A Story of Time: Part Three

[Continued from “A Story of Time: Part Two” on this website]

7. Back to the Present

“…can’t skip time and expect to end up as if you haven’t.”

Staring into Aunt Wise’s eyes in the coffee shop, she saw the reflection of her own as a pair of boiling cauldrons.

“You can take this piece of garbage back right now!” she yelled, as she tried to peel if off her wrist.  But it had become so fused with her skin, that she felt as if she were ripping her own cells apart.  “It doesn’t work, I’m telling you.  It doesn’t work!”

Like light bulbs, the half-dozen heads in the coffee shop rotated in their sockets toward Jeanette.

“Now, calm down, dear.”

“Don’t ‘dear’ me, you witch!”

“I implore you to get yourself together.  I can assure you—it does work—and it has.  You’ve already moved back and ahead in time.  You’ve proven that to yourself.  It works, but not for what you wanted it to do.”

“I took my five-year plan—the savings, the sacrifice, the language, the trip—everything.  And where I got there, nothing happened!”

“You didn’t take the plan.”

“Yes, I did.  And when I traveled five years ahead—when it should’ve all happened—none of it did.  I embarrassed the hell out of myself with my friend.  I told her I’d learned another language, yet, when she asked me the simplest of phrases like how you say ‘hello,’ I had no clue!  I had no recollection whatsoever of my trip to Germany.  And when I tried to show her the pictures from my trip, I couldn’t find a single one.  I looked in every possible place, but I couldn’t find any.  Now, you’re not going to tell me that I went on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe and didn’t take a single shot!  Give me a break!  I looked like an ass!”  Twisting her wrist until it became red, she said, “I’m telling you—this piece of shit of a watch doesn’t work—didn’t do a damn thing for me.”

Waving her hands in a conciliatory motion, Aunt Wise implored, “Once again I can only beg you to calm down.  You’re hurting your wrist.  Now, take a few minutes and collect yourself.”

“I have a mind to storm out of here and never see you again, you impostor!”

Returning with a cup of ice water, the elderly woman re-seated herself across from Jeanette.  “Now, breathe a sigh and take a few sips of this,” she began.  “What you need to realize is that anger and upset come from your expectations—and I don’t think this watch met yours.”

Abruptly placing the cup on the round table, she spat, “Oh, that’s certainly the understatement of the century.”

“Well, then tell me what your expectations were.”

Chewing on an ice cube as if it were a pacifier, she slowly mumbled, “If I set this thing,” pointing to her wrist, “ahead, I would just go five years later and avoid all the work and effort and preparation, and end up at a time when all f that would’ve been behind me.  I not only couldn’t speak a word of German, there wasn’t even a trip!  At least if I ended up on my trip, it would’ve been worth it.  But I ended up in my apartment—I’m there everyday, big deal—and made a total fool of myself in front of my friend, the way I did this morning in the office.  The only thing this watch’s done for me is turn me into a jerk in front of everyone.”

“Now, I still want you calm down.  The watch hasn’t done that to you.  You’ve done that to you.”

Vigorously shaking her head and releasing a stream of invisible steam, she retorted, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“This morning, you only returned and re-experienced what you had already created.  The watch only caused you to do so a second time, because that’s what you chose to do with it—go back and relive something a second time.  And then you chose to use it to move ahead five years—and that’s exactly what it enabled you to do.  So, I would say it worked perfectly.”

“But the trip…where was it?”

“You didn’t end up on your trip to Germany?”

Rekindling her anger, she returned word-formed bullets.  “I just told you that, you…you…”

“Well,” the woman contemplated, as she half-closed her eyes, “the watch took you exactly where you wanted to go—five years from this date.  If you didn’t end up on your trip, then I’d say you overestimated the time you needed to plan and prepare for it and then actually take it.  You ended up in your apartment—with a friend.”

Retuniing to a reasoning level, Jeanette nodded.  “Yes.  Apparently, I had just returned from it and was about to show my friend my pictures.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Then where were the pictures—not to mention my fluency in German?  I couldn’t speak a word of it.”

“Well,” the woman began, suppressing a chuckle, “I’m afraid they were both in the same place.”

“And that place is?”

“Your past.”

Jerking the cup on the table, she exclaimed, “What?”

“The past that preceded the moment you went to.”

“Then where were they?”

“The past you had yet to create—yet to do anything with.”

If Jeanette’s look could have sliced the elderly woman across from her, she would have been reduced to pieces on the chair.  “What kind of garbage are you trying to feed me now?”

“The truth—and the one you need to learn—to digest—to realize—that you can’t skip time and expect to end up at later day or week or year as if you had used them for something when you never did.”

Rubbing her eyebrows, Jeanette released an impatient sigh.  “Here we go again!  I don’t understand.”

