Chapter 8f

It seemed like I'd had enough beer and liquor to be three sheets to the wind. It seemed like I should have been fucked up. I wasn't and it was pretty disappointing. I drank another and waiting for the drunk.

I plotted the calendar out in my mind. Tried to figure where I could be. November, December, January, February, March, April... I repeated each month several times until I had lost track of what year I was in again. Maybe it would be more beneficial to just give up, I thought, accept that maybe it is every year all at once. Maybe it doesn't rely on me, maybe it's not a year with me in it. Everything around me looked like a year I should have been in but who knows?

Paul said, "There are more ways to see time than in years."

Weeks, days, months, seconds, hours, revolutions around the sun, but they all added up to the same. Those were just variations of the standard year formula of measuring time. What was I missing?

"Do you know what time it is?" I asked Paul.

"Sure," he said, "It's about a quarter 'til five."

I said, "How do you know the time and not the year?"

"I just made that up," he said, "since it doesn't really matter when we're measuring in years. The minute is inconsequential. How many life events begin and end in the course of a minute? None! Even if you chop your head off your brain will still be active for longer than that!"

He was right, of course. If I couldn't figure out the year then time of day was probably the least of my worries. Plus, if every year is happening right now, I guess the same has to be true of minutes. Then again, I listed off a few hundred possibilities and they were all wrong so maybe we're somewhere outside of time. Maybe time has died and left us stranded. Is that possible? For my part in it I had to assume it was possible, if only because I had no solid evidence indicating that it wasn't.

"Paul," I said, "are we outside of time or something? Is this some science-fiction shit? Can you please tell me something that makes sense?"

"Man," he said, "you're full of questions today. And where do you suppose I get the answers? Does God just pop in for coffee every so often to unravel the mysteries of the universe for me? No, I get my answers from you. You're the one who makes all the decisions. I just deliver your mail and keep you company at the bar."

"Paul, something keeps going through my head as we talk. There's a question that just keeps popping up and I think you might be the one to answer it. When are you going to start making sense?"

My joke didn't seem to amuse him. His smile drooped to a frown and he glowered at me. "Right now," he said. "Here's something that makes sense. If you want to do something with your life you're the one who has to do it. If you rot here forever, it's because you chose to. Follow that? And you want my advice on it, since I'm here with you? I'll give you my advice. Libera te ex inferis."

My smile was gone, too. I wasn't angry at him, really just the opposite. I was glad to have him tell me something but I was also scared. Although his words continue to make sense, something about his meaning even in that moment got away from me.

I closed my eyes down hard, clamping them shut until a kaleidoscope of color and light appeared before me. "What are you?" I asked the cold night air and slow yet sharp breeze.

She said, "I'm your wife. What are you?"

I opened my eyes and let the light creep in. Her face always seemed to have a smile tucked away for me. Even in the midst of all this heavy talk of time and space and quantum mechanics and other things I don't understand, she is just as happy to straddle me and smile.

The whole room smelled like her. The pillows smelled like her hair. The sheets smelled like her skin. Her perfume, subtle and powerful, lingered in the air. I said, "You don't know what year it is, do you?" and she shushed me.

This isn't the time to worry about these things, the shush told me, this is the time to worry about the woman who has placed herself at the forefront of your consciousness. Was that what she had done? Maybe the booze had hit me harder than I thought. My wife...

That's cool, I guess but I don't remember getting married. That's surprisingly unsurprising. I don't remember much these days. When was the last time I made a new memory? Will I remember this? I feel like an echo of somebody else's life. I feel hollow and indistinct. I feel happy, too, though, happy to be alive and free and whatever else. I always feel both of these ways and they always blend together into something very similar to apathy.

I said, "I guess that makes me your husband." But that wasn't quite right. It didn't fit. The pictures fit, they pieces looked like they belonged together, but the edges just wouldn't comply. I asked her again what her name was.

I think it was something that started with 'L' but I can't be too sure. My wife was not my wife and my life was not my life. The concept was strange enough on its own. Why had I ever thought of it, though? Why did that even occur to me? Where was I and what had I been doing?

Obtained key 10