Somewhere In Time

Richard Matheson

Tor Books

November 14, 1971
 
Driving down Long Valley Road. Lovely day; bright sunshine, blue sky. Past the three-rail fences painted white. A horse appraises me. Ranch country in Los Angeles. Down one side of a road dip, up the other. Sunday morning. Peaceful. Pepper trees on each side of the road, foliage stirring in the breeze.
Almost out now. Away from Bob and Mary, from their house, from my little guest house out in back; from Kit who came to visit while I worked, clomped hooves, sighed, nickered, groaned, and, all else failing to evoke attention and potential feed, bumped her nose against my wall. No more.
The last dip and the final speed bump. Up ahead, Ventura Freeway and the world. Adios Amigos printed on the sign above the gatehouse. Farewell, Hidden Hills.
* * *
Standing in the car wash. Strangely empty. Everyone at church? A beige Mercedes-Benz just inched by. Always meant to get one someday. Scratch another project. Drinking beef broth purchased from the vending machine. Here comes my dark blue Galaxie. Staid, acceptable, and moderately priced; my kind of car. The nozzles greet it, shooting out their long, thin streams of lather.
* * *
In the empty parking lot outside the post office. Last visit to my box. Won’t bother stopping service. Mailed my last bill payments off to Ma Bell and The Broadway.
* * *
Waiting at the stop sign by Topanga Boulevard. An opening now. A quick turn left—ease over—right turn—up the ramp and onto the Ventura Freeway. Farewell, Woodland Hills.
A really gorgeous day. The sky bright blue; thin pale streamers of clouds. The air like cold, white wine. Past Gemco, past the Valley Music Theatre. Both behind me now, no longer real. Solipsism is my game now.
Flipped a coin before I left the house; heads north, tails south. Heading for San Diego. Odd to think that one more penny flip and I’d be in San Francisco late this afternoon.
My luggage is spare: two bags. In one, my dark brown suit, my dark green sport coat, slacks, a few shirts, underwear, socks, shoes, and handkerchiefs, my small zip case of toiletries. In the other suitcase, my phonograph, headphones, and ten Mahler symphonies. By my side, my faithful ol’ cassette recorder. Clothes on my back; the works. Except, of course, the traveler’s checks and cash. Five thousand seven hundred and ninety-two dollars and thirty-four cents.
Funny. When I went to the Bank of America Friday, and stood in line, I started to become impatient. Then it came to me. No need to be impatient any longer. I looked at all the people, feeling sorry for them. They were still subordinate to clock and calendar. Absolved of that, I stood becalmed.
* * *
Just missed the turnoff for the San Diego Freeway. No sweat. May as well observe my footloose scheme right off. I’ll readjust, go downtown, hit the Harbor Freeway, and reach San Diego by another route.
A billboard up ahead commending Disneyland. Should I pay a final visit to the Magic Kingdom? Haven’t been there since Mom visited in 1969 and Bob and Mary and their kids and I took her out there. No; Disneyland is out. The only attraction there, for me, would be the Haunted Mansion.
Another billboard. Blurb: Now Open—The Queen Recommends Long Beach. That sounds more like it. Never been aboard her; Bob went overseas on her in World War II. Why not take a look at her?
* * *
To my left, the obelisk, the big, black tombstone: Universal Tower. How many times have I been in there on appointments? Strange to realize I’ll never see another producer, never prepare another script. Never again have to call my agent. “Hey, for Chrissake, where’s my check? I’m overdrawn.” A peaceful thought, that. Super timing too; to leave when hardly anyone is working anyway.
Nearly to the Hollywood Bowl. Haven’t been there since late August. Took that Screen Gems secretary. What was her name again? Joan, June, Jane? I can’t recall. All I remember is she said she just adored classical music. Bored her silly. Insignificant stuff too, Bowl-style. Rachmaninoff’s Second Concerto? Joanjunejane had never even heard it.
You’d think that, after all these years, I would have met someone. Bad Karma? Something bad. To never, in your whole life, meet a female who gets through to you? Incredible. Something hidden in my past, no doubt. Obsession with my tricycle. Boo, Freud. Can’t you just accept the fact I never met a woman I could love?
