People usually escape from their troubles into the future; they draw an imaginary line across the path of time, a line beyond which their current troubles will cease to exist…. – Milan Kundera: “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”
Jack could hide away in the future. He had been doing so for years. His extraordinary talent was not a secret, everyone who was anyone knew about Jack: Marvin, Jennifer, Tim, even horrible Simon. He was right there in front of you when it happened, but you needed to be really paying attention to notice. Jack seemed slightly tranced and a little out of sync with the world, but he was in the future, seeing and hearing wonderful and terrible things: things that no one else could see or hear. He once saw two street corner boys flying through the windshield of their first stolen car. He saw Stanley lose an eye, yet to happen. Jack saw Marvin’s ex-wife leave the city with her hairdresser’s brother, someone who Jack disliked and feared a little. He saw Tim turn from a recreational terrorist into a regular Joe.
Jack always thought this characteristic belonged to him because he was, though difficult to admit, an extraordinary coward. When Jack believed it was necessary for him to run away, to flee, to vanish and there was no place else to run, he disappeared into what Jack called the imminent future. That term was used by Jack, only because his visions were perfectly accurate, unavoidable, forthcoming, i.e. imminent. Jack could remember all that he had experienced in his imagined travels: music, the feel of the weather, traffic patterns, date, time of day and smells. These moments for Jack were not at all like dreams, from which the dreamer once awakened can only recall bits and pieces. Jack was there in a real sense, being a part of unchangeable events that had not yet happened. But in present time, the world simply worked around Jack without distinguishing him as present or absent, as if he wasn’t there and was.
When he was away in time, he experienced as an observer what was going to happen to the person or persons presenting a threat to him in present time. He could see their inevitable end, but sometimes a pleasant experience that his antagonist would enjoy in their future. This time-shifting affect only happened to Jack when he was afraid. People had always called him the Martian because of his odd-ball personality and strange, sometimes frightening talent. Jack didn’t like being called the Martian. He was just a local boy.
A few blocks from Jack’s apartment, the rooms handed over to him three years ago by his mom and auntie when they migrated to Arizona for the low humidity, is Marvin’s Magic Shop. Jack has known Marvin all his life. They always got along. “True friends,” Marvin often proclaimed. Jack was never much of a magician, but always had a thousand questions for Marvin. Marvin was kind of a surrogate dad for Jack. Jack’s greatest and most asked questions involved science-fiction time travel, his own occasional absences from present time, city history and girls. Marvin did his very best with Jack.
Clinton street’s local bully Simon, tall and greasy, pierced and tattooed, angry and violent has always been a torment to Jack. Simon walks his little dog Lola every day around Clinton with care, feeding her treats and cleaning up her poop, as they wander past Marvin’s and other small shops. Simon loves Lola, a small mixed breed pup with bright brown eyes, white long hair, black booted paws and a friendly disposition. Simon actively hates everyone else. He steals money from strangers just passing through. He shouts obscenities at police cars and paints dirty pictures on the outside walls of local shops when they are closed. He urinates on fences and mailboxes. He jumps the subway turnstiles nearly every time. Simon tells naughty stories about old girlfriends and girls that he doesn’t even know. “A nasty piece of work that Simon,” Marvin very often remarks.
Simon has lived in the neighborhood ever since Jack was a child. They are about the same age, from the same High School. Simon hates Italians, Jews and Jack almost equally for no reason that anyone can figure. But Lola is nice to everyone. She is gentle and friendly, but Simon pulls Lola away every time she tries to meet anyone new, then normally says something dreadful about Lola’s new would-be friend. Curses and insults flow from Simon’s lips like water from a rusty driveway facet.
Simon particularly dislikes Marvin because he was caught shoplifting in Marvin’s shop when he was eleven years old and Marvin called the cops. Simon was humiliated and severely punished by his dad Jerry. He never forgot that day and never forgave Marvin.
Of all the frightening people that Jack has ever known, Simon is the most terrifying. Jack begins to slip away whenever he is near. One day for no apparent reason, Simon pushed Jack hard and Jack in present time froze on the spot, then journeyed away for a split moment into Simon’s imminent future. He saw Simon’s demise as clear as day. It seemed just and fair to Jack at the time.
Simon was walking his beautiful Lola, him grouchy, she delightful, just past Pronto Pizza. Music was blasting from the open sunroof of an old blue Toyota Corolla when a huge air conditioner unfastened from the uppermost window of the Bonaventure Hotel/Motel and dropped six stories hitting Simon directly on his confrontational, evil little head. Lola sniffed then cried over his broken, bleeding dead body. What a nice dog. How lucky Simon was to have her.
In present time, Simon was still pushing at Jack’s chest. Jack just stood there smiling knowing that before too long he would be free of Simon’s cruelty and perhaps he might even adopt Lola. Jack let Simon push away. He had learned patience. In the end Simon would get his head bashed in by a hotel air conditioner. Perfect, thought Jack.
