The completely humorless person is a disaster.
- EDWARD J. LAVINE, S.J.
The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.
I didn’t get it – the plate was empty. I took it from him carefully, slowly inching backwards as he gawked at me – mouth open, drool on the table, waiting for an after lunch dessert menu or an alcoholic coffee. But I just stared at him. The tarnished yellow platter where his lunch had been was now dirtied with the remnants of Key West style breading and salt and pepper. I was staring at an empty plate. This man had done everything short of licking it clean. From the dish, abandoned specks of breadcrumbs looked up sadly at me, linking themselves to the food particles constellated in the man's dark and wooly mustache. The plate was empty. That's what didn’t make any sense. There was nothing on the damn plate. The food previously occupying the lipped surface had vanished. I didn’t get it. He had told me –
“It was terrible?” I asked again, lifting up the plate and checking underneath it for any kinds of hidden remnants. I leveled the dish and looked back at him. The man leaned forward and raised a bushy pair of eyebrows at me, snorting while his mouth hung suspended in the air. “Kid,” he tried to explain. “Obviously, I enjoyed it. I mean –”
“You can’t take it back now sir,” I interrupted, holding up my other hand. “You already said you didn’t like it. Now what did you do with them? What did you do with the crab cakes?” I lifted the plate above my head and peered under the table, half expecting to see a soggy collection of crumpled paper balls. “Did you spit each bite out individually, into napkins?”
“No, I didn’t spit out –”
“Did you throw them somewhere?” I cut him off again.
“No, I –”
“Did you throw them at someone?” I asked, looking around to the other customers in the restaurant.
“No!” he tried to explain. “I’m trying to tell you that –”
“Sir, what in the hell did you do with the damn crab cakes?”
I tossed the plate back onto the table in annoyance. It wobbled drunkenly before clunking to a sudden stop. The man, who was beginning to chip away at my patience, shifted his eyes back and forth between mine, puckering his mouth to form an incredulous “O”. He looked like a fish; a stupid, bald fish, trying to make excuses as to why it couldn’t breathe out of water. His face grew red. All of a sudden he looked nothing like a fish and looked everything like a tomato. He leaned forward again, light flashing angrily off the sheen of his oily, bald, head. It burned a spot onto the back of my eyelids. “Kid,” he explained, squinting up at me in disbelief. “I ate them. I ate the crab cakes. That’s why there’s nothing left on the plate.” I looked back at the plate.
“But, you said that everything was terrible. Why would you eat everything if you said that it was terrible?” The man closed his eyes and massaged his temples with his fingers. With his eyes closed, he said: “It was a joke, kid. I was joking.”
“I don’t get it.”
“What’s not to get?” The man asked, leaning back into his chair. “You act like you’ve never heard a joke before!”
“Sir . . .” I said slowly, so he knew that I was serious. “Please, tell me where you hid the crab cakes.”
“Oh my God!” he shouted, jumping up from his chair and knocking it backwards onto the hard tile, its crack echoing sharply off the walls in the dining room.
“Because if I can’t find them, they’re going to start to smell, and –”
In a huffing rage, he pulled his wallet from his back pocket and with quivering chubby fingers, flung a ten-dollar bill onto the table. “Keep the change!” he yelled, stomping angrily around me.
“But sir, your bill was twelve dollars and –”
“I know!” The man shouted, turning from the front door. “I know, you idiot! That was sarcasm! That was fucking, sarcasm!”
“Sir!” I yelled. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” The man was obviously a saboteur working for one of our competitors. Who else would come to a restaurant just to hide crab cakes? “Sir!” I shouted again “You owe me two more dollars!” The man just screamed without reason. An angry, red-faced, tomato man – screaming and shining in the doorway – trying to make a scene because he was obviously working for one of our competitors. He fled into the parking lot. I was just about to start looking for the crab cakes when I overheard the table behind his whisper:
“Geeze, you’d think that waiter had no sense of humor at all . . .”
And that’s when I realized it was missing.
