Saturday, December 28, 2013
Walter Pedington was not the sort of fellow to rock the boat. How many people, if you gave them the gift to travel forward and backwards through time, would stay in the same small town doing the same small things that could have been done anyway?
Some people will tell you that they would go back to stop Lee Harvey Oswald, John Wilkes Booth, or Adolf Hitler. Others would want to go back and see a dinosaur. Most would be bent on increasing their own wealth; perhaps collecting antiquities to sell in a future where they are valuable or bringing a handy gadget from the future into a past where it can be passed off as their own invention for profit, or even playing the stock market or betting on ponies. Some would try to rule the world, others save it, which might amount to the same thing.
But when Walter Pedington received his gift, none of these things apparently interested him or crossed his mind. This perhaps, was the very reason he was trusted with the gift, for that we know of, he never abused it for profit or to change the course of history.
It was common to see Walter at age 54 sitting on the porch swing of his parents' house on Behemoth Lane conversing with Walter at age 7. He very much enjoyed talking to himself. Indeed, you might run into him at Morey Point watching himself painting a picture of the sea, or catch him at the Fallout Cafe playing a game of chess with himself while a younger Walter shared a cigarette with a pretty girl outside and a fourth sat brooding by the window, remembering that same girl's death. Walking your dog along the path from Pelican Landing to Frost's Wood you might be passed by Walter at the age of 10 zipping by on his bike only to then pass Walter at age 64 sitting on the bench before finding Walter at 18 laying on a blanket in the grass with a sweetheart.
There is a possibility that Walter is guilty of that sin for which I acquitted him, for if he had already altered the course of history and ruled the world before I was born, I would have no way of knowing it. I have often compared the face of 19 year old Walter to a photograph of a bust of Alexander the Great. It is possible that after 12 years of conquest he was prepared to live a quiet life again in a world shaped by his own youthful ambitions. But how would I ever know? And further, Walter has always seemed more interested in introspection than in governing others.
His funeral was a mind bending affair. Walters of various ages were in attendance and out numbered other funeral goers. He outlived his friends and lovers and left no survivors. Once he was married to a young poetess but she left with a younger version of himself before filing for a divorce later that year. Likewise he never had children, for he had himself all those years and always kept a ball and mitts, bicycle, and snacks on hand for when he visited and even drove himself to his own sixth grade piano recital. There were days when his yard was filled with a chorus of his own youthful laughter while six or seven young Walters played capture the flag or kickball.
Even after his death we continue to see Walter, in line buying tickets at the new Cineplex, hiking the trails in Frost's Wood, eating a banana split at the ice cream parlor. It is impossible to imagine Fasler Cove without him, though as time passes, we see less of him and he is more often alone. I imagine that in another 20 years, there will be no one left here who remembers who he is, no more grandmothers who can point him out and say that their mother went to school with that boy, or kissed that young man at a barbeque 100 years ago.
He is like a ghost from a time that has slipped into the realm of fantasy, but soon he will be such a ghost that his presence will go unnoticed and seem utterly ordinary.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
Frederick locked the door, put the key in his pocket and walked away from apartment B6 as quickly as his legs would carry him. The sound of his shoes clopping down the wooden stairway echoed loudly in his ears.
The verdant green hue of the stairs would be emblazoned upon his mind for quite some time afterwards. The door that led out of the building and into the street was red, somehow a reflection of the stairs, he thought, because red and green had something to do with each other, although he could no longer remember what.
Outside the street was still moist from some very light rain. The smell of the moldering autumn leaves had been refreshed by this latest shower.
Coming up the sidewalk towards him was a woman still employing her yellow umbrella. It struck Frederick that she could walk along that way, apparently unaware that whatever rain there had been was now ended. His mind oscillated wildly between believing in one of two possibilities. The first belief held that the open umbrella was the result of a sad mechanical nature, that the woman was so void of volition, like a wind up doll, that she had no choice but to continue woodenly down the street unaware of her surroundings, unaware of recent occurrences in apartment B6, and of the man stepping out of the red door. The second was that she was utterly aware of all these things, that she was omniscient, that the open umbrella was an intentional communication to him, a way of showing him what she was.
He paused in front of the door and let her pass him by. As she passed she turned her eyes on him in a quick flash. It meant either that she was for the most part ignoring a stranger on the street or that she was toying with him, carefully timing a significant glance.
