Friday, April 12, 2019

Love Letters

a story by Bill Adler



Dear Becky,

I'll never know if you get this letter. I've handwritten three copies and given them to lawyers who I think work for long-lived firms. But I can't say for sure. How could I? What does a veterinarian know about law firms?

At least being a veterinarian means I have a job, which translates to a home, food — a fairly comfortable life, all things considered.

I miss you. I miss our world, too, but I miss you more than anything.

I know you've been wondering where I've been, why I suddenly didn't come home, and I'll tell you in a moment. But first I need to explain how I got here because where I am only makes sense when you know the how part.

Grand Seiko photo by Samuel Chan
Remember the last time we made love? It was a weekday. The chills you sent through me linger delightfully in my mind and body. We stayed up late, way too late for a school night, and the next morning we were basket cases, though basket cases with broad, just-fucked smiles. When I ran out the door to the clinic, I was in such a fog that I didn't wind my watch.

While walking — more like dashing — from the station to the clinic I glanced at my watch, noticing that the time was off by a few hours. When I looked back up, I saw the strangest thing. I don't know how else to describe it other than I had a vision of old New York City complete with gas lamps, men on horseback, an elevated train engine puffing black smoke, and no skyscrapers. Policemen wearing double-breasted, gray uniforms, and helmets stood on the corner nearest to me. I thought I lost my balance on a broken cobblestone. I caulked up my hallucination to the mind-bending sex clouding my mind —  as well as sleep deprivation. I now know I also had alcohol left in me from the wine we shared at 2 a.m. That’s important. I’ll explain about that, too.

I didn't mention my sleep-deprived mirages at the time, because these images vanished during my quick-walk from the station to the clinic. Forgive me for not telling you. Perhaps if I had, you would have put two and two together. Especially because it happened again.

Nobody wants to reveal their hallucinations. Dreams, yes, can be fun to share and talk about. But when there’s possibly something askew with the basic wiring of our brain, we close a tight fist around that possibility. At least until we're sure. I didn't want to worry you. When I was leaving the clinic a few days later I saw them: The same policemen dressed in uniforms right out of a movie theater wardrobe. Women wrapped in ankle-length, black dresses, pushing strollers made of metal with babies lying inside what looked like canvas shopping baskets. A man wearing jeans, a white shirt and gray vest was selling clams from a wooden cart on the adjacent corner. I saw a streetcar on rails being pulled by two brown and two white horses. I would have sounded loony had I told you about my visions.



It was the antihistamine talking — at the time I blamed Mr. Benadryl for my brain misfire. The time was 6:45 p.m., about three hours after I took those two Benadryl tabs. I know what time it was from my phone. My watch had been frozen since 2:35 p.m. One day I'll remember to wind my watch, I told myself. I should have heeded my own words. But I always had my phone, so if I was in a rush and sometimes forgot to wind my watch, what did it matter? I now know it mattered a lot.

By now you may suspect where this letter is heading. It's not heading toward madness, I can assure you. Though I wish it were. I wish my problem was as simple as some type of insanity. I wish I was crazy even if I wasn't cureable. 

The third time:

I messaged you that I was going to have drinks with Dr. Gordon after work. A few beers, a stopped watch, and this time it was more than just ghostly apparitions. March 15, 2020 was the last you heard from me, until this letter. God I hope you get this letter, because I've now traveled further from you than the New York in my first vision.

You know how photos of old New York are in black and white because color photography hadn’t been invented yet? Those photos weren’t far from the truth: The world back then was mostly black and white, with a dabs of brown and gray here and there.

I'm in 1790. You may not believe me, but I hope you do. The first time I traveled I landed in 1905, 115 years in the past. The second time, I traveled another 115 years. New Yorkers are still celebrating the Revolutionary War, though that may just be an excuse to party. There's no such thing as flush toilets. Bed technology isn't something I've ever thought about, but since arriving, I do every day. My lower back is a perpetual knot, and my legs have red marks that look like bed bug bites. Most days lunch and dinner consists of corn and beans, accompanied by beef, venison, or pork.  Meat is smoked, salted, or just dried because refrigeration is still over half a century away. Cows are plentiful in New York, so there’s ample milk and cheese. I miss Benadryl. Damn allergies. I miss you the most.