“How does this work exactly?” I said, to the short, plum shaped woman standing behind the counter. Two weeks later, I was waited in the visitor’s office of my old elementary school, trying to retrace my steps. The office had a grayish quality to it. Slow moving, quiet, morose; there was very little happening here. A dopey looking man in a cubicle was falling asleep with his face in his hand. Behind me, a small child sat with his hands locked together while he pouted with his lips out. He stared at his shoes while he kicked his feet. I assumed the little boy was in trouble for something food related, as His dinosaur T-shirt was curiously stained with marinara sauce, and his hands were crusted red. A phone rang, and was snatched off the hook before it even had a chance to finish. I remembered I was supposed to be paying attention to something.
“Okay,” the woman said, unfolding a map of formulas and equations. “The universe exists in four dimensions: three of space and one of time. Traveling back in time is essentially nothing more than the fourth dimensional version of walking backwards in a circle. Got it?”
I didn’t get it. I nodded anyway.
“Great. Now, I need to explain to you the importance of the time travel paradox because you’re going to need to sign some forms saying you understand what we went over. This way we’re not liable for any events you might unravel in the past, okay?”
“Yes, of course,” I said. I kept getting distracted by the woman’s appearance. It looked as though a small child had drawn lipstick on her mouth with a red crayon. And the child hadn’t bothered coloring inside the lines. The ends of her black glasses frames jutted east and west, and she had decorated them with tiny dimpled rhinestones. They glittered cheaply before her bright orange hair.
“Sweetie, listen up. The time travel paradox is outlined by the notion that changing the course of history is intractable because it conflicts with the notion that we are beings with free will.”
“So, even if I meet myself in the past,” I drawled. “I may not be able to alter the course of the future . . . because I may not be able to convince my past self of anything I’m saying?”
“Bingo sweetie. Influencing specific events in the past, will not, alter the course of your specific future. It will instead de-rail that linear track of time specifically. When this happens, you will set into motion a series of events that will exist in an entirely separate universe all together – a different dimension of space time and reality. In other words, you exist on a linear plane of time. Nothing you do in the past will influence you’re life here in the present. Got it?”
Again I nodded. I was counting her split ends. There were millions of them.
“The purpose of the timeline curve exists not to change the outcome of specific events in the past, but to better understand our former selves so we might improve on ourselves in the future. Logical contradictions cannot occur. Here’s what happens. You will pinpoint your specific event in space-time. You will ride the elevator to the fourth dimension. You will meet your former self. You will leave the fourth dimension backwards – just the way you came in – and that will re-reverse time, making it so you never showed up at all. Sound good?”
“Sounds great,” I said smiling. She had a piece of lettuce stuck in her teeth. Who did this woman think she was?
“There’s two ways to do this. The first way, the standard we typically go by, is to recite Greek alphabet backwards. After you’ve done that, you will walk forwards out of the elevator doors and enter your desired classroom destination after we’ve reprinted your original school schedule for that specific year. The schedule will act as the catalyst time will recognize, sending you where you want to go.”
“Why the Greek alphabet?” I asked, initialing the numerous pages of paperwork.
“Because backwards is the linear direction necessary to travel through space time, and Greek, being an ancient language, is a trigger for the past. That, and we’re subliminally influencing the children to join Fraternities and Sororities.”
I looked up from my paperwork. “Why would you want to do that?”
“Where you do you think Republicans come from?” The plump woman smiled. She pushed her hands into her hips, emphasizing her doughy physique. She had regarded this question with the same consideration she might have given to a child who asked her why the sky was blue. The answer to said question, had it been asked by said child, would have been: “Because, sweetie, that’s the color God wanted it to be.” Her blouse was missing a button. I was under the impression this woman practiced hygiene in the dark.
“Ah, makes sense” I said, signing more paperwork. I had another thought. “But wait a minute, aren’t Fraternities and Sororities expensive? What happens to kids who can’t afford it? Do they become Democrats?”
The woman smiled. “Don’t worry honey, we’ve thought about that too. See, we’ve flooded the system with standardized testing. This way, the kids aren’t really learning anything. They become defunct Republicans.”
