The Wrong Side of Time

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Experiences, even mere words, can shape who we are, what kind of human beings we become...language and morality puts the soul where it should be, gives it a purposeful center, a launch pad into space and time...unresolved traumatic memories freeze us in the past (adult children) and/or hurl us into the future (elderly young man)...we see both these forces at work in Jordan - at once a child and an old man. Either way, he's on the wrong side of time...find out why.

Submitted: June 10, 2007

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Submitted: June 10, 2007

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The sky hung low, blue and leprous with clouds like flakes ready to fall.  Jordan had once imagined, once conceived in such a way that bolted him toward that now sickly firmament.  Days and nights had become one unified flow of blood in the months after Melanie's escape.  He sat fighting off the shakes in either sharp moonlight or dim sunlight, cursing the landlord's refusal to replace the tattered curtains.  His toes caught grains of dirt, pieces of petrified meat and bread from meals they had shared.  He hid among a chorus of cans and bottles (which occasionally rattled from the waddle of an unseen rat).  He hid from the sky, for fear of falling into its liquid flesh.
A nondescript morning found the young man on the small porch whining with weak nails.  Jordan's weak torso - naked and white, with only a faded tattoo of a wolf's head on his right shoulder blade to give any semblance of pigmentation - barely filled the back of his unfinished pine chair.  His stubby feet, clad as always in grease-stained, factory-smelling canvass top shoes, pressed the whole of his body back and forth as he sat reading Miller with a bemused and haggard grin.  The constant disequilibrium he created offset the nausea, and kept the riot in his stomach from climbing into his throat.  
Several black men hauled ass down the street past Office Depot and Popeye's in pursuit of a frenetic figure beyond Jordan's range of sight to determine age/gender/race.
"Hey, muthafucka!  I just wanna talk," said one of the pursuers, a baseball bat bouncing his enormous shoulder.  "Just wanna  talk wit ya, fucka!"
Just how had Jordan and Melanie come to live here on Capitol Drive on the wrong side of the river on the northern edge of Milwaukee?  For one thing, Jordan had never finished college.  He just dropped out for a "semester break" and never returned.  Melanie, being the Psych major, attempted a textbook psychoanalysis of her patient/boyfriend.  But her boyfriend, hardly patient at all, refused treatment (told her one night to "fuck off with all your goddamned psychobabble") and soon their time would really be up.  
Or so Jordan had thought.  Instead, Melanie stuck around, even suggesting that she could move off-campus with him, that they, despite being penniless, could find a place of their own.  As luck, or rather cruel fate would have it Melanie had a friend whose uncle owned a small two-bedroom, one and a half story house on Capitol Drive.  Melanie, in all her lanky dancing at having found their first house, their very own place, neglected to note that the number of the address put it just over the bridge on the wrong side of town.  But Melanie, like the poor psychoanalyst she was, stuck to the plan, and a few days after signing the lease, they moved their few things in.
And by a few things, Jordan literally meant three items:  a refrigerator (a low-efficiency, turquoise, General Electric relic salvaged from the dump and forced back to life with a motor Melanie's uncle had fixed), her mattress (smelling alcohol, semen, and tobacco - in that order), and a lava lamp, which for a week doubled as an actual lamp.  
Her parents, despite owning a couple of laundry mats, were poor.  But despite being poor, they were Republicans.  So even though they were sending their daughter to college to get a degree in psychology, they had no intention of bailing her out after her inevitable failure at finding work.  They believed that she and Jordan would, as they themselves did - detergent dispenser by detergent dispenser - climb out of pecuniary trouble.
Besides, Melanie's uncle had given them an insider deal on the rent; as well, they could have their pick out of the furniture and other items still crammed in the attic.  Jordan wasn't expecting much, but they did manage to find a partially burnt and mangled, brown and orange-checker sectional that Melanie covered with a varicoloured patchwork quilt she had managed to make (for a just passing grade) in a blow off homemaking course in her freshman year.  They also pulled out from the bottom of a pile of foam sheeting a nine-inch black and white, with a wildly curly (obviously improvised) set of rabbit ears.  Many nights, she slept on his narrow chest, her twisted blond locks wrapped around his neck, in the bleaching glow of static.  As the screen floated and flickered in pitch dark, Jordan imagined it to be a porthole of a passing ship.  He would fall asleep peacefully, but then there was the terrible feeling of something rising up from underneath, and he blew out a breath, jumping up and casting off his girlfriend, who would only curse and moan and turn over.  In those moments, he wished so badly to speak of his dream.  But by the time she would awaken, grinning pensively with lips that completely divided her creviced chin from her long nose and her close-together (almost joining) pale green eyes - by the time she would ask, dryly, still from the frozen fields of sleep, "What was all that commotion about, last night?" he had already forgotten.
