Un

As I expected, the sun finished setting in the east, drawing light down into itself.

So appearances would inform you, if you saw it. From my short and unhappy survey (leading question: “What the hell is going on?”), I knew that none around me (which was just one person, my spouse) professed to see what I saw. You can call it (as I did, trying to elaborate to her) an eastern sunset, but I knew it was the sunrise going backward.

That’s the expression that drew a brisk, dismissive head shake from my wife when I uttered it. Then she executed the ‘I’m-going-to-avoid-the-crazy’ scurry. Except, she walked backwards and did it before I spoke.

Let’s back up (ha, ha, yeah).

Yesterday morning, in our home office, still on pandemic sheltering, I’d noticed things. Temperatures were falling; my wife undressed from her exercise class and returned to her nightwear. The cat walked to his kibble bowl and dropped food from mouth to bowl, and then walked out backwards. “What the hell?”

The computer’s clock was reversing, as was my Fitbit. Breaking news comments vanished from FB, and then the news went away.

I put pieces together through tests. The day was progressing backwards. I could speak correctly and be understood when I was in the same room with my wife. But everything I heard when she wasn’t around was backwards. People and cars went backwards, as did birds, cats and dogs, and squirrels. I couldn’t shout, “Look, look,” and point things out to her. That cause and effect wasn’t working.

Terrified, helplessly, I ‘un-ate’ my oatmeal and un-made my breakfast.

Need I tell you about my toilet experiences?

It was a long, long night.

Then I got up from going to bed, sucked up my spit and toothpaste, and experienced once more the revulsion of un-urinating. Finishing, I spied a man in my bathroom mirror.

I would say that I shit myself, but that’s no longer how life functioned.

Whirling, I gawked at this tall, pale man in a green bathrobe with blue pinstripes. Clean-shaven, his black hair sprang in every direction. One hand held a glass mug with, I guessed, had beer in it, from its sudsy amber effervescence. The other hand was in his robe pocket.

“Oh, there you are, finally.” Putting his mug down on the bathroom counter, he glanced about and pulled a revolted look. “Jesus, the bathroom, are you kidding? Why couldn’t you have been asleep?”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Un. Sorry about my attire but we don’t need to dress. I usually don’t, so consider yourself fortunate. I had company over and dressed for them.”

Stunned and silent, I stared at him. Dozens of questions and comments exercised my brain but none found the exit.

Looking at me, Un said, “You’re gonna attract flies. Close your mouth. Now, my name is Un. I’m here to fix you. People have something called chronoceptors. You’re a people so you have them. They’re teeny, tiny things, small as atoms. They’re part of your nervous system. Sometimes they get inflamed and stop working right, which screws with your time flow perception.”

Un had produced a white and blue stick and looked at it as he talked to me. On my end, I said, “What?” I wasn’t giving a good representation of myself.

Un said, “It’s not that uncommon. We usually catch it immediately, but sometimes we miss it. Usually, when we do, the afflicted go nuts or kill themselves. Call yourself lucky, cause that didn’t happen to you.”

“What?”

Un jabbed the white and blue thing into me. As I yelped and attempted to jump back, he cackled. “This is going to sting.”

It was stinging to the point that I was about to scream. Everything felt like it was on fire.

Then it stopped and I was alone, well, alone except for my cat. He was standing at the door, gazing at me. I was dripping sweat, but that’s all that I noticed about myself.

Did it really happen?

I don’t know.

I admit, though, I felt very relieved when I took a normal pee.

Obit

It began with my obituary. 

Everyone googles themselves, right? Filling the gap between what you should be doing and thinking about what to have for dinner. Games have been played, work postponed, and the news is another blunt instrument on your head. So, idly, you type in your name.

My name, Michael Seidel, is bitterly common, bitterly because that makes it forgetful, except for the weather guy, what’s his name (see what I did there?). Google returned pages of Michael Seidel in their vaunted search results. Most were dead, except for real estate agents.

“Get more granular, dummy.” I played with search parameters. City, state, birthday.

Obit, obit, obit.

“Fuck.” What did the net know about me? My lust had to be sated. All that turned up, though, were obituaries. With some vinegar, I clicked on one to address the question, who is this imposter?

There was my photo and details.

I’d died the day before.

Car accident.

“Malware.” Had to be. Some new variation on ransom ware, doxxing, or cat fishing.

Loud rapping on the front door burst my concentration and triggered a sphincter clench. I hadn’t heard a car, I wasn’t expecting a package or a person, and visitors were as rare as snow in summer in this age of COVID-19.

Screw it; I wasn’t answering the door.