“Wow, you guys really covered your stuff. Why Republicans though?”
“Well,” the woman tilted towards the ceiling and scratched her chin. “I don’t really know. That’s just how it works in the south. They’ve got an entirely different system for the Democrats up north. I know that much for sure. And don’t even get me started on those fags in California.”
“You all done with your paperwork, hun?”
“Yup!” I said, sliding the files to her. I hope she hadn’t expected me to read anything I’d just signed.
“Alright baby, the elevator is right over there,” she said, signaling down the hall. “And, here’s the Greek alphabet –” she began pulling up a large, laminated poster with Greek characters on it.
“Actually, I’m an Independent,” I said, pushing the chart back down. “What’s the other method entail?”
She smiled. “Running backwards in a circle, sweetie.”
I couldn’t believe I had lost it. The rest of my shift barely even happened. I had little to no recognition. I was driving home, and that was it, that was all I could remember. The brain does mysterious things in times of crisis; destroys entire chunks of memories just for being traumatizing. “Please pick up,” I said into the receiver.
Ring . . .
Ring . . .
The paint ripped by me on the road.
Ring . . .
Ri – “Hello?”
“Peter, thank God, It’s me, Henry.”
“Hey,” Peter's voice said through the line. “Why are you calling so early?” He sounded groggy, like he had just woken up. It was three-thirty in the afternoon. Peter had a fondness for doing two things: Getting high and watching television. I had a fondness for doing two things as well. Doing nothing and staying inside with the TV on. It wasn’t a perfect a friendship, but it worked. Especially since Pete was my only friend.
“I’m in crisis, Pete, listen; something awful happened to me at work today. I need to ask you something, and I need you to be honest with me.”
“Mhmm,” Pete mumbled.
“In the past three years that we’ve known each other, have I ever been funny to you?”
Silence crackled through the line. Peter’s sheets shuffle through the phone as he sat up in bed. He yawned. “You know now that you mention it Henry, no, I don’t think you’ve ever been funny to me. Not ever. Not even once.”
“Never?” I said. I couldn’t believe it.
“Never,” he said.
“Not even once?”
“Not even a little.”
“Damn it!” I shouted, punching the steering wheel. Not even a little, he said. The horn made a short, quick beep. In front of me, a stubby, middle finger protruded through a driver side window. Things were worse then I thought. “Pete,” I said. “I’m in trouble. My sense of humor? It’s gone; I think I lost it.”
“You, what!?” Pete shouted through the line. The rapid ascension of volume fired static through the earpiece. “How in the hell did you do that?”
“I don’t know!” I shouted, frenzied. “I only just realized it today Pete! Who knows how long it’s been since I last had it?”
“How do you not notice something like that Henry?”
“I dunno, Pete, I mean my life is pretty depressing. I live alone, I’m a waiter, I have a clubfoot, I didn’t get an education . . . My life is a tragedy Pete, an absolute tragedy.”
“Hey now,” Pete said. “Let’s not rush to any conclusions. For all you know, it could be a satire.”
“No,” I said. “I don’t think the guy writing this story is smart enough to pull that off.” I looked out of the car window. “Besides,” I said, “Satires require a certain amount of intelligence, Pete. Something my supporting characters ultimately lack.”
“Oh,” Peter said into the phone sullenly. “That is tragic.”
“Well, what do you think I should do?” I asked.
“I dunno,” he said over the sound of sprinkling water. I was fairly certain Pete was urinating while I was on the phone with him. “Do what everybody does when they misplace something, I guess.” He explained.
“Which is, what?” I asked.
“Retrace your steps, Henry.”
When I returned to Mandarin Oaks elementary School, My intentions were to speak with my grade school teachers so that I might pinpoint exactly where I lost my sense of humor. Mrs. Anderson told me it was unlikely I be funny in Kindergarten, because five year olds are all morons. Miss Mathis, my first grade teacher, told me she was too drunk most of the time to actually remember anything about her students. She also said she was sorry for hitting me. When I told her I didn’t remember being hit ever, she replied: “Well, yea, I hit you pretty hard.” It was Mrs. Powell who revealed to me that teachers wouldn’t remember me at all - on account of how bland I was as a student.