His shifts in a Wauwatosa hose factory were supposed to buy them the rest of their furniture for their happy home.  But the money allotted for that started going toward alcohol.  Soon they were making furniture out of beer bottle cases.  A few rows of Busch Light stacked on top of each other made a surprisingly sturdy box spring.  The same idea applied for their coffee table, only with a piece of pressboard that Melanie had carried home from behind the university library.  They liked to drink together.  They never said it to each other, but it was the only time they both truly were calm.
Otherwise they fought.  Usually it was the standard, bourgeois battles over bills.  Other times it was just little, nipping quirks that got on Jordan's nerves, like Melanie fretting constantly about having the few things of any real worth (electronic things - like her cell phone and her component Kenwood with turntable - all bought on credit) would be burglarised, and they with no contents insurance.
Jordan's economics teacher, a man with tufts of fiery yellow hair angling from his balding head, a man who knew quite a bit about segregation and class struggle in the city of Milwaukee, who, ironically enough, was punished for using the word "niggardly" in one of his lectures, told the young man that, should he end up poor as most kids do coming out of college, that Jordan should consider himself lucky.
"I've told you, I don't know how many times," Jordan strained through his nose, "that people living in poorer neighborhoods are less likely to get robbed, because no burglar is going to break into a shanty; it's not cost-effective."  It was only months after explaining this over and over that she moved in the rest of her things.
Of course, Jordan mused as he felt the barley bubbles tickle the back of his throat, the morning air reacting with the carbonation as he breathed between gulps, he did things that pissed off Melanie, as well.  Like drinking too much, twice as much as she. Like handling her rough.  He stopped in mid-guzzle.  Like never telling her the meanings of his dreams, both during the night and waking hours.  
Even with all of her goddamned applied knowledge, he thought.  Sitting back in his wretched pine chair, on a porch more flaked paint than porch, he didn't care.  Melanie really hadn't counted on that, on his utter apathy.
If Jordan had been that poor unidentifiable prey lunging into any available cover from the bat-wielding pursuers, he'd have certainly, and without even a fraction of irony, turned and listened to whatever they had to say (for it could not have been worse than what Melanie had said weeks before), would have taken the shots that they had in them to bestow, for all was unreal, unreal.
Jordan cringed in silence.  What exactly is your goddamned problem? he knew his stepbrother Tommy would ask.  Tommy abhorred self-pity and self-effacement; more than likely this was because Tommy would be ill advised to apply either of the two emotions to his own life.  Though he wore shiny ties and read books he saw recommended on Amazon.com, one could not get past the rancorous odor of his nearly toothless mouth.  And his two pack a day habit, though it did explain the orange, rotted pallor of his nails, did not explain the severity of his breath's smell.  Even the application of copious quantities of Tic Tacs only gave the acerbic cloud an absurd (and thin) veneer of mint.
Cringing again, Jordan forced himself to admit he did not hate Tommy.  With sixteen years between them, however, neither had found any cause to like the other.  Other than a few forced conversations about Star Wars, they had never had a lengthy, civil discussion.
The last drinking party Jordan and Melanie had attended the year before was the final time he and his stepbrother had talked, and it was anything but civil.
Running his hand through his tight auburn curls, finishing off his sixth rum and Coke in the last hour, Tommy growled at a Radiohead song:

"English pussies," he wiped his stubby nose, "Give me Slayer anytime.  They're not afraid to say what rock and roll is supposed to say.  And they don't bother with back-masking either."  Tommy's eyes carried his vision around the room, among the several young men and women watching him over foamed rimmed glasses; he had to make certain as many people as possible were granting him their attention.  "Dogckuf," he chortled, grabbing a beer from a nearly passed out hand, "Dogckuf!"
Those who had leaned over the back of the couch where Tommy sat, a lumpy wedge between the tiny frames of Jordan and his girlfriend, gave up on understanding what had been said and thrust their heads back into "There There."  In fact no one had understood Tommy's last words, except Jordan.  