Benjamin Franklin died this year. Had he still been alive, I might have visited him and suggested he invent the light bulb, offering a few tidbits I remembered from a tenth grade science fair. Reading by candlelight loses its charm after a while.

Thank goodness for our South Africa trip for which we got nearly every vaccine in existence. This is an era where dysentery, typhoid, cholera, scarlet fever, measles and other diseases are as common as stray dogs. I’m smiling when I think about South Africa. I remember the savanna where we watched a herd of elephants strolling like they were the only creatures in the world, thunder consuming the horizon, but it was just their feet echoing off the sky. I remember how soft your hand felt in mine at that moment.

Here’s what I know: When I have a drink or take a drug like Benadryl that affects my brain and I glance at my stopped watch, afterimages of the past appear. But they're not just images; what I see is more like a transparent curtain between the time I’m in and 115 years before, a curtain waiting to be pulled open. The images of the past get stronger each time, until the third occurrence when I’m dragged into the past by a powerful vortex. My gut tells me time traveling has something to do with the Grand Seiko Spring Drive I’m wearing. The watch uses a technology I’ve admired, but never fully understood. It's half mechanical, half electric, deploying magnetic braking instead of gears like a regular watch. Someone once joked that Seiko’s Spring Drive movement is so advanced it must have been invented in the year 2030. I haven’t a clue about the significance of the Spring Drive being stopped. That doesn't make sense, but neither does any of this. Maybe it's got something to do with pulsars, gravity wells, Einstein's ghost, some chemical or radioactivity that's in our apartment, or my DNA. Why me? I’ve asked a thousand times.

Don't worry about me. I've got a good job. I'm a veterinarian in 1790 with skills from 2020. I'm the vet equivalent of a rock star. The clinic where I work, housed in a twenty-year-old barn, is called Carl's Cows and Cats, and it's exactly where the Empire State Building will be one day. Maybe you can read about it in a history book.

So that's it. That's what happened. More than anything I want to be with you. Please have the best life you can. I love you forever.

Dan
April 2, 1790


####



Becky!

No, no, no.

I got the letter you sent to Carl’s Cows from 1788. I hope you get this one, because it's the last I will send. Don't write to me again. Please don't. Stay where you are. 

I wish I had told you not to try. I never imagined you would duplicate my experience and travel in time. Throw your Spring Drive watch in the East River.

I jumped to 1675 to send you this letter. Why are your time jumps 116 years, while mine are 115 years? Don't answer that! Don't travel again because you'll land in 1672. Just don’t, I beg you. Stay in 1788. Better times are coming, with railways, steamboats, and more. The patent for the cotton weaver will be issued in two years. You don't want to live in the 17th century when you can be in the 18th. Trust me on that.

I love you more than you can know.

Dan



####



Sweetheart,

These are turbulent times. I’m going to leap tomorrow, but want to tell you in case you didn’t know: If you run into danger pull out the crown on your Grand Seiko and it will stop. You don’t have to wait for the watch to wind down.

Spring Drive photo by Maxim Bobin
Your next leap will be into the world before Europeans came to America. It’s different, Becky. America is quiet, pristine, tranquil. Nature is in technicolor. Autumn leaves don’t just glow red, gold and blue; they shimmer as if each leaf can’t wait to float from its branch and join the rainbow that covers the ground.

I’ve found friendship among the Iroquois. It’s strange knowing I’m the first white person they’ve seen. I’m teaching my new friends veterinary medicine, including how to make penicillin from mold, and surgery. The Iroquois already use various plants that can be adapted for anesthesia. When Europeans arrive in about a century, the Iroquois will be light years more advanced in veterinary medicine than they are. The Iroquois have already started to adapt these skills to human medicine. I wonder if I’ve changed history.