“Harry,” she said.
“It’s Henry, Mrs. Powell. But, yes?”
“Talk to the office about the school’s wormhole. They keep it mostly under wraps, but if you explain to them your situation, I think they’ll let you use it.”
“Wormhole? What am I going to do with that?”
“The same thing everyone does with it, Horton.”
“It’s Henry.” I said. “Retrace their steps?
“No Harrison.” She said. “You go back in time in a wormhole. Pay attention Harold. You never paid attention when you were in my class.”
As it just so happens, wormholes were the ultimate source of inter-dimensional time travel. Albert Einstein and his student, Nathan Rosen, first introduced the theory of wormholes in 1935, believing that wormholes (or the Einstein-Rosen Bridge, as they called it) could act as a gateway between two Universes. However, scientists speculated this would never work because the tidal forces would become infinite at their center, and anyone unfortunate enough to fall into a wormhole would be ripped to pieces by its gravitational field. Einstein himself also believed that, while it could be the ultimate means of travel, any living creature could never pass through and live to tell about it. At least, this was the case until the fifth grade science teacher Mrs. McClung took a second look at the formula. After discovering the wormhole in the school’s basement, and reexamining the calculations surrounding theories of wormholes, she had discovered that, in all of their rigorous formulas and equations, Einstein and Rosen had simply forgotten to carry a 1. It turned out; all you needed to do to pass through a wormhole was hold your breath. It had something to do with a bad reaction caused by Carbon Dioxide. She had also discovered, that wormholes didn’t lead to other universes, but rather, to the fourth dimension, where time existed on a linear plane. Through her own scientific hypothesis, Mrs. McClung understood that time travel was essentially nothing more then running backwards in a circle. Realizing how revolutionary this discovery was, the school built an elevator around the wormhole and kept it for themselves. They didn’t want the publicity to distract from the children’s learning. It was a very good school, Mandarin Oaks Elementary; it really was – minus all the standardized testing.
“What do you mean, not real?”
I wouldn’t say I was religious. I wouldn’t call myself an agnostic, and I certainly wouldn’t call myself an atheist, but it had been years since I had been to church. Catholicism, most popular for it’s long-winded sermons and soul crushing guilt, was only bearable growing up because of my mother. Every Sunday morning, I was awarded a bag full of honey-nut-cheerios to snack on during mass. As an adolescent, sermons weren’t boring to me; they were delicious. Just like Pavlov’s dog, hearing the church bell ring made my mouth water. It didn’t mean, time for mass. It meant, time for cheerios. This carried on for several years. The older I became however, the more self-sufficient I was expected to become, and I was no longer awarded a bag of cheerios. If I wanted a bag of cheerios for mass, I had to the bag myself. The more grew however, the less satisfying the bag became, so I just started bringing the entire box. There is a certain unsubtle difference that exists between the cuteness of a small child fumbling to put cheerios in his mouth one-by-one, and the horrifying image of a young eighteen-year-old man who stuffs fistfuls at a time into his mouth and gags. The gorging and crunching of dry cereal, in such a formal and quiet setting, invited the kind of disapproving sneers and scoffs that would ultimately ruin the taste of cheerios for me forever. Damn that crushing Catholic guilt. With the deliciousness of dry, honey and oat flavored oh’s now gone, I felt less then inclined to ever return to the church. I became, instead, Catholicish. Still, even with so many years gone by, the Father’s words, “God’s not real,” were – for lack of a better word -unsettling.
“I mean, not real,” he said, lying reclined in the aisle, his head propped up with a bible from the back cubby.
“But, Father,” I explained. “I’ve lost my sense of humor. It’s very important that I speak with God today.”
The young Priest pulled his head up and propped his hands back to hold it in place. “I don’t know what to tell you,” he said, raising his eyebrows. “We got it wrong.”
“What do you mean, you got it wrong?”
