Paradoxes of the Space-Time Continuum

by Marc J. Sheehan

“It’s like living just slightly in the future,” Jim says. I used to hang out with him in high school, then didn’t see him for years until my mother’s funeral. He looks pretty much the same. His long curly hair is streaked with gray, but he seems otherwise nearly untouched by the passing years. The effect is doubly disconcerting seeing him here in this small town where we grew up.

“I saw a Twilight Zone episode once about this guy who steals a camera that takes pictures of what will happen in a few minutes,” I say. “It didn’t end well.”

Like Jim, the local tavern also seems almost unchanged. Perhaps the stuffed muskrat next to the pickled bologna is a little more glassy-eyed, and the shuffleboard table is now seriously retro. For the past half-hour, Jim and I have been riffing on the metaphysics of bars having their own time zone 20 minutes in the future. And why not?

After the ham-sandwich-and-potato-salad gathering at the American Legion Hall (“fellowship,” as the rented pastor put it), the mourners had slowly drifted away—surviving friends of my mother ferried by their aging sons and daughters. Now, all that’s left for me to do is continue packing up my mother’s house, readying it for sale. This is the perfect place to kill an afternoon, I think, in a sort of mental faux pas.

“Okay. You know when you drive past a pile a burning leaves?” Jim asks.

“They don’t let you do that anymore,” I point out. “Global warming.”

Jim nods his head solemnly over the injustice of it. The ban on burning, not the warming. “Anyway, back when you still could you’d drive past a pile of leaves and wouldn’t smell it until you were down the road.”

“Or, like, once I was hunting with my uncle who was on the other side of this field,” I offer. “He shot a 6-point and I saw it drop before I heard the shot.”

“You never hear the one that gets you,” Jim says.

I drain the last of my beer before heading to the men’s room. “I need to use the facilities, or this beer I’m having in the future I’ll be pissing in the past,” I say.

When I return from the bathroom Jim is gone. On the bar there are a few crumpled bills next to our empty glasses. Assuming he’s gone outside to smoke, I pour myself into my own jacket and push out into the cold March sunlight.

He’s not there. I guess he didn’t want me to talk him out of driving. I’m just going to stroll back to Mother’s place, but he lives an hour away and came over for the funeral in the red, over-powered Trans Am he bought new more than thirty years ago and has maintained religiously ever since. It’s a cop magnet.

I start walking. It takes just a few minutes to get to Mom’s place, so I’ll arrive around the time I left or, perhaps, am leaving. It’s like on the various incarnations of Star Trek when characters get teleported from the starship Enterprise. It’s a convenient plot twist to have someone beamed down to check out an alien world, then unable to get back. It’s like after someone dies. There you are on a strange planet, stranded.

Marc J. Sheehan is the author of two poetry collections, Greatest Hits from New Issues Poetry Press and Vengeful Hymns from Ashland Poetry Press, which was runner-up for a Society of Midland Authors Book of the Year award. His other awards include an NEA Fellowship and support from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. He is a communications officer at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan.