How Will I Ever

\When Simon started time traveling, he had no idea where it would lead. Of course, now he walks the tattered streets of days gone by and he still doesn’t know where he’s going. He thought he would know by now, in something resembling the clear-eyed flushing certainty of youth, but with each flick through the years that had all drained away.

At first, all that he could do was revel in the new shining beauty of it. The travel worked, and he took a trembling step into his seventh birthday party. It was an easy memory and as he stood in the back, he could see right through the magician’s tricks. He clapped and cheered along anyway, and his voice blended right in. The party quieted and Simon wandered away, letting his feet lead him to the old elementary school. He remembered it so well as it was, now in front of him, layered in leaves just starting to blush and covered in autumn sun.

Simon’s giddiness was fading in the afternoon light, and his sweater was starting to prickle under his arms. He squirmed, concentrated, and traveled. He went to high school, to the corner behind the gym as the buses were leaving. There had been a girl. Gloria? It didn’t matter, though, her name. He did remember the tilt of her nose and the timbre of her voice. It was a very odd churning feeling, to watch his young self put his hands on her shoulder blades and his face close to hers, waiting like a patient child until she kissed him. Then Simon’s throat tickled and he coughed, and high-school-Simon turned away to look around. He and the girl didn’t seem to see anything. They resumed after only a second’s suspicion – but now-Simon shivered. When he thought about it later, he traced all the confusion, the snarls and the tangles, to that tickle of the throat.

He backed away from the teenaged couple where they stood entwined, nestled in a corner of the brick wall. Simon squinted and traveled back to the moment he’d left in his present time, where he’d been standing in his bedroom with Sophie. She’d been crying. He was there then, in the room, but it wasn’t his room. The walls were yellow instead of white, and there was a little bed with a patchwork blanket. There was quiet – no wife sobbing- and the scent of fake lemon choked the air. Simon thrust through the door, past the living room, and burst into the hallway outside in a panic. The hallway was just the same. The number on the door of the apartment-that-was-not-his was 46. His number. Simon took the elevator down, dazed, and stumbled out of the building to the street. It was the same street, the same address. His phone was in his pocket, and he pulled it out to check the date. May 12th, 2013. Same date. He called Sophie, pressing his phone to his ear. He yanked it away and cursed when half a ring gave way to a screech. No Sophie.

Simon’s mind buzzed and his heart beat in a panicked hurry that made blotches bloom on his sweaty skin. He closed his eyes and put his hands over his ears, shutting off the city street, and he traveled. It might have been something at the birthday party that threw him off, so he stepped back toward it. His heart must have been pounding too fast, his breath too ragged, because he missed. He landed instead, with a thump, in the summer of his tenth year. Now-Simon watched boy-Simon walk right toward him. The boy was listening to Grady deliver high-pitched invective on all the video games of the past year.

Simon wasn’t thinking as the boys sidled around him, arguing now. He had to do something, so he forced a deep breath in and out, then traveled back to the moment with Gloria. She wasn’t there, and neither was his teenaged self. There was nobody, just the cold brick corner of the building. He went forward a day, then two, then three. Younger Simon was never there. Gloria was, with somebody else.

Now-Simon left high school and went early. There he was, a little boy fidgeting with crayons at a restaurant. The smells of food filled the room, and a pang struck Simon’s stomach. For a moment, he could only stare hungrily, and then the boy looked up. Now-Simon’s gaze locked with then-Simon’s and the restaurants murmur sprawled in his ears. The boy looked away, disinterested. Older Simon traveled away.

Memory is a funny thing, in all its knots and webs. When Simon thought about it later, he remembered being in the restaurant, bored because his dad had stopped playing tic-tac-toe, looking at a familiar stranger who disappeared in the space of a blink.

When Simon tried to travel back, to revisit something else, it wasn’t there anymore. he tried his seventh birthday party and got lost on his own street. There were people he’d never seen in his house one day. There was a woman he didn’t know teaching his tenth grade math class. A strange man was holding hands with his mother, the year Simon would be forty. An unfamiliar couple recognized him and spent twenty minutes talking to him in a supermarket. Every time he traveled, he knew he was entangling himself further. Every step he took to a different time changed it – or him – a little. He couldn’t even watch something important, because he was terrified he’d change history that he knew had happened. His throat might tickle. If too many memories switched all at once, he worried that he might go insane. Maybe he already was.

There wasn’t anything else to do, so Simon kept traveling. He visited every moment of his life and then doubled back to watch the tiny shifts in time that spread and covered everything. He held onto the hope that somehow it would all come back right and that he could get back to the version of the world he knew, back to Sophie and the mundane loveliness he’d known. He didn’t, though. He didn’t go back to the time he’d come from, that evening in May, not for more than a day at a time anyway. He kept going, hopelessly raveled in time and enmeshing himself further, like a cobweb that clung, that he couldn’t get free of. He is traveling still.

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