“I mean, we got it all wrong,” he said, sighing. “The whole God, Jesus, Holy Spirit thing? Blah blah blah? Wrong, all wrong.”
“Who got it right?” I asked.
“The Buddhists.” He said. “The God dang Buddhists,” He sighed, using the edge of the wooden bench to pull himself up. He traded his holy ground for a seat in the aisle.
“How do you know they got it right?” I asked.
“They sent me an E-mail.” He said.
“I didn’t think they used computers.”
“Oh yea, all the time.”
“Who am I supposed to talk to now?”
“Does he have a cell phone? How do I get a hold of him?”
“Buddha doesn’t have a cell phone. He doesn’t have anything.”
“I thought he sent you an E-mail?”
“No, that was the Buddhists.”
“Damn it!” I shouted, kicking the pew.
“Hey, watch your language,” the young priest said. “God or no God, we’re still in Church, darn it.”
I slumped down next to him on the bench. “What are you gonna do now?” I asked, kicking at the bar that came out when it was time to kneel during mass. I never knew what that thing was called . . .
“I dunno,” he shrugged. “Start rock climbing maybe.”
“You gonna leave the church?”
He laughed. “Come on, guy, really? Do you know how much money the Catholic Church makes? I’m a millionaire compared to the Buddhists.”
“Good point,” I said.
“So, your sense of humor huh?” He said, leaning back into the pew, nodding at me. “How did you manage to pull that off?”
“I don’t know; I was hoping to talk to God today to figure it out. But that’s not happening apparently.”
He laughed again. “Sorry kid. I wish I could help you, I really do. But I got nothing.”
“What happens after this?” I asked, moving to stand up. “What happens when we die now?”
The young Priest sighed. “Heck if I know kid, rebirth or something?” he reached into his pocket and fumbled through its contents until producing a cigarette. “Try to look on the bright side,” he muttered, placing the butt of the cigarette on the tips of his lips.
“Even if you don’t ever find your sense of humor, when you die, maybe you’ll come back as something funny.” his words came out muffled as he balanced the cigarette tightly between pursed lips. He looked like a turtle with his mouth folded down.
“What about you?” I asked. “What would you want to come back as?”
He lit the cigarette and sucked with great purpose; it’s cherry tip revving hot with color, opening like a small red eye on the tip of his white stick. He exhaled. “I want to come back as a black guy. A really tall one, so I can play basketball in the NBA.”
“You know, plenty of white guys play basketball in the NBA too,” I said.
“Yea, but can you name any of them?”
He had a point.
You needed two things for time travel in the fourth dimension. The first was a pair of cleats because there was no traction in the fourth dimension. It was more slippery than one might expect. The second was Vaseline, because friction in the fourth dimension made your nipples chafe. The atmosphere was thicker, tighter, bulkier, faster – really it was just an all around unpleasant experience. With the dimension itself being so slippery and confusing – along with the addition of my abraded chest – I couldn’t seem to find my second grade classroom without getting lost. Comparatively, walking through the fourth dimension was like navigating through the inside of a Picasso’s cubism movement, had he been painting with olive oil and butter. After (what felt like) an eternity of jogging backwards and slipping on the “floor(s)” of my new dimension, I finally found what I was looking for: Miss Powell’s Second grade classroom. (It was Miss back then because she hadn’t been married yet) Stopping myself before entering the room, I thought back to the instructions given to me by the plum woman.
Walk backwards into the classroom and walk forwards out?
Or walk forwards into the classroom and walk backwards out?
I decided to flip a coin.
It flicked up off of my thumb and shot into the air, freezing in place just out of my reach. I made my decision based on a hunch and opened the door walking in backwards.
“Miss Powell,” I shouted, charging into classroom reversed before spinning around and righting myself. “I need to talk to Henry Louis Person. It’s me, his himself. I have some questions for me.” Miss Powell frowned.
“Mr. Person, do you mind?” she said. “We’re trying to learn cursive here.”
“But I never learned cursive in your class,” I said.
“That’s because you never paid attention! Look at yourself!”