I would stay in this time forever, if only I could be here with you.

Be safe, Becky.


####


Becky,

It doesn't make sense for you to jump again just so we can leave messages for each other from our leapfrogging pasts, because when you jump next it will be 1092. I think that’s nearly a hundred years before native Americans learned to turn animal skins into writing parchments. We won't be able to communicate no matter how much we want to; there’s nothing for us to write on, or write with. We had a good run, maybe it was worth trying, too, because maybe we might have jumped back to our future. But here we are.  Bye forever, my love.



####


Becky,

It's cold. I'm certain we're in the last ice age, some 12,000 years in the past. I'm sorry it takes so long to carve a message on stone. I'm doing okay. My vet skills have a nice side benefit. I made winter coats from animals I hunted. I'm going to leave one for you at Carl’s, our message site. It will be old, but it's double layered, mammoth and bison, and will still function to keep you warm. I hope I remembered your size.

We need to talk about something, something I’m sure you’ve noticed, too. The distance we’re jumping into the past is increasing. If I were an astronomer perhaps I could calculate how far back we now travel, but I have no idea. Except that it’s incalculably distant, and the years are increasing at an accelerating rate. It’s good we’re carving messages on stone because the distance between us is longer than paper can survive.



####


My sweet Becky,


It's warming up. Do you feel it? The ice age is almost over, or rather it hasn't begun yet. A warmer climate means it’s going to be easier to find psychotropic plants or make mead to facilitate our travel. Another jump or two and spring will cover the planet. Have tulips and dandelions even evolved yet?

Meet me at our favorite outdoor cafe?


####


Becky,

It's been a year. I haven't heard from you. Where are you? I'm worried. I've counted 365 sunrises. I'm going to jump soon. I'll carve another message after I time travel again.


####


Becky,

You're alive! Me too! I got your carving. Time travel texting isn't always reliable, I guess. How are you? I've lost track of when we are, but the era of dinosaurs hasn't begun, so we must be — I'm guessing— over 200 million years in the past. They were as big as the movies portrayed, but who knew that dinosaurs didn't care for human meat? File this under useful information for time travelers.

I forgot to mention long ago that of course I’m not angry you spent our savings on a platinum Grand Seiko. Having the best watch inside and out makes sense. I’m only glad that somebody didn’t try to steal it from you, back when there were humans around. The past is replete with all sorts of unsavory folks. Anyway, we don’t need our savings. We always knew this was going to be a one-way ride.


####


Hard to breathe in methane atmosphere. You floated by, as beautiful as ever.


####

My love,

It’s magical, isn’t it? Swirls of gold and white, like the soft ice cream I devoured after school when the truck came jingling by. In the blackness fireflies encircle me — thousands, millions, billions, each a different color. I never knew so many colors existed.

We’re near the end of our journey, Becky, the beginning of the universe.

How are we even able to write? With muons and quarks on an atomic notebook? Are our notes composed of pure thought and it only appears like writing in our minds? In this place, at this time, we transcend physics.

Time has become weird. Are you replying to my notes first, or is it the other way around? Before and after have lost all meaning.

My entire body tingles as if my blood has been replaced with static electricity, like I’ve rubbed my sock-covered feet against a carpet in winter. It’s the microwave radiation left over from when the universe began. The stuff astronomers see when they peer toward the edge of the universe. We're wading through creation’s wake, a warm lapis ocean surrounding us.

I wonder if the universe is made out of you and me. Are we the elements of everything that is yet to be? Is the universe both that strange and that simple?

Our next leap is into the unknown of nonexistence. I have no regrets, my love. How many people get to witness the birth of the universe? But if I could have a last wish it would be to kiss you before stepping into oblivion’s embrace.


Thanks to the Grand Seiko Owners Club members for their photos.





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