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ABOUT A YEAR before the time traveling began, before I lost Wayne and found Lena, Wayne DeMint stumbled into my bar for the first time. He figured out I was the guitarist from the Axis and affixed his khaki-clad keister to my barstool. Night after night, beer after beer, he shared with me and whoever else showed up the content of his dreams: crying kittens, bukkake, broken-toothed pirates with bloody bayonets, his dead mother chopped into bits. When closing time came he always wanted to stay, like a kid who didn’t want to turn off the TV and go to bed. “I’ll mop!” he’d offer, so most nights I sat up with Wayne as he sloshed mop water across my wooden floor. We’d crank up the jukebox and talk about bands, true love, failure, and the past. Mostly the past.
A bar is not a mental health facility, but I never had a dog growing up, and so I listened to Wayne. Wholesome, Midwestern Wayne, computer scientist, he of the kindest smile and most generous bar tips.
Wayne and I shared that common affliction plaguing single men with limited prospects and self-destructive tendencies: we regarded our pasts with such love and loss that every day forward was a butter knife to the gut. Our twenties had been full of rock music and courage. The future made us older, but our wisdom was dubious. Wayne and I avoided the pain of tomorrow with alcohol and old rock bands. Pavement on the jukebox, the heavenly reddish glow of neon signs, and sentences that started with “Remember when…”
* * *
THE TIME TRAVEL business had started by accident.
One stupid afternoon a month ago, I couldn’t find one of the prized army boots that I had bought from an army–navy surplus store in Boston for sixteen dollars in 1991, when I was twenty-one. The red laces that I’d put in them, due to vague anarchist leanings, were still intact, and even though time had worn away all the tread, those boots were both comfortable and comforting. They represented the very best parts of my life, and having one go missing was more than I could bear on a Sunday afternoon fifteen minutes before I needed to open my bar. Crawling around on the floor of my closet, pushing aside piles of dirty clothes and old magazines, I found myself falling feetfirst through a hole in the floor. Falling and cold. I thought it was from mixing bourbon with cold medicine, but then I landed with a thud on a familiar wooden floor. I had landed at the Empty Bottle, a rock club near my bar. The stack of Chicago Readers by the door bore a cover from months earlier. A look out the window revealed barren trees and cars dusted in snow.
When the band took the stage, I realized that I’d been at this show three months ago, in February. A pack of talentless teenagers who played covers of Liz Phair songs like they meant nothing began to tune their guitars, looking for all the world like the smug bastards my friends and I were in the early 1990s.
The real kicker of this experience, the one that makes me clench my ass cheeks together and cry for my mother, happened when I saw myself leaning against the bar, tipping a can of PBR toward my mouth, glaring at the band with eyes of white-hot contempt. The blood rushed to my face. For the first time in my life, I could really see myself. All of myself. I saw what a bitter, pathetic sad-sack Karl Bender had become. Even at the ripe old age of forty, I still hadn’t mastered the art of shaving; I had whisker skid marks on my face like a teenager. Had Meredith, the woman I was attached to for most of my twenties, known what I would turn into when she dumped me like a bag of trash back in ’96? I took the hardest look I could: the stained teeth, the gut, the whole ugly package. I’m prone to self-loathing, but I had never hated myself with more fire and sorrow than I did standing there in the Empty Bottle. I longed to yell at Past Karl’s face and break my own jaw. We deserved it.
“Hey, Karl,” I said. “Karl? Yo, Bender, what’s up?”
I tapped myself on the shoulder. The man before me, myself, Past Karl, did not respond.
I tried to punch my other in the stomach but I felt nothing. Not on my hand or my belly. I tried again. No sensation, no reaction. When I was a child, I wanted to walk into the television. This is what the past looked and felt like. I could take in the colors, smell the faint sweetness of whiskey and cigarettes, and watch as music fans younger and better looking than me took up floor space with the confidence of kings. I could not, however, kick my own ass.
Nor could I take those boots, which I had so loved and now lost, from my old self’s feet.
You can’t hold onto the past, asshole, I thought as I pressed the heels of my hands to my eyes because I didn’t want to be the bastard crying during a shitty band.
