The Occasional Triumphant

The tuba steps unsteadily forward for a solo

Month: April, 2012

Privilege

 

The second coming of Jesus Christ took most people by surprise.  And, as the Crucifixion and Resurrection had left many scratching their heads, the Will of the Lord did not aim to please.  The grand theatrics of the Rapture did not happen, there was no violent celestial battle, no rending of flesh or gnashing of teeth… no one got “Left Behind.”  Or rather, everyone got left behind.  As has been written in the Third Testament, “Spake the Lord: Now thou knowest Me by deed and word as the Son of God and in so knowing let false idols be cast away and driven from your minds.”

Alder faintly remembered hearing these words himself. The single bit of spectacle to come from Him happened upon Christ’s arrival. A great worldwide heavenly fanfare split the sky and He appear’d before the multitudes as if on the Jumbotron of God. Rejoice, he’d said, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand for all. None would be damned, all would be saved, Amen.

Only it wasn’t really that easy. Alder had been on a conference call when the trumpets sounded and he’d scrambled out to the street to see.  And there the good Lord hovered, ageless and beautiful, speaking in all the languages of the Earth. All would be judged, he’d said, and all would live until they were deemed worthy to sit at His Father’s table.

And that is why Alder was now three hundred and seventeen years old.

In the beginning, as Alder lived into his hundred-and-teens, he welcomed this suspension of the natural laws. He ran his business as he always had, accumulating wealth as others in his field left their professions to atone for their spiritually empty lives.  When he himself turned one hundred fifty, he retired to the Lower Keys and though he was in the twilight of his life, the Lord’s new covenant kept him alive. Had he shut himself off from the world and refused to eat, he would have remained painfully, hungrily alive.

Charles, Chapter 5, verse 12: “All will live until they are worthy to sit at My Father’s table.” In a land of immortals, death had become a privilege.

At two hundred years of age, bored with life, Alder set off in search of Jesus. This was not a holy quest, but an actual hunt for Christ, as He had taken up residence on Earth once again. It was revelatory–mankind was urged to continue on with prayer and worship, but specific questions could now be given an audience. Alder decided to have a word with Him.

Jesus, though, was a difficult man to track. He never stopped moving. Alder had heard of his recent miracles out west, curing cancer and HIV, so he set out in that direction, following news stories. Christ had also been absolving sinners, leaving a wake of long-sought-after deaths, so Alder’s first stop in any new town was for a slice of pie, and a place to sit and read the local obituaries.

This path led him across the Pacific to the Philippines, to Manila. The death of a 184 year-old woman and a tell-tale line of people snaking through the alley behind a street market and into a small apartment brought Alder within reach of the Son of God.

–Peace be with you, my son.
Alder did not know whether to shake His hand or how to respond. He sat, cross-legged on the floor across from Him–a short, dark man, hair to his shoulders and a trimmed beard.
–Tell me why you’re here.
–That was actually why I wanted to see you. Why are you here?
Jesus smiled, shifted His robes and fixed his dark brown eyes on Alder.
–I am fulfilling the prophesy. To return to Earth to judge the living and the dead.
–But no one is dying. I am two hundred and three. I don’t understand what it is you expect.
Jesus drew a breath, exhaled.
–You, Alder, must serve the Lord. You must use your gifts to do good in the world.
–I’ve done plenty of good…
–What you have done in this life, you have done for yourself.
Christ’s interruption was sharp, but calm. He continued.
–You have accumulated great wealth. You must sacrifice these earthly trappings in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
–So giving away my money to the poor, is that what I need to do?
Jesus smiled.
–I have met many like you. This is not a simple checklist. And salvation is not an item you can purchase. You must love.
He pointed at Alder’s heart.  Alder straightened up, his hands on his knees.
–Why. Can’t. I. Die?
–Now is the time for all souls to come home. It is the will of the Father for His people to know Him and this is the day of judgement.
Alder was shaking his head.
–This isn’t a day. This is two hundred years. And I’m supposed to love that? I’m supposed to love your judgement? I’m supposed to reject the life I’ve built for myself?
–Yes. If you would like to pass to the next world, you cannot cling to this one. And you must earn your reward.
Alder stood, exhaling loudly.
–Whatever happened to free will?
–You still have it. And you have as much time as you’d like to exercise it. Go in peace.
***
Alder clung to the center bar of the jeepney, its dingy chrome body rattling through the streets of Manila to the airport. The slight man next to him, pungent and punctuating the street noise with coughing, turned to Alder with his hand extended, palm up; a smiling, hopeful look.  Alder leaned into the woman next to him, dug into his pocket for a five peso coin, and thought ruefully of the long flight home.

