Farmhouse outside Fremont, Ohio, circa 1966 (now demolished). Where I first met Dick.
I have not told Rose about Dick.
I am falling all the time now. All I have to do is turn my head and the present collapses like a punctured balloon, shrivels up and whistles away to a corner of my mind, like an application collapsing to its icon on the task bar at the bottom of the screen; suddenly the past beneath reveals itself. Or not the past but some other place, not in Time and not even a place in the ordinary sense. Eventually I call it Time Out, the corner of the classroom where you send the unruly child. I think this and on my next visit a shelf of toys has appeared and I am sitting in the center of a braided rug on confetti-speckled linoleum. The Interrogator appears, a faceless female in a housedress covered in pink cabbage roses against a black background. I stare at the pale green Bakelite buttons going up the front until they disappear in clouds at her waist. “The Lilies of the Valley is a nice touch,” I remark, referencing the eau de toilette. “I want to speak to my Case Manager,” I say. “Let me talk to Dick.” Which is not his name because I don’t know his name but it’s the name I’ve given him. He is always someone familiar just as in a dream the people I meet are friends or family members even if they look like strangers. This time Dick is the high school assistant principal who was also basketball coach, the one who spent our senior year fucking one of the cheerleaders. He never liked me and arrives with the look of a big swinging dick on a mission, hence the name. He enjoyed his authority. He enjoyed being the one who came to take me out of French Class the day my mother called the school to tell me my father had died and to come home. He smiled when he told me, then clapped me on the shoulder hard enough to hurt and marched me down the hall.
“Did you ever tell your wife you were fucking the cheerleading squad?” I ask cheerfully and double over in the pain that stabs knitting needles in my ears.
“Did you ever really think you could get away with this?” he asks, mimicking my tone. I can’t breathe. Sometimes I black out and come to in the real world and gasp for breath before going back under, back in. I know this doesn’t happen because I’m possessed. He knows I know.
“Do you have any idea how much pain we can cause you?” he asks without expecting a reply.
The mind is a marvelous manipulator; almost against my will I find myself trying to accommodate the unacceptable; I try to adapt to the absurd. A chair appears and I sit facing him, motionless, unable to move but also racing, dancing in my mind to keep up with my heart and manage my terror and fix what’s happening. I know Dick shouldn’t be here but he looks familiar, not just the coach in high school but like people I know and not resembling anyone physically as much as he seems to be inhabiting them, wearing a psychic costume, a dress of convenience. He reminds me of recent acquaintances: the albino Canadian Mounty, the check-out clerk at Rite-Aid from the day before, the one with the extraordinary painted-on eyebrows and Monica on her name tag who looks at me across the conveyor belt as she hands me my receipt and says
“You’re not special.”
Then why is he in my head, I think. Why am I dreaming him up, dredging him up, a bad dream, not even falling into it.
“Why am I here?” he repeats the question with baffled wonder, as if he can’t believe I need to ask. “Because your government that pays too much for toilet seats and boondoggle bridges to nowhere and anti-ballistic missile systems that don’t work is also the government that pays for traffic control between worlds, and sure, call it wasteful, go ahead and call your representative and demand an end to a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars but there’s an actual line item buried so deep in paperwork no one ever sees that allocates funds to monitor time travel, yes indeed, don’t scoff, the United States Government employs an entire office of dedicated psychic patriots like me to oversee the comings and goings of walk-ins, shifters, travelers, border-crossing violators, illegal tourists in the space-time continuum, dimensional displaced persons and folks like you.”
“Nonsense,” I say.
“I agree,” says Dick. “With the current regime eliminating regulatory agencies and oversight committees, shutting down investigations and slashing budgets right and left you’d think I’d be out of job and yet here I am. Personally I like flying under the radar, don’t get me started on that old ‘Hiding in Plain Sight’ charade; still, there’s nothing like a few charlatans to discredit an entire discipline, right? I’ve worked with a few of the Reality TV mediums and ghost hunters, the legitimate ones that is, and gotta give it to them, I don’t know how they keep up. That little feisty blonde on Long Island? The British one with the wacky hair? I like ’em. You need sassy gals like them out there. You don’t discredit the truth by suppressing it. But you need to manage it. The truth doesn’t set you free, my friend; most people, it just makes them crazy. Look at you: how happy are you? So you need to control access, right? How much folks know, what they believe, what they require to know and believe to get through the day, and seriously, who’s going to do it if we don’t? The Church? Used to be their job. Now they’re too busy bailing out pedophile priests. Then it was Science’s turn and they’re all running around rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, arguing over climate change, tipping points, sea level and temperature rise, extinction of the species. Meanwhile the tech crowd are totally throwing in the towel, they’re focused on AI and robots and off-world colonies, there’s no one in Silicon Valley under 30 who doesn’t expect to be living on another planet sooner than later and to hell with the doomed ignorant masses left behind, shocking but trust me, these kids today truly do not give a fuck, they want out and I can’t say I blame them. There’s modern morality for you.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
He sighs. “Why bother, you mean? That’s what you mean. Why am I here with you? It’s a good question. I mean, it’s not like it’s the first time.”
He says these words and it is as if scenes from my life have been waiting queued up to suddenly fly past my eyes, YouTube videos made of scraps of home movies, one right after the other, so fast, like upcoming attractions but on high speed except nobody took any super 8 or 16mm films or videos of my childhood, nothing more than a few snap shots and those obligatory school pictures, that’s all you got in the world I came from, these are not my memories, they are not from my eyes but somebody else’s. I am seeing memories of me outside of me.
“You won’t remember,” I hear Dick say. “Nobody does. Nobody ever remembers.”
I suffered black outs as a child, mostly in early adolescence; chunks of my life in junior high are blank to me, I see the outside of the school but not the inside, I am waiting for the school bus but have no memory of riding it, I remember a gym bag but not the gym class, not the locker room. I have always attributed these lacunae, these missing pieces to the trauma of puberty. But these are films of those times, those places, those missing pieces of the past.
“I will,” I say. ‘I will remember.”
He pretends not to hear me. “I shouldn’t be telling you this,” he continues. “but you were one of the ones we thought showed promise.” With that he melts into my 6th grade teacher who tried to help me, who morphs into my high school French teacher who gave me books on medieval French art and encouraged me in directions I never went, or only half-heartedly pursued, and then it is as if I’m flipping through a book of mug shot memories, which becomes a shoebox of photos, Polaroids, candid Kodachromes and Instamatic snaps of instructors and employers and friends and would-be lovers who each look back at me sadly. We thought you had promise. We thought you had potential. The words bubble over with the foam of disappointment.
“I don’t believe you,” I say.
“It doesn’t matter,” he replies with a dismissive wave at the air. “You’ve already forgotten the times before – what? You think this all just started happening now? In your old age?” He tips his head quizzically, as if assessing the answer to his own question, amused.
“I have not forgotten.”
“You’re a terrible liar. And to think you had such promise.” He sighs.