“I know.  Most people don’t.  They want the easy way out.  They want this and hope to achieve that, but they don’t want to put the effort in to do so—and only the effort, coupled with the time it takes to make it, will bring that about.  You thought you could cheat the system, so to speak—cheat the natural order of the universe—and just move ahead in time to where you would’ve already achieved those goals—the savings, the learning of the language, the planning, the itinerary, the trip itself—even the pictures you would assuredly have taken on it.  But, as you can see, you can’t skip the time it would’ve taken to bring these things about and still have them.”

“But what about going back and redoing my morning?”

“You just answered your own question—redo.  In this case, you never did to begin with.  You skipped—or tried to skip—the doing and thought you’d be ahead of things.  But this morning, you re-experienced what was already written.  As far as going ahead, you never wrote anything in the first place.”

Looking at the watch and brushed with a small application of disappointment, she said in a barely audible voice, “But I thought…”

“If you skip he time, you skip the experience and growth and development you could’ve had with it.  If you lose one, as I already said, you lose the other.  This is where the expression ‘don’t get ahead of yourself’ comes from.  That’s exactly what you tried to do—and you failed—at least at what you thought it would do for you.  This morning’s time had already been used.  The jump or interval between now and five years from now hadn’t been.”

Pausing to collect her thoughts, she continued.  “As a formula, time equals experience or whatever else you do with it.  If you do nothing, it’s reduced to a suspension between the things you do do, few though they may be.  But, in all cases, you’re the creator.  If you do nothing, you become the observer or bystander.  In the end, it’s up to you to decide: do you want to be the driver or the passenger?”

Registering comprehension, Jeanette eyed the woman with greater gentleness until she once again felt as if she were viewing a reflection of her true self.

“When it comes to time, don’t try to beat it, cheat it, or waste it.  Just use it.  Skipping time and not doing anything with it are the same things, because they result in the same thing—nothing.”

Nodding, Jeanette turned her head toward the sidewalk-stampeding crowd.

“So, as you can see,” Aunt Wise concluded, “what the watch does and what you wanted it to do are two different things—or, what you want to do and what you actually do—after a significant amount of avoiding and procrastinating—are two different things.”

Rotating her head between her wrist and the faces in the coffee shop, she began fingering the time device until she asked, “How far will this thing go?”

“By ‘how far,’ you mean what?”

“I mean—like I went three hours back to 9:00 this morning and five years ahead to my trip—or to a time I thought I would just be leaving on my trip.  How far could I advance the watch?”

“Oh, I see what you mean.  Could you theoretically engage the ‘time ahead’ mode to infinity?”

Nodding, she said, “Yes.”

“Well, infinity is the same thing as the watch’s other mode, ‘time ceased.’”

Pressing the indentation, it vacillated between modes: “time back,” “time ahead,” “time back,” “time ahead.”

“Be careful,” Aunt Wise warned.  “Don’t play with that—I mean, you’re literally playing with time.”

“I know,” she said, inspecting the device, “but I don’t see a ‘time ceased’ mode.”

“No,” the elderly woman responded, “you don’t—and won’t.  You’ll only experience it if you continue to play with it.  ‘Time ceased’ isn’t a watch mode.  It’s the mode of the person who wears it.”

“So there’s no set time or year?”

“For the watch, no.  For the person, yes.  I mean, whatever the person’s ‘time ceased’ is is what the watch’s ‘time ceased’ is.”

“And if you reach that, will the numbers on the face continue to light up and advance?”

Pursing her lips, Aunt Wise shook her head negatively.

“And if you accidentally dial in this time, can you then reset the watch to, for instance, ‘time back,’ like I did this morning?”

“No, from ‘time ceased’ there’s no return—no ‘time back.’  The person will cease to live and the watch can’t function unless it’s attached to a living person.”

“So how far could a person theoretically advance this thing and still live?”

“Theoretically, to one second before his life is due to end.”

“And how would a person know when that is?”

Again shaking her head, she said, “He wouldn’t—unless he reached the point where the numbers stopped illuminating and advancing.  But it would be too late to do anything about it at that point.  It would be a little like playing Russian Roulette.”

Unaware that the “time ahead” mode had remained engaged, Jeanette stared into Aunt Wise’s eyes as the numbers steadily increased.

8. Time Ceased

White coat-clad doctors and nurses, dangling stethoscopes from their necks, steadily passed by, interspersed by medicine mountains built atop wheeled carts.  But Jeanette was too frail to turn her head and observe any of it.  “Dr. Undermeyer, report to Obstetrics” came the voice as it traveled down the corridor, followed by a figure that walked into Room 311.

Umbilically-connected to life support machines, Jeanette, draped in a hospital gown, received a constant drip from the bag suspended upside-down behind her, while a monitor broadcast pyramid-peaking lines that ran to one end of the screen before continuing at the other end of it.

