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Closing Time

by Liam Kruger

@xang, re: the projection chat we had at the conclave – source suspect, typic, but holiday reading.




I drew the connection between alcohol and time travel pretty late in the game, all told. And yes, you absolute bastard in the back of the room, ‘late in the game’ doesn’t mean much to a time traveller, but I don’t have much control over where I go, do I? Or when I go. I can tell English isn’t the language to talk about this in. Not that I’ve got anything else to go by.

Firsts, then: I got drunk for the first time when I was fourteen years old. And I mean absolutely motherless drunk, not the sort of tipsiness you get when your shit of a cousin sneaks you alcopops at a family wedding reception; I’m talking a half-litre of vodka and a litre of whatever soda your pocket money can still sustain. My friends later drew me a map of the graveyard, with all the places I’d pissed or puked marked out. Twelve different crosses. I don’t even remember going to a graveyard; in fact, I remember nothing.

Not nothing in the sense that I remember drinking and drinking and then waking up with my dad shaking my shoulder, vomit stains all; I mean I remember hours of nothingness, like when you’re in a swimming pool at night and you’ve let out all your air but you haven’t hit the bottom yet, and you barely know you’re sinking. That, but for hours. Waking up the next morning, to the realities of my cigarette-addled throat and my bruised arms and hands, to my sandpaper tongue and sewage pipe breath, I wanted to hurt someone for pulling me out of that swimming pool.

I was fourteen years old, and when I got drunk what I felt was nothingness. I chased that feeling for a few years, but when it became clear that it wasn’t going to happen again, I learned to appreciate the other gifts that booze could bring. The memories that weren’t memories; the dreams of worlds that weren’t, the discovery of hands that weren’t my own.

Understand that my stumbling home with my hair tied up, apparently weeping when I saw my parents, that this restricted my freedom a little bit. I was told that I had a curfew now, that I was too young to be going out like that. My head feeling like broken eggshells, the memory of that dark pool still lingering, I would’ve agreed to anything.

So it was a few weeks before I drank again.

The next time was under more controlled conditions – I was at my mate Wayne’s place. We’d put on button-up shirts and walked to the corner store, agonizing over which brand of beer to buy like it mattered to us. The bored cashier wasn’t fooled and didn’t particularly care; when we walked back to his place, our rucksacks were clinking.

Wayne and I sat on a couch and watched football and drank all the beers. Then I jimmied open his dad’s liquor cabinet and drank most of that. Then I got abusive, and found some cigarettes, and went to the bathroom, and locked myself in there for a few hours. Wayne said he heard me crying. This I remember like it was yesterday; at the time, though, I had to get the story second-hand. Third-hand, actually, because Wayne was no longer speaking to me. When we passed one another in the school hallways, he’d pull a tight face and look away. You get used to that sort of thing eventually.

At the time, though, I was surprised; all I could remember was drinking some beers, getting silly, then falling asleep before half-time, slipping into those weird boozy dreams you get. That’s just what the drink does.

What it did, rather, because I don’t drink anymore. So they tell me. But you know this part – what they told me about my liver, and what it can’t do anymore without packing up.

Not then, of course – I was young and supple and my hands didn’t shake like fucking… like this.

So I drank, because there were other mates to drink with. There was Robert, who introduced me to Jack Daniels – and Jack’s been there for me a hell of a lot longer than Robert has, and he hung around longer than most. There was Sean, who liked cocktails. There was Beth, for whom I’d pretend to like tequila, back when taste mattered a bit. And we drank together; sometimes I’d get drunk enough to slip into those strange dreams – the ones where I’d be in some dingy one-room apartment with a dirty mattress – and sometimes I wouldn’t. I was, I’m told, a right pisser.

And when I started looking old enough – with the bruises under my eyes turning into bags, it didn’t take long – I’d go to the bars, and I’d meet strangers who thought they knew me, who would give me odd looks when it became clear that I didn’t know them. Who would give me odd looks anyway.

Understand, I didn’t just drink – I mean Christ, I was a student. There were periods of time – whole months – when I’d wake up on some friend’s couch, with his maid telling me I had to go because whatever I’d said or done the night before had made me unwelcome there. There was that time I told Robert that Daisy, his then-beau, was going to be pregnant at 20, and that it wouldn’t be his. It was only when I turned out to be right that we started talking again. But my point is: I’d wake up, that single-room apartment still in my head, and someone would tell me what I’d gotten up to after a few drinks and I’d apologize, and I’d promise not to do it again, and I’d mean it at the time. And I would go to class, and mend some bridges, and things would mellow out again for a while. Sean would still offer company, and Beth didn’t seem to mind that I wasn’t drinking her tequila.

