perched near his shoulder as she was on the black aluminum frame of his futon. She tried again. “Jason,” she said almost kindly, “do you like her?”

He supposed that was as much of an explanation as any. He nodded his head, feeling numb. Her neck became still and her jaw set. This would have been a good day to pull her into bed, put his hands under her overalls, pull at the buttons and pull the fabric away. He could imagine this clearly, as he had done it many times before. But now wasn’t the time. In fact, that time seemed to have passed quite suddenly like a cloud dissipating in the light of dawn.

She regarded him with some indignation. She was waiting for him to say something. He wasn’t going to be able to go back to sleep until he did. He started and his voice caught in his throat, making it crack. “I don’t want to lie to you,” he said. That much was true. It was exhausting trying to lie. He was far too tired. “I like her. She stayed the night. We didn’t…but yes, I like her. And I guess you should know that.”

He started to mumble “I’m sorry,” but she was already up. The moment had passed. She had all she needed. She marched from the room and he decided not to follow her. Better to get more sleep. When he awoke, she was back with boxes and most of her things were sitting in the hall. They had lived together for two years, but as a perennial student the things she valued were lightweight and folded well for travel. She had her clothes, her books, her pictures, her various wall hangings and trappings from what was her room sitting in four smallish boxes in the hall, clearly marked VODKA. From the liquor store below their apartment, no doubt.

He asked weakly what she was doing. She was moving out. She had already found a place to stay, with friends. She would be gone in less than 45 minutes. Before 11AM, less than three hours since she learned the truth. He stumbled from his bed and stood before the clock. If it had stopped, it may in fact be much later than 10:11AM. He suspected it must be, because she had covered so much territory, found an apartment, found boxes, and all on foot. Julia was always a little remarkable. The other girl was gone. He hadn’t gone out to look for her on the couch, but he could tell by the mood of the apartment that it was true.

He had a crumpled pack of cigarettes on the big dining room table that sat in his room and served as the all-purpose platform for everything he had. He took them and tried to light one, still looking at the frozen numbers. The match burned too fast the first time, flared brightly and was gone before he could bring it to the tip of his cigarette. He tried again. And again. The plume of fire swelled on the edge of his match each time but he never got it to his lips, it was moving to fast, or his arm was moving too slow but either way the cigarette dangled unlit from his lips.

I think it’s broken he marveled, staring at the frozen clock. And at the worst possible time. It was 10:11 AM and she would be gone by 11:00 AM but at this rate, with the digits holding fast, he wondered if 11:00AM would ever come.

This was an eerie thought. Like a child who had been thrown from the merry-go-round, he felt out of step, displaced. He wanted to tell her. Now he was feeling a little frightened and she was always so good to him when he was like that.

“But if we’re not moving, then we could be anywhere.”

She was in the room again. But she had changed. It was two years before, they were coming home from a party. Julia was his roommate, not his lover. She looked very pretty that night, her dark hair lightly brushing her bare shoulders exposed in the vintage 1950s sky-blue dress with thick straps straight cut neckline and flared out hips that she had purchased at the Thrift Store for just that occasion.

He remarked on her face. At that time he could tell her she was pretty, she’d be expecting it and clearly it was true. She was smiling, drawing nearer, touching her hair. She had glitter on her face, sequins on her bodice. She was not a raving beauty in a classic sense with deep olive features and deep set eyes, but she reflected the moonlight and she was getting closer.

She said something quite shocking and…would it hurt their friendship? He had no idea and no desire to speculate. She was now. This was their time and he would have her before it got away. The clock said 10:11 PM.

She was there again, and again, in his bed naked, on the floor, in his closet taking out a shirt, helping him straighten up his damn table, playing music, putting a red scarf over the lamp, threatening fire to heighten their mood. For two years she was there, and it seemed an ocean he would never traverse fully. He could swim the length of it, but he would never reach the depth. There wasn’t time. There had never been.

It was 10:11 AM. He could hear hard footsteps in the kitchen. Her boxes were out of the hall. Before 11AM, she would be gone.