The ring of my cell phone pulled me back to the present. I was slurped back to the closet in my bedroom, as if my body were an ice cube sucked through a straw. I was prone on the wooden floor, my face in a cluster of dust bunnies. My head throbbed and I was shivering cold, even though it was warm and sunny and my apartment didn’t have air-conditioning and I’d been too lazy to buy a fan.
I told Wayne. He was the only person in my life that I could trust with information regarding the viability of time travel. “You’re chosen!” he exclaimed, his blue eyes sparkling so bright over the dark comfort of my bar that my first instinct was to kick him out, lest he ruin what I’d spent years cultivating: a poorly lit drinking hole for the remorseful, aging, and alone.
He went home to his fifteen computers and wrote the software program, an astonishing time-bending navigational system that harnesses the directional pulls of the wormhole and allows you to choose when and where you’d like to land. Two laptops, three generators, and a series of wires now occupy the desk next to my closet. On the laptop screen there is a Google map with a grid over it. You type in the coordinates of where you want to go, physically. A black binder full of laminated sheets, modeled after the ones found in our nation’s finer karaoke bars, features a convenient list of bands, venues, and locations that you can choose from. (The binder was my nonscientific music geek contribution to the business. Savvy travelers/music fans will note a heavy bias toward certain indie-oriented clubs, such as my beloved T.T.’s in Cambridge or Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina.) If you insist, you can do your own research into the performance history of your favorite band and we’ll custom calibrate the controls just for you.
If pressed to explain his scientific understanding of our portal to the past, Wayne would describe Carl Sagan’s theory of the wormhole: that it is totally possible to travel from point A to point B on an unseen plane C. “Technically that only works for going into the future, though,” Wayne would say. On the fact that point A happened to be the bedroom closet in my apartment on the top floor of a narrow brick building in Wicker Park, Chicago, which also housed a subpar Chinese takeout place called Ming’s Panda, Wayne said, “Well, Karl, you just wanted it bad enough.” That’s Wayne’s other theory: the theory of desire. Through my own deep desire, and because of that nasty word regret, the universe chose me to be the custodian of a portal to the past.
The number one house rule: the wormhole was only to be used to attend rock concerts of the past. It kept the experience pure and free from the temptation to try to game yourself a better life. Besides, why would we need music if our lives were exactly as we wanted them to be?
Other house rules: no bringing back souvenirs. Do not talk to anyone in the past. Don’t touch anything. Do not drink or take drugs. No photographs. No audio recording. No staying in the past longer than the length of the show. No wandering out of the music venue. I know you want to see the old cars and the out-of-style clothes and the date on the cover of the newspaper in the newspaper box and the newspaper box itself, but no.
I told three old music friends about the portal, and instructed them to keep it on the down-low. I didn’t want just anyone off the street coming over to experience this miracle. My indie rock ethics, left over from the nineties, dictated that we keep things small and special. My band, the Axis, was part of an indie scene that attracted clean, artistic children who got good grades, not guys who looked like me—a bulldog-faced pugilist with tattoo sleeves and a broken, badly reset nose. My shoulders were too broad to look good in a cardigan (Axis fans always mistook me for the bouncer), but the twee-kitty cuteness and clubhouse-guarding business model had seeped into my subconscious, so the wormhole was kept quiet and exclusive, the way the Axis’s former indie label, Frederica Records, once was.
I warned my patrons that, while in the tunnel, your body U-turns onto the unseen plane—a jolt akin to the spasms of a wooden roller coaster. Most passengers feel like they’re going to toss their cookies.
Then you land, with a thud. It hurts. But not for long.
* * *
AT LEAST THIRTY interested friends of friends called me or came by the bar to ask a series of questions that always began with “This is a joke right?” and ended with “If you’re fucking with me, I will end you.” Patrons of my wormhole paid me hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars to take a trip down memory lane. I explained to them how to come back to the present—you typed a code into your cell phone, which reversed the wormhole’s directional pull and slurped you back home. Wayne printed up little cards with the return instructions, just to be safe.
Ahoy, time adventurer! When the show is over, YOU MUST COME HOME!!!
