I could see the sunlight dance upon the surface of our white picket fence. The flecks and shadows shifted like the patterns inside a kaleidoscope; they peered through the leaves of our dogwood tree, they went wherever the leaves took them, and the leaves went wherever the wind took them. It tried to take me too, but I placed my feet firmly on the brick sidewalk that led to our house. Our house stood behind the dogwood, loomed in between the two giant houses, and almost seemed to disappear. Yet the loose boards stuck out from the wall like cowlicks, the long cables came down from the attic window like a giant vine as they swung over each other. And for a moment, I felt like I was underwater. Because our neighborhood was so quiet, because the sparrows flew so slowly, because the sunbeams tasted so sweet. I could feel myself wrap around the fence, around the tree, around the house, around Ma and Papa, around you.
I saw the top of your head poke out from behind the fence. Your jet-black hair stood on top of your head like feathers, even the wind couldn’t sway them. At first I wanted to walk over to the fence to see what you were doing, but I realized that I didn’t have to. It was a familiar scene, you hunting for worms; your tiny round hands burrowed in the damp soil, clawing through the shards of dark green grass that fled from you in the breeze, shoveling the dirt with your nails, and laughing. You were laughing, even though you knew how mad Ma would get, when she’d catch you sneaking inside the house. She’d take off your shoes and drag you by the arm to our bathtub, she’d try to pull off your clothes too quick and get your arm tangled, and she’d scrub the mud off so hard your skin would go red. She would wail about how you’d never listen, how tired she was, and how she couldn’t take it anymore. You would cry. And after you were squeaky clean, she’d dress you up again, she’d carefully button up your yellow plaid shirt, she’d brush your hair to the side, and she would smile.
I walked up to the fence and leaned over to watch you. You looked just as I had remembered. You were holding up a worm against the sun, stretching it with your fingers and pulling it across your squinted eyes to see all its rings; you giggled as it tried to squirm out from your fingers. I was in awe of you. I wondered how long it would take for you to put down that worm and look up at me. What would you think?
I brushed my fingers across my balding scalp to flatten the few remaining hairs. I was trying to brush off the scales of my skin with my fingernails. They collected under the ridges of my skin so I had brush them off twice. I cupped my hands and blew into it, to smell my own breath, which was sour. All my teeth had fallen out, so I had to get new implants. Do I have something stuck in my teeth, or my nostrils? Maybe I shouldn’t be here.
“Hello”, I said.
I was afraid that maybe you’d just give me a cold glance, maybe you’d just jump back in distrust, maybe you’d just run back inside the house to call Ma. But you just sat still, looking at me through those oval eyes that glistened like marbles under the sunlight, resting so perfectly still under the arch of your thick black eyebrows.
“Hey mister”, you said.
“Uh hi, Mason. I’m Mason too. I mean, I don’t know how to say this, but I’m actually you. I’m you from the future. I need to talk to you about a lot of things, important things.” I felt everything around me shake, my pupils dilate and contract, and all the hairs on my arm stand up. Your face was getting blurry and I felt sick. I wanted to throw up. Am I doing the right thing? Maybe I shouldn’t have come here. But it was your voice that snapped me out of it.
“How tall are you mister?” you asked.
I looked at you; your mouth was so wide with your naïve smile, that I could see your pink gums. Your eyes now cushioned against your eyelids, glistened like pearls. For a brief moment, I felt what it was like to be you again, to catch worms in our backyard, to jump over the cracks ofour sidewalk.
“Five foot four,” I answered.
“Actually that’s not a good...”
“Do you have your own house?”
“No, but I have a nice little apartment in New York.”
“How old are you?”
“One hundred and twenty four.”
“Well yeah, in around 40 years they find out a way to slow down the aging process”
“Are you married?”
“Alright that’s enough.”
I thought you’d at least ask for my time pass, or my traveler ID, or at least just ask a question only you and I would know the answer to. There has to be important things you want to know. Aren’t you curious?
“Okay Mason listen. I don’t have much time. None of us do actually. It’s taken me a fortune to get here, but I did it all for you. I need you to know that I did it because I love you. I love you more than anything and I want you to be happy. I need you to be happy. So I want you to come with me. We can live in the big city together. My apartment is all-glass; you can see everything from there, the big skyscrapers, the hologram projects and the hover mobiles. I’ll buy you whatever you want. All the toys... the PlayStation 2 you want to get this Christmas? I have a PlayStation Alpha, you can go inside the games, you can jump on the blocks, and you won’t even get hurt. Listen, I have all the candy in the world too, you don’t get cavities in the future anymore, you don’t even get fat. You just get old, but you live long. You live for a very long time and it’s so easy to travel. You can go anywhere. We can go anywhere”
I cleared my throat. I was out of breath. I had practiced this speech so many times in front of the mirror and I still botched it. The words just came rushing out of my mouth like an impassable waterfall. I closed my eyes, and the hairs on my arm began to stand up again. I didn’t want to hear it.
