December 15, 2005

No Time Like the Present

When he was seventeen he remembered that he was not born on this world. He was a time fixer from the far future, spending a few days in this ancient civilization, a few days in that one: his mission to tie up loopholes, paradoxes, and contradictions so that the course of history could run smooth. Then somehow he got stuck in a thoroughly boring family on twentieth-century Earth that had nothing to do with history at all. How was he to get out? Trying to bend the bars of his time–prison, he writhed within the life of an average high school senior. Walking the school corridors, he saw students in Sumer in 3200 BC practicing cuneiform on wet clay tablets. Giving a report on atomic structure in Chemistry class, he babbled in a tongue he later claimed was Olmec. Who could contradict him?

The electric shocks, the thorazine, did their work over their years, slowly, and one day he found he’d made another time jump: from seventeen to twenty–five, remembering nothing in between. Someone helped him find a job at the library and an efficiency apartment. One day he found himself getting married. To whom? Oh yes, he remembered now. He was nice to the children when they arrived, but he preferred sitting in his swivel chair behind the counter at the library, leisurely checking out books and toting up twenty–cent overdue fines.

He was all right now, but there was one thing he never told anyone: he was living in 1959. Walking down the street, he saw big bulky round–roofed cars, and signs in restaurant windows offering two–dollar dinners; and when he watched TV with his family, the one he watched had a black–and–white screen and vacuum tubes.

He whistled as he walked down the street in his fedora hat and his wide–cuffed, sharp–creased slacks. Any time now he expected the US to send a man into space.