"Why did you just say that?" Jordan spat foam over his beer, which splattered in tiny droplets on his stepbrother's pimpled chin.  "What is the point of saying that?  No one is paying attention to you!"  His glare fixed on Tommy, who averted his eyes.  "Look around you, you fuckwit!"  
On the drive home, Melanie's hands magically steered while they grasped at shapes of words and thoughts - which she unfortunately vocalized - as to why Jordan had overreacted to his stepbrother's words.  
"It was the swearing, he always has to grab everyone's attention," Jordan exhaustedly offered from his slumped position against the passenger door, the cigarette smoked window crushing his cheek.  
"No that's not it," Melanie scowled, her tiny blond brow erasing his insistence, "That's not it at all.  As I recall you swore back.  And you swear all the time!  And come to think of it he didn't technically swear."  She settled back into her seat, and slouched forward with fresh analysis, "It's about God!"
"No it's not about God," he could not turn to look at her.
"It is," she stupidly insisted.
"No, it's not," he growled and wiped his nose.  "Please don't do that, honey, it's so uncouth.  Here," with quick, motherly indignation she handed him a Kleenex.  
"I'm only trying to reach out to you, Jordan," she mumbled as she set another cigarette to blaze.
And that was your problem, honey.
Henry Miller fell from between his hairy legs.  Fuck Henry.  Fuck Melanie.  In two years what had she yielded?
Blue and red spheres of light passed in hoary revolutions.  Surely, by now, they had finished that little mofo, quipped Jordan.  Cops always arrived too late for the Blacks.  It means nothing to them for a Black man to kill another Black man, only that not so many kill each other to disrupt the fine balance of segregation in the city.  Niggers in the north and northwest, Spics in the southwest, redneck whities in the south and affluent Jews and Wasps in the near Eastside.  
Cops always came for whities.  They came in four minutes after Melanie called.  They wasted no time pinning him to the hood of their patrol car and cuffing him.  Not too hard, though.  They saved that for the Black kids they would stop, he mused, while vigorously emptying the remains of an MGD Light.  
Standing up into a stretch that threatened to tear the muscles from his bones, he turned round and opened the shrieking screen door (really the only thing to distinguish his house from the several condemned houses around him, the various crack houses that the mayor had yet to shutdown, for one can only schedule so many photo ops in one week).  Darkness reigned inside against which a five dollar chipped brass St. Vincent de Paul floor lamp had little chance.  Anyhow, he desired darkness.
The phone had been ringing for several minutes.  Jordan walked past.  Since she had left, Jordan had learned simply to tune out the phone.  She had called about her CD's, her pocket PC, all the shit he had beforehand hid on her, then - once her escape had been verified, destroyed with a rubber mallet.  Fortunately, the night of that last fight, she had seen fit to throw the answering machine at him from across the room, so the phone kept ringing, ringing.  The din shaped within him a mantra into which he sought refuge.  
He thrust his head into the wreaking empty refrigerator.  All out.  All fucking out.  How had he come to this?  This proliferation of expletives?  Before moving to the wrong side of town, he had rarely used "fuck."  Always recognizing its utility (who could deny the sense of oral satisfaction in first pushing out the "f" then cutting it ruthlessly off with the hardest of consonants?) he nevertheless could not stomach uttering it or hearing it with any degree of frequency.  And yet those sonorous pursuers surely had found sufficient solace from their sore leg muscles and aching chests by profusely shouting variations of that word.  
Okay so I have established my need for "fuck". But "cunt"?  Jordan couldn't believe he had called Melanie that - that night, through lips pursed with ire.  He sat at his tiny black metal breakfast table (which doubled for a bill and scrap paper depository - having no need for a presentable dining area to entertain his non-existent guests).  Absently he slowly swiped some of the bills, which featured bold print in red type, from the table.  When had he started using that word?  For that matter, when had he started reading Henry Miller?  At the other end of his memory, Jordan sat reading a novel for his Freshman English class, put it down in revulsion at having discovered the word soiling the rest of an otherwise adequate novel.  Up to that point he had considered being a writer.  But his professor, upon hearing Jordan's excuse for not having done the reading or the written critique, scoffed, checked his scoff into a more mindful smirk - still devoid of any compassion - and uttered -
"I'm still going to have to give you an F."
Jordan stopped going to classes, first English then any others.  And it was not, as many of his naïve classmates and austere professors had thought, out of moral indignation.  The word had a physical effect on him, rolled his bowels tight into painful sickness.  And his own English professor, one who had quoted Whitman in believing that the poet's pen can draw blood, could not understand.  
Melanie understood about the "c" word.  They had met at a drinking party.  Up to that point he never had had a drop.  But Melanie, quite savvy with the alcohol (and how most effectively to administer it), showed him how to work a bong.  After several of these the darkness that had circled in a small path within him, suddenly swallowed him into a maelstrom of despondency.  He sunk deep into the cheap foam dorm room couch, bunching the hem of his grey t-shirt in his tiny fists.  Melanie leaned over, took up one of his fists and uncurled the fingers in her large palm.  She mumbled something awkward about his hands being "gorgeous."  
It had not occurred to Jordan until that point that Melanie had any interest in him.  She would later say it was his brooding look that had attracted her.  Jordan could never bring himself to believe this; nor did he ever find Melanie particularly physically attractive.  She had the square ankles of an old English woman; her pale complexion along with her browning teeth made her look like a negative; her hair, though purely gold as a field of wheat, abounded in wiry split ends from lack of care.  And her proclivity to wear coveralls, which she wore that night at the party, made her look like a much older woman trying to look like a little girl.  
Yet, that night, and for the subsequent two years, Melanie reached for him, and he reached somewhat reluctantly back.  
"You may not see it this way, Jordan, but you're beginning an ideological journey.  And right now it's leading you out of this shitty community college onto some higher ground.  You won't know what that ground is until you crossed to the other side."
Exactly what the fuck she meant Jordan did not know then, as he did not know now.  He did not see it then, but he saw it now - the stagnant asterisk his existence had become, and at twenty-three.  
The phone rang again.  Only seven times, twenty less than usual.  Probably his boss this time.  Mr. Worm had an annoyingly resilient sense of humor:  when Jordan muttered at the end of the Friday night shift that he was "leaving behind his hose crimping days", Worm only sniggered flippantly.  Such refusal to take Jordan seriously - despite the young man's face stretched in a grimace - probably resulted first from having served in the Navy Seals, second from having served in such a prestigious military organization with such a ludicrous surname, and third from managing a factory department whose sole purpose was to crimp brake hoses ad nauseam.
Jordan descended the front steps into a subtly orange-stained darkness, with a sense he couldn't help of having reached the other side too soon.  Two blocks, then he walked briskly across the bridge to the right side of town where the liquor store radiated neon exoneration.  Yes, too soon.  He woke very early in the mornings now, slept miserably, and took warm milk to fall into some semblance of repose.  Soreness and agitation had become perennial.  Right now he felt simultaneously frigid and feverish.  And this had all begun happening well before Melanie had gone.
"'Scuse me missah," rasped from behind him.
Jordan started, turned nervously.
"Om not homeless, see.  Om frum the shelta down the way here," a creviced sallow face uttered weakly but reassuringly from its hunch over a crooked back.  "Om sellin' peanuts heh ‘cause our little home is running a bit low on funds."
Jordan moved to shake his head.  In his mind he saw himself mutter something rude and dismissive.  The actual Jordan crammed one hand into his pocket jingling with change and asked, "How much?"
"Oh not much, brotha.  Whatever the Lord puts in you to give," the haggard man first placed the bag of peanuts in Jordan's hand then took his five.  "Oh!" he exclaimed, crumpling the bill to his chest, "tha's most gracious of you, suh!"
Jordan nodded, put distance between them, and threw the bag of what were sure to be stale nuts over the bridge railing.  
Brotha.  He had always wished he'd had one.  Now, Jordan thought, it was better off he had no siblings.  For he would have most likely have reproduced the scene he had just played a part in, only the roles would have been reversed - his brother opposite to his vagrant self.  
Yet, it could not be explained why he turned back, found himself hurrying to the side of the homeless man.  They talked.  Jordan even listened to what Ernest had to say about Jesus saving him.  
"'Cept foh the booze," he winked painfully.  "He ain't wohked dat outta me, yet."
He pulled two flasks of whiskey from his jacket.  Under the bridge they talked several hours.
Finally, as Jordan expected it would, the question came from Ernest, "So whu'sa white boy like you doin' on the wrong side of the bridge, anyhow?"
Jordan only looked down, suggested a subtle and dismissive shake of his small blonde head.
"Oh, it's not requihed that you ansah dat, son," Ernest shrugged lightly.  "I's just tryin' to accumulate what Ah need to plead your case to the Lohd'sall."