1. Open the Web app.
2. Select RETURN.
3. The DATE, TIME, and LOCATION of your return should automatically appear (example: 06/01/2010 19:30 CDT WESTERN AND MILWAUKEE, CHICAGO IL USA)*
4. Press the red button! ZOOM! You’ll be home in no time!
*Do not attempt to alter your return coordinates! Attempts to tamper with the program will result in a $1,000 fine and a lifetime ban!).
All I had to do was ask, “If you could go back in time and see any band play, what would you choose?” It’s a great conversation starter, decent-enough bar banter, something a man more ambitious than me might keep in his pocket for parties full of beautiful strangers. (Especially if asked in such a way as to build a bridge between the lonely islands of age and regret.)
They came back cold and shaken. I gave them what they wanted but thought they couldn’t have. Most hugged me. A few kneed me in the groin; a few more threatened to. All of them, to a person, have come back with cheeks wet with tears. When I return from the past, I sit alone with a notebook and write out the lyrics to songs I’d just heard performed. Song lyrics are a particular type of poetry, laying bare your bones and helping you feel something other than sorrow and failure. Song lyrics reminded me that I may be so lucky as to fall in love again someday. Song lyrics are scripture for guys like me and Wayne.
What I don’t tell my time travel customers is that the experience is rather short. Time goes by more quickly in the past. An hour is a minute. A minute is a microsecond. You might see the whole show, you might not, but it will be over before the first tear you shed reaches your chin. The experience is only slightly more soul-shaking than watching concert footage on YouTube. The music is strangely softer—at an eardrum-ripping Megadeth show I strained to hear anything besides the bass. Traveling is cold. Damn cold. And you can’t bring back souvenirs.
The sorrow you feel when you come back sits deep in your gut. It presses against your head and your heart. Readjusting to the reality of the present hurts like hell; it’s a dull, shameful ache that lingers. The world feels different. Your eyes change. Your heart changes. Those same dull walls you’ve been staring at in the present grow sinister in their sameness. You are left with the horror of yourself. I’m not the only one who has sobbed like a child upon reentry.
I can’t help you with that.
* * *
ROCK SHOWS I have traveled back in time to see:
Galaxie 500, 1990, Boston
Unrest, 1993, Arlington, VA
Stereolab, 1998, Chicago
Altamont (with too much time spent lingering over an antique Pepsi bottle lying in the dirt next to a heap of wriggling blankets)
The Traveling Wilburys, NYC, 1990
The Cure, 1989, stadium show in New Jersey
Elvis Costello, 1991, NYC (I’ve been to this one three times)
Miaow/Durutti Column, the Haçienda, Manchester
The Magnetic Fields, first 69 Love Songs show, Knitting Factory, 1999
Shows that Wayne has traveled back in time to see:
The Rat Pack, live at the Sands, 1963
They Might Be Giants in a NYC basement, 1986
The first Sex Pistols show, 1976 (as seen in the film 24 Hour Party People)
Bruce Springsteen at the Stone Pony, 1975
Uncle Dumpster (Wayne’s high school garage band), Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1991
Some street musician in Madison that Wayne remembered from his college days, 1995
Rock shows that friends/customers seem to like that make me judge them harshly—like, we have access to time travel and you want to see what?:
Woodstock (American rock history’s most polished turd)
The Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels Tour
Popular selections that friends/customers seem to like, whose appeal I completely get:
Beat Happening and Black Flag in Olympia, Washington, 1984
The Smiths, London, 1985
Frank Zappa Halloween show, 1977
The Johnny Cash Show, Johnny performing with Glen Campbell (Wichita Lineman), 1969
The Last Waltz, San Francisco, 1976
Rolling Stones in the UK, 1967–69
REM in Athens, 1980–83
I’m a quiet guy. I live in three places: my bar, my apartment, and the cheap Mediterranean place on the corner that keeps me well fed with my daily portion of hummus and chicken shawarma. But Wayne had a car, thousands in the bank, and a hole in his heart, so he did crazy stuff like trading his truck’s spare tire for a pet scorpion in the parking lot of a Wisconsin casino, because maybe the scorpion would love him, and he knew that the tire wouldn’t. I told him that no part of a scorpion’s brain was capable of loving anything, much less the human with the sweaty hand that was holding him nine billion scorpion-feet off the ground, but that he was probably right about the tire. Wayne told me I had no right to speak for tires or scorpions.