“But what about Ma and Papa?”
“They can’t come with us. Actually I can’t even talk to them. You’re the only one I can talk to in the past you see. You’re the only one who can see me; you’re the only one who I can take back with me. Don’t worry about Ma and Papa. They’ll be fine without you. In ten years you’re not even going to like them anymore. You won’t even talk to them. Why should you? All they do is fight. They just yell at each other all the fucking time. They forget to pick you up from school, they forget to pack you lunch, they forget your birthday, they forget to buy you presents.”
“Stop!” you shrieked. Your face was all squinched up and red. You looked so ugly, like a parasite sucking up blood, throbbing and perforating; a worm that needed to be squashed. You were about to stand up and run for the door when I grabbed you by your arm.
“Listen to me, baby. I’ll take care of you. You’re going to grow older and they’re not going to be there for you. You’re going to graduate high school and you’ll be the only one there without anyone cheering, you’re going to get married and you’ll have no one there to hold the rings, you’re going to be a father and nobody’s going to want to hold your little girl for you.Nobody’s going to be there for you, son. You’ll think that you’ve found someone and you’re just going to get your heart broken. Sometimes it’s going be their fault and sometimes it’s going to be yours. But even if they’re nice and kind it won’t matter because I’m no good. I’m no fucking good for anyone. They’re all going to leave us so we’re going to have to look after each other”
“No!” You yelled again and I thought it was going to pierce my ears. As soon as I let go of your arm, you headed straight for the door. As you passed, the grass blades moved, and the grass blades moved because the wind moved. And I just stood there holding my head in my hands, and my hands were all wet now, because the tears rolled off my cheeks, and ran down my nose. As soon as you walked in through the door, you would forget all about me. That’s all I could do with my time pass. I could just talk to you for a few moments. I don’t know why I thought I could convince you to come with me; I don’t know why I even came here. I ripped up my traveler ID. There’s nothing to go back to anyway. I’m just going to stay here, by myself, like I always have. I’ll disappear like a dewdrop hanging from the tip of a grass blade. I begged the wind to take me faster and I cried because I was stupid.
By the time my face had dried up, I saw Papa come out of the attic and sit down in front of the dinner table. I saw the dinner table move because Papa’s beer belly shoved it. Ma sat down with her swollen belly and you sat down with your elbows tucked under. She poured the gravy on your mashed potatoes and I watched it run down like a brown river stream. I watched her pour the steamed peas on your plate from her ladle. I watched dad sink his fork into the steak and it bleed out a brilliant red juice. You were looking at Papa’s steak, shimmering under the glaze of the sauce. Ma patted you in the head and told you to eat your peas. Dad told you the same thing, so Ma wouldn’t get mad. He told you to get big so you could throw like Randy Johnson. I wanted to be like Randy Johnson, so dad would come to my games, and he could yell “That’s my boy up there!” and I wanted him to yell for me, I wanted him to beat up all the other parents who said I was no good. You held your fork up in the air and swooped up half a dozen peas from your plate and started munching on them. I forgot about this moment. You had this moment. We had this moment.
I took the time pass out of my wallet and hit rewind.
“Are you married?”
“No, but I used to be. Not anymore though.”
“I was just dumb Mason – I just forgot. You remembered though”
“Never mind. Hey, Do you want do something fun?”
“What would you like to do?”
“Can we go on the merry-go-round?”
Your laughter rose and fell like a cluster of hills and valleys. They rose and fell as the wooden horses rose and fell. I couldn’t even hear the gears as we turned or the circus music that I liked so much when I was your age. I looked at the sky, which was empty, like a turquoise blanket had covered it. I heard the chatter of everyone lined up to ride the wooden horses, the high-pitched shrieks of the children and muffled grunts of the old parents. I smelled the corn dogs being lifted up from the boiling oil, the smell of melted butter seeping through the nooks and crannies of fresh popcorn. The wind picked up and I felt like I was moving faster. Then everything felt slow again, the chatter felt like loud aching bellows, the leaves painfully hung in the air for too long, I couldn’t even hear the kernels pop anymore. I felt like I was underwater again, but I was just an old man crying on a carousel.