 

This piece was originally written for WRITE CLUB Atlanta.

Negatives

—You’re going to want to hang a right here…. Yeah.
We both reached for the volume knob at the same time. My car stereo actually still had a big fat volume knob. I pulled back and let him turn it way way up.
—OKAY, AFTER THIS LIGHT RIGHT HERE—THE ONE COMING UP—I’LL TELL YOU WHERE TO TURN.
He had to shout over the noise. My back speakers—the ones that were supposed to produce all the bass—had blown out a long time ago, so all music was punctuated by rattles and buzzing.
—THIS LIGHT?
—YEAH.
We’d been driving for an hour and a half, two hours from country to city. It was summer, so the sun still pulled shadows down whole blocks at seven thirty. My AC hadn’t worked for two summers. Wind through open windows had integrated dust, road grime and trace amounts of motor oil and insects into my sweat. And with the sun only now letting us simmer, I imagined our two bodies delicately breaded and fried to a tar-stained brown. It did not feel good.

He’d shaved his head a few weeks ago, but he wasn’t tending to it. Stubble pushed through his scalp, catching and holding perspiration. Every couple minutes, he’d zip a hand through it and spray sweat everywhere. That did not feel good either.
—THAT WAS IT—THAT WAS THE LIQUOR STORE. IT’S COMING RIGHT UP.

We: me and Chris. We were friends. Both photography students. We’d drive around like this and just talk, but today we were on assignment. Coasting by at 20 miles per hour, I saw the bench we were sitting on—the same bench where we were last week when we met the guy. Chris had done all the talking.

– – –

—Hey man.
—Yeah?
—Yeah dog, y’got fo quotas I cou’hold?
—Uhh, lemmie see man.
—Yeah, man, y’know I gotta geddit fo m’little girl see. She back at home, so it’s not fo me’a nuthin.
—I think I might have some change…
—Hey man, you talk?
—What?
—Do you talk?
—Me?…
—You, dog. You don’t like me, do ya?
—Uhh…here man, I got a couple bucks, here.
—Go’ bless ya man. Hey…
—Thanks man, you’re welcome.
—Hey…
—Yeah?
—Hey, check this out. My ol’lady an’ I’re thowin a party fo th’little girl an y’all’re invited.
—Oh yeah?
—Yeah, it’s m’ birthday. Hey…
—Cool man…
—Hey, yeah, y’all come. My name’s Lil Tim an’ I’ma party Friday. I need this money fo m’ol’lady cos she be drivin me roun.
—Okay man.
—Lil Tim be havin a birfday. An y’all can come. Even you man. Hey man…you talkin?
—Yeah man, what’s up?
—Hey man, since yo frien gave me some money fo my ol’lady…
—I thought it was for your little girl.
—Yeah dog. Fo bothavem.
—Ahh.
—Since m’man here gimmie money, I’ma rap fo y’all two. I’ma rapper, you know that?
—No man, you didn’t say.
—Y’all ain’t neva heard Lil Tim?
—No man.
—I’ma blow it up, check it out-
I’m Lil Tim, gon’ lay it down
Alla ladies wan’ me when’ey come aroun
Ass me Lil Tim, wanna play my game…
Hey, you gon’ come to m’party aight?
—Sure man.
—Later.

– – –

—HEY MAN, JUST GO AHEAD AND PULL OVER, I NEED A DRINK.
The front bumper scraped the curb as I parked. I shut off the ignition, ratcheted the key out of its slot in one motion and the blaring radio stopped dead. The last traces of rock music echoed back from down the empty block. We both reached for our camera bags in the back seat. His, the bastard, was a beautiful Hasselblad that he refused to say where he’d gotten and how much was paid for it. Nestled beside it was a wide angle lens and a half dozen filters that I’d never seen him use for anything but to turn his subjects green. Also, his camera bag was huge. I never touched the thing.