Wayne recounted to me what he had seen on his trips: the music, the air white and heavy with cigarette smoke, the terrible ways men once wore baseball caps, and the way fluorescent T-shirt paint was abused by our generation once upon a time. Holding court while the jukebox screeched some old Melvins track I’d put in there to make sure only people just like me came into my bar, Wayne melted into Little Boy Wayne, pliant and eager to do another tequila shot and repeat back to me and everyone at the bar his special list of things that made him happy: Lemon bars. Driving to Florida in his pickup truck. Cleaning dirt out from under his nails. Sunflower seeds. Basset hounds. Checking tire pressure. By closing time, Wayne returned to some level of normalcy, but the next night it was the same emotional circus.
I’m not saying I plumbed the depths of his psyche, nor was this the limit of our interactions. I merely allowed myself to act as his unlicensed therapist, an occupational hazard. But we were also buddies. After I told him he wasn’t allowed to mop anymore, Wayne would draw monsters in his notebook as I tried to woo the honeys under the reddish neon light of the Pabst sign, with my sparkling wit and straight teeth. I had gotten some cash from an out-of-court settlement of a rights dispute with my band’s old manager, who had swindled us. What did I do with that money? I got braces at the age of thirty-four. Wayne liked to leap across the bar to point this out to women. He said it made me seem responsible.
* * *
OUR FREQUENT TIME-TRAVELING to rock shows only hastened Wayne’s descent into madness. While I was in my office negotiating an online pint glass order, I got a call from Wayne. Wayne’s normal telephone greeting makes a bubbly sales manager from the local Chevy dealer sound sedate, so it didn’t immediately register that the slurring, babbling guy on the other end of the call was my friend. I invited him over to my apartment. He clearly needed to talk. Wayne arrived wearing his puffy blue winter coat, even though it was May; he had in his trembling hand a Mad Dog in a paper sack. Apparently the management at his job had threatened him with a layoff.
Wayne threw down his backpack and pushed the mountain of unfolded laundry from my threadbare couch onto the floor so he could lie down. He told me that for the past ten nights he had dreamed that the lower half of his body had been replaced with a circular saw, and that everyone he tried to touch he cut to bits. He talked about what a failure he was, how he was thirty-six and had never really been in love, how all he did was work, give his whole life to a company that treated him like crap, and all for what? A paycheck? Security? He was the most insecure guy he knew.
“I’m a tool, Karl.”
“Why are you wearing your coat? Take that off.” His coat was zipped up to his chin like a kindergartener about to go out and play in the snow. “It’s summer.”
“Don’t act like I don’t know what season it is, Karl.”
“What do you want, man? Why the tears? Things are good right now. I sent six people to Woodstock, and I charged them a grand each.”
Wayne covered his face with his hands and turned away. “What do you know? You own a cool bar. People actually talk to you. You were in the Axis.”
I shook my head. “Please stop talking like that. I’m a has-been from a band that twelve people liked in 1999.”
Wayne sat up and uncovered his face as if he’d had an instant revelation. “I’ve been thinking about my soul. Not in a Christian sense but in a … in a soul sense. Where it is and what have I been doing to use it. My soul, you know—meaning that, like, inner essence of goodness and charity. Or whatever.”
“Sounds like you’re battling your demons. Totally normal.”
Wayne wiped his hand across his nose. “I’m weird.”
I was inclined to agree. Everyone is weird in their own way. Wayne wore his winter coat in the summer: I liked to eat spoonfuls of mayonnaise sprinkled with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt while standing naked inside my refrigerator door. The trick was not to scare others. “Wayne, take off that coat. It’s making me nervous.”
Wayne pulled his collar up higher around his head so that only his eyes showed. He had an expression of one possessed. I prayed he didn’t have a gun on him. Part of me wanted to kick his ass out for bringing me down, but I owed him for all the hard work he’d done on the wormhole. I held his pale hand with the perfectly square fingernails.