* * *
In heavy traffic near the Harbor Freeway. Cars surround me. Men and women everywhere. They don’t know me, I don’t know them. Smog down here. Hope it’s clear in San Diego. Never been there; don’t know what it’s like. One could describe death that way.
The Music Center. Stunning place. Went there a week or so ago, B.C.—before Crosswell. Mahler’s Second Symphony performed. Mehta did a brilliant job. When the chorus came in softly in the final movement, I began to tingle.
How many downtowns will I see? Denver? Salt Lake City? Kansas City? Have to stay in Columbia for a day or two.
Amusing thought. I’m going to be a criminal because I don’t intend to mail in any more car payments. And you know what, Mr. Ford? I don’t even care.
Jesus!
* * *
A truck just veered in front of me and I had to switch lanes fast. My heart began to pound because I didn’t have time to see if anyone was close behind me in that lane.
My heart is still pounding and I feel relief at being safe.
How pointless can you get?
* * *
I see her three red, black-tipped smokestacks now. Is she cemented there? Already, I feel sad for her. Rooting such a ship in place is like stuffing an eagle. The figure may look impressive but its soaring days are over.
The Queen just spoke; a deafening cry that shook the air. How huge she is. An Empire State Building lying on its side.
* * *
I paid my money at the red booth, rode the escalator up, and now trudge slowly along the covered walk, approaching her. To my right is Long Beach Harbor, water very blue and moving fast. To my left, a small boy stares at me. Who’s the funny man talking into a black box?
Another escalator ahead, very long. How tall is the Queen} Twenty stories, I’d estimate.
* * *
Sitting in the Main Lounge. Woodwork finish of the thirties. Odd they thought it chic. Broad columns. Tables, chairs. A dance floor. On the stage, a grand piano.
* * *
An arcade; shops around a tile-floored plaza. Overhead lights the size of truck wheels. Tables, chairs, and sofas. All this floated once? Amazing. What was it like on the Titanic? Imagine a place like this awash with icy sea. A frightening vision.
* * *
What I’d like to do is sneak below; to the dark part, where the cabins are. Walk along the silent, shadowed corridors. I wonder if they’re haunted.
I won’t, of course. I’ll obey the rules.
Old habits die harder than those who follow them.
* * *
A blown-up photo on the bulkhead. Gertrude Lawrence with her white dog. Like the one they used in David Lean’s Oliver Twist; ugly, squat, and pointy-eared.
Miss Lawrence smiles. She does not realize, as she strolls the Queen’s deck, that mortality walks close behind her.
* * *
Photos in a case titled Memorabilia.
David Niven doing a Scottish jig. He looks quite merry. He doesn’t know his wife is going to die soon. I gaze at that frozen moment and feel uncomfortably godlike.
There’s Gloria Swanson in her furs. There’s Leslie Howard; how young he looks. I remember seeing him in a movie called Berkeley Square. I recall him time-traveling back to the eighteenth century.
In a way, I’m doing something like that at this moment. Being on this ship is being partially in the 1930s. Even to the music piped around. It has to be music played aboard the Queen at that time; it’s so dated, so magnificently ricky-tick.
An announcement on the board states, Christened by Her Majesty The Queen, 26th Sept., 1934. Five months before my birth.
* * *
Sitting in the Observation Bar. No business-suited men around me though, no drink before me on the table. Only tourists and black coffee in a plastic cup, an apple danish baked in Anaheim.
Does she mind? I wonder. Does the Queen accept her fall from grace? Or is she angry? I’d be.
Looking at the counter section. What was it like in those days? Give us a gin and tonic, Harry. A glass of white wine. J.B. on the rocks, please. Now, submarine sandwiches and ice-cold milk and burning-hot coffee.
Above the counter is a mural. People dancing, holding hands, a long thin oval of them. Who are they supposed to be? All of them are frozen like this ship.
I feel an odd sensation in my stomach. Something like the feeling I get watching a movie about racing when they show a point-of-view shot from inside the car; my body knows it’s sitting still, yet visually I’m traveling at high speed and the irreconcilable contrast makes me queasy.