Mine was an old Canon I’d found in a pawn shop.

Except for the neon OPEN sign buzzing between sales posters and twelve pack boxes, the package store looked closed. There was no activity in the street this late in the day and I was sure we’d be the only ones in the store.

I was right. There was one guy behind the Plexiglas watching a football game on one of those long portable TVs. He barely looked up at us when we walked in. The place was living room-sized, the walls lined with boxes and built in coolers glowing fluorescent. Five aisles, mostly composed of similar boxes and black wire endcaps holding beef jerky: original, extra spicy and teriyaki. Chris headed straight for the chip aisle.
—I thought you needed a drink.
—I do, but I wanted to see if they had ’em here.
—Had…the old ones? I don’t think so man.
—This place looks old.
—Yeah, but chips go stale. It’s been years since anyone’s had those things.
—It’s been a while since you’ve seen these though, right?
He waved a bag of Kruncher potato chips in front of me.
—Yeah, it has, but… Those bastards broke one of my teeth once.
—Yeah?
—Yeah, I was eating ’em and had a semi-loose tooth. It came out and I like bit it in half and swallowed it. I haven’t eaten those things since.
—Weakling.
—Shut up. See, they don’t have ’em. What did you want to drink?
—I dunno. Gimmie a sec.
I went to the wall of coolers in the back. Only one door was devoted to soft drinks and I gripped its cool, slender handle for a while, scanning over the green and red and blue and silver cans and bottles. Chris called from two aisles over.
—Grab me a Pepsi, yo.
—Can or bottle?
—Bottle.
I pulled the door open, the magnetic pads cracking apart and freezer fog spilling at my feet. I could have stood there all day. I grabbed a can and a bottle of Pepsi. 76 cents and a buck twenty. I walked back over and Chris was rooting around behind the chips, his arms buried in Doritos.
—They’re not gonna fucking have ’em man.
—It’s just so stupid to have Cooler Ranch without still having Cool Ranch.
—Whatever. Are you getting chips?
—Yeah…no, no, fuck ’em.

– – –

—Hey man, turn the radio down, check it out…
—What?
—It’s Tim…walking in front of the…
—Yeah, there. By the liquor store, right?
—Yep.
—Pull up a block and park.
—What?
—Pull up…
—Yeah, why?

– – –

The street was a wide berth between three story brick-and-mortar puzzle pieces. The lowering sun frosted the red facades blond, illuminating metal shutters and windows like bullion. Our shoes scraped along cigarette filter chalk dust. The shuffles were louder than I was comfortable with. Dumpsters huddled in alleys, spilling their guts, tending to flies, cockroaches, rats.

Chris studied the scarred line of peeling movie posters on a boarded up storefront.
—Is this the right street?
—Yeah, I pulled up and parked by that shoe store there.
—Oh yeah. Wow, check those ones out.
—The red and black ones?
—Yeah, I didn’t know they still made ’em with the lights in the heel.
—They do, I see little kids wearing ’em all the time.
—Yeah, but those are like, size tens.

He took a swig from his bottle and recapped it immediately, stuffing it into the camera bag on his shoulder. I wiped my unopened can across my forehead before popping the top. The crack of aluminum sounded like a .22 echoing down the block. Chris whirled around and stared at me, then at the can in my hands. I had jumped, and there was Pepsi fizzing on my fists. He chuckled at me like he was clearing his throat and kept walking.

– – –

—Where’s he going?
—He probably lives here.
—Alright, which house?
—I don’t know, he prob… that one.
—That one.
—249.
—Yeah.
—7th Street.
—What about it?

– – –

The plan, the plan, the plan… This was all about our assignment. We were supposed to photograph a subject we did not know personally. It was obviously a ploy by our professor to get us off campus, but class discussion was mainly about the camera’s power to connect people. I mentioned that many primitive peoples still hold the belief that photographs capture a person’s soul. My professor, his hair pulled back, legs crossed as he sat on his desk, laughed. He said that if I was planning a trip to the outback, I should have gotten plane tickets for everyone.

