by Kelly Elayne
Sidney unwound the quantummeter until it fell from its shaft. He had filed and lubricated it repeatedly. Lubricated and filed, greasy shavings speckled his worktable, stuck to his Black hands, beneath his fingernails, scraping tiny scratches that sizzled like paper cuts. Sidney contemplated the mallet-shaped component; its titanium staff wielding a glass-encased cavity filled with flashes of electricity skating up and down rows of copper coil. He rubbed his bald Black head, he could not go on with it; it was not a good fit.
His son Child sat quietly on the cellar floor, finger-tracing his mulatto face, the seam of his hairline, down and across the hinge of one ear, along his nonexistent jaw and up across the mirror image of it all. Then his kinky widow's peak and all again, his eyes clocking the traveling hand.
Sidney ignored his son, frowned at the quantummmeter. In a slat of light through the mildewy cellar window the sophistication of it evaporated. The glass-encased cavity now seemed something like a plastic bowl holding a slice of wood dotted with nails, rubber bands stretched from one nail to the next, the bowl bound to an aluminum foil-covered hammer.
It was a made-up piece. Fiction fashioned from derangement; he had been shoving it into a clay tunnel scored with tracks to resemble the skin of a screw stem. It was no wonder it did not fit. The clay tunnel was at the center of an astounding assemblage of debris filling the cellar. Fictional parts, fictional connections, fictional plan, it was all made-up; a construction of madness, Sidney's Frankenstein, his Ford model T, his time machine.
Sidney guzzled cheap sake from a green-tinted bottle with sketches of Japanese warriors on the label. His time machine, and it was madness, not based on any scientific principle of light, sound, speed or movement; only a mimicry of images from novels, films and Sunday morning cartoons: the housing peeled from an air conditioning unit, the cellar freezer door, plastic trays from the inside of a dishwasher. And miles and miles of extension cord clasped end to end, threaded incongruously through perfectly carved holes in everything. Sidney added to it hourly, cornices stuffed with caulk, minute to minute the vehicle grew filling the cellar and Sidney saw this as progress.
Child yawned, dragged his finger down the slope of his nose, his eyes crossed, then uncrossed as he dug the finger into one nostril. He had not eaten; he was running on pure excitement. He traced his face not out of boredom but to calm himself, distract himself from tailing his father's every tick and the moment of truth when the time machine would boccaboom to life and blast off with him inside. He was still wearing his pajamas and it was afternoon, still and it was Wednesday, he had been wearing them since Sunday night. His mother had left, taking the rote and logic of laundry with her; his father's focus was on the time machine now, and rightfully so, Child would go without underwear, he would not touch the four pair in his traveling kit.
His traveling kit stood beside the cellar stairs, ready to go, a toolbox crammed with denim jeans, his favorite t-shirts, his best sneakers and the underwear. And some action figures, just enough to get him by since where they were going, into the future, he was sure he would not need them.
Upstairs the house was in disrepair, curtains closed tight, dirt-grimed floors dotted with Child's footprints, uni-legged furniture in collapse, a pendulum of spider web in every shadow. The kitchen had long since held food. There were jars licked clean and boxes scooped dry, plastic bags fat with fast food containers.
The changes had chimed gradually, by Child's recollection. From his mother lulling him to sleep, winding her soft white fingertips around the orbit of his head. To his father rubbing his spectacles on a bed sheet, grinning through a third bedtime story. From his mother endlessly cleaning and serving, nervous about something, nervous about everything. To his father murmuring nightly to scholarly men with Afros and brown clothing. From his mother lying in bed all day long eating only soup, second to second, whimpering like a puppy he'd seen sucked down a gutter in a swallow of pooled rain. To his father searching Child's closets and beneath furniture for real monsters, real men, monster men hiding, readying to spring and beat with regulated force. From his mother soaking her forever bruised torso and purpled chin in cool bath water. To his father retiring to the cellar with armful after armful of deconstructed junk.
Round and round his face Child traveled, sixty seconds each, until his eyelids fluttered and he slid down to the cellar floor, drifted off to sleep.
Sidney rubbed his bald Black head and considered the innards of a halved wallclock on his worktable. The mystifying gears and wheels each connected to each by some small reach, when one moved, the next was set into motion or stopped, and together their collected influence calibrated truth. One small omission, one ignored germ and the outcome would be flawed. The escapement—the central time keeping device in all timepieces—sat in the midst of the halved clock controlling the stop and go of existence. This was where truth originated, this was where cause bred effect and neglect bore insolence.
Sidney dissected the escapement and liking the look of it, deposited it in the quantummeter's clay tunnel for safekeeping. More sake and Sidney felt his balance sway, he was melting. Melting, slumping down to the floor imagining himself whirling through time. He spent too much energy, he worried, imagining the finished machine rather than working on it. As with any fantasy, he was certain of its ability to absolve the past, fix the broken, negate regret. With the completion of a working time machine would come respect, fame, fortune, headlines in major newspapers, primetime television interviews, PBS biographies. Ivy League universities would court him to lecture, lead and inspire malleable minds. He would win the Nobel, run for office.
But how long had it been? How long before they came (monster men)? To find him, to take him away, to not find him since the time machine would be working by then, thrusting him into his deserved reality. He only wanted to leave his mark. He only wanted to add some footnote to history. Make a difference somehow, have an effect on someone's life. He massaged his bald Black head, knocked his spectacles from his face. Just a rest and then back to the quantummeter or some other part he would fabricate, the winning revolution, the final tock.
In that half-sleep state Sidney boccaboomed thirty years into the future to a Thanksgiving dinner in a grand home of his ownership, evidence of his political successes. And his wife was there, she was not gone, she had not left him in a crazy state because he had proven her wrong. She stood in a futuristic pleated dress and tall leather boots painting a turkey-shaped mound of tofu with bronze liquid. And Child was there with a young pretty white wife. And Sidney himself, strong, Black and accomplished, older but with a full head of hair and no spectacles.
These things escaped him: Child's wife staring at her floating dinner plate, a ring of blue around her swollen left eye bleeding through a dusting of silvery powder. And Child chain-smoking, sucking golden sticks which smelled of burntness but emitted no smoke and exhaled nothing, running his finger around the edge of his mulatto face then down to a bulbous glass of clear liquor with a moving flame hologrammed inside. Draining the glass, then rapping it on the table absurdly and a maid naked beneath a cellophane uniform appearing and refilling the glass with a flame thrower mechanism, then leaving. And Child's glance lingering on the maid's exiting waist, sliding down to the two notches above the anchor of her spine and Child's wife pulling a cherry-like orb from her own drink and sucking on it, running it around the rim of her busted lips thinking of something, something past.
Copyright©2003 Kelly Elayne