I know what you’re going to say – that the psychic was right and what I was doing was wrong, wrong all along, from the very beginning. “Risking your eternal soul,” is how my sister would have said it, if I’d told her. Instead I tried telling Rose. Sort of.
“Hypothetically,” she replied slowly and calmly, repeating the word I’d just used. She’s an actress, after all, well-versed in the tricks of her trade, not afraid to savor every cue, aware of the dramatic potential of a repetition, not about to squander the moment in haste. Or maybe she didn’t believe me.
“I mean,” I said, “if you could – if I could, for instance, rather, possibly, travel. In Time or. To the Past – ”
“You went to Canada, darling,” Rose interrupted. “Which I admit can feel like another time, if you mean it in an a la recherche de temps perdu way, like America when it was nicer, in the 50s under Eisenhower, you half expect the women to be wearing hats and white gloves. Lately, however, they seem to have caught up with the rest of us plus they have that adorable new Prime Minister, Pierre’s son, and I could tell you stories about him my dear if we were going to take a trip down memory lane yet somehow I don’t think that’s what you’re talking about so out with it. What happened? Tell Rose. And take it from the top,” she added, settling back in her chair as if she didn’t expect to be going anywhere soon.
Now it was my turn. Easier said than done, though, trying to explain what had happened. At the border, before that, and … before that. There are problems involved with falling; problems not just in explaining, but in the aftermath: paradoxes and causal loops in space and time, when the future becomes the cause of the past which is the cause of the future which is the cause of the past and so on.
You see, it seemed like hours I had waited in the No Man’s Land of the border office, wedged in between two extended Muslim families who had evidently been there for a while and were resigned to the possibility of not going anywhere soon; the bored children bickered and pestered one another, wrappers of vending machine candy scattered about them while the mothers and daughters or sisters in hijabs disciplined listlessly and sighed. The men kept their distance and dozed.
In this dimension, at least reasonably speaking, I wasn’t in any danger. I hadn’t done anything wrong, wasn’t carrying any contraband or weapons or drugs, and I was fairly certain a routine database search would come up empty, no criminal record, no outstanding warrants, no peculiar surname that put me on some Do Not Fly List; detaining me had accomplished nothing except to help mitigate the profiling statistics. At some point a young woman with an Eastern European accent, possibly Polish or Ukrainian, joined us in the waiting room, a flourish on the other end of the spectrum, old white American male, young Euro female, Middle Eastern families in the middle.
Nothing to worry about then, unless some diabolical cabal or nefarious secret agency kept track of fugitive travelers in other time periods and really, how farfetched, how absurd, how silly to even entertain such a notion if it weren’t for the Canadian Mountie Dudley Do-Right in the aviator frames who, I was pretty sure, had caught my act (as Rose might say) in Cairo in 1904 except back then he’d been sporting a dusty black Stetson and I could see his eyes which were hard to forget, rimmed pink with colorless lashes like an Albino’s, the whites flecked with blood.
I heard my name called and approached the counter. A non-descript officer with professional resting face examined my passport without looking up: no pleasantness, no nonsense, no reassuring giveaway, judgment reserved, gray shaved jowls, same questions again. Where was I from, what was the purpose of my visit, and trust me when I tell you what I wanted to say was, good heavens why are you doing this, we used to cross all the time when I was a kid, all along the border, here, Detroit, Buffalo, the quintessential innocent American family on vacation, my dad at the wheel of a battered Plymouth station wagon, taking us to see the Thousand Islands, Niagara Falls or Old Quebec, my brothers and sisters and me in the back, the oldest trouble-maker sibling daring us to say we’d been kidnapped, my father wearily admonishing him to not even try it, the guard in the booth giving us a once-over and asking my dad, “Are they all yours?” and then sharing a look, man to man, before waving us through, oh the good old days.
I did my best Seriously-Nothing-To-Hide impression and answered without elaborating, without exasperation or impertinence and probably everything would have been fine if I hadn’t looked up to see the officer from the booth entering a windowed office in the back, one of those institutional spaces you see behind the counters of government agencies everywhere, a room revealed by a window, the business of business on view, beige on beige, file cabinets and bulletin boards, a copier, a water cooler, a coffee maker and that young man in uniform walking in, slick dirty white blond hair retaining the smooth impression of that Mountie’s hat, that dusty black Stetson. And as he removes the sunglasses he turns his gaze out the window in my direction.
And I fall.
Just for a moment. I’m standing at the back of a dim theater, blinking to get my bearings, the blackness of the room fighting with the golden light of the stage, a man and woman pouring their hearts out up there, a glimpse of a black and white striped bustle, a familiar voice, if I could just keep my balance but there’s someone moving toward me, up the aisle and I have to get out of there I have to run but I can’t feel my feet the way in dreams you discover in a panic your body won’t obey. I can’t run and I can’t breathe.