Here the feeling is reversed yet equally uncomfortable. I’m the one who’s moving and the Queen’s environment is fixed. Does that make sense? I doubt it. But this place is starting to give me the creeps.
* * *
Officers’ Quarters. No one here but me, in between two tour groups. The sensation is intense now; something pressing at my solar plexus. Sounds enhance it; announcements made aboard the Queen back then: “Will Miss Molly Brown please contact the Information Bureau?” The Unsinkable?
A bell rings as I stare into the Captain’s Dayroom. Were they smaller people then? Those chairs look undersized to me. Another announcement: “Angela Hampton has a telegram awaiting her at the Purser’s Office.” Where is Angela now? Did she get her telegram? I hope it was good news.
Invitations on the wall. Uniforms hanging motionless behind glass windows. Books on shelves. Curtains, clocks. A desk, a pale white telephone. All suspended, static.
* * *
Navigating Bridge; the Nerve Center they called it. Polished, bright, and dead. Those wheels will never turn again. That telegraph will never relay orders to the Engine Room. That radar screen will be forever darkened.
* * *
Had to leave the tour part of the ship. Still feel odd. Sitting on a bench in the Museum. Extremely modern here; out of sync with where I’ve been. I feel depressed. Why did I come here anyway? A bad idea. I need a forest, not a landlocked mortuary.
* * *
Well, okay, I’ll see it through. That’s my way. Never break off in the middle. Never put aside a book, however dull. Never walk out on a play or movie or a concert, boring though it is. Eat everything on your plate. Be polite to older people. Don’t kick dogs.
Stand up, damn it. Move.
Walking through the main room of the Museum. Giant blow-up of a front page grabs my eye: The Long Beach Press-Telegram. The headlines read: congress declares war.
Lord. An entire division aboard this ship. Bob experienced it too. Ate off a partitioned tray like that one, with eating utensils like those. Wore a long brown overcoat like that, a brown wool hat, a helmet with a liner like that, combat boots like that. Carried a duffel bag like that and slept in a bunk like one of those stacked three high. That would be my brother’s memorabilia of the Queen. No Scottish jigs or walking one’s pointy-eared, white dog. Just being nineteen years old and crossing an ocean toward likely death.
* * *
That sensation again. A core of deadness hanging in my stomach.
* * *
More memorabilia. Dominoes. Dice in a leather cup. A mechanical pencil. Books for religious services; Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Christian Scientist—that old, familiar book. I feel as though I were an archaeologist excavating in a temple. More photographs. Mr. and Mrs. Don Ameche. Harpo Marx. Eddie Cantor. Sir Cedric Hard-wicke. Robert Montgomery. Bob Hope. Laurel and Hardy. Churchill. All suspended in time, forever smiling.
I’ve got to leave.
* * *
Sitting in my car again, depleted. Is this what psychics feel like after entering a house filled with a presence of the past? I felt it growing in me constantly, a drawing, twisting discomfort. The past is in that vessel. I doubt it will endure with all those people tramping through. Presently, it must be dissipated. But it’s there now.
* * *
Then again, maybe it was just the apple danish.
* * *
Twenty minutes after two, on my way to San Diego, listening to some weird, cacophonous music; no melodic line, no content.
Lordy, there I go again. Held up by a camper, pulling out into the next lane, speeding up and passing, jockeying to gain position. Don’t you get the point, R.C.?
The music ended. Didn’t hear what it was. Now they’re starting “Ragtime for Eleven Wind Instruments” by Stravinsky. Just turned off the radio.
* * *
Los Angeles has vanished now. So, too, has Long Beach and the Queen, San Diego is a fantasy. All that’s real is here; this piece of highway unreeling in front of me.
Where will I stop in San Diego?—assuming it exists, of course. What difference does it make? I’ll find a place, go out to eat; maybe a Japanese restaurant. I’ll catch a movie, read a magazine or take a walk, I’ll drink, pick up a girl, stand on a dock, throw stones at boats, I’ll decide when I get there. Boo to schedules.
Listen, cheer up, kiddo! It’s going to be a ball! There’re months and months ahead!
* * *
There’s a seafood restaurant. Think I’ll start eating swordfish. Open my meals with bowls of Bon Vivant vichyssoise.
