Note: written for a poetry challenge at the contrelamontre community on livejournal. I've been waiting ages to use this excerpt, though I'm not sure this was what I originally intended to come out of it.

"... who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot
for Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks
fell on their heads every day for the next decade..." – From "Howl" by Allen Ginsburg.

Remembering Things that Never Were

Daddy's wristwatch went tickticktick in his ear as they embraced awkwardly as strangers on the living room couch. They were alone and yet not, because everywhere Marty went, he saw ghosts.

There was his Daddy then, unhappy and tired, sitting at the kitchen table, hair slicked back and ill-fitting clothing bunching in all the wrong places as he tried hard to ignore his children and his wife. And Marty sighed with uncomfortable nostalgia, because that Daddy had been killed and buried without eulogy or headstone.

But there was also George, young and fresh-faced and sweetly goofy and earnest; he would spend most of his time at the bookshelves, flipping through novels, smiling and nodding like an overgrown pigeon. Sometimes Marty would look up from his homework in the evenings and see George sitting across from him, notebook flipped open, pen in hand, but only staring. Staring at Marty with wide blue eyes that both beguiled and accused. And Marty would cringe and think, No, this isn't right. You shouldn't be here. I gave you what you wanted and more! This is the way it's supposed to be. And George would lick his lips like a predator and Marty would hear a voice that sounded like George even though it wasn't, not really. No, you didn't, it said, time and time again. This isn't what I wanted at all. Then the image would flicker and fade like the memory it really was, and Marty would be left with nothing but the bitter tangles of his own insecurities convincing him of the unreality of dreams, hallucinations, and things that never were.

Sitting next to him, one hand on Marty's lower back while the other cradled the base of his skull and stroked soft fingertips over the hairs on his neck tickticktick, was Daddy now, not more or less real than Daddy then, only more immediate and urgent and tangible. He was still another ghost, another reminder that made Marty shift uncomfortably with knowledge he didn't want to have. He was George, but George was not him. He was then before he became now, but the change had been made without his knowing and the discrepancy would be immaterial and unfamiliar to him. The difference was that Daddy then and George existed in an echo that lived outside of time; they would never grow old and they would not die until Marty died. They were memory and they had never really existed, while the father who pressed gentle lips against Marty's forehead and comforted even if he did not understand why would be outlived by the Timex that sat heavily on his thin wrist and went tickticktick in Marty's ear.

Those were the seconds rolling idly by, and Marty vowed to preserve this man in his memory as another ghost who would never leave. Button-down shirt, thick glasses, thin lips, and fluttering eyelashes all, so that, when they parted with embarrassment, Daddy now could go on living the life he had wanted and die the way he was supposed to, while the Daddy of seconds could live on forever, lamenting a course of action he had wanted, but never pursued. Out of fear, out of cowardice, out of maybe-nots. And the ghosts would huddle together, scourges of the malleability of time, a plague on the subconscious, and all of them perfectly aware of the tickticktick that pulsed against Marty's eardrum.