"Plead my case?" Jordan dropped his head between his knees in supplication to the immediate effects of hard liquor.
"Yes, indeed," came a voice that continued on without a body, "We's all of us got to face Him on dat day.  Et's closa than you think, too-dat day.  Gonna catch ‘em all by surprise.  Everyone's so busy choosin' up sides, they don't think to ask if it be the right."
The flask suicided from Jordan's hand.
"I guess," Jordan paused, inhaled deeply the musty air over the stagnant green river at his feet, "I chose the wrong."
"You got that right, missah."
Something moved about frenetically in Jordan's pockets.
"Hey, shit!" Jordan sparked with realization, still with his eyes shut.  "You're the one I saw all those guys -"
"Um fasta than I appear, old man that I am, huh?  Well, I suppose this is anotha thing the Lohd ain't worked out of me yet, fella."  
Jordan heard a faint, "So long.  Thanks foh the donation, good, kind suh."
Staggering through a low tunnel of his own nausea, he made to his home.  He never bothered with the police.  They tended to deal bemusedly with past wife-beaters.  Besides being robbed seemed a flattering form of attention, given his absolute isolation since Melanie had left.
The morning after four eighth notes rapped rhythmically on his rotting screen door.  Upon opening it to the cool breath of new light, Jordan saw the four-foot, ten-inch silhouette of Shelly.  Gazing up at the young man's sagging, mask-like face, she huffed and insisted:
"You're not eating again; did that girl do everything for you?  Jesus, son, snap out of it and let's go out for breakfast."  With this she shrugged almost with indignation, as if this trip were a weekly ritual, and he had forgotten.
"I dnhvaniminy," Jordan, eyes cast down at Shelly's knees.
"Jordan, don't mumble, that is so-"
"Don't have any money," he forced out.
"Oh," she looked over her shoulder back at her Chevy Citation parked on the curb, "Well," there was a long pause, "You can pay me back."
"Never mind."
"All right, I'll pay," she rolled her eyes.
Jordan asked her to wait outside as he went to his bedroom in a vain attempt to find a clean shirt.
"Holy fucking shit, son!" Shelly barked from the porch as she took in the heaps of pizza boxes, wrappers, shreds of stained paper and towers of beer bottles, "This place could use a cleaning!"
Jordan rushed back to the front door, writhing his way through the neck hole and sleeves of a filthy shirt, expecting more admonishment.  But as he stepped onto the front porch and slammed the door, Shelly smiled frozenly:
"So let's try that soul food place down the road; a black girlfriend of mine says they have reasonable prices."
That Shelly wanted to try soul food did not shock Jordan.  In the ten years since her husband died she felt the need to get "closer to his race" and this breakfast outing was another expression of this bizarre inability to let go.  Jordan found strange comfort in the supposition that this also explained why Shelly didn't seem to care that her stepson was living in a neighborhood her parents could not flee fast enough, as was clearly evident in the "brown fields" of abandoned factories, the shattered storefronts and the boarded up houses they passed on the way to the restaurant.
Just past the interstate, across the street from the Black Holocaust museum, sat Little Toby's Soul Food diner, formerly the Peking House.  The restaurant itself defiantly retained the pagoda style of its original ethnicity, but had been painted over with vibrant red, green and yellow.  Further adding to the absurdity, a billboard loomed over the small, garbage-riddled parking lot, showing a drawing of a ferocious hooded clansman, scowling and brandishing a handgun; the caption read, "They're taking our guns!"
From the intense sunlight into the diner, it was even brighter.  Any hint of shadow had been stripped away by one too many fluorescent lights dangling and humming from the ceiling.  
Squinting a polite smile of tiny, crooked teeth at the elderly waitress behind the counter, Shelly mumbled to Jordan, "Whatever you want, son, but be reasonable."
"Shell," he mumbled back sarcastically, "It's breakfast."
It didn't take long for Jordan to figure out Shelly's ulterior motive for that breakfast.  Spitting out tiny bits of greasy eggs, flaky biscuits, soggy grits and ham, Shelly mumbled,
"So Thomas tells me you quit Tesco." Her eyes screwed up into little green marbles, with a victorious mien of having at last trapped her prey.
Jordan stopped stabbing at his eggs, and mumbled a confirmation.  
Picking nervously at her moles on her cheeks and neck, Shelly:  
"Jordan, it's about time that you let go; Mel's never coming back, aright?  You need to quit sulking and get your ass back to school."
