Monday, May 12, 2008

(William is 15)

William: I open my eyes and stare at a ceiling that is completely unfamiliar. Usually I only time travel to places I've been before, but this place, or ceiling at least, I have no memories of. I'm completely naked (of course), and the carpet feels prickly against my back. I close my eyes again, thinking that maybe if I don't see any more, I can pretend I'm not here and wish myself back to 2024. The wishing doesn't work.

"William?" I don't want to be here.

I open my eyes. "Hi Susan," I say. I can't bring myself to call her 'Mother'. I'm still looking at the ceiling, which is damp and stained.

"New flat?" I ask, as I sit up, and I see her, calmly watching me from across the room. She nods. "Nice," I comment, though It's cheap and disgusting, and the furniture clearly came with the room and isn't hers.

She throws me her dressing gown. The cloth is faded and pink, and only just long enough to cover me. I stand in the room stiffly, partly because I don't want to move for the risk of flashing, and partly because I feel I shouldn't be here. I don't have a mother. Never had one. This woman is just the person who gave birth to me, but she hasn't been my parent. I don't know why I keep visiting her like this, but it isn't my choice. She sits quietly in an armchair opposite me, with the dark window profiling her from behind. She's just watching me, and I can feel the waves of depression emanating from her and rolling over me, and I know it's me that's screwed up her life like this.

"What's the date?"

"May 12, 2008," she says. I swear I feel my heart starting to beat faster.

"Has he come yet?" I ask.

"No," she says.

"But I checked," I say, feeling the unwelcome panic swirl in my stomach, "I worked it out. This should be the date I was conceived. He should have come,"

"He hasn't," she says and I notice how blank her voice is, how she keeps staring at me like that. I know I've fucked this up, but I was a kid before, I didn't know how to do this.

"No!" I say. Maybe it's the fact that I've never met either of my parents in the present that I want to make sure my conception goes right. "His name is Henry, and he's a time traveler, and he appears naked, and then you have sex, and then you have me." That's how it should go.

"And then I die," Susan whispers, and she looks at me with tears in her eyes.

"What?" I say. I've never mentioned that. I know I haven't been that stupid. I've made a point not to talk about what she'd be doing in my present.

"I die in childbirth," she says mournfully, and I hear in her voice that there's no hope left. She's already counting down the months and days. Minutes. "You kill me,"

"No," I say again, because It's all I can think of, though it's true.

"And you say everything is inevitable,"

No, nothing is inevitable. I'm sure. That's why I'm here. I want to make sure you do it. I want to make sure it happens right.

I want to say all this to her, to try explain and apologise to her and me, but before I can, I feel my ears pop, and my knees crumble. I start to fall backwards but before I hit the floor I've vanished.

I want to make sure I exist, but in the process I'm ruining my mother's remaining life. Except she's not my mother, because she never mothered me. I don't know if I should have done that or not, said that or not, but I know that somehow I already did. I just talked my mother through my conception, and if I hadn't then she wouldn't have had me. Becoming your own grandfather must be straightforward compared to this.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

(Henry is 24)

Henry: I'm somewhere in the future, feeling the effects of half drunkenness and half hangover I haven't had yet. I'm wearing absolutely nothing and I'm pissed off. Well, I'm not entirely coherent enough to be pissed off yet, but man I will be. I close my eyes against the lights that are dotted across my vision, take a step forward, and drop over onto my hands and knees.

Why me? One minute I'm having a perfectly nice time getting wasted in some Chicago club, the next, all the slowly accumulated drink that has been sloshing around pleasantly is coming up my throat and heaving itself onto the lino of some future world.

There's a gasp, and I realise the owner of this lino, is now watching a naked man retch on her kitchen floor.

I see her feet first; she's wearing yellow socks, and tight jeans.

I manage to look up, and the woman is, of course, staring at me in utter horror. Her dark eyes wide in her tanned face, shaped eyebrows arched in shock. She's holding a mug at a jaunty angle, and is frozen in the act of stirring the cup.

"Hello," I croak, trying to smile, before realising it makes me look like a maniac and I stop. I lie still as another wave of dizziness comes, waiting for her to run screaming, or brandish a kitchen knife, or any of those other dramatic reactions I am beginning to expect from such encounters. She doesn't, instead she blinks a couple of times, and carefully puts down the mug.

She leans down to be level with my face, takes a deep breath, and says, "Hello," very slowly and gently, and I know I have been spared. "I'm Susan. Who are you?" She's talking to me like we're acting really badly, like we're in some weird play, but this is honestly better than a 911 call.

"Henry," I say, "Could I perhaps have something to eat, and some clothes? Or at least a ten minute delay so I can run away?"

When I say Henry, she starts and peers at me, suddenly scrutinizing me, and then to my surprise she hooks a hand under my arm, and helps heave me into a chair. Her entire attitude changes dramatically; she's no longer wary and careful, but businesslike, with a hint of resigned desperation.

"There's bread and cheese, will that do? I just moved in so I don't have much here," Her totally controlled, oddly calm approach somehow puts me off and I'm jittery and nervous, although I feel unusually solid and present, so I guess I won't be going any time soon.

"Have we met?" I ask nervously.

"Nope," she says, and flashes me a grin. The grin is strange, false, manic. She's practically radiating purpose now. "Cheese? Bread?"

"Yeah great," I say, deciding to just go with it. Whatever happens, happens anyway. "And the clothes?"

She turns to me, and leans on the counter, and without hiding it, looks me up and down; a small, quiet smile slinks onto her face. I feel incredibly self-conscious, considering I'm shivering, sweating and entirely naked. "Oh I think we'll leave you as you are," she says.

"What?" I say, "But that's not fair!" Which isn't really what I mean to say.

"Okay fine," Susan says, and before I know what's happening she's unzipped her jeans. And she's stripping down to her underwear too.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

(Henry is 42, William is born)

Henry: I appear crouched on the floor, in the fetal position, naked. A montage of flashing images streams through my mind; green tiles, white coats, scrubs. I'm in a hospital somewhere. I don't move. I don't feel solid. I can tell it's the future. My ears are ringing and I can hear voices, but not clearly, everything feels as if it's flickering, or maybe that's me shaking. I can't tell.

I make out a crowd of people just in front of me, but none of them have noticed my arrival. They all have their back to me, entranced by some other wonder taking place.

I tuck my head down into my chest, feeling nauseous, and I hear a voice say "She's not going to make it, but maybe we can save the child."

Who's child? My first thought is Clare, and I raise my head suddenly, creating black spots in front of my vision, but I have to see. I have to check before I go. As if responding to my thoughts the crowd parts a little.

"He's coming," they say, and I see splayed legs; legs I recognise, tanned and long, but taut now, and the woman is screaming. And I recognise the scream too. Susan? I think, asking myself the question, though I know already.

"He's here!" a doctor cries, "William Henry Castawaye, born 6:23am, Tuesday 24th February, 2009."

And only then do I remember the night, when they say my name, Henry, as part of his, and I realise with dread that I have a son. The thought alone sends me into another bout of nausea. I see someone turn, the nurse's eyes fix on me, and a voice shouts out, "Hey, there's a man-" but then I am gone. Blown away. That's what the new fathers always say; I was blown away.

His birth was the first and only time I saw him, so I don't tell Clare. He was from before. Some stupid, drunken, time travelling mistake, you could say. So I don't tell Clare because he's really nothing to do with her. I don't tell her he'll be growing up in her present.