Peering over the side of the bed, the figure served as a virtual mirror of the one who lay in it.  The luster from their silver hair was identical in sheen.  The wrinkles, like a sow’s purse, served as the outer covering of their faces.  And their emerald eyes glowed with the same intensity.

Coughing, Jeanette gently turned her head.  “Aunt Wise!  I-I can’t believe you’re here.”

“Well, I don’t have any choice—now.”

Coughing again and straining to string her vocal chords into words, she asked, “What does that mean?”

Turning toward the window before looking back at Jeanette, she dismissed the question.  “Do you know where you are, dear?”

Running her tongue over her dry lips and squinting, she replied, “Yes…well, not really…where am I?”

“Lexington Memorial Hospital.”

“What time…I mean, what year is it?”

“I’m afraid you fooled around with the mechanism on your wrist a little too much: It took you 50 years from when we last talked in the coffee shop.”

Straining to lift her arm, she became cognizant of the tubes leading from it to the intravenous bag and the watch, which sported the same tiny waves formed by her wrinkles as the rest of her arm had.

“Where…I mean, look at me!”

Fusing with Aunt Wise, she felt as if she were viewing a reflection of herself in the woman’s face.  “You are…” she advised.

“I’m what?” Jeanette asked.

“…looking at you.”

Swallowing several times, she squeezed out, “What do you mean ‘looking at you?’”

Once again dismissing the question, Aunt Wise added, “You’re 50 years older.  You’ve obviously aged a lot.”

Perplexed, Jeanette asked with increased urgency, “And what happened to those 50 years?”

“Gone,” the woman advised, as a flicker of compassion illuminated her eyes.

“Gone?  But what about what I did with them—my life, my marriage, my job, my experiences…?”

“Gone,” Aunt Wise slowly responded.  “You never used them for that or anything else.  You’ve moved 50 years ahead, but skipped the time you could have used for all of that.  You never filled it with anything, because you jumped over it instead of using or embracing it—a gift returned, given back, unopened, unused.”

 They stared at each other as the silence was absorbed by the low blip of the heart monitor behind the bed.

Shaking her head, Jeanette lamented, “I don’t understand.  I just don’t understand.  I thought that, with this watch, I could somehow get ahead.  But the more I tried, the more I got behind.  The more I tried to outsmart time, the more it outsmarted me, so to speak.”

“You’re not alone.  Most people end up doing just that—because you and they don’t use a beautiful gift—an opportunity.  You misused it instead.  And, as you can see, it won.”

Adjusting her position as the painful bed sores registered on her face, she asked, “But the watch.  The others don’t have the watch.”

Contemplating the question, Aunt Wise responded, “Actually, they do.  It’s an internal one—a biological clock every person on the planet has and it begins ticking the second you take on a physical form and draw your first breath.  The only difference between you and them is that you have an external watch right on your wrist and you were more aware of that ticking clock.  Because of the special abilities it gave you, you just accelerated the process, ending up exactly the same as everyone else—only faster.”

Closing her eyes, Jeanette attempted to digest the woman’s words and generate renewed energy before she said, “So, I just wasted my time.  I used this device to go back and learn what I had the first time—what I had used it for originally.  Then I went time ahead, thinking I could actually save time by not wasting it or using it for learning, such as for another language or planning a trip.  I thought I would end up further ahead.”

“You did,” agreed Aunt Wise.

“Yes,” Jennifer responded, “in time, but not in anything else I could’ve used it for, because I didn’t use it for anything.  I just skipped it, as if I never had it in the first place.”

“That’s correct.”

“So, instead of gaining, I only lost—because I squandered it.”

“Again, absolutely correct.  And again, exactly what so many people do.  But for you, it may not’ve been a total waste.”

“I don’t know how you could say that.  I wasted my life trying to trick or cheat time, and lost all of my opportunities to experience, to have fun and joy and happiness, and grow and develop and learn.”

Slowly shaking her head in disagreement, Aunt Wise said in a barely audible tone, “Maybe this is what you were slated to learn and experience.”  Pointing to the time devise, she continued, “As unconventional as it was, this was just the way you went about it.”

Closing her yes for several minutes, Jeanette ultimately said, “So time, in and of itself, is nothing and does nothing.  It can’t be saved, collected, or withdrawn.  It’s a means to something else—a means to an end.”

“That’s a hundred percent correct, my dear.”

“And, like you said, it’s like a gift.  As I’m beginning to see, a more valuable one than I ever thought it to be.  But-but, like other gifts, it’s not something you can hold in your hand, like a piece of jewelry or a stack of paper—to be used, to be written on.”

“Again, one hundred percent correct.  It’s what you use to write the book of your life with.  It’s poetry in and of itself, when used properly.  But, as you’ve experienced yourself, when you go beyond its natural properties or boundaries—when you try to stretch it or get more from it than you naturally can—you misuse it and it ends up using you.”