Then was standing in the office door, looking in at me, me all the way from the disheveled, thinning, graying, fleeing fucking hair, navy shirt, beige shorts and clothes that I now wore.

Sweat ran down his flushed face and neck. He was panting. “Come on, let’s go.”

The natural retorts skittered through my head without reaching my lips because ‘I’ dashed across the room and peered out the window. “The shadows are coming.”

 

Guardian Angels

He used to be a believer, but then he’d drifted away. Yet the thoughts were on his mind that God is great and everywhere. The lake’s cool majesty amidst the mountainous green serenity prompted such thoughts every year.

It was an annual tradition (twenty-six years, he realized, although he usually had others with him — his wife, most years, but his daughter (and then her boyfriend and husband) a few times). Still, he took care as he backed the boat trailer into the water. After releasing the boat from the trailer, he tied boat to the dock with a the rope, returned to the truck and pulled the truck up out of the water. Pausing to catch a momentary breath (he was eighty-nine years old, for crying out loud), he gazed into the clearing sky and smiled at the day, and then ordered himself, quit dawdling, and turned briskly back to the lake.

His jaw dropped. The boat was drifting out into the lake. But he’d tied it off. What the heck. Rushing down toward the water, he saw another boater veer in his direction. In a moment, the stranger had wrangled his boat and returned it to him. “Looks like your rope broke,” the woman said. Thanking her, he nodded agreement.

His wife arrived as the savior in the boat pulled away. He’d been expecting his wife for the last hour. Frazzled looking, she explained that she’d had a flat tire. “I was trying to find Cathy’s place, and I wasn’t sure about where I was going, but when I pulled onto the main road, the tire just blew.”

She was in the middle of nowhere (with no bars on her cell), but she was capable, even if she is seventy-five; she set about changing it. Unfortunately, the little tool provided by Subaru was insufficient for her to turn the nuts. Just as she wondered what the heck she was going to do, a man and his son arrived in their Chevy. Within a few minutes, they’d dug out a toolbox, found a wrench and swapped out tires. Thanks was all they’d take in exchange for their work.

A hectic morning, both agreed. It could’ve been worse, but these were minor problems, given the world’s state. Still, as easily as they were resolved, they must have had a guardian angel watching over them that day, and for that, they were thankful.

The Dream Whisperer

It was late November in 2015, just a few days after Thanksgiving. Prompted by a dream, he sat and write. It seemed so outlandish and shocking, he shared it with nobody.

His dream said that Donald Trump would be the President of the United States. At that point, many were laughing at him and his crude, ridiculous bombastic declarations as he demanded President Obama’s birth certificate, and lied. It seemed impossible that he would be POTUS, but the dream whisperer said, “It’s gonna happen.”

In 2020, an epidemic would sweep the world, the dream whisperer said, forcing people to wear masks and stay inside their homes; businesses would shut down. “It’s gonna happen,” the dream whisperer insisted, continuing, that some, driven by the President Trump’s false promises, scoffing remarks, and refusal to heed the advice himself, would disbelieve and refuse to follow the science and medical advisors. The nation’s divisiveness would increase, shocking the citizens and the world.

The final nails would come from escalating violence, the dream whisperer said. As President Trump bullied, so his followers bullied. As he called for violence and to be tough and cruel, so his followers did as he said, acting under the umbrella of being Christians, while demonstrating nothing of traditional Christian principles.

So he saw in 2015, scenes in dreams that shock and dismayed him. Still, he’d written them down, mostly in amusement back then. Surely, it would never be that bad.

But one early June night in 2020, he had another dream. Driven awake, he pulled out the vision from 2015 and reviewed its contents. He’d not be able to believe it; it seemed so stunning and impossible, like a throwback to an earlier era of troubled times in the United States. Hadn’t they evolved past all of those things? Yes, he’d believed they had; that’s why the dream was so difficult to believe. Yet, here they were as a nation…

And now he had a new dream to write, one where he saw where they’d be in 2024. It seemed so different, so impossible because of where they were now —

But that’s exactly how he’d reacted in 2015.

And so, he began to write. History does repeat itself. Sometimes, some of it is good.

At least, that’s what the dream whisperer said.

The Edge

Smiling as he raised the blinds, he gazed up at the sunshine. “Alexa, what’s today’s weather?”

“Right now in Eugene, it’s fifty-eight degrees with mostly sunny skies. Expect more of the same throughout the day, with a high of sixty-eight, and a low of thirty-seven. Enjoy your day.”