* * *
San Juan Capistrano is kaput.
A godlike feeling to uncreate entire communities with a stroke of will.
* * *
The clouds ahead are like mountains of snow piled into giant, castlelike shapes against the blue sky.
* * *
No character at all. Just turned on the radio again. They’re playing Liszt’s Les Préludes. Music of the nineteenth century suits me better.
* * *
Clouds look like smoke now. As though the world is burning up.
That feeling in my stomach is returning. Makes no sense now that the Queen is far behind.
I guess it was the apple danish after all.
* * *
The traffic is thickening as I enter San Diego proper. Got to get out of it.
Isn’t there a place called Sea World down here? Think so. See a whale jump through a hoop. Downtown. Getting hemmed in. Billboards popping up like toadstools. Just past four o’clock. I’m getting nervous.
Why did I come here? It all seems senseless now. A hundred and twenty-eight miles for what?
Tomorrow I’ll turn east. I’ll wake up early, sweat out the headache, start for Denver.
* * *
Christ, it’s like being back in Los Angeles! Surrounded by cars switching lanes, red lights blinking, angry driver faces.
Ah; a bridge ahead. I’ll take it. Don’t care where it leads so long as it’s away from this.
Coronado says the sign.
* * *
Driving straight into the sun. It blinds me. Fiery, golden disc.
* * *
Cliffs in the distance; the Pacific Ocean.
* * *
What’s that on the edge of the water? Huge, weird structure. I’ll pay my toll and take a look.
* * *
Just turned left onto A Avenue. Looks old, this place. There’s an English cottage on my right. No traffic here. A quiet, tree-lined street. Maybe I can stay here overnight. Has to be a motel somewhere. There’s an old house like a mansion from the nineteenth century. Made of brick; bay windows, giant chimneys.
Is that it up ahead? Look at that red-shingled tower.
I don’t believe it.
* * *
Just drove in the wrong way. Sitting in a parking lot behind the building. Must be sixty, seventy years old. Enormous place. Five stories high, painted white, red-shingled roof.
Have to find the front of it.
* * *
There’s a motel across the way if this turns out not to be— it is a hotel!
* * *
I’m in Room 527, looking out a window at the ocean. The sun is almost down, a vivid orange slice of it above the horizon to the left of a dark cliff line. No one on the strand of pearl-gray beach. I can see and hear the surf, a tumbling thunder. A little past four thirty. This is such a restful spot, I may stay here for more than one night.
Must look around.
* * *
Glazed by twilight, the patio looks unreal; huge, with curving walks and green manicured lawns. The sky looks like a painted studio backdrop. Maybe this is Disneyland South.
I drove up underneath the porte cochere before and an attendant parked my car, a porter took my bags; he looked a little startled at the weight of my second suitcase. I followed him up a red-carpeted ramp to the foyer, circled a white metal bench with a planter in the middle, stepped into the lobby, signed the register, and was led across this patio. Birds were fiercely noisy inside trees so thickly foliaged I couldn’t even see the birds.
Now the trees are still, the patio is still.
* * *
I’m looking at it from the fifth-floor balcony; at chairs and tables with umbrellas, banks of flowers. This is a chimerical place. I’m looking at an American flag flying high above the tower. What’s up there? I wonder.
* * *
Too hungry to wait for dinner service; six p.m. in the Prince of Wales Grille, six thirty in the Coronet Room. It’s only five. If I drink for an hour, I’ll be out of it and I don’t want that. I intend to savor this place.
I’m sitting in the almost empty Coronet Room by one of the picture windows; asked and was told that I could still get limited lunch service. Adjoining is the massive Crown Room, used only, I gather, for banquets. Outside, I see the place where I first drove up. Was it only forty minutes ago?
This room is beautiful. Wall panels of red-and-gold-textured material, above them panels of richly finished wood curving to a ceiling three or four stories high. White-clothed tables, candles lit in dark yellow tubes, tall metal goblets waiting for the dinner guests. All most gracious-looking.
The waitress just brought my soup.
Eating now, superb, thick navy-bean soup with chunks of ham. Delicious. I’m really hungry. Which may be pointless in the long run but is something to be relished at the moment. This stunning room. This good, hot soup.
