I holed up in Unit 7 at the Tamarack Motor Court.
I paid with money from an ostrich wallet that was given to me by an old buddy. Money, like meat bought at the Red & White Supermarket and shirts bought at Mason’s Menswear, stays. If every trip really is a complete reset, those things shouldn’t, but it’s not and they do. The money wasn’t from Al, but at least Agent Hosty let me run, which might turn out to be a good thing for the world.
Or not. I don’t know.
Tomorrow will be the first of October. In Derry, the Dunning kids are looking forward to Halloween and already planning their costumes. Ellen, that little red-haired kut-up kutie, plans to go as Princess Summerfall Winterspring. She’ll never get the chance. If I went to Derry today, I could kill Frank Dunning and save her Halloween, but I won’t. And I won’t go to Durham to save Carolyn Poulin from Andy Cullum’s errant shot. The question is, will I go to Jodie? I can’t save Kennedy, that is out of the question, but can the future history of the world be so fragile that it will not allow two high school teachers to meet and fall in love? To marry, to dance to Beatles tunes like “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and live unremarkable lives?
I don’t know, I don’t know.
She might not want to have anything to do with me. We’re no longer going to be thirty-five and twenty-eight; this time I’d be forty-two or-three. I look even older. But I believe in love, you know; love is a uniquely portable magic. I don’t think it’s in the stars, but I do believe that blood calls to blood and mind calls to mind and heart to heart.
Sadie dancing the Madison, color high in her cheeks, laughing.
Sadie telling me to lick her mouth again.
Sadie asking if I’d like to come in and have poundcake.
One man and one woman. Is that too much to ask?
I don’t know, I don’t know.
What have I done here, you ask, now that I have laid my good-angel wings aside? I have written. I have a fountain pen — one given to me by Mike and Bobbi Jill, you remember them — and I walked up the road to a market, where I bought ten refills. The ink is black, which suits my mood. I also bought two dozen thick legal pads, and I have filled all but the last one. Near the market is a Western Auto store, where I bought a spade and a steel footlocker, the kind with a combination. The total cost of my purchases was seventeen dollars and nineteen cents. Are these items enough to turn the world dark and filthy? What will happen to the clerk, whose ordained course has been changed — just by our brief transaction — from what it would have been otherwise?
I don’t know, but I do know this: I once gave a high school football player the chance to shine as an actor, and his girlfriend was disfigured. You could say I wasn’t responsible, but we know better, don’t we? The butterfly spreads its wings.
For three weeks I wrote all day, every day. Twelve hours on some days. Fourteen on others. The pen racing and racing. My hand got sore. I soaked it, then wrote some more. Some nights I went to the Lisbon Drive-In, where there’s a special price for walk-ins: thirty cents. I sat in one of the folding chairs in front of the snackbar and next to the kiddie playground. I watched The Long, Hot Summer again. I watched The Bridge on the River Kwai and South Pacific. I watched a HORRORIFFIC DOUBLE FEATURE consisting of The Fly and The Blob. And I wondered what I was changing. If I so much as slapped a bug, I wondered what I was changing ten years up the line. Or twenty. Or forty.
I don’t know, I don’t know.
Here’s another thing I do know. The past is obdurate for the same reason a turtle’s shell is obdurate: because the living flesh inside is tender and defenseless.
And something else. The multiple choices and possibilities of daily life are the music we dance to. They are like strings on a guitar. Strum them and you create a pleasing sound. A harmonic. But then start adding strings. Ten strings, a hundred strings, a thousand, a million. Because they multiply! Harry didn’t know what that watery ripping sound was, but I’m pretty sure I do; that’s the sound of too much harmony created by too many strings.
Sing high C in a voice that’s loud enough and true enough and you can shatter fine crystal. Play the right harmonic notes through your stereo loud enough and you can shatter window glass. It follows (to me, at least) that if you put enough strings on time’s instrument, you can shatter reality.
But the reset is almost complete each time. Sure, it leaves a residue. The Ocher Card Man said so, and I believe him. But if I don’t make any big changes. . if I do nothing but go to Jodie and meet Sadie again for the first time. . if we should happen to fall in love. .
I want that to happen, and think it probably would. Blood calls to blood, heart calls to heart. She’ll want children. So, for that matter, will I. I tell myself one child more or less won’t make any difference, either. Or not much difference. Or two. Even three. (It is, after all The Era of Big Families.) We’ll live quietly. We won’t make waves.
Only each child is a wave.
Every breath we take is a wave.
You have to go back one last time, the Ocher Card Man said. You have to close the circle. Want has nothing to do with it.
Can I really be thinking of risking the world — perhaps reality itself — for the woman I love? That makes Lee’s insanity look piddling.
The man with the card tucked into the brim of his hat is waiting for me beside the drying shed. I can feel him there. Maybe he’s not sending out thought-waves, but it sure feels like it. Come back. You don’t have to be the Jimla. It’s not too late to be Jake again. To be the good guy, the good angel. Never mind saving the president; save the world. Do it while there’s still time.