Jack has never had a real girlfriend, but sometimes dates a girl named Jennifer on Saturday nights. Jennifer is best friends with the beautiful Rhonda but is a beauty in her own right. Rhonda pays no attention to Jack, but he doesn’t mind. Jennifer does, and she has beautiful blond hair, green eyes and a glorious smile. Jen makes friends easily and no enemies. For this reason, Jack is a little jealous of Jennifer. She has befriended all the locals: the old and young, the good and bad, even the dreadful Simon. She loves long conversations and jokes, eating push-cart food and going to the movies, but most of all she loves to dance with Jack. Dancing is the foundation of their relationship. Jennifer does not horrify Jack one bit, so he has no idea what her future holds.
Jack learned to dance as a young boy in his mother’s apartment. In the early seventies his mom would put on her old Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis Presley records. She and little Jack danced the Lindy Hop and Two Step together across their tiny living room floor. Jack and his mom even practiced the Twist with Chubby Checker and The Locomotion with Little Eva singing on the hi-fi. It was fun for Jack and his mom. Dancing is a useful skill to acquire, thought Jack, mimicking what his mother said to him each time she invited him to dance.
Saturday was a few days away. Jack and Jennifer had plans to dance until midnight, eat a late dinner at the Clam Shack, walk along the shore waiting for the early morning light, tell jokes and talk about everything but politics or religion. An evening like that usually left Jack with a next-day erection, but he lacked the courage to promote sexual activities with the lovely Jen.
Jack knew that time was not on his side when it came to Jennifer. She was in her early twenties and would soon be looking for a steady man. Jen had plenty to choose from, but who was her special man to be? Jack knew that he would have to swallow up his fear and declare his love for Jennifer once and for all. He could not bear the thought of losing her.
Jack spoke with Marvin. Marvin’s advice to Jack was straight forward. He said, “Grab that Jennifer girl right now or you will be sorry for the rest of your life. Don’t be a fool Jack, you’re a good boy and she’s a nice girl. Tell her how you feel. Give her a chance to say yes. Be brave my friend, be brave.”
After speaking with Marvin, Jack started making promises to himself about what he knew he must do. He begged the heavens and earth for courage and promised to act accordingly when that courage arrived. He reprimanded himself for being the coward that he knew he was. He insulted himself for his meek and mild disposition. How could he approach Jen? What could he say?
A Friday afternoon like any other with inexplicable traffic congestion and noise, Jennifer was walking down Lorraine Street, past Pronto Pizza, in front of the Bonaventure Hotel/Motel with the despicable Simon and Lola. Music was heard blasting from the open sunroof of an old blue Toyota Corolla. Jack was surprised to see Simon and Jen together – he had not seen Jen in his vision. He was worried for her and for Lola. Lola was friendly toward Jen and even Simon was warmed by Jen’s magnetic charm and smile. They were chatting about who knows what? Simon looked happy. Jen was gesturing with her hands as she spoke. Simon responded in kind. And Jack was afraid of what he knew was about to happen. He tried in his mind to stop it but could not.
The huge air conditioner began to tumble even before Jack could say or scream a word. It fell just as he had envisioned, down six stories of the Bonaventure Hotel/Motel landing on Simon’s head, killing him instantly. Jen was shocked but unhurt and Lola sniffed at Simon’s bloody corpse then cried.
Lola walked toward Jen after two minutes of grieving. The world was approaching chaos, but Jack knew that important questions needed to be asked, propositions launched, and love confessed. Was now the time?
Calls were made from four different cell phones; sirens would soon scream, lights flash and witnesses volunteer accounts. Attorneys would be called, and hotel maintenance staffers fired. Jen was bending over the departed Simon, Lola by her side while Jack was still praying for courage, standing across the street.
“Please Lord, make me brave,” he whispered to the sky, moving toward Jen and Lola. Jen stood, still a little dazed. Jack consoled his beautiful friend, steering her away from the bloody commotion. Lola followed as they drifted toward the corner. The three watched the para-medics, police and flashing ambulance lights. Jen was safe, alive with tears in her eyes. Jack was determined but fading. He knew that he had to act immediately.
Right there and then Jack spoke to Jennifer of his love, of his dreams and plans for a future together, of beautiful children and a house, of vacations and parties. Jen looked down at Lola scampering around her feet then smiled gently up at Jack and kissed him. They had never kissed like that before. She was fragile, soft, warm and wonderful. Jack began to weep with gladness but did not break her embrace. Jennifer then whispered in Jack’s ear the wondrous question, the life altering question, “What took you so long my sweet boy”? And at that very moment, that very second in the light and confusion of city madness, with one kiss and a few perfect words, Jack wasn’t a Martian anymore.