But I missed that dream.

Look, I never had interesting dreams – not anything worth talking about or thinking about. Just the regular sort – the odd sex dreams, the ‘I ate all of the houses and the Pope was mad at me and then I woke up’ dreams. But the room I dreamed about when I was blotto… that felt real. The sweat-stained mattress and the filthy blinds that hung crooked against the city lights hanging on buildings that I’d never seen before fascinated me the way Sean bored me. I liked going there.

I missed being someone else.

And yeah, look, I felt bad if I woke up and Beth was in tears because I’d called her a whore, or if I’d racked up a huge phone bill calling numbers I didn’t recognize, but I never remembered doing it. It didn’t feel real; I couldn’t feel real guilt for any of it if I couldn’t remember. Probably even less now that I can.

You’re not supposed to be able to read in dreams, did you know that? It’s meant to be a jumble of random symbols, if anything. You’re not supposed to be able to walk out of the shitty one-room apartment of your dreams and down the dope-stinking hallways, past haggard-looking single mothers who pull their children close when they see you, or find newspapers in the trash with a date twenty years past what you’re used to. That’s not how dreams are meant to go.

So yeah, I twigged that it wasn’t a dream. I mean, who dreams anything that tangible, that reliably, when you’re boozed up? Same hallway, same scared single parents? And who, come to think of it, would choose to dream about my hole of an apartment? Telling your friends that you travel to the future when you’re blackout drunk, at best – that is, when they believe you – loses you friends. So I stopped doing that pretty quickly.

Didn’t stop drinking though. I mean, unlike the sad fucking broke individuals I would find at the meetings my parole officer made me go to, I had an excuse for the shit I did when I was loaded; it wasn’t me doing it. I wasn’t the one swearing at and, yeah, okay, maybe beating on Beth; I was in some broken old guy’s body in the future when that shit happened. He was the one doing it.

And alright, it sucked for the people stuck with drunk-me, but it sucked for them anyway – they were in the mid-fucking-nineties. I was in the future, and Jesus was the future bright. The buildings, the cars, the clothes – the drugs, as if I needed the extra trip. Funny, those never had the same impact.

I mean, sure, it was a trade-off, but it seemed fair, you know? My old-ass friend would get to spend a couple of hours reliving his youth in my young and okay-looking body, and I’d get to see the world that was coming. Sneak preview, even from the rheumy eyes of some guy my grandpa’s age. Fair’s fair.

And it makes sense, in a way. I mean – I’ve had time to read up on this stuff now, because that’s about all my leash-holders would let me do when they put me in. Which, by the way, is bloody hilarious – I spent years not telling anybody about the time travel thing because I was afraid they’d put me in a nuthouse, and I ended up in one anyway.

Asylum. Sorry.

But look, ‘time travel’ – the way they had it on television or in the nu-rez games – that doesn’t make sense. If you tried to physically put something in another time, even a couple of molecules or whatever, it would annihilate whatever it landed in. Like – imagine trying to put a cup of water into a full bathtub. Except the water in that cup comes from the same bathtub you’re pouring it into. It doesn’t work, does it? Damn. Look, what I’m saying is, you can’t move matter like that.

Souls aren’t made of matter, though, are they? Or personalities, whatever. I mean, meat aside, we’re just a couple of electrons floating around in our brains. When I got loaded, I’d be on the same wavelength as the old guy and *poof*. Party in the future.

God, I was an idiot.

See, I was trying to be clever about things – like if it wasn’t going so great with Beth and I didn’t want this codger makings things worse, I’d have somebody lock me in my room for a couple of hours so he couldn’t get up to much. You would be astonished at how easy it is to find somebody who’ll lock you in your room for a few blue notes and not ask questions. But the old man knew what he was about – I’d find myself in the exact same position, worse sometimes. Once, we switched over and I woke up on his filthy fucking mattress, a tiny unlabelled bottle still in my hand – they’ve got stronger stuff in the future – and these two huge blokes burst in and start asking me where the money is, that I owe money for something or other, and obviously I’ve got no idea what they’re even talking about, so the one guy gets me in a headlock, and the other just starts pummelling the living crap out of me. Out of this old son of a bitch.

And midway through I can feel myself sobering up, adrenaline or whatever, and maybe the one guy sees me smiling because he pulls another tiny bottle from his jacket pocket, forces the stuff down my throat, and then I’m stuck there for another hour of pummelling.

It was strange getting back and finding teeth in my mouth again.