At 243 7th Street, I stopped. Chris tipped the last of his drink into his mouth and just let the bottle drop away like a spent rocket. The plastic missile skittered nose to tail across the pavement and settled into the gutter. Remains of a pigeon or a rat or a cat’s paw lay next to it, swarming with ants. The bottle had interrupted their line, forcing them to reroute. I was staring at this when Chris thumped me on the arm.
—I can hear something coming from that house
He pointed to 249. I toed the bottle away from the line of ants and muttered a yeah.
—You okay?
—I just don’t know if I want to do this.
—You can wait in the car. I’ll let you know how it works…
—I’m coming.
I could hear it too—a blaring television with its blue-yellow projection flickering through the shutters. 249 was a carbon copy of all the other houses up and down the block: ancient two story deals whose attics were probably condemned. The brickwork was chipped—no, there were full holes in some of them. Something about 249 though went beyond the simple decay of its neighbors. I wasn’t sure if Chris saw it, but I couldn’t see his face. All I was looking at were the shutters that had long forgotten paint—at the anemic light filling the cracks. I was conscious of my line of sight shifting upward and crashing back down with each step. There were no more weeds fighting through the cracks in the front walk than those leading to 247 or 251, but these in front of us, these that Chris was now raking and flattening with his sneakers, were somehow fighting harder. I still couldn’t see his face. He sighed.

—My dad used to live in a place kinda like this.

We tread lightly up the brick steps. We approached the door. The pale TV light flickered. Whoever was home was watching a sit-com. It was a rerun.
—Yeah?
Chris knocked on the door.
The TV snapped off. The hairs on my neck bristled. Scientists say that goosebumps are a vestigial reaction to fear; when we were still covered with hair, goosebumps made us appear larger. I didn’t feel any bigger. I felt much much smaller in front of that door. There was a spray of sweat from Chris’ hand and head and another knock. I thought I heard breathing inside.
When the door finally creaked open and stuttered a couple inches in as the chain caught, both of us took a quick step back. There was no figure in the gap. But there was a voice.
—What?
I looked at Chris, expecting him to be looking back with a similar terrified face, but he was in the moment.
—Lil Tim?
—What?
That one word shot out as though it could physically hurt us.
—Tim, it’s us man. It’s your birthday.
—Bitch, I ain’t nev’seen you fore, neva. Ge’th’fuck outta here.
—Tim, you invited us. We paid you.
—What? Y’all mu’fuckas bes’step off my do’step.
—Lil Tim, you rapped for us. We wanted more. We can pay you more.
The door slammed shut. Air surged back into my lungs. A chain rattled and the door swung open wide this time. His arm clutched his side of the doorknob and he shouldered the frame, blocking our entrance. This was indeed Lil Tim. He was even wearing the same shirt he had on last weekend. He looked at us for a long time, glaring as if something else was using his eyes to examine us. Not a hint of recognition there. Behind him was the television we’d heard, surrounded by dented beer cans. There were little blue bulls printed on them, their horns aimed at us.
—You boys her’me rap?
—Yeah, can we come in?
—Cuss I’ma rap. You boys go’money, I rap fo’y’all.
—Sure man. David, give him some money.
It was a shock to hear him address me. I dug into my pocket for the change from the store and handed over whatever was in there. A couple pennies dropped to the porch, pinging on the bare brick and spinning around at our feet. Lil Tim took the crumpled, sweaty bills I gave him, and for a second we made eye contact. Bloodshot. The circles of brown to black nearly indiscernible. The examining glare gone, the circles, bags, wrinkles around the eyes apparent now. As he took the money, his eyes communicated nothing. His face read neutrality—vacancy. Maybe, I thought, we were both operating automatically now, just reacting to Chris.

