Chapter 7f

Paul was quiet for a moment and considered the question himself. He said, "No, I think that's not it."

I said, "I could have sworn..."

"Why did you pick that year?" he asked. "Why that one and not any other?"

"Um...there's only ever one right answer to that question."

"No," he said, "that's not quite right either, but that year in particular. Why it?"

I had no idea what he was talking about. I picked a year. Either it's right or it's wrong. What other speculation is there on something like that? I said, "What year is it?"

Paul said, "That's not important."

"Then why did you ask me?"

He said, "It might have been important. Turns out it wasn't."

"Why is that year important?"

He was quiet. I thought about it, too. The strange thing was I didn't know what year it was. I knew once and haven't forgotten but it's not that year anymore. Don't I have to work or something? Shouldn't I have bills and obligations and things?

"Okay," I said, "is the year before or after what I guessed?"

Paul shrugged, "Both, I guess. Whatever year it was, it'll never be the one you guess."

I started guessing years starting with the year I was born and continued uninterrupted until my two-hundred-fifty-sixth birthday.

"All wrong," he said, "all wrong."

I said, "They can't all be wrong."

"Fine," he said, "then they're all right."

"What year is it, Paul?"

"All of them?"

"What fucking year is it, Paul?!"

"You heard me."

I turned. "Darren, man, the year?"

He said he wasn't part of the conversation and bowed out.

I guess it must be past 1994 if something interesting happened but...I don't know, maybe I was in a cryogenic sleep for several centuries. I would have expected flying cars, though, so I could rule that out. Only thing I really couldn't rule out was the last year I remembered, 1988. Have six years slid out from under me?

"Tell me something true, would you, Paul? When are we? What the fuck are you talking about and what's going on?"

"Nobody ever really knows what's going on, do they?" he said, "In illo tempore, that's when we are. And true?" He scoffed and stared at me with a condescending smirk for several seconds.

I thought about the last year I could remember. It had been hard. There was a time when I was married, we'd talked about a family. We might have had one. Did we? I don't think so. How long ago must that have been for me to forget so much of it? Then again, how long has it been since I've tried to remember?

What was her name? What a terrible thing to forget. Did she have a name? Of course she did, everybody has to have a name. I suppose even animals have some form of naming between them. They maybe do it in a different way, I doubt meowing one way means "Steve" while another way means "Theodore." I like to think that other mammals name each other by scent. "Steve" smells a certain way, "Theodore" smells just a little different. I think whales and dolphins are probably closer to us, their names are probably the specific frequency of voice or something strange like that. I don't know exactly how scent works underwater, do you suppose they use that much? I considered trying to smell underwater once, had the sink full and nobody home, but what a way to go, right? It sounds painful and terrifying and unreliable. I don't want to go through all that just to get more criticism and motive. No, careful is the way to go, make sure it's done right.

That was scary enough to think by itself. How long has it been since I thought those kinds of thoughts? It felt like a triumph to realize they'd be gone from my head for so long but that was fleeting as it shortly preceded the notion of having relapsed into something. That drew me back to the question at hand. How long had it been?

"True," he said, "is a matter of perception. Nobody can tell you what's true, that's all on you. You have to decide if something's true."

I said, "How long has it been, Paul?"

"Now that," he said, "is something true."

I tilted my head as far back as I could and sighed like a wailing phantom then let me head fall down and hang limp. I took a deep breath, tightened my tie and looked back up to Darren, ever the portrait of a bartender, then Paul, quintessentially postal.

Actually, it occurred to me a moment of brief humor, I'd never actually seen Paul go postal, wasn't even sure if he owned a gun. And how much does Darren really tend the bar if I'm the only one ever here.

To quote Alice, "Curiouser and curiouser!" I could relate as she also said that because, "she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English."

Would it even matter, now, thought myself, to talk to this louse? Everything is so fucked-in-the-ass 'round here, that I wonder if mailmen can really talk: at any rate, there's no farm worth frying.

But I looked up at them and they were both still there. "Darren," I said, "una cerveza, por favor."