I wonder if I have enough money to stay here indefinitely. At twenty-five dollars a day, my pot wouldn’t go very far. I imagine they have monthly rates but even so I’d probably be destitute before departed.
How long has this hotel been here? There’s a sheet of information in my room I’ll look at later. It’s an old place though. En route to the lobby via a basement corridor leading from the Prince of Wales Grille, I passed through a marvelous old barroom with a palatial counter; I must have a drink there tomorrow. Also saw an arcade with a barbershop and jewelry shop, peeked into a side room filled with game machines, glanced momentarily at some period photos on the wall. Will take a look at them as well. Later, when I’ve fed my ravenous body.
Too dark now to see much outside. Shadowy trees nearby, some parked cars, and, beyond that, the multicolored lights of San Diego in the distance. Reflected in the window is the huge, hanging light fixture, a crown of lights suspended in the night. This is not like being in the beached and overrun Queen Mary. This is the Queen still ruling the seas.
Only one thing wrong: the music. Inappropriate. Should be something more genteel. A string quartet playing Lehár.
* * *
I’m sitting in a giant armchair on the mezzanine above the lobby. In front of me is an enormous chandelier with tiers of red-shaded lights and necklaces of crystal dangling from its bottom. The ceiling overhead is intricate and heavy-looking, dark paneled sections polished to a high gloss. I can see a massive, paneled column, the main staircase, and the gilded grillwork of the elevator shaft. I came up by another staircase. There was a silence on it I could feel in my flesh.
This chair is something else. The back is far above my head, two plump urchins flanking its scroll. Both arms end in winged dragons whose scaly serpent forms extend to the seat. Where the arms join in back, two figures loll, one a childlike Bacchus, the other a staring, fur-legged Pan, playing on his pipes.
Who sat on this chair before me? How many have looked across that railing down into the lobby at the men and women sitting, standing, chatting, entering, and leaving? In the 1930s, ’20s, ’10s.
Even in the ’90s?
* * *
I’m sitting in the Victorian Lounge, drink in hand, staring at a stained-glass window. Lovely room. Lush red upholstery in the booths; looks like velvet. Paneled columns, paneled ceiling squares, a chandelier with hanging crystal pendants.
* * *
Nine twenty p.m. Showered, legs all tired, lying on my bed, looking at the information sheet. This place was built in 1887. That’s incredible. And I knew that something about it looked familiar. Not déjà vu unfortunately. Billy Wilder used it filming Some Like It Hot.
Various quotations from the sheet:
“Structure resembling a castle.”
“Last of the extravagantly conceived seaside hotels.”
“A monument to the past.”
“Turrets, tall cupolas, hand-carved wooden pillars, and Victorian gingerbread.”
I’m listening to a sound I haven’t heard since childhood: the thumping of a radiator.
* * *
Astonishing silence in the corridors. As though time itself has collected in them, filling the air.
Wonder if it fills this room as well. Is there anything inside it left from yesteryear? That speckled gold-brown-yellow carpeting? I doubt it. The bathroom? Probably didn’t even have a bathroom then. The wicker chairs? Perhaps. Certainly not the beds or end tables nor the lamps; God knows, not the telephone. Those prints on the wall? Unlikely. The drapes or Venetian blinds? Nope. Even the window glass has probably been replaced. The bureau or the mirror hanging over it? Don’t think so. The wastebasket? Sure. How about the TV set? Yeah, yeah.
Not much of the past at all in here. A shame.
* * *
My name is Richard Collier. I’m thirty-six years old, a television writer by profession. I’m six foot two and weigh one hundred and eighty-seven pounds. I’ve been told I look like Newman; maybe they meant the cardinal. I was born in Brooklyn on February 20, 1935, almost went to Korea but it ended, graduated from the University of Missouri in 1957, bachelor of journalism degree. Got a job with ABC in New York after graduating, started to sell scripts in 1958, moved to Los Angeles in 1960. My brother moved his printing business to L.A. in 1965 and I moved into the guest house behind his house the same year. I left there this morning because I’m going to die in four to six months and thought I’d write a book about it while I traveled.