To hide the trembling of his hands, Frederick shoved them into his pockets and hastily crossed the street, running a little on the far side to avoid an approaching car before reaching the sidewalk. The park yawned before him like a dark forest, a beast with an immense maw open for his entry. He hastened into the thick of the trees, glancing backward over his shoulder to assure himself that the street, that the building with the red door, the green staircase, and with it apartment B6, were banished from his sight.
The tree was one of a small collection of young redwoods that sheltered a stone bench in the park's depths. Frederick took the key from his pocket, dug it a shallow resting place at the tree's base, and lay it within. He hesitated for a moment, then spread the soil and rust colored detritus from the tree over it.
Standing he brushed his knees and palms clean. His eyes lingered on the hiding place, his body felt pulled to the key as if by magnetic force. The impulse to dig it back up and return it to his pocket held him riveted to the spot as it struggled against his will to leave it buried. This collision of impulse and will held him in stasis for just a minute before he turned his back on the tree and it's new ward to walk briskly away from the redwoods.
Frederick emerged from the other side of the park onto South Menigen Pass. He could see the Professor seated at a table in the front window of the cafe, sipping foam off the top of an oversized blue mug. The Professor stood up and shook his hand when he came in. Frederick felt self conscious of the dirt from the park left under his fingernails.
"Would you like to order something?" the Professor asked gesturing to the counter and bored baristas.
"Not presently." Freddy answered. "If the weather was better I would like to sit outside and smoke."
The professor nodded. "It's not so bad out." He said, "But if you don't mind, I'd rather we didn't. My asthma."
"Of course." Frederick gestured to the little wooden chairs. "I can smoke later."
The two men shuffled awkwardly into their seats around the small table. The Professor took another sip of his cappuccino. Frederick agonized over what to do with his hands and the filthy fingernails. Deciding there was no point in hiding them, he set one hand on the table and rested the other on his knee.
"Well." the Professor said. "I suppose you want to hear my comments."
"I don't understand the sequence. Whether that is a shortcoming of my perception or a lack of organized structure I'm not sure. Is it a purposeful obfuscation? Or simply chaos? I can't tell."
As the Professor spoke, Frederick noticed the umbrella stand by the door and in it a yellow umbrella. The Professor continued to speak, his voice washing over Frederick like a drone as the younger man scanned the cafe and found her, the woman from outside the building with the red door and the green stairs, the building that contained B6.
Perhaps, it is a different woman, he thought, but soon he was utterly convinced that it was none other. She sat alone looking at a newspaper. This fact stood out, just as the umbrella had. Who read newspapers anymore?
Frederick ceased to make even an effort to pretend to be listening to the Professor and fixed his eyes firmly on her, waiting to see if she would look at him.
"I have been thinking," the Professor's voice became discernable to him, "perhaps hoping, that when something is contained, isolated, then the Big Other cannot see it. Maybe cannot see it, maybe cannot see it as well, maybe there are gaps, maybe there are shadows, maybe there are places for hiding. Pockets of resistance from the regimented gaze of the all seeing eye. Maybe. "
Frederick dropped his eyes from the woman and fixed them on the Professor.
"Excuse me?" he asked.
"Hm?" the Professor sipped his cappuccino.
"Nevermind." Frederick took a deep breath and shook his head. "Excuse me Professor. I'm afraid I'm not feeling well. Please excuse me."
He stood abruptly and headed for the door. On his way out he stole another glance at her, but her attention remained fixed on the paper.
Frederick hurried away from the cafe and turned onto a cobbled street open only to foot traffic. It was a narrow little street littered with stationary stores, bookshops, antique dealers, and clothing boutiques.
He stopped under the canopy overhanging a closed sewing notions boutique and fumbled for the package of cigarettes in his inside coat pocket. With some difficulty he managed to extract a long thin cigarette and lit it, exhaling a plume of clove scented smoke into the cool fresh air. He closed his eyes and smoked. It was a coincidence, he tried to soothe himself.
He heard footsteps scuffing along the cobblestone. A shopper, he thought hopefully, but the footsteps stopped in front of him. He kept his eyes closed a moment longer and exhaled another plume of smoke. He knew who it would be, but pretended that he didn't, just to give himself a few more seconds of ambiguity. Then slowly, deliberately, he opened his eyes and found himself face to face with the woman with the yellow umbrella.