Raveled Sleave

Stumbling from the mouth of the cave, he shaded his eyes from the blinding blast of the harsh sun. It wasn’t enough. Sitting, he closed his eyes, letting the light filter through the lids, slowing seeping in until he could open them a crack and see where he was.

The mountain above was jagged, hard, rocky. Below, down a slope strewn with miniatures of the peak above, was a flat plain.

On the flat plain was a dwelling.

Between him and the dwelling, a small figure sat, doing something on the ground.

He stood, eager to go down. Not because he was curious about what the small figure was doing, but because that figure would see him, speak to him.

The heavy boots he wore were perfect for the terrain, as were the dungarees and light shirt. More than a few sleeps ago he’d stopped wondering about the clothing. It simply was, like everything else in his confusing existence.

“Hello.”

A young girl, more than half his height, but young. Seven, perhaps eight, if he had to put a number to it, but then, how would he know?

“Hello yourself.”

There was another curiosity. Had language never changed? The few people he spoke to understood him, in fact, spoke so exactly like him that he’d begun to assume he was being adapted, somehow, to each successive encounter.

“Are you a stranger? I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.”

He crouched down, to be on her level.

“I don’t think I’m a stranger, but of course, you should always mind your parents.”

The young girl stood from her play, pushing figurines of animals around in a dusty menagerie.

“Do you want some lemonade?”

“I think I might like that. But still, you should ask your mother—”

“That’s what I’m going to do, silly. I’ll tell her you’re here to play with me, and that we need some lemonade because it’s hot.”

He smiled. “You make sense, young lady. I will wait.”

Shortly, she returned with two glass bottles filled with lemonade. A woman stood in the doorway, drying a plate and smiling.

Yet another unusual thing. Strangers trusted him, as if he wore a special sign from God that he was no danger to them. She simply smiled and went back inside to her cleaning.

He and the little girl moved the animal figurines around in what struck him as outlandish situations and circumstances. Her inexhaustible imagination would have worn him out when he was younger. He wondered at his own immaturity, selfishness. Was it part of the point of his situation, part of the cause, perhaps a remedy?

The lemonade was gone. The animals were, apparently, tired, and needed to be stabled for the night. The sun was, in fact, sinking behind an even bigger mountain across the valley.

He knew, but he asked anyway.

“Do you know what year this is?”

“Course I do.” Her answer sounded like she was saying two different numbers, twenty, and ten.

One-hundred and ten years. A new millennium.

He stood.

“Will you come play with me again tomorrow?”

He wanted to touch her, to ruffle her hair, but he didn’t.

“I’ll see. If I’m still around tomorrow, I’d like that.”

He would not see her again. He knew that. He did not know where he would wake up next. He only knew when.

Then, some child, it was always a child, would answer with another unusual pair of numbers, or rather, the same number twice, twenty-one twenty-one, each sleep a year longer than the previous.

His climb back up to the cave to sleep was the same stillness it always was.


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The Time in Maggie’s Room

Maggie knew her father hadn’t meant her to fall. When he pushed her into the room to pull her door closed she had stumbled over the rug, hitting her head against the corner of the oak armoire. The sound of his own heavy boots must have covered the noise of her fall, for why else would he have locked the door and walked away without first determining that she was unhurt?

Weak and wobbly, she pulled herself up by the massive knobbed handles on the doors of the armoire, then stumbled to her bed, more falling than sitting. Her head didn’t hurt, but the spinning wouldn’t stop. Closing her eyes helped. She rubbed her temples, which didn’t.

Her stomach reminded her that she was stuck here until supper. It seemed hours since she’d fallen, but since supper was promptly at six and her father’s quite unreasonable burst of anger had befallen her at five, she had not long to wait.

Normally comfortable, her boots pinched, as if she’d had them on too long. She drew her feet up on the bed one at a time to unlace them, dropping them on the floor. Another wave of dizziness lurched through her stomach. She rubbed her temples, eyes closed.

As the dizziness passed, she stopped rubbing and opened her eyes. Surely it must be near six.

Her clock read 4:15.

She must have forgotten to wind it this morning. It was her habit to wind it each day, but as is the case with habits, it had become unconscious, automatic, and so she didn’t remember winding it. May as well wind it now, estimating the correct time, and set it properly from the hall clock downstairs before bed tonight.

It was ticking. The clock was ticking when she picked it up. She had indeed wound it this morning. But why was the time wrong? It was not old. Her father had given it to her in the spring upon his return from the city. Surely it would keep better time than this.

Yet something was amiss. The ticking of the clock was clear in her ears and her fingers.

And now it pointed most definitely at 4:14.

Maggie returned the clock to its place on the table and felt behind her for the bed, climbing up to sit crosslegged, head bowed, face in her hands. She rubbed her temples, rubbed her eyes, shook her head, pinched her cheeks, tugged at the shorter hair in front of her ears.

Wiping her eyes, she looked again at the clock.

4:13.


Persistent Time

Continued from a previous post

It was too easy.

The intense moment of exhilaration passed, leading to saner thoughts. Reason, not emotion.

Perhaps I had only delayed their meeting, not prevented it altogether. Return to 2019 and see what family history said? Certainly, but if you’re already at the store you don’t go home to see if there’s something else on your shopping list.

city-streetThis version of wandering the store to see if I’d forgotten eggs or cheese meant following one of my erstwhile grandparents.

He had seen me. She had not.

Rushing through the crowd as rudely as I’d pretended to be to my grandfather, I saw her. May as well follow her to be sure.

Up East Lane toward Main she moved in and out of sight, the crowds from the train station being thicker here. The crowds dispersed at Main Street, walking east or west or climbing into carriages or sparkling automobiles. Once we crossed Main Street she and I were virtually alone. She turned left on Oak Lane, as I’d assumed she would.

Before we got to the grand Victorian at the corner of Oak and Third, she stopped, whirled, and came back my direction. Since she had no reason to know who I was, I simply continued walking, and made as if to pass her, tipping my grubby cap as she approached.

“Why are you following me?” Her voice was loud in the empty street.

I tried to step past, tried to remain calm. This was not what I’d expected.

“Why should I follow you, madame? I’m simply enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, and we happened to be going the same direction. I apologize if I startled you.”

I took another step. She blocked my way.

“You were at the station. I saw you accost that man. Now you’re following me. I ask again, why?”

Time for action, not words. I tried to step around her but she grabbed my arm. I put my hand on her wrist, trying to gently pull it from my own, but her grip was stronger than I’d expected.

“Take your hands off her, you thug.”

Surprised, I let go and turned to face the speaker, whose voice I recognized, of course. My grandmother covered her mouth with her free hand. A tiny squeal escaped past her fingers.

My grandfather, for the second time that day, punched me square in the face. This time it was hard enough to knock me down, bloodying my face. By the time I got up and cleared my vision, they were gone.

So that’s how you want to play it, eh, Time? I accept the challenge.

I set out to prevent my grandparents’ marriage, even if it killed me.