It was true. I never did pay attention. Young me, sitting in the back left corner of the classroom, was playing with his thumbs. (Or were they my thumbs?) I hadn’t even noticed the commotion of the much older me, bursting into the classroom and interrupting Ms. Powell's cursive lesson. Because of this interruption, two of the young students in the room would later become victims of identity theft. Without the basic knowledge of cursive to build from, their signatures would become comically easy to forge. I hadn’t realized it at that time, but I had just derailed two linear tracks.
“Henry!” she called. I didn’t look up. “Henry!” She threw a chalkboard eraser. It bounced off the desk of Manuel Rodriguez and blew chalk dust into his eye. Manuel rubbed his eye to try and make it feel better, succeeding only in rubbing the chalk dust deeper into his cornea. Unbeknownst to Manuel, his eye would soon become infected and need to be removed. I had derailed another track. I finally looked up from my desk when Manuel began emitting mouse like squeaks of pain. “Henry,” Ms. Powell said again. “Please go into the hallway and try to figure yourself out.”
“Am I in trouble Ms. Powell?” young me asked.
Ms. Powell looked at me disapprovingly and then turned back to the young Henry, cowering low in his desk.
“Only existentially,” she said. A young girl in the classroom would become obsessed with this word: Existential. Later in life, when her mind could better grasp the concept of abstract thinking, the idea of existentialism would depress her so much she would eventually join a cult and participate in a group suicide. I had derailed another path.
“I’ll keep it short, I swear,” I said to the young me. Walking out of the classroom, I noticed a dollar on the ground. I picked it up and placed it on the desk of a sweet looking little girl with black hair. “Here you go,” I said, smiling. You can buy an ice cream with that.” The girl, who was lactose intolerant, but didn’t know it yet, was going to throw up all over herself in the cafeteria that day, earning the nickname, Vomiting Veronica. This nickname would follow her until College. I had derailed another path. Young me hopped bashfully out of his desk and trotted over to the door of the classroom. Exiting, I couldn’t remember if the plum woman had warned me about leaving the classroom with my past self. I also didn’t know if I should have been walking out backwards or forwards. I said, fuck it, and walked out forwards.
“Are you funny yet?” I asked, cornering myself in the hallway. I had questions for myself, damn it. And I had better have some answers for me.
“Who are you?” I asked myself.
“It’s me, you,” I said.
“What happened to my hair?” young me asked me.
“Women happened Henry. Women cause the kind of stress that makes your hair fall out. Then they leave you when it’s all gone. Now listen, do you have a sense of humor yet? Any kind of inkling at all of jocular behavior?”
“But I like girls,” young me replied. “Hannah Goodwin is a girl in my class, and I like her, and I want to make her my girlfriend.”
“Let me save you some trouble Henry. Hannah is never going to date you. In high school, she’s going to start doling out blowjobs to seemingly everybody but you, and then she’s going to get fat and contract herpes. You know who you should date in there is Stephanie. She’s a good girl. Top Notch. Marriage material. She looks goofy now, sure, but just wait. Wait until her sophomore year. She’s going to be gorgeous. She really grows into those arms. Now listen, about that sense of humor . . . ” Young me stared up and frowned. The plum lady was right. There was no point in trying to convince yourself to do anything. You always ended up doing exactly what you wanted to do anyways.
“What are you talking about?” young me whined.
“You know what?” I said, “Just forget it. This is useless; I was useless in the second grade.” I grabbed myself by the wrist and pulled myself back into the classroom. “Thanks for nothing.” I said, nodding to Ms. Powell and dragging myself to my seat.
“See, Henry?” Ms. Powell said, completely illuminated by the overhead projector. “Do you see how you turned out because you didn’t pay attention?”
Young me whimpered.
“Yea!” I said to myself. “Start paying attention!”
I started paying attention that day. I had derailed my own linear track of time. Two other young students in the class, for fear of being reprimanded by their future selves, also started paying attention that day. Two more linear paths had been derailed. A little girl raised her hand.
“Yes, Rebecca?” Miss Powell sad, pointing to a small framed blonde girl.