It wasn’t just that they had better booze in the future, though – the old man was better at the game than I was. He’d pop over to my body, and get stuck into whatever uppers he could to make the drunk last longer; I think I lost a week, once. Hell of a week that was; I’d had maybe two hours shuffling through a museum, trying to make a mental note of who the next president would be so I’d have bragging rights come election time, ignoring the unfriendly looks the security doors were giving me, and when I got back I had a beard, a barely-healed gash on my cheek, and a tattoo that read: ‘Get It?’

I walked to Beth’s and when she opened the door her eyes were puffy and she looked about ready to tell me to fuck right off, and probably would’ve, if I hadn’t started bawling then and there. That was probably one of the last times she had much in the way of sympathy. Probably for the best, all told; she’d cleaned herself up, and told me that I could too. And I said, yeah, I get it – and she looked like she’d been struck, and poured me a glass of water, and said I should go.

I felt betrayed, but everyone does.

And the bastard of the thing was, the old man never made me drink. Never left me a note saying that he especially wanted a go in the young body, he even made a couple of smart race bets so I could avoid having to work too much; Robert set a few of them up for me. Fruitful relationship was that. But this old man, it’s like he knew that, eventually, no matter what, I’d get sick of the present and want a taste of that future.

You know what, though, dingy fucking flats in the future are the same as dingy fucking flats any other time, it’s just that we’ve got more bloody buttons and things to plug in to.

Do you mind if I get some water?

I was about 23 when I noticed that time was going backwards.

Obviously not literally backwards – I mean, I would get blitzed in my present in December, because there’s nothing quite as bloody depressing as Christmas, and it would be May over there; then I’d get clean for a couple of months because I’d been locked up for beating up the bastard Beth had been spending her Christmas with, go on a bender again around February, and it’d be March where he was. We were moving closer to each other, so to speak.

The upside to this was that I could be a complete shit in his body, and when I got back to it, it would be good as new – and since he had to come back to mine as I was getting older, he couldn’t afford to do too much damage. But he was getting younger, see? The first time I jumped over, he was something like in his 40s – which yeah, I know, isn’t bloody old at all, 40 is the new 20, but I was a young bloody shit when I first jumped, and the old man put his body to task. The way he put my body to task. And I was getting older. And they still have mirrors in the future, though he made a point of keeping those scarce enough in his old age. I thought it was so that I wouldn’t find out what he looks like, but it turns out I just hate seeing myself now.

You’re seeing the joke now, aren’t you? Same bloody wavelength.

So yeah. The tattoo made sense. I got it. I was jumping, back and forth, into my own fucking body. Laying traps, for myself. Attacking my own loved ones, leaving a mess for myself to come clean up. But see, that isn’t even the best part – because while I am a complete and utter idiot, I can still do basic arithmetic. I had the privilege of seeing when exactly I would be hitting my mid-life crisis. I didn’t even care about ‘the future’ anymore – hell, I was only jumping a year or two ahead at a time. And then a couple of months. Then weeks.

And then I was about a month past turning 26, and there was some sherry at the back of some naïve friend’s larder, and when I’d gotten more or less halfway through the bottle, it was two weeks before my birthday and Beth and I were having our last big fight. And – look, I was still fresh from being turned out in a big way, and I was pretty happy to lay into her right then. And I was too busy reliving the fight that I’d already been through, the fight that had a foregone fucking conclusion, to do the math.

But I got there a little later. Only one reason why I’d start going backwards, right? I’d passed the midway point. More behind me than there was before me.

When I saw this place for rent, I just sort of slouched into it – I knew I’d be ending up here anyway. At least I got to find out where those mattress stains came from.

Ah, the fun I’ve had with that little bastard who ruined my life.

I turned 52 yesterday. And you, Robocop, are an excellent recorder of my day-to-day activities to report to the Fuhrer, but I am a wiley son of a bitch with nothing else to occupy my mind with, so I should tell you right now that this isn’t water.

Go ahead, call them, they won’t be quick enough.

They’ve got stronger stuff in the future.

As I understand it, my body is currently going to fold in on itself and stop doing things. I may piss blood, hence the towels – no need to make this apartment any worse for the next occupant, eh?

I am going to wake up in a graveyard with some very old friends, they are going to take me home, and I am going to say hello to my parents.

And him? He’ll be taking a dip in that big black pool we all come from.

And after a while, so will I.


Copyright © 2012 by Liam Kruger

Liam Kruger is a writer and student based in Cape Town, South Africa, and has some creative work published in New ContrastSomething WickedCarapace and Itch. He’s quite fond of whiskey.

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