A heartbeat of sadness passed. He’d been hoping that she would say his name, as she’d been doing once in a while the last few days. Like yesterday, she said, “Have a great Sunday, Richard.”

That little bit had meant so much, more than it probably should, but it was the little things that kept him back from the edge during these days of isolation, and the edge seemed just a little too close today.

“Alexa,” he said in a softer voice, “how’s our weather today?”

He waited, hopeful for the answer.

Long Sighs

Still holding her phone up, Mya stared at her mother. Her mother had such a pretty face. Everyone said so, but whenever it was just her and her mom, her mother delivered every set of thoughts with a long sigh, as if what she has just stated is a great burden. “Beverly’s birthday is tomorrow. I’ll need to send her a birthday card.” Long sigh.

“I have no energy. I’ll make a cup of coffee in a minute, after I do this puzzle.” Long sigh.

“What do we have in the freezer to have for dinner? I suppose I can take out some salmon.” Long sigh.

Listening, watching her mother, Mya wondered where the long sighs came from, and why she did it. Looking into her short tube of memories (she couldn’t help thinking like that, thank you, Uncle Pat), the eleven-year-old decided that she would not be like her mother, sighing as though burdened with everything that she does.

“We can have rice with it. Do we have rice? Let me go look.” Long sigh.

“I’ll look,” Mya said, jumping up. Then she caught herself sighing and wondered, was it already too late?

Backslide

They finally made it over the hump. Stay at home policies were being relaxed. Businesses were re-opening. “We’re striving to return to normalcy,” the governor, the mayor, and anyone else who was anyone said. Some were talking about parades and national holidays, “To stimulate the economy.”

“I’m looking forward to normal,” he told his wife.

“I want to go dancing,” she said.

Both wondered, is it safe? The government said it was. Maybe they’d wait, maybe…

Reading the news…Jesus…”It’s like the same thing everything day.” The weather made him feel foul. He felt cold. The sun felt weak. The day seemed shorter. What the fuck, he wondered, than attributed it to his dark moods. It’d pass in a few days.

The next day brought the awful news. He checked the numbers and saw an increase to cases. He groaned. “No. Christ, I hope it’s just a blip.”

His wife, reading something on her Mac, said nothing.

Sullenness settled on him. God, he was so looking forward to normal, to getting out of the house, to walking down the street, and then, on the whim of a smell – a burger, fried onions, whatever – to walk into a restaurant, any restaurant, damn it, and order whatever meal he wanted, and have someone bring it to him, and pay them money without worrying about their breathing and their distance and their health. Plus, yeah, he loved his wife, but five weeks of isolation with just her had seared his sanity.

The news continued. He’d heard it all before. “What the hell.” If his mind wasn’t going, then the news was exactly what they’d heard before, word for friggin’ word. “You hearing this?” he asked his wife.

Without looking up from her laptop, she said, “Hm mmm.”

Which, what did that mean? “What’s for dinner?” he asked, and then joked, “Want to go out?”

“I was thinking that we’d have pizza and a salad.”

“We just had that.”

His wife looked blank. “When?”

“Last night, remember? We joked about it being our victory pizza? I opened a bottle of wine?”

Her eyes widened as he spoke, and then she rolled them in that irritating, contemptuous, dismissive way. “Is this another one of your jokes?”

“You seriously don’t remember?”

“We didn’t have pizza last night.”

“Then what did we have?”

“We had black beans salad.”

“No, we didn’t, no, we didn’t. That was the day before.”

He stood. “I’ll prove it.” He stormed to the freezer. The pizza would be gone. There’d be no pizza in there because it was the last one they had on hand. They’d joked about that, too.

But there was the pizza, a Newman’s own.

“No fucking way,” he said, throwing the pizza back into the chest freezer. No fucking way.  As a second verification, he went by the wine storage and confirmed, there was no open bottle. Like, it had not been opened. He checked the recycle bin for a bottle, just in case — he didn’t remember finishing the bottle but maybe she’d had some — but there wasn’t an empty wine bottle in the bin. Passing, he saw the cake.

He’d eaten the last piece as dessert, after the pizza. Victory pizza, victory wine, victory cake. Moving slowly, he slipped back down the hall. It hit him as he returned to the office and sat down at his computer. They were going backward in time. If he was right…he couldn’t be right.

But if he was right, they were going to relive it all again, in reverse.

“Did you find the pizza?” she asked, a smug tone to her voice.

Or, he corrected, he was going to relive it all again in reverse. She seemed completely oblivious.

“I was right, wasn’t I?” she said.

He covered his face with his palm. With a swallowed sigh, he wondered, how far back could he go?

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