It’s thirty-eight minutes before sunrise, and I’ll stay here, standing in this very spot for ten more seconds while you work your way through the space-time continuum toward me and when you arrive I’ll caress your hand that way I always do and ask, “What can we do before everything changes?”
You’ll joke that it only takes ten seconds to get down to what we need to do, and my cheeks will flush red.
Here I am, just an average guy, mostly average, except for one thing. I was born ahead of the rest of the world. Spun out, the doctors said, a full ten seconds ahead of when I was supposed to be born. Might be a phenomenon they thought when I suddenly vanished during childbirth and appeared in the nurse’s arms. Mother later told me the doctor’s face paled. Tests were conducted, but nothing seemed out of order to them after that. My parents didn’t ask questions, and even if they had, no one could explain me.
Growing up ahead of the time continuum was normal to me. Normal and sometimes lonely. I didn’t know anything else. I could touch the beginning of those fragile ten seconds, but I lived at the end. I knew what had happened and I knew what was to come. For me, there was no living in the moment. There was living in the stretch, and as I got older what may have been strange for others was my routine. I learned to wait for everyone. I knew there was a delay between what I experienced and the rest of the world. Between when I cried and someone heard me, when I first smiled, and Mother gasped, and when I threw a tantrum, and anyone cared.
By the time I was thirteen years old, I knew how to work my ten-second head start to my advantage. I knew when to open the window before a bird flew into the glass. I’d always cheer for friends who knocked it out of the park before they’d even swung. I could rush my dog from the room before he crapped on the floor, which my parents appreciated. I’m the only person in the world to tell you whether or not your actions will make this a good or bad day, and let me tell you, for some of you this day is going to suck, but there’s nothing I can do about that.
You’re wondering if you’ve seen me. Probably. If I stand still long enough, you’ll catch up, and you almost never notice me. You’ll think, Hey, was that guy standing on that street corner a second ago? and I was. I was standing on that street corner ten seconds ago, and nine seconds ago, and one second ago, and I’m standing here now as you’re here running smack dab into me and wondering how that happened.
When I was a kid, I tried to tell my parents about things that were going to happen before they did like a dish was going to fall or a phone call was going to come through that they didn’t want to answer. You’d be amazed at what ten seconds can buy you in the future. Like that day I caught your pencil before it dropped, remember?
You were listening to the teacher, tapping the pencil to your perfect chin, then it fell, and while I held it in my hand, your gaze didn’t shift. It gave me enough time to study the angles of your cheeks, the slope of your neck, the way you wetted your lips, and pushed a strand of hair behind your ear. It’s then, in that silent ten between your present and mine, that I fell in love with you.
In high school, I was the one who made sure you didn’t choke in the cafeteria. I swatted the grape from your hand before you raised it to your mouth. You cried out in delayed pain, your hand red where I slapped you, then looked around. I was already clear across the room. You would have survived, but I saved you from a trip to the emergency room.
Sometimes I hated living ahead of the world. It wore me down, the loneliness was unbearable, and sometimes it made me hate myself. The worst part was the stealing. I stole your moments all the time without you even knowing. I stole my father’s secret, too. He sat me on the couch to explain something, but when his lips began to move, I already knew what he was going to tell me. It was his right to tell me his truth, that he was sick. That the treatments weren’t working. That he would die soon, and I stole it from him. I stole his right to tell me. I stole his dignity. My tears spilled over as I punched the couch pillow before he had finished his first word. Maybe he was happy to not have had to explain it to me. I’ll never know because nothing more was said about that.
What can ten seconds buy you? A lot. In eleventh grade, ten seconds gave me enough time to miss a bully’s fist. As I said, I’m an average guy. No special sports skills. No muscles or great intelligence. I’m the typical teen, and I couldn’t always stop the terrible events from happening, like when the library caught fire or Joey Prichard decided to point a gun at his ex-girlfriend in gym class. I couldn’t stop his decision. I wasn’t there, but even if I was, I don’t know if I could have saved her. All of that was out of my control, which made me feel awful most of the time, the responsibility of a much bigger power, a fairly pathetic super-power, took its toll on me.
I suppose you want to know what it’s like to experience life before the rest of the world. Let me tell you what it looks like. Imagine somewhere quiet, really quiet, maybe inside a bank vault, like that guy in the one Twilight Zone episode we love who just wants to read, but his nagging wife won’t let him, so he shuts himself inside the room, and then the H-bomb drops. Ten seconds into the future is quiet like the inside of a bank vault. Then, imagine one of Monet’s paintings where all the lilies are blurred, and you can’t really see anyone’s face. It’s got color. It’s got texture. It’s got warmth. Like me, the future isn’t a hundred percent sure of itself.
Before I got up the nerve to talk to you, I used to hang out there and dream of ways to say hello. Sometimes I’d go there to be alone, drifting in silence, knowing in ten seconds from now my dad would yell out in pain. Mom would fumble with the medicine bottle, her hands shaking, and scream at me to help her.