“I want to be a superhero,” he squeaked.
“Okay. Put on your cape and fly.”
Wayne yanked back his hand. “Are you making fun of me?”
“No. Not at all. I really meant put on your cape and fly. Go live your dreams. You deserve great happiness, buddy, and I don’t want to see you mopey anymore.” I sounded like my mother, who died when I was twenty-three. She was the master of pep talks. I couldn’t fight the longing I felt for her every time I tried to talk Wayne down off his proverbial ledge.
“Go live my dreams?”
“Let those corporate dicks lay you off, Wayne. Walk away. We’ve got plenty of money coming in from the wormhole.”
“I don’t want to do that, Karl,” he said, in a more measured voice.
“I’ll just get another job after that, and everything will be the same. Same corporate slavery. Same unremarkable future. Except the only thing that will be different is that I can go back in time and catch that Echo and the Bunnymen show I missed when I was fifteen because Echo never played Sheboygan.”
“Not if you change it. Not if you make a choice to change it, Wayne.”
“Not if I change it. Not if I change it.” Wayne sat up, dug his knuckles into his eyes, and put his glasses back on. “I’ve been thinking. I want to try something.” Wayne hopped off the couch and pushed past me into my bedroom, over the piles of laundry I’d sorted into darks and lights but had so far avoided dragging down to the basement. “I want to change something. I want to change a lot of things, but this one thing in particular, Karl. I believe the time has come to use the wormhole for heroic purposes.”
I knew I wasn’t going to like it.
He looked up at me. “December 8, 1980. Central Park West. I’m going.”
Wayne nodded his head up and down. “I’m going to be a real superhero.”
“You can’t change the past,” I repeated for the fifty millionth time. My damn mantra. “You can’t. You physically cannot change the past.”
Wayne hunched over my desk, stabbing at the keyboard with his index fingers. I didn’t exactly know what he was capable of with the program he had written. He could change the system entirely and I wouldn’t know what he’d done or how to fix it. “What if I just tried?”
“No way, man. No one is allowed to be a time travel vigilante on my watch,” I said, though I didn’t think he was listening. Wayne had that computer guy gift of hyperfocus, of blocking out the rest of the world without care or apology. I was his friend, his bartender, the guy who held his hand and said nice things to him when he needed to hear them, but the look of determination that had colonized his sweet, boyish face said all I needed to know about how much he was going to take to heart the wisdom of Karl Bender.
“I can do it. I can do something to delay Chapman. Or kill him. Or at least do something. Something to keep him away from John. I can try, can’t I?” Wayne wore a maniacal grin and had stopped making eye contact with me.
“You can’t take a bullet for John Lennon. Or really mess with Chapman. The past is read-only. You know that.”
“I can get around that.”
“I made out with a girl at the REM show. In 1981. Gosh, she’d be in her fifties now.” He composed himself and said, “You can touch people. Talk to them. Kick over a trash can. You just have to get past the first layer.”
“No you can’t!” I yelled. “Or I can’t. How is it that you can touch people in the past and I can’t?”
“The exit point is in that other dimension where you can’t interact. You just have to penetrate that layer. I thought you wanted the layer so that not having a ticket to the show would be a nonissue.”
“How do I do it then? Touch things?”
“I’ll tell you when I get back. Look, my soul calls me to correct past wrongs. I’m starting with Lennon. His murder was hugely devastating to a lot of people. At least if I succeed, eighties music won’t be half as awful.”
“What’s a layer, Wayne?” Wayne stared down at his shoes, his mouth shut in defiance. “Wayne?” He remained silent. “Wayne, answer me.”
Wayne shook his head. “Forget I said anything.”
“No!” I shouted. “What’s a layer?”
He shot me a sulky look and then, as if he were preparing to travel, walked back out to the living room and picked up his backpack and put his arms through the straps. I felt the crux of our relationship—Wayne’s needing me—rip away like a Velcro shoe fastener. “Fuck you, Bender.”
I walked over to Wayne, who flinched when I got up close. “Oh, stop it. I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Maybe you are,” he said. Wayne dashed back into my bedroom and threw himself on the bed. I followed behind him.