Probably I will.
Tomorrow will be soon enough, won’t it?
Still here at the Tamarack. Still writing.
My uncertainty about Clayton is the worst. Clayton is what I thought about as I screwed the last of my refills into my trusty fountain pen, and he’s what I’m thinking about now. If I knew she was going to be safe from him, I think I could let go. Will John Clayton still turn up at Sadie’s house on Bee Tree Lane if I subtract myself from the equation? Maybe seeing us together was what finally drove him over the edge. But he followed her to Texas even before he knew about us, and if he does it again, this time he might cut her throat instead of her cheek. Deke and I wouldn’t be there to stop him, certainly.
Only maybe he did know about us. Sadie might have written a friend back in Savannah, and the friend might have told a friend, and the news that Sadie was spending time with a guy — one who didn’t know the imperatives of the broom — might finally have gotten back to her ex. If none of that happened because I wasn’t there, Sadie would be all right.
The lady or the tiger?
I don’t know, I don’t know.
The weather is turning toward autumn.
I went to the drive-in last night. It’s the last weekend for them. On Monday they’ll put up a sign that says CLOSED FOR THE SEASON and add something like TWICE AS FINE IN ’59! The last program consisted of two short subjects, a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and another pair of horror movies, Macabre and The Tingler. I took my usual folding chair and watched Macabre without really seeing it. I was cold. I have money to buy a coat, but now I’m afraid to buy much of anything. I keep thinking about the changes it could cause.
When the first feature ended, I did go into the snackbar, however. I wanted some hot coffee. (Thinking This can’t change much, also thinking How do you know. ) When I came out, there was only one child in the kiddie playground that would have been full at intermission only a month ago. It was a girl wearing a jean jacket and bright red pants. She was jumping rope. She looked like Rosette Templeton.
“I went down the road, the road was a-muddy,” she chanted. “I stubbed my toe, my toe was a-bloody. You all here? Count two an three an four and fi’ ! My true love’s a butterfly !”
I couldn’t stay. I was shivering too hard.
Maybe poets can kill the world for love, but not ordinary little guys like me. Tomorrow, supposing the rabbit-hole is still there, I’m going back. But before I do. .
Coffee wasn’t the only thing I bought in the snackbar.
The lockbox from the Western Auto is on the bed, standing open. The spade is in the closet (what the maid thought about that I have no idea). The ink in my last refill is running low, but that’s okay; another two or three pages will bring me to the end. I’ll put the manuscript in the lockbox, then bury it near the pond where I once disposed of my cell phone. I’ll bury it deep in that soft dark soil. Perhaps someday, someone will find it. Maybe it will be you. If there is a future and there is a you, that is. This is something I will soon find out.
I tell myself (hopefully, fearfully) that my three weeks in the Tamarack can’t have changed much; Al spent four years in the past and came back to an intact present. . although I admit I have wondered about his possible relationship to the World Trade Center holocaust or the big Japanese earthquake. I tell myself there is no connection. . but still I wonder.
I should also tell you that I no longer think of 2011 as the present. Philip Nolan was the Man Without a Country; I am the Man Without a Time Frame. I suspect I always will be. Even if 2011 is still there, I will be a visiting stranger.
Beside me on the desk is a postcard featuring a photo of cars pulled up in front of a big screen. That’s the only kind of card they sell in the Lisbon Drive-In snackbar. I have written the message, and I have written the address: Mr. Deacon Simmons, Jodie High School, Jodie, Texas. I started to write Denholm Consolidated High School, but JHS won’t become DCHS until next year or the year after.
The message reads: Dear Deke: When your new librarian comes, watch out for her. She’s going to need a good angel, particularly in April of 1963. Please believe me.
No, Jake, I hear the Ocher Card Man whisper. If John Clayton is supposed to kill her and doesn’t, changes will occur. . and, as you’ve seen for yourself, the changes are never for the better. No matter how good your intentions are.
But it’s Sadie! I tell him, and although I’ve never been what you’d call a crying man, now the tears begin to come. They ache, they burn. It’s Sadie and I love her! How can I just stand by when he may kill her?
The reply is as obdurate as the past itself: Close the circle.
So I tear the postcard into pieces, I put them in the room’s ashtray, I set them on fire. There’s no smoke alarm to blare to the world what I have done. There’s only the rasping sound of my sobs. It’s as though I have killed her with my own hands. Soon I’ll bury my lockbox with the manuscript inside, and then I’ll go back to Lisbon Falls, where the Ocher Card Man will no doubt be very glad to see me. I won’t call a cab; I intend to walk the whole way, under the stars. I guess I want to say goodbye. Hearts don’t really break. If only they could.
Right now I’m going nowhere except over to the bed, where I will lay my wet face on the pillow and pray to a God I can’t quite believe in to send my Sadie some good angel so she can live. And love. And dance.
You never knew me, but I love you, honey.