Tim took a step back and Chris stepped in. I followed. The door shut. Tim fingered the cans resting on top of the television and, finding one with some heft, lifted it to his lips and downed the contents.
—Y’all know I’ma rap.
The smell of the place was foul and stale, like no one was actually living there. It was very dark and all the walls were wood-paneled. The television was plugged into a ragged orange extension cord that snaked out of a crack in the side window. There was cardboard and duct tape over what I could see of the kitchen windows down the hall, and our shoes scraping against the floor sounded like rocks on wood.
—I’ma rap. I’ma ge’summo’da drink.
He shuffled down the hall and we heard him open the fridge. There was no clinking of bottles or shifting around, just the pop of aluminum. Chris pulled his camera out and turned it on, getting a quick shot of the TV. I watched Tim shuffle back down the hall, lifting another beer to his face. Lowering the can to his knees, he looked up and grinned.

At my left, Chris had his lens pointed at Tim, framed in the hallway, beer in hand. Chris detached and held the flash way out to his left and when it popped, shadows shot all the way up to the ceiling. Lil Tim chuckled like he was sneezing and made for the television chair. Chris backed off and gave him room to move, never taking his aim away. The chair was just a metal frame and a seat. The backrest was gone. It sat in the middle of the room with its back to the front window. Tim sat down and stared at the TV.
—Tim, we’re going to take some pictures of you while you rap for us.
Chris motioned for me to take pictures and I rummaged into my camera bag without taking my eyes off the master of the house.
—Maybe you could stand against that wall there.
Tim cleared his throat and stood fully erect for the first time that we’d seen. He raised his beer to us and walked to the wall. Chris and I both snapped pictures of him as he did this and I felt myself relax a little.

Tim shuffled through a series of poses that mostly involved cocking his shoulders in different directions and not spilling his drink. Chris took most of the shots.
—You boys wan’ sommin’a drink?
I piped up sure and left the two in the front room.

The kitchen was dark. By now, there was no fading daylight to stream through the cracks in the boarded up windows. There was the cracking of warped linoleum underfoot and the skittering of unsavory insects. I swung the refrigerator door wide, but no light came on. I stood for a moment and let my eyes adjust. There was no humming of appliance motors. The cans of beer that I gripped were warm. I followed laughter back down the hall.
—I knew you boys was good.
—Damn right we are.
Chris snapped two shots as Tim finished off his drink and took the one I proffered him. I set the second one down next to him.
—Naw, I mean like they wanna me t’talk t’ya.
—They wanted you to talk to us?
The flash stripped his face of shadows for one blinding second.
—Yeah, they w’li’, hep those boys, they all beat up.
Chris laughed.
—So you were gonna kick our asses, but someone got to us first?
—I dunno ‘bout all’at, bu’ they showed me. They showed yo skin all black an’ blue.
—Wait, what?
Chris fiddled with one of his filters, arching his eyebrows toward Tim.

I looked down at my hands clutching the old Canon. It occurred to me what the name implied. I wasn’t sure I liked that. I felt my palms clam around the camera.
—I saw you sittin’ere all black an’ blue an’ey tol’ me t’go over talk t’ya.
—Man, who told you?
—They always be aroun. I cou’hep you.
Tim moved from his pose against the wall and took two heavy steps toward Chris.
—I don’t need any help Tim.
Chris stepped back, crushing a can underfoot. The bull gripped his heel and he had to scrape and stomp it off. He flailed his camera around his head and Tim turned to me.
—You too. You all black an’ blue too. You boys is hurt. I’m’a hep you like a—like a good Samaritan.
—I’m not hurt. What are you talking about?
I felt like I was screaming.
—He doesn’t know.
I looked over Tim’s shoulder and Chris wasn’t holding a camera anymore. I hadn’t seen him draw it. I didn’t know he’d had it. Lil Tim and I turned toward Chris and put our hands up.
—You gotta gun.
Tim said it as if Chris didn’t know. Like it was something he’d had to repeat in his head a few times. Tim took a sip of the beer that was still pinched between the thumb and middle finger of one of his half-raised arms.
—Yeah I do, don’t I?
Spit was caught in my throat. It gurgled as I tried to breathe.
—Man, you boys ain’hurt. You jes black an’ blue all ova.
—SHUT UP.
Chris’ arm shook.
—We don’t want any more of your shit. Now give David his money back and back away from the door.
—Chris…
—Ged’oudda my house.
Chris straightened up, his arm taut.
—SHUT UP AND DO IT.
—BITCH… Lil Tim’s shoulders rolled back,
—I SAID… he threw his arms out, fountaining beer,
—GED’OUDDA MY HOUSE. and knocked Chris’ hand toward the ceiling. The gun fired a shot through the front wall. I saw the wood panel explode a few feet above the window and the blast was the only thing in my ears, replaying endlessly as I ripped open the front door and ran and Chris ran and the explosion rang as my feet missed all six brick steps to hit the weeds in the pavement and chase me down the block to the liquor store—destroying all sound as I clutched my keys and Chris’ knee slammed into the front fender as my heart beat gunshots and unlocked the doors and fell inside and Chris squeezed the gun and his knee in the shotgun seat and the engine and music detonated to life and Chris tossed the gun into the glove box and clutched the bruising knee in his hands, grimaced a tear through his closed eyes, and curled the pain to his face.

