One afternoon Paul B. stood in
his doorway and saw the new constellation, the bright points of
light in the deepest, bluest sky. He knew these were not stars or
UFOs. He’d seen lights like these before. It meant he was having
another of his mini-strokes (which his son Reed called “ninny
strokes”). His left leg trembled and his mouth sagged just a bit,
but he felt okay. He felt strangely better than usual, in fact, a
He half smiled at Doris, who
was smoking on her porch, looking over at him. She was always
checking up since his wife died. Her skin was gray. Her tight,
colorless hair was clamped in pink curlers. Her one free bit of hair
happened to be on her chin. After her son-of-a-bitch husband had
passed away she had sold all his stuff, including his good electric
shaver, in a yard sale, and then decided to let the hairs grow and
wax them to form a kind of beckoning finger, inviting any man to be
kind to her.
“You okay?” she called.
Her many cats surged in the doorway.
“Sure. Just looking at the
“Seeing the stars again?
Want me to call Reed?”
“Hell no. I’m fine. Better
She puffed a smoke ring. It
swirled and came to rest on her beard hook. “You going to school?”
“Can’t miss it.” He
tried to nonchalantly shift his weight to his good right leg. The
weight pulled back. He leaned on the doorframe, pressing his
vibrating knee there to stop it. “Just because we’re adult
learners they don’t take it easy, you know.”
“Well, if you need me to
drive you, I have lots of time.”
Time. Paul glanced at his
watch. The face glowed, but he didn’t have that kind of a watch.
He went to get his book, Slaughter-House Five. He was taking
a modern literature course at the community college. He’d never
dreamed books like this existed, literature that was fun to read,
and had aliens as well. And the notion of time-travel. Crazy! He
wished he could go back to before he met Alice and read and read and
impress her with knowledge. Then she might have liked him better,
respected him more. Or he might become a different person
altogether, maybe someone smart like his professor, taking a whole
different road, never even running into Alice.
Looking at the cover of the
book, things left him. The points of light jumped playfully around
the title. He knew his name, and Alice’s, but couldn’t picture
her face. He did not recall what he had done for a living. He shook
In his garage he looked at the
impressive array of tools on the wall. Maybe he was a mechanic. He
stared at the car, dumbfounded. Was this bright red, souped-up thing
his? It should belong to some teenager from the seventies. The words
“Fifty-seven Chevy” popped into his head, although this was not
one. It was a Dodge Charger, and the key in his pocket started it.
He drew a cloud of dust down his long driveway. Doris waved, and he
He passed fields he didn’t
recognize, then stopped at an odd intersection, a notorious joke in
the county - the meeting of five dirt roads with no signs
whatsoever. Paul had been through it countless times, but now he
just glanced around uneasily with no idea. The roads fanned like
marks on a clock. He closed his eyes and looked at the points of
light under his lids. The brightest one was at the one o’clock
position, so he took that road.
His hands on the wheel wanted
to pull left. When he hit the main road he drifted towards the
centerline. He thought he should turn right somewhere along this
road, and looked for landmarks. He couldn’t discern left from
right. He was capable of only left turns, and somehow there was the
college up ahead.
He pulled into the parking lot
and rumbled into reserved slot 57, because it called to him. Then he
wandered the hallways, trying to remember the room number. A young
man came up to him. “Professor Boyle? Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m looking for his
“Boyle. I can’t remember
the room for some reason.” He chuckled.
The young man eyed him and
spoke slowly. “Right. Here, I’ll show you.” He walked a step
ahead of Paul and said, “Are you limping?”
At the room Paul thanked the
young man for his help and concern. He walked in and headed for the
back row but all the seats were taken. The red-haired woman whose
name he couldn’t recall sat in his usual spot.
She looked up at him and said,
“Hi, Sir. Are you okay?”
Why was everyone asking that?
“Where will I sit?” he
asked her, and a few people in the class laughed.
“On your desk? Up there?”
“Cute,” he said, and
shuffled to the back wall and leaned there.
The whole room turned to look
at him expectantly, most of these middle-aged students smiling as if
to say, Now what is he up to? “Are you sick, Professor?” someone
asked, as Paul began to slide down the wall. He hadn’t even
noticed he was doing that.