“And yet,” Jeanette interjected, “it doesn’t really exist at all, in the traditional sense of the word.  Its value—its outcome—depends on the user or operator.”

Aunt Wise nodded, abundantly pleased.

“Then, in a way,” Jeanette concluded, “I got the better of myself, not time.”

“Yes.  Like so many of those coffees you used to drink, you feel you only ended up with an empty cup.  And like so many people, you realized you couldn’t see it or hold it.  You couldn’t even define it.  But, also like so many people, you somehow know exactly what it is when you’re about to run out of it.”

Focusing on the weaker signal of Jeanette’s heart rate, she added, “But, with all you’ve learned, I don’t think you’ve wasted or squandered it at all.  Most people would give a lifetime to know what you learned—and usually do.”

Fighting to keep her eyes open, Jeanette said, “But I have an advantage the others don’t have.”

“How do you figure?”

She nodded toward the watch.  “I can still just set this for ‘time back.’”

“Yes,” Aunt Wise agreed, “you can.  But you’ll also lose everything you now know until you live to this point again, relearning and redoing—the same way you did when you went back to your office that morning.”

Putting her hand over her stomach, she said, “How in the world did I ever travel from one time to another?”

“It was a natural phenomenon and easier than you thought.”

“But how?”

“Time is.  You are.  In a way, they’re the same—pure beingness.  Earthly time, as everyone knows, only provides a separation between events and experiences—if you use it to create them—and is measured by the clock and the calendar, mostly for reasons of relativity.  For instance, it must be night because it’s no longer light out.  It must be fall, because the leaves have begun to change color and the days are cooler.  But the soul is timeless.  It has always existed and always will.  There’s no beginning and no end.  It never ages.”

Attempting to lift her arm, whose wrinkles appeared like the ridges of a piece of driftwood and seemed to weigh just as much, she said, “You call this ageless?”

“I said the soul is ageless, not the body it’s attached to.  But it’s the body itself that convinces the soul it ages—that time moves on and it will someday die—because, like the clock and the seasons, it itself becomes a measuring device of its passage—as the hair grays and the wrinkles set in and the vision declines.”

“I’ve never even thought about anything like that.”

“No one else does, either.  That’s because you become so identified with and immersed in the body that you conclude that you are the body.  Until I gave you the watch, you had no longer been able to get in touch with or remember the boundless, infinite capabilities of your essence—your soul.  Instead, you were subjected to the consistency, restrictions, and finite characteristics of the physical world you’re in and attached to by means of your body.  But the soul itself has none of these physical properties—no time or location or physical matter.  The watch allowed you to transcend these boundaries and regain the true essence of your soul.”

Struggling to re-lift her left arm, Jeanette released a very weak exclamation through her increasingly labored breathing, “Wow.  You must be a very old, but wise woman,” as she skirted the fringes of eternity and the validity of Aunt Wise’s explanations were supported by it.  “Could you do me one last favor and-and tell me who you really are.  I mean, why-why did you say that you had to be here now?”

“I had to be,” she replied, “because this is present time, which comes right before ‘time ceased’—or no-time.  This is the time we share.”

“I-I don’t understand.  I still can’t place who you are—where we’ve met before.”

“Do you still think I’m your Aunt Beatrice who’s somehow returned from beyond?”

“I..yes…no…I don’t know what to think after what you’ve told me.”

“Did you know her very well?”

“No, I think I told you a long time ago—or was it only yesterday—that I didn’t know her at all.  She died when I was three months old.”

“Do you think that I know you better than you sometimes?”

“Yes, absolutely!  But I don’t know how.”

“Well, if I know you, then you must know me.  And how can you know me, if you think I’m your Aunt Beatrice?”

“I-I don’t know.”

“Do you think you could know me at all?”

“Well, yes, what you said about the soul and it’s timeless and all.  But, no, I don’t think it’s possible.”

“Then maybe I’m not her.”

Gasping for her last breath, she said, “No, I guess not.  It wouldn’t be possible.  But I still feel that I know you from somewhere.”

“Better than an aunt—especially one you’ve never met?”

“Of course.”

“Better than a mother or father?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Who would you know better than them?”

“I-I don’t know—only myself, maybe.”

“I am you—beyond time—that is, time ceased.”

“But how?”

“A soul can manifest itself in any form—human, animal, even an image.”

Increasingly blurred, that image that had been Aunt Wise began to dissolve until it ceased to exist in the room, and the words, like a pronouncement, echoed throughout the corridors—“Code blue – room 311.  Code blue – room 311.  Code blue – room 311”—as Jeanette caught up with herself and her soul, the light behind the watch’s numbers, was released, engaging both its—and her body’s—“time ceased” mode.