“Not here, ” says the writer. He is standing on the balcony eight floors over the Gulf of Mexico even though he’s thousands of miles away in the future. The beach is spread out below, the night sky breaking apart above, the sun rising up somewhere on the other side of Florida, and the waves sound like a sleeping giant: inhaling and exhaling in rhythmic sighs. When the water’s like it is now with the sky like that, it feels like nothing can go wrong, even though the writer knows everything will.
She is calling his name from the bedroom, exaggerating the syllables, her voice telling him she was ready to get lost in a dream, the alcohol finally winning the fight. “Come to me,” she says. He is too afraid to turn around, too afraid to step back inside her penthouse. The thought of jumping over the ledge – feeling the gravity pulling and the air pushing, the ground rushing to meet flesh and bone – seems entirely logical. He shudders at the thought, knowing what was to come.
This was the night before boarding that plane to Asia. She had asked him the week before if he wanted to stay in America – “Not with me; no! How silly would that be? We’ve only known each other for five days. Unless…” – and give it another chance, like America was this friend who’d done him wrong and he’d been waiting for a proper apology. He said he didn’t see that happening. He’s being called away, he said. He didn’t even think he had a choice anymore. She said that America looked different from eight floors up and behind the wheel of a BMW, to which she had already given him the spare key. Was it money? No problem; how much did he need? She even knew a publisher in New York who would be thrilled to read his book. “I can see you writing here,” she said, her arms out to emphasize the penthouse. “And if you don’t like it here, you’d love my place in Miami. East, west – it’s all the same to me, sweetheart.”
“How can you give me these things when I’m such a disaster?” he told her.
“Because you were my disaster,” she said. “Precisely the kind of disaster I needed. You just don’t understand that when you write about this later in Cambodia.”
“Then you know I end up leaving.”
“I knew from your eyes the moment we met,” she said.
She’s asleep by the time he returns inside, her hand resting on the pillow she hopes he’ll come to. He walks around her house and studies the pictures on the walls. There’s a boy in most of them, laughing, bright-eyed, and fearless – too young to know if you walk straight far enough you’ll come right back to where you started. He got the story in pieces after she had finished the third bottle of wine. The boy had kissed her first thing every morning and he never wiped away her kisses. He liked his sandwiches cut diagonally. He cried when she cried.
He was seven. It was Easter morning. She was inside when she heard the sound of rubber on asphalt like a violin out of tune. She said it was about ten seconds before she realized what happened. And the writer always thought about those ten seconds, how she ran outside the house, still unaware to the fact that her entire life had been rewritten. Ten seconds to find out your life jumped genres. If she had a choice, would she relive the seven years knowing what was to come or would she relive those ten seconds of perfect obliviousness?
“I’m sorry,” she said, waking, wiping tears with her sleeve. “It’s just that I feel so…so…”
“I feel the same,” he said. “We tripped and we’re fumbling, but we haven’t touched down yet. We just have to find something to hold onto.”
“Is that why you’ve got to go away?”
“You won’t escape,” she said.
“I know. Memory is time travel. And as long as I can remember, time will be broken.”
“When are you now?”
The writer closed his eyes thousands of miles away in the future. He said, “Not there when you needed me.”
– “TIME IS BROKEN” was written by Christian A. Dumais