“Wayne, seriously, dude. Why John Lennon? What’s that going to solve?”
“Lennon was a great peacemaker. He’s, like, he’s … he’s the one guy who really could, you know … bring the happiness and love out of our hearts. And he had a great creative partnership with the woman he loved. He gave a lot to his fans. To the world.”
I wanted to pat his head in a maternal fashion, but I also wanted to pound his ass and tell him to knock it off. I’d never had a friend like Wayne before, one who was kind and sweet and super smart and who I could trust completely, but who was sometimes the thirty-six-year-old equivalent of a cranky toddler.
“That’s my wormhole too, damn it. Just because it’s in your apartment doesn’t mean it’s not mine.” Wayne’s hands shook, even though they were balled into fists, but his eyes were in some crazy hyperfocus mode. If I tried to talk him out of it, he would override me. Not with physical strength, but with intent. I guess he just wanted it bad enough.
A cluster of colored wires sat anchored to the floor with duct tape, coming out of floorboards into the two laptops that sat perched on my old wooden desk. He rolled off the bed and crawled on his hands and knees to my closet and grabbed a fistful of those wires and looked me straight in the eye. “I’m going to 1980. I’m going and you’re sending me, or I pull these wires out and smash these computers and then I go home and smash my head against the wall. I mean it.”
I made a move toward him.
“Don’t, Karl.” He tugged on his handful of wires. “I’m getting my way.”
“How about, instead of messing with the damn wormhole, you rededicate your life to the spreading of peace and love, or make an album of peace songs, or whatever else John Lennon would have done.”
The wires remained firmly in Wayne’s fist. He wore a backpack full of supplies: flashlight, water bottle, granola bars, extra cell phone, and most importantly, a solar cell phone charger, since zapping back to the present drains the hell out of your battery.
He sniffed a few times and looked me square in the eye. “No.”
I weighed my options. I could jump him, but I didn’t want to hurt the guy. Plus, he’d take those wires with him, the whole deal would be over, and I’d be cut off forever from the drug that was time travel. I wasn’t yet willing to give up the special, sexy rush that was a trip backwards.
“Wayne, did you interact with people in the past? Wayne? I need to know. I need you to tell me what a layer is, buddy. I need you to tell me that you really can mess with the past. Can you?”
Wayne flipped me the bird, then took his cell phone out of the pocket of his puffy coat and pointed it at me.
“Central Park. December 8, 1980,” he said, a little quake in his voice. His face was red and flushed. “Do it. Do it or I wreck this thing and I never set foot in your bar ever again.”
Wayne’s mouth fell open, and as if it were bad breath, I was hit with a cloud of Wayne’s disappointment in me. “Damn, Karl,” he said, looking away. “If you have to keep asking, you’re, like, not the guy I thought you were.”
I sat down at the computer and stared at the wormhole interface that Wayne had made. It looked like Pong. In the Chron POE (point of entry) field, I typed 08 DEC 1980, and entered 72nd and Central Park West, Manhattan, in the field for Geog POE. I typed slowly, looking up at Wayne to let him know that things were going to be very bad between us, regardless of whether or not he succeeded in saving Lennon. Vigilante shit angered me. Okay, say Wayne saves John Lennon, and then what? We’re obligated to kill Hitler, free the slaves, reverse the 2000 election, and punch about fifty million grade-school bullies in the nuts. I prefer to limit my moral obligations to not banging married women and donating money to the Red Cross. The wormhole was already fraught with moral quandaries, and here I was, going against my gut, giving the toddler his way.
Wayne wiped the tears from his cheeks. He jumped up and down like it was his birthday. “Call me in an hour, Karlito. I think this is a benevolent act, I really do. All of your albums over there, they’re going to catch fire! You watch!”
I watched. I pushed the button. And in an instant, Wayne went through the floor.
Thirty minutes later, my album collection remained intact.
Twenty minutes after that, a text message from Wayne popped up on my phone: THIS IS WRONG. WHERE AM I? NOTHING BUT TREES AND SNOW.
Then: THERE ARE NO BUILDINGS OR CARS. THIS IS NOT NYC.
Then: CHECK THE COMPUTER!