“Mister Future man,” the little girl asked. “What’s the future like?”
“It’s awful,” I said. “You should all go jump into the wormhole in the basement and stop yourselves from ever being born. Trust me, you’ll be a lot happier.”
The little girl frowned and put her hand down. That did it for the rest of linear tracks in the classroom. I had successfully derailed all of them.
The office I walked into after returning from the fourth dimension, looked nothing like the office I had left from going in to the fourth dimension. Phones chimed off time with one another, unceasingly, miming clangorous screams that never stopped wailing, all of them going unanswered. Every cubicle in the room was now stuffed with frantic chattering, staff members; every desk spilled over with hunched and sweaty faculty, covering every cubic foot of the faded green carpet with papers, staplers, and sprawling, spastic feet. There was panic, there was mayhem – there was chaos. The plum lady noticed me standing at the desk and dropped a large stack of manila folders before running over to me.
“Sir,” she gasped, out of breath. “What did you do in there!?”
“Do you have any idea how much damage you’ve done!?”
“Didn’t you read any of your paperwork!?”
“Oh my god!” she howled. She looked like she’d been crying. “Mrs. McClung!” she called, fanning herself loudly with her hands garnished with long red fingernails. “Mrs. McClung, he’s here! He’s here, Mrs. McClung!” The stooped, banana shaped, science teacher came marching around a corner, charging through the madness with her arms swinging straight out in front of her. Her skin was usually a jaundiced color, but as events unfurling in the Universe had become quite fretful, her skin bore a paler color, almost as if she was a banana somebody had freshly peeled.
“Mister, Person!” she squeaked, in a nasally voice. “Do you have ANY idea, what you’ve done?!”
“It’s very important that you answer this question honestly Mr. Person.” She explained, slowly, so I knew she was serious. “Did you walk out of the classroom forwards or backwards?”
“Try to remember,” she stressed. “Please.”
“Backwards, then forwards,” I said. “And I took the little me out into the hallway.”
She dropped her face into her hands. If you’ve ever seen a banana bend it’s quite a peculiar sight. This is how Ms. McClung looked to me now, like a flexible banana.
“Mr. Person,” she said, bending back up and steadying herself with her fingers spread out over the counter. “Somehow, you’ve managed to crack space time. Do you understand the seriousness of this?”
“Let me explain,” she started. “By not following the simple instructions you were given, when you walked forwards out of the classroom instead of backwards, you permeated the fourth dimension. Instead of re-reversing the flow of time so that your visit never occurred, you solidified your existence onto all of the young children in the classroom – single handedly derailing thirty-two tracks of time in a single setting.”
That was another thing that wasn’t so great about Mandarin Oaks. Its class sizes were always too big.
Mrs. McClung continued. “Because time runs in a linear path, it trickles downward like water running over the pavement, with new events unfolding in the front and old events reoccurring in the past. The past is essentially the current that pushes the future forwards. Do you understand, Mr. Person?”
I didn’t get it. But I nodded anyways.
“Think of space time as a water slide. Not, think of the derailed paths as a crack in the water slide. Water is now leaking out, making the flow of the future weaker and weaker, until soon, there will be no momentum left, and time as we know it will stop flowing entirely. Does this make sense?”
I enjoyed water slides. So I nodded.
“Essentially,” She went on, “The derailing of so many linear paths at one time, is reoccurring in the past over and over again, causing the crack in the waterslide to become larger and larger, making the flow of time weaker and weaker. You’ve violated two of the time traveling paradoxes Mr. Person. Do you realize this?”
“Did you read your paperwork?”
“He never pays attention!” Screamed Mrs. Powell, from the back of the office, covering the mouthpiece of the phone she was on. “I told you, he never pays attention!”
