"...  I  IS  THIS _<>?hearers wounded-wonder like stand them makes and
stars wandering the conjures sorrow of phrase Whose. . ."_
     He blew smoke through the cigarette and it grew longer.
     He glanced at the  clock  and  realized  that  its  hands  were  moving
backwards.
     The clock told him it was 10:33, going on 10:32 in the P.M.
     Then  came the thing like despair, for he knew there was not a thing he
could do about it. He was trapped, moving in reverse through the sequence of
actions past. Somehow, he had missed the warning.
     Usually,  there  was  a  prism-effect,  a  flash  of  pink  static,   a
drowsiness, then a moment of heightened perception...
     He  turned the pages, from left to right, his eyes retracing their path
back along the lines.
     _<>"?emphasis an such bears grief whose he is What"_
     Helpless, there behind his eyes, he watched his body perform.
     The cigarette had reached its full length. He clicked on  the  lighter,
which  sucked  away  its glowing point, and then he shook the cigarette back
into the pack.
     He yawned in reverse: first an exhalation, then an inhalation.
     It wasn't real--the doctor had told him. It  was  grief  and  epilepsy,
meeting to form an unusual syndrome.
     He'd  already had the seizure. The dialantin wasn't helping. This was a
post-traumatic locomotor hallucination, elicited by anxiety, precipitated by
the attack.
     But he did not believe it,  could  not  believe  it--not  after  twenty
minutes  had  gone  by,  in the other direction--not after he had placed the
book upon the reading stand, stood, walked backward across the room  to  his
closet, hung up his robe, redressed himself in the same shirts and slacks he
had  worn all day, backed over to the bar and regurgitated a Martini, sip by
cooling sip, until the glass was filled to the brim and not a drop spilled.
     There was an impending taste of olive, and then everything was  changed
again.
     The  second-hand  was  sweeping  around  his  wristwatch  in the proper
direction.
     The time was 10:07.
     He felt free to move as he wished.
     He redrank his Martini.
     Now, if he would be true to the pattern, he would change into his  robe
and try to read. Instead, he mixed another drink.
     Now the sequence would not occur.
     Now  the  things  would not happen as he thought they had happened, and
un-happened.
     Now everything was different.
     All of which went to prove it had all been an hallucination.
     Even the notion that it had taken twenty-six minutes each  way  was  an
attempted rationalization.
     Nothing had happened.

     ...Shouldn't be drinking, he decided. It might bring on a seizure.
     He laughed.
     Crazy, though, the whole thing...
     Remembering, he drank.

     In the morning he skipped breakfast, as usual, noted that it would soon
stop being  morning,  took two aspirins, a lukewarm shower, a cup of coffee,
and a walk.
     The park, the fountain, the children with their boats, the  grass,  the
pond,  he  hated them; and the morning, and the sunlight, and the blue moats
around the towering clouds.
     Hating, he sat there. And remembering.
     If he was on the verge of a crackup, he  decided,  then  the  thing  he
wanted  most was to plunge ahead into it, not to totter halfway out, halfway
in.
     He remembered why.
     But it was clear, so clear,  the  morning,  and  everything  crisp  and
distinct  and  burning  with the green fires of spring, there in the sign of
the Ram, April.
     He watched the winds pile up the remains of winter against the far gray
fence, and he saw them push the boats across the pond, to come  to  rest  in
shallow mud the children tracked.
     The  fountain  jetted  its  cold umbrella above the green-tinged copper
dolphins. The sun ignited it whenever he moved his head.  The  wind  rumpled
it.
     Clustered on the concrete, birds pecked at part of a candy bar stuck to
a red wrapper.
     Kites  swayed on their tails, nosed downward, rose again, as youngsters
tugged at invisible strings. Telephone lines were tangled with wooden frames
and torn paper, like broken G clefs and smeared glissandos.
     He hated the telephone lines, the kites, the children, the birds.
     Most of all, though, he hated himself.
     How does a man undo that which has been done? He doesn't. There  is  no
way  under  the  sun.  He  may  suffer,  remember, repeat, curse, or forget.
Nothing else. The past, in this sense, is inevitable.
     A woman walked past. He did not look up in time to see  her  face,  but
the  dusky  blonde fall of her hair to her collar and the swell of her sure,
sheer-netted legs below the black hem of her coat  and  above  the  matching
click  of  her  heels  heigh-ho,  stopped  his breath behind his stomach and
snared his eyes in the wizard-weft of her walking and her posture  and  some
more, like a rhyme to the last of his thoughts.

     He  half-rose  from the bench when the pink static struck his eyeballs,
and the fountain became a volcano spouting rainbows.
     The world was frozen and served up to him under a glass.
     ...The woman passed back before him and he looked down too soon to  see
her face.
     The  hell  was beginning once more, he realized, as the backward-flying
birds passed before.
     He gave himself up to it. Let it keep him until he broke, until he  was
all used up and there was nothing left.
     He waited, there on the bench, watching the slivey toves be brillig, as
the fountain  sucked  its  waters  back  within itself, drawing them up in a
great arc above the unmoving dolphins, and the boats raced backward over the
pond, and the fence divested itself of stray scraps of paper, as  the  birds
replaced the candy bar within the red wrapper, bit by crunchy bit.
     His  thoughts  only were inviolate, his body belonged to the retreating
tide.
     Eventually, he rose and strolled backwards out of the park.
     On the street a boy backed past him, unwhistling snatches of a  popular
song.
     He  backed  up  the stairs to his apartment, his hangover growing worse
again, undrank his coffee, unshowered, unswallowed  his  aspirins,  and  got
into bed, feeling awful.
     Let this be it, he decided.
     A  faintly-remembered  nightmare ran in reverse though his mind, giving
it an undeserved happy ending.