A large amount of verbiage to get myself to say those words. Okay, they’re said. I have a temporal-lobe tumor, inoperable. Always thought the morning headaches were caused by tension. Finally went to Dr. Crosswell; Bob insisted, drove me there himself. Big tough Bob who runs his business with an iron hand. Cried like a kid when Dr. Crosswell told us. Me the one who had it, Bob the one who cried. Lovely man.
All that less than two weeks ago. Up till then I thought I’d live a long time. Pop cut off at sixty-two only because of excessive drinking. Mom, seventy-three, healthy and active. Figured there was lots of time to get married, have a family; never panicked even though I never seemed to meet The One. Now it’s done. X rays, spinal taps, the works confirm it. Collier kaput.
I could have stayed with Bob and Mary. Taken X-ray treatments. Lived a few extra months. Vetoed that. All I had to see was one look exchanged by them; one pained, awkward, and uncomfortable look which people always seem to exchange in the presence of the dying. Knew I had to cut. Couldn’t stand to see that look day after day.
* * *
I’m writing this section instead of dictating it into my recorder. Bad habit I got into, anyway, doing scripts entirely on cassettes. To lose the feel of putting words on paper is a bad thing for a writer.
Can’t dictate now because I’m listening to Mahler’s Tenth with my headphones; Ormandy, the Philadelphia. A little hard to dictate when you can’t hear the sound of your voice.
Amazing job Cook did orchestrating the sketches. Sounds just like Mahler. Maybe not as rich but indisputably his.
I know why I love his music; it just came to me. He’s present in it. As the past haunts this hotel, so Mahler haunts his work. He’s in my head at this moment. “He lives on in his work” is a trite phrase, rarely pertinent. In Mahler’s case it’s literal truth. His spirit resides in his music.
The final movement now. Inevitably, the loosening sensation at the corners of my eyes, the swallowing, the swell of emotion in my chest.
Has there ever been a more heartbreaking farewell to life expressed in music?
Let me die with Mahler in my head.
* * *
I’m looking at a face in a mirror. Not my face; Paul Newman‘s, circa 1960. I’ve been staring at it such a long time, I feel objective about it. People do that sometimes; gaze at their reflection until—zap—it’s a strange face looking at them. Sometimes, a scary face too, so alien is it.
The only thing that keeps me coming back is that I see Paul Newman’s lips moving and he’s saying the words I hear myself saying. So I guess it’s my face though I feel no sense of connection to it.
* * *
The boy who owned that face was beautiful; the word was used, he heard it all the time. What did it do to him? Grown-ups-strangers even—smiled at him and, sometimes, stroked his white-blond hair and stared at his angelic features. What did that do to him? Girls stared too. Obliquely, as a rule. Sometimes straight on. The little boy did lots of blushing. Bleeding too; bullies loved to punch that face. Unfortunately, the boy was long on suffering. It wasn’t till they pounded him into a corner so tight that even he lost his temper that he fought back. Poor kid didn’t ask for that face. He never tried to cash in on it. He was grateful to get older when most bullies change their tactics to less obvious ones.
Hell, I’m sitting here talking about my own face. Why play the third-person game? It’s me, folks. Richard Collier. Very handsome. I can talk about it all I want. No one’s listening at the keyhole. There it is, world. Da-da-a-a! And what good did it ever do the guy behind it? Will it save him? Will that face rise up and slay the treacherous tumor? No chance. So, in sum, that face is worthless, for it cannot keep its owner in this world one day beyond his measure. Well, the worms will have a pretty picnic—Jesus, what a rotten thing to say!
* * *
What a stupid, idiotic thing to say.
* * *
Almost midnight.
* * *
Lying in darkness, listening to the surf. Like distant cannons being fired.
* * *
These are the hardest hours.
* * *
I like this place but obviously I won’t be staying more than several days. What would be the point?
* * *
In a few days, I’ll get up one morning and start off for Denver and all points east.
* * *
And one point west.
* * *
Don’t be maudlin, Collier.
* * *
Four twenty-seven a.m. Just got up to get a drink of water. Don’t like that chlorine taste at all. Wish I had some Sparklett’s like at home.
* * *
Home?
 
Copyright © 1980, 1998 by Richard Matheson