I like to admit it when I screw up. I find identifying one’s faults to be an admirable trait. Once, on a tour, in Providence, I forgot to load our brand-new amp into the van after a gig. We were in New Haven by the time I realized what I had done. Milo, the lead singer who had fronted the money for the amp, responded with a left hook to my face. He then tried to snap my neck like a twig after we raced back to Providence, only to find that someone had stolen the amp.
I looked at the computer screen: CHRON POE: 08 DEC 980.
I had left off the number one in 1980. I had shuttled my friend one thousand and thirty years into the past. For a moment all I felt was admiration that the system Wayne had set up could be so exact.
Nine hundred and eighty. A full five hundred years before the first boatload of Dutch colonists landed on the Island of Mannahatta. There is no recorded North American history for the year 980. It would be another one hundred years before Vikings arrived in Newfoundland.
Then I came to. I dialed Wayne’s number, hoping that would bring him back to the present, knowing it wouldn’t. Reentry requires an electrical power source. He would need to be in a place with many electromagnetic fields, such as a rock club with lights and amps and neon beer signs. Without electromagnetic fields, reentry was impossible. It was a flaw that Wayne was working on eliminating, but science and safety take time to develop while, apparently, saving John Lennon’s life thirty years after the fact simply couldn’t have waited another second.
I texted him: I SENT YOU TO THE YEAR 980.
Minutes later, the response: ARE YOU KIDDING?
I typed in the reversal code. Error code. Nothing. I tried again. I said a prayer. I cried. I punched the desk until my knuckles turned purple.
* * *
I CANCELED MY four o’clock appointment with my bar-back Clyde and his twenty-something friends, who wanted to see Nirvana play Olympia in 1991. I went to the bar. I poured myself a shot of whiskey. I mopped the ladies room. I swapped out an empty keg. I made idle chatter with a dude named Keith who wanted to know where he could get some seed for his bird feeder.
My mother died of cancer when I was a hate-spewing shithead of twenty-three, and I remember very clearly sitting around the Bender familial manse in West Hartford, after the doctors had sent my sister and me home because my mother’s suffering was over, watching Brooke lie facedown on the couch in her ham-pink nurse’s scrubs, asking her repeatedly if she was still breathing, thinking about how much of my life depended on my sister’s lungs taking in air, because without her there wouldn’t be anyone permanently responsible for giving a rat’s ass about me ever again. Wayne cared about me the way Brooke did in the days after our mom died, needy but sweet, and motivated by losing a parent before we were old enough to comprehend just how barren and raw our mother’s early departure would leave me and Brooke in the hardest moments of our adult lives.
Once, I’d offered to set up Wayne with Brooke, now an operating room nurse in Orlando. Both are kind souls and a bit high-strung, and Brooke had been unlucky in love to the tune of one ex serving time for postal fraud and another ex who disappeared with his AA sponsor’s old lady a month before his and Brooke’s paid-for Disney wedding. Wayne thought that Florida was too far away for a relationship. Brooke said that any man who spent time in my bar was probably an alcoholic lowlife and therefore not suitable marriage material. I told Brooke that Wayne had a Little Mermaid soap dispenser in his bathroom. She still refused. This hurt my feelings.
Due to the bending of time and space, cell satellites are in the sky even in the year 980, so yes, Wayne’s phone worked, as long as his phone had power.
HEY SHITHEAD, he texted, IT’S WINTER HERE AND THERE ARE NO BUILDINGS. I’VE GOT FROSTBITE ON MY SCROTUM AND IT’S YOUR FAULT!
And: YOU’RE LUCKY I WAS A BOY SCOUT. I BUILT MYSELF A HUT OUT OF DIRT AND STICKS. AND AT LEAST I HAVE MY COAT.
And: I GUESS I’LL JUST INVENT ELECTRICITY. NO PROBLEM. OH, RIGHT, NO CONDUCTIVE MATERIAL.
And: RACCOON! IT’S WHAT’S FOR DINNER!
And finally: YOU’RE TOO DUMB TO FIX THIS YOURSELF. GO FIND AN ASTROPHYSICIST.
Copyright © 2016 by Monique Daviau