out of time

Crystal Sung

Legends say that if you truly want something badly enough, Time will bend to your wish.

I. 2018

If a picture paints a thousand words,

Then why can’t I paint you?

The words will never show the you I’ve come to know.

                                -“If” by Bread



The morning bell is an unwelcome awakening. Alice didn’t realize they rang at the half-hour. She’s been living here most of her life and hasn’t noticed.

This morning light feels different, and she thinks inevitably of her friend in Russia, hopelessly talented and full of fantasies. He always loved to describe the ways light could glow through the window, stain the pavement, rim the halo of someone’s hair, illuminate cans strewn on the bedroom floor, expose the messy aftermath of nightly carousing.

Alice can’t help but compare his words, more powerful than any hue of paint, to her lousy endeavors at watercolor. Her brain is brimming with too many colors and buzzing with too much emotion (and some drink too) for her incompetent fingers to replicate. Suddenly insecure, she reaches for her headphones. Music will probably make her hangover worse, but she just needs something to well up in the pocket of silence she normally craves.

The coffee she’d just brewed spills onto the carpet. “Well, shoot.”

Regretting her late night at the club drinking away her longing— and questioning her life choices— Alice tosses a few towels onto the stain and stumbles back to bed.


II. 2028

If a man could be two places at one time,

I’d be with you.

Tomorrow and today, beside you all the way.

                                -“If” by Bread



The pavement is evenly-done, red-and-white concrete tiles in some pattern Alice has never paid any attention to. In particular, there is just one part, somewhere near the edge of the pagoda, that she always trips on, but she never could be bothered to figure out where it is. The top is structured to catch wind, making it one of her favorite retreats. When they came here together she always made him climb up with her to sit with their legs dangling over the top in order to satisfy her roof obsession, as he called it, joking that life wasn’t worth living if it weren’t on the edge. Now—

Alice halts at the steps leading up to the pagoda, remembering in spite of herself what happened the last time she’d been there. Fingertips of overgrown lavender brushing her waist tenderly, she walks up as one facing a firing squad, or another one of the thousand poetic ways to die. Her hair pulled neatly back with a ribbon, she knows that she is the embodiment of calm in her olive-green silk pajamas, but really her insides are fraying every which way.

It’s too windy for her taste, just like that last time when he locked their lips and hands, promising that he would return to her when he fulfilled his purpose. She remembered the taste of caffeine on his breath and the whistle of the breeze. She remembered how they laughed quietly and kissed quietly and cried quietly— except for that time. If only the ghostly presence of their past selves sitting there would be wiped from her memory, the way he loved being older and so much taller, thinking it made him wiser; the way they listened in silence to his music and he wouldn’t let her pick. If only they could do it all again– she wouldn’t pout her lips and interrupt him all the time and force him to cuddle.

He said her name like amen, pretending they could be saints. His home was in her heart and she still wants to find herself in his collarbones like there is no tomorrow.

Alice holds her coffee tighter, thinking of a boy too wrapped up in his own dreams to realize theirs.

Then she lets go.


III. 3018

If the world should stop revolving

Spinning slowly down to die,

I’d spend the end with you.

                                -“If” by Bread



It’s early, too early for any human to be awake, but the trucks are already zroom-hahooming their way. That’s Los Angeles.

Alice lets the curtain fall, the heavy swishing of brocade echoing her sigh. She has tried and tried to change everything about herself over the past century— lavish tastes, foolish men, dyed hair and colored contact lenses, even her art medium. But still, as she lies back down in bed, she realizes that, just as the room is tilted in her eyes and time has distorted its karmic joints for them, she has all the stretch of eternity yawning before her to wait for him.

“Is it possible to love two people at once?” she’d once asked the boy in Russia.

He’d said yes, but he was oh-so-wrong.

She had taken to downing vodka, but she had never been more intoxicated than when she was with him, getting drunk off of music and paints and skin and each other. More than anything, she missed how they would take every opportunity to talk, to love, so secretly pleasurably exhibitionist. And he would mouth vulgar things that made her giggle in front of friends pretending to be disgusted, or she would run her hand along the seams of his far-too-expensive jeans. Oh, how they talked! Night after night, rapidly and vigorously, tripping over words and catching themselves on each other’s sentences like that crack by the pagoda.

Not looking back at the figure still swathed in the bed sheets, a sliver of sunburned torso and heavily freckled face exposed, Alice sneaks out— or at least tries to. Rick or Rob, she barely remembers his name. Once the lights are off all males are roughly the same. He is nothing to her.

The cup of half-drunk coffee shatters from its perch like a thunderclap. Well, shoot is all Alice thinks before she flees like some door ghost, not pausing to see whether the figure has stirred.

She calls a taxi and lights a cigarette in her shaking hands when she gets off, but all she can think of is the boy of dreams she pretends not to miss so palpably and still cannot do justice in her sketches, oil paintings—  

She stops the cab and stomps the cigarette out underneath one boot.


IV. 5018

And when the world was through,

Then one by one the stars would all go out,

Then you and I would simply fly away

                                -“If” by Bread



High up on the top level of the tower, she could not focus on the breathtaking view. All the past lovers were okay, I suppose, but none as perfect in their lack of self-consciousness as the one coming up the steps, Alice thought.

He’d sent her a copy of his published novel. Ages— literally— ages ago, he’d told her no. But now, with her fluttering green scarf and steaming coffee in one hand, she could almost see herself reflected in his eyes.

He reaches her, and her eyes are overflowing before he even utters a word. His smile erupts across his face suddenly as if it could shatter his cheekbones, his eyes catching the glare of the lights. How could she have ever thought her memories did him justice?

He had prayed for all the time in the world to perfect his novel. She had prayed for all the time in the world to be with him once he finished. The universe agreed, though she had forgotten to ask for a full life with him.

The ten o’clock bell rings. Alice’s wish fulfilled, the time is no longer out of joint, rebounding to its original fold.

As one they meld into ashes to journey in the cosmos together, forever, till the end of Time, leaving only a confused guard splashed by a cup of coffee falling from nowhere. The lights of the Eiffel Tower go out, whispering tales of lovers waiting for each other across time and the cosmos.

You can beg a favor of Time too, if your wish is pure and untainted, worthy of divine concession. But be careful what you wish for.