     It was dark when he awakened.
     He was very drunk.
     He backed over to the bar and began spitting out his drinks, one by one
into the same glass he had used the night before, and pouring them from  the
glass  back  into  the bottles again. Separating the gin and vermouth was no
trick at all. The liquids leapt into the air as he held the uncorked bottles
above the bar.
     And he grew less and less drunk as this went on.
     Then he stood before an early Martini and it  was  10:07  in  the  P.M.
There,  within  the  hallucination, he wondered about another hallucination.
Would time loop-the-loop, forward  and  then  backward  again,  through  his
previous seizure?
     No.
     It was as though it had not happened, had never been.
     He continued on back through the evening, undoing things.
     He  raised  the telephone, said "good-bye", untold Murray that he would
not be coming to work again tomorrow, listened a moment, recradled the phone
and looked at it as it rang.
     The sun came up in the west and people were backing their cars to work.
     He read the weather report and the headlines, folded the evening  paper
and placed it out in the hall.
     It was the longest seizure he had ever had, but he did not really care.
He settled himself down within it and watched as the day unwound itself back
to morning.
     His hangover returned as the day grew smaller, and it was terrible when
he got into bed again.
     When he awakened the previous evening the drunkenness was high upon him
again.  Two of the bottles he refilled, recorked, resealed. He knew he would
take them to the liquor store soon and get his money back.
     As he sat there that day, his mouth uncursing and  undrinking  and  his
eyes unreading, he knew that new cars were being shipped back to Detroit and
disassembled,  that corpses were awakening into their death-throes, and that
priests the world over were saying black mass, unknowing.
     He wanted to chuckle, but he could not tell his mouth to do it.
     He unsmoked two and a half packs of cigarettes.
     Then came another hangover and he went to bed. Later, the  sun  set  in
the east.

     Time's  winged  chariot  fled before him as he opened the door and said
"good-bye" to his comforters and they came in and sat down and told him  not
to grieve overmuch.
     And he wept without tears as he realized what was to come.
     Despite his madness, he hurt.
     ...Hurt, as the days rolled backward.
     ...Backward, inexorably.
     ...Inexorably, until he knew the time was near at hand.
     He gnashed the teeth of his mind.
     Great was his grief and his hate and his love.

     He  was  wearing his black suit and undrinking drink after drink, while
somewhere the men were scraping the clay back onto the shovels  which  would
be used to undig the grave.
     He  backed  his  car to the funeral parlor, parked it, and climbed into
the limousine.
     They backed all the way to the graveyard.
     He stood among his friends and listened to the preacher.
     ".dust to dust; ashes to Ashes," the man said, which is pretty much the
same whichever way you say it.
     The casket was taken back to the hearse and  returned  to  the  funeral
parlor.
     He sat through the service and went home and unshaved and unbrushed his
teeth and went to bed.
     He awakened and dressed again in black and returned to the parlor.
     The flowers were all back in place.
     Solemn-faced  friends  unsigned the Sympathy Book and unshook his hand.
Then they went inside to sit awhile and stare at  the  closed  casket.  Then
they left, until he was alone with the funeral director.
     Then he was alone with himself.
     The tears ran up his cheeks.
     His shirt and suit were crisp and unwrinkled again.
     He  backed home, undressed, uncombed his hair. The day collapsed around
him into morning, and he returned to bed to unsleep another night.

     The previous evening, when  he  awakened,  he  realized  where  he  was
headed.
     Twice,  he exerted all of his will power in an attempt to interrupt the
sequence of events. He failed.
     He wanted to die. If he had killed himself that day, he  would  not  be
headed back toward it now.
     There were tears within his mind as he realized the past which lay less
than twenty-four hours before him.
     The  past  stalked  him that day as he unnegotiated the purchase of the
casket, the vault, the accessories.
     Then he headed home into the biggest hangover of all and slept until he
was awakened to undrink drink after drink and then return to the morgue  and
come back in time to hang up the telephone on that call, that call which had
come to break...
     ...The silence of his anger with its ringing.
     She was dead.
     She  was  lying  somewhere in the fragments of her car on Interstate 90
now.
     As he paced, unsmoking, he knew she was lying there bleeding.
     ...Then dying, after that crash at 80 miles an hour.
     ...Then alive?
     Then re-formed, along with the car, and alive again, arisen?  Even  now
backing home at terrible speed, to re-slam the door on their final argument?
To unscream at him and to be unscreamed at?
     He cried out within his mind. He wrung the hands of his spirit.
     It couldn't stop at this point. No. Not now.
     All  his grief and his love and his self-hate had brought him back this
far, this near to the moment...
     It _<>couldn't_ end now.
     After a time, he moved to the living room, his legs  pacing,  his  lips
cursing, himself waiting.

     The door slammed open.
     She stared at him, her mascara smeared, tears upon her cheeks.
     "!hell to go Then," he said.
     "!going I'm," she said.
     She stepped back inside, closed the door.
     She hung her coat hurriedly in the hall closet.
     ".it about feel you way the that's If," he said shrugging.
     "!yourself but anybody about care don't You," she said.
     "!child a like behaving You're," he said.
     "!sorry you're say least at could You"
     Her  eyes  flashed  like  emeralds through the pink static, and she was
lovely and alive again. In his mind he was dancing.
     The change came.
     "You could at least say you're sorry!"
     "I am," he said, taking her hand in a grip that she  could  not  break.
"How much, you'll never know."

     "Come here," and she did.


: 37, Last-modified: Fri, 18 Sep 1998 16:10:13 GMT