TDK D90

I sincerely hope I don’t catch myself masturbating.

That was my last thought as I heard the tape begin to slow down. I laid down, relaxed my extremities and took a deep breath as the tape slowed more, and the sound dropped in octaves until that perfect moment when the last, single second droned in a loop and there was a sensation like lying just under the surface of a rushing river. The drone of the tape echoed off unknown surfaces in this unknown space where I didn’t feel weightless, but exhilarated, like some airborne thing.

And then it was over and the sound left my ears and I opened my eyes and I was lying prone in my old bedroom. The tape whirred in the boombox next to me, the gears grinding against the end of Side A. The snap of the PLAY button disengaging woke me up fully from my trip. I was alone, thank goodness.

My crappy old guitar lay on the bed. My girlfriend’s slightly less-crappy guitar leaned against the closet door. I sat on the bed and idly tuned the thing up and looked around. The mess was a lot less charming at fourteen years remove. Stacks of CDs, books, papers, dishes occupied every available surface. The dim room had the musty smell of old laundry trapped behind a rarely-opened door.

Time travel, as it turned out, was pretty easy. I’d found this old cassette while I was digging through a box my mom had given me of my brother’s old things. It was a tape I’d made back in high school–it was this really embarrassing pastiche of me singing really bad songs I’d written, prank phone calls, and songs I’d taped off the radio. It’s the kind of thing one finds when and where they least expect it, is burdensome to know it exists, and is therefore kept and cherished forever. I’d popped it in out of morbid curiosity. It began, mercifully, with a Matthew Sweet song–the tape starting a bar into it, the DJ shouting the station’s call letters over the opening riff. I lay on my living room floor and then… and then I was in my parent’s old house, in my old bedroom. And not metaphorically, I was actually there. I’d quickly (and I still think I’m a kind of secret time genius for thinking of this) ejected the tape, flipped it to Side B, hit play and lay back down. That brought me back home.

I’m not certain what made me want to come back. Walking through the old subdivision didn’t really clarify that. I’d broken one of the cardinal rules of time travel by going out in public, but given the frequency with which I’d ever conversed with any of our old neighbors, I didn’t think I was in danger of running into anyone. Plus, I didn’t want to be lurking in my bedroom when I eventually got home from school. That would be creepy.

So I hid in the bushes near my old bus stop and waited for it to arrive. Not long after, the long yellow bus groaned and squealed and stammered and pulled away in a cloud of fumes and there I was. Wearing several layers of black clothes, despite the May Georgia heat. Shoulder-length hair pulled back in a pony tail, I leaned forward as I walked against the weight of my bookbag. I stared at the ground as I walked, only slightly bobbing my head at whatever was playing on my Walkman–a ratty pair of headphones at my ears, the stringy cord swaying at each step. It was almost quiet enough for me to hear the mechanisms whirring around inside the tape player, to sense the emulsion sliding around the heads and capstans. The electrical impulses traveling up the copper wiring into the cheap plastic speakers–the tiny vibrations pumping directly into his ears–my ears–moving bones and converting air back into electrical impulses inside of my barely comprehending mind.