The near future is where I made plans for our first real encounter. I saw the moment when you’d swing open the classroom door and knock me square in the face. Then ten seconds after that, I saw the blood gushing from my nose. Ten seconds after that, I saw them calling for the nurse. Ten seconds after that, I felt your hand cradling the back of my head and your deep, brown eyes full of concern staring into mine. Your ponytail was draped over your shoulder. The scent of your flowery perfume was wafting all over me. “Are you okay?” you asked. I was great. I smiled. You were the best thing that ever happened to me. I let that day happen. I have the crooked nose to prove it. Because without that day, you’d never have met me.
I also saw ten seconds into each moment of our dates. Your disgust at my conversation about dissecting frogs in Biology. Your concern about my father’s cancer that had spread to his lymph nodes. Your tears when I told you I wanted to share my secret with you but was afraid you’d think I was crazy. I knew each time I revealed another layer of myself you might pull away, but I did it anyway. It was the only honest way to live.
If only I could exist deeper into the future, ten minutes, ten hours, ten days, then I could see more and make better choices, maybe I could manipulate Fate’s plans, but that wasn’t how I was made. I was made with only a tiny glimpse into outcomes and even with that advantage I knew if I lied to you about who I was, you’d know, and you’d never be with me again. So, there was no sense in lying. With each date and more reveals, you came back.
Before you could tell me, I knew your favorite book was Wuthering Heights, your favorite thing to do was to watch sunrises, and your biggest fear was tarantulas, even though I tried to convince you that tarantulas were very affectionate and hardly something to be afraid of.
When we had been dating for six months in our last year of high school, I knew you had become suspicious. You said I was different, but you hadn’t figured out how yet. It was the deciding moment when we sat on my bed. Only weeks later we would have to make a decision about college. Would we go to the same school? Should we live together or was everything going too fast? Were we too young? Should we go our separate ways? You said there was just one thing that kept us from moving forward together. It was honesty. You wanted to know what I was hiding. You said you suspected I was psychic, but I laughed and said it was nothing like that.
It was the last thing that kept us from truly knowing each other. I knew how you would take it before I even told you. You would believe me. You wouldn’t second guess a crazy notion that someone could possibly live ten seconds in the future. You wouldn’t even make me prove it with a silly game of what am I thinking. Living my life ten seconds in the future isn’t as glamorous as it seems, I told you. While you’re talking to me, I’m already thinking about the next conversation. While you’re waiting for the punchline, I’m already laughing. While you’re gazing into my eyes, I’m already undressing you.
You believed me and took my hand, caressed my fingers down your cheek, and brought me closer to your lips. My body tingled before yours. My heart pounded and my breath heaved ten seconds ahead. It was the closest I’d ever come to being in sync with another human being. I wanted desperately to slow time to breathe with you, to feel your hands trace my body at the same pace as mine traced yours, but all we could do was extend time. It was a gift, you said. Our love could go on. It didn’t exist in the confines of time. It was then I realized what love really meant. The abstract would give us forever. I held your hands in mine, fingers interlaced, bodies pressed tight, and stayed there until you caught up, then again, and again, I waited for you to join me, and for some reason you were right; it worked.
The sun is just over the hills now. It’s the end of the summer. Soon we’ll be in our first college class. I stand on the patio of our cheap apartment. In the distance, the dawn light pierces through every alley, across Fraternity Row and the restaurant where we snuck in with fake IDs. The taste of tequila lingers on my lips and the taste of the lime that we passed between our mouths, holding it for ten seconds at a time. The light is like fingers searching for dark corners, the sun will come and push back our fears. Your body is a mere outline of time. Ten seconds of creation as you come to stand beside me, your curves pressed into mine. It’s your favorite time of day, I whisper in your ear as it slowly takes shape forming from lower lobe to upper lobe. And then your lips are traces of energy rushing to meet the world and my lips are already on yours before you know it.
Time is cruel even if you have a slight advantage over it. It didn’t stop my father from dying or the thousands of tears I shed alone in my near future refuge and it won’t stop what is meant to be. As we make our way to the campus bookstore, you say you’ve forgotten your credit card and to go ahead. I’m already leaving. A long kiss on the corner, a goodbye. I want to feel your embrace for as long as I can, and kiss those lips, feeling the warmth of your body on mine, but I see it coming from around the corner, speeding fast toward me.
When I’m hit, there’s no hope. I can’t turn back time. I can’t even slow it down. The worst part is that for ten seconds you’re still lingering there, eyes closed, your slender arms wrapped around my waist, a beautiful sight of curves and kisses, but I’ve already been mowed down. My fractured body lies twisted in the intersection. My heart slows as everything inside me bleeds onto the pavement.
I’ve been unfair to time. It’s not always cruel. If there’s one gift of time, I’ll say this. In those last few seconds of my life, as my eyes slowly begin to close, I witness you press your body into my shadowy form already vanishing, a memory of the past. You kiss me deeply and passionately, blissful and ignorant of the world rushing up to meet you.
L.V. Pires is the author of several stories for horror and contemporary fiction readers, including The Waiting Mortuary and A Pain Less Ordinary. She is the recipient of the Eileen Spinelli Award and a graduate of Spalding University’s MFA program. When not writing, she works as an English teacher near Annapolis, Maryland, and enjoys swimming and kayaking in the Chesapeake Bay.
© 2020, L.V. Pires