Ignoring the shrieking Mrs. Powell, Mrs. McClung explained further. “First, you violated the Bilker’s paradox. By telling the children how awful the future will be, and explaining to them where the wormhole was, a number of children went back in time and stopped themselves from ever being born, making their futures impossible. But, because they still existed in one plane of the universe, another track of time derailed, allowing them to continue existing in that dimension. Secondly, you violated the Grandfather paradox. By interacting with the children and failing to undo your actions, you violated their pasts so that certain instances in their futures never occurred. All of this branched off into other spectrums of the fourth dimension, splitting off hundreds of thousands of different scenarios, growing and expanding and derailing other linear paths of time. Do you understand? Is this getting through to you? What do you have to say about this?”
“Shit,” I said, “I knew this story needed plot, but this is ridiculous. What should I do?”
“It’s a long shot,” she said, sighing. “But, we need to send you back in time, to convince yourself not to go back in time. This way, we can hopefully stop the process from repeating itself so that space time won’t collapse on itself.”
“Will that work?”
“Jesus, Henry, I just said it’s a long shot. You really don’t ever pay attention, do you?”
In order to save time - so that I might save time, if that makes sense – I was given the Greek alphabet to hurry along the process. I failed to mention however, that I could not read the Greek alphabet, and I ended up running backwards regardless. It took me over an hour to re-find myself in the past. Charging in through the same double doors that I had originally walked through to locate my sense of humor, I catapulted in, just in time to catch myself pressing the button for the elevator doors. “Wait!” I shouted; mustering what little energy I had left to make it to the elevator in time. “Thank God I caught you!” I said, reaching out to grab my (more recent) past self around the shoulders.
“What are you doing here?” He asked.
“I had to come back in time,” I panted. I was really out of breath. Running backwards in the fourth dimension was exhausting. “There’s some stuff going on; it’s really bad – you can’t go back.”
“What stuff?” He (I) asked.
“Something about space. It’s cracking. There’s this water slide in space, and it’s leaking. I think.”
“I don’t know,” I huffed, still trying to catch my breath. “I wasn’t really paying attention.”
“Look, me,” past me, said. “I really need to figure out what happened to our sense of humor. I’m going back in time to get some answers.”
“Don’t bother,” I said. “Second grade us is a waste of time.”
“You already went back?”
“So you’re a hypocrite.” Past me said.
I had to think about this. Past me was right. So, I had an idea. “Here’s a thought,” I said. “Instead of going back to second grade, why don’t you try finding our sense of humor in the third grade?”
“Yea!” Past me said. “Good thinking; cover more ground!”
“Well,” I asked. “What are you waiting for?”
And so, I went back to the third grade. And then I grabbed myself from behind.
“Thank god,” Other me said, panting, out of breath. “I caught you before you left.”
“Oh no, what happened?” I asked.
“I have to stop you from going back in time and talking to the younger us.” He said.
“Oh, no,” I said. “You just missed that us. He just left.”
“Oh shit! But, the waterslide?”
“Don’t worry. He’s not going to second grade. He’s going to third grade. To find our sense of humor.”
“Good call,” Other me smiled. And then I walked through the door again.
“What the fuck?” Third me said, looking at myself and the other me standing in front of the elevator. “Am I early?”
“What are you trying to do?”
“I’m trying to stop myself from going back to second grade. Is that what you two were doing?”
“No, that guy already left, but he went to third grade.”
“Won’t that fuck up the water slide even worse?”
Third me had a point, we hadn’t thought about that. Until fourth me walked through the door wearing a different color shirt.
“Who are you?” we all asked, in unison.
“I think that’s pretty obvious,” Different colored shirt me replied. “I’m here to stop one of us from going back into the third grade.”
“Any report on the waterslide?” I asked.
“It’s really bad,” he (I) responded. “That banana shaped lady was bawling. Something about there being no hope left for humanity. None of you were planning on going back to third grade were you?”
“No,” second me lied, shifting his gaze slowly back to the elevator.
“Any word on our sense of humor?” I asked different colored shirt me.
“Nope,” he said. “None.”
I felt discouraged, and then I walked through the door again. I was confused to find a coagulation of past and future versions of myself standing around in front of an elevator. And then, I walked in again.
And while the universe continued to crack into pieces, the room continued to fill with humorless versions of myself, each one trying to prevent the inevitability that I had originally set into motion. And I laughed at this. We all did.