I didn’t want to attempt a direct confrontation and be startling, so I positioned myself on my periphery and attempted to make eye contact. When I sauntered past without so much as a glance, I ran to my driveway and waited.

And there, at ten paces, we stared at each other. Like pistols at high noon. He pulled the headphones down to his neck and straightened up. I tried to appear as friendly as I could while meeting his gaze and being the same person as him, only older.

–Wha… he asked.
–Yeah, hi.

I was breaking another cardinal rule of time travel: don’t meet yourself or you could make the universe implode or something. I didn’t see that happening now, so I figured we were safe.

–Hey look, you wanna go for a drive?
I held up the keys I’d swiped from the pegboard by the front door.

Once in close quarters, side by side in my mom’s old Mercury Sable, he seemed to loosen up a little. He dug a cassette out of his bookbag and put it in the deck.

–Pixies? I asked. He nodded. Of course.

We drove that way for a few miles, letting Surfer Rosa run out Side A. We got to an empty stretch of undeveloped land around the time the tape flipped over, magnetic heads snapping into place, the reels running in reverse and an REM album started, again, the transformation from electricity to air and back. The car sped us through country making a bid for suburb. I knew that in a few years, they’d start building a neighborhood here, then a shopping center across the road. And then by the time I was out of college, both of those things would be already falling into disrepair. This whole area would go from bustling back to the quiet we were driving through now. He didn’t know any of this.

–You wanna drive?

He started to say something, I assured him that yeah, I’d walk him through it. I pulled over and we walked around the car. I got in, buckled up–he stood outside at the open door for a minute, silent, not moving–before hopping into the bucket seat.

–Where we going? I asked.
–You tell me old man.

I recognized that tone and the squint in his eyes. He regretted saying it as soon as it came out. He was testing his boundaries. I chuckled.

–Just take it up to that stretch by the park, there’s a long straightaway there.
–So why are you here?
I had to think about that for a second.
–I don’t know.
–You traveled back in time and you don’t know why?
–If you found out you could, wouldn’t you just go? And you are me, so I know what you’d do because I did it.
–Good to know. … So when do I start getting fat?
–I’m not fat! I’m… 30.
–But I mean, like, you’re doing okay, right? Like, I’m gonna be alright?
–Yeah. Trust me, you will leave this town, things will be …interesting for a while. But your life gets so much bigger after high school and man, after college. You know…hang in there.

I felt pretty lame saying that last part. But one of the biggest rules of time travel was not to say or do anything that would fuck up the future, so, apart from dropping in on my sixteen year old self, I was staying pretty guarded.

–So you’re married. Who do I get married to?
–Man, I can’t tell you that. You’ll meet her eventually.
–Is she anyone I’m in school with now?
–God no.
I couldn’t help myself there.
–Look, I’m not gonna drop a bunch of hints for you about what your future’s gonna be like. You’re going to live, you’ll fuck up occasionally–it mostly turns out okay. But there is one thing…

I swear that at this point I didn’t pause and stare out the window for dramatic effect, I just had to think carefully about what I was going to say next.

–You should talk to your brother more. Like start having conversations with him. I know that you feel like the black sheep in the family and you’ve got a lot of issues… There’s…um…

He was looking at me. I had to gesture at him to keep his eyes on the road. Christ, I could be flaky.

–That’s really the only thing I can ask you to do. You know he’s a quiet guy.
–Yeah, he is.
–So, you know.
–Yeah. Yeah.

The tape had played all the way to “West of the Fields” by the time we pulled back into the driveway. Downstairs in my bedroom, I got the boombox ready to send me back. He picked up a guitar and strummed a couple things.

–Hey, you wanna hear this song I’m working on?
I chuckled.
–I’ve heard it. You’ve got a coffee house show coming up?
–Yeah!
–Dude. Seven songs. Keep it to seven songs. That is an acceptable set length for an acoustic singer-songwriter.

Tape went in on Side B. I hit play, lay down, and was gone.

I came to on my living room floor. My living room was still my living room. My house was still my house. My cat ran up and pounced on my chest.

That’s funny. I never had a cat before.

This piece was originally written for a Hyde ATL reading themed around time travel.