"Oh so now you care?" Jordan sank between his shoulders.
"Don't start that pity thing, son; it irritates me to no end with your brother and you -"
"Fuck you, Shell," Jordan almost coughed from anxiety.  "Go back and look after your real son before he gets himself fired from yet another job.  I'll take care of myself."
Shelly's eyes gaped as she pressed her degenerated lips together, "Okay, then," slapping a five dollar bill on the counter.  "You can take care of the rest."  
Twenty seconds later, her Chevy skidded across the gravel and pavement, screeching as it hit the steep incline onto Capitol Drive.  
Jordan looked up awkwardly from his half-eaten breakfast.  On the way up to the elderly woman's face, he caught sight of her makeshift nametag, which read "Eleanor."  Her visage scowled as if the whole of her face were under enormous pressure.
"I can't pay," Jordan shrugged.  
"Well now, son," she put her hands to her hips, "You in a fine mess!  You think we just let anyone in here what can't pay the bills?  How we gonna pay our bills?  We barely keep this place goin', as it is!"
"What's all this screaming Elly?" a gruff voice streamed from the front entrance.  A bright ebony grin, magnanimous under a corduroy Ascot hat, appeared over the threshold.
"Cecil, this boy don't wanna pay," Eleanor repeated, this time with considerably more charm.
"Can't," Jordan hesitantly corrected her, "My old lady, um, jumped out on the bill."
"She paid for hers!" Eleanor snapped, "Now you need to pay for yours!"  
"And be sure to leave a generous tip," Cecil almost sang as he hung his hat and straightened his grey double-breasted suit coat, which rested over a bright yellow dress shirt opened to the third button.  
He sat next to the visibly ruffled young man, whom the former considered in silent curiosity.  Cecil ordered only coffee as he looked again and again at his silver watch:
"And let me see this boy's bill, too."
Jordan winced, "Sir -"
"Cecil!" he turned abruptly and offered his hand.  
Jordan took it obediently and restarted, "I can't accept your money."
"Oh!  You going to wash dishes, then?" Cecil gave a visceral scoff.  He waited until Eleanor was out of earshot (which wasn't far) and intoned into Jordan's ear, "I don't think you want to even see what goes on in that kitchen, with all the various...infestations, shall we say.  Why I have never even had a meal here; I just don't understand why a boy like you -"
"Someone, my mom, took me out."
"I'd say she left you out!" Cecil winked and nodded to Eleanor as she gave him his coffee.
He proceeded to dilute packet after packet of fake sugar into his cup, "Listen, son, I don't mind.  ‘Sides, it's a measly five bucks," he squinted at Eleanor, chortling a bit too loudly, "ten dollars, with tip!"
Eleanor's manner in the presence of a non-paying customer had not changed since her harangue, and this soured Cecil's attempts at mollifying the young man.  
"I know," Cecil said low, nodding contemplatively at Jordan.  "I know what this feels like.  I know this doesn't feel right to you." An idea occurred to him that gave him immense pleasure.  "Tell you what, you can work with me for one hour, work off those ten bucks."
Jordan fidgeted, "Well, I live down the road, and I need to catch a bus-"
"Down the road?  I thought maybe south side!  Well, I can drive you home, aright?"
"Where do you work?" Jordan still fidgeted.
"Right across the street, next to the museum...ever heard of the African Legal Rights Movement?"
Jordan joined Cecil in his office at ALRM.  The younger helped the older by straightening up his files of clients and calling some clients to reschedule their appointments.
The young man noticed while leafing through files that several of Cecil's clients lived near Jordan on Capitol Drive.
"It's a bit much sometimes," Cecil gazed down at the ledger of rescheduled appointments.  "Many just don't show up, even when their electricity's about to be shut off.  It's like they don't care, you know?"
By the time five PM arrived, Jordan realized he'd been at ALRM for nearly seven hours.
"If you want," Cecil spoke from his chair, his hands raised in a temple, "you can, you know, come back and finish up the filing tomorrow.  I can sure use the help."
"Sure," Jordan nodded.
"Of course, at the moment, I can offer no remuneration."
Jordan dismissed the idea with a raised hand and used the same gesture for goodbye.

~~~

The little boy could not see the invader's face, his own pale round face squeezed between the ornate pillars of the wood stairway railing.  No faces at all, just the trembling backs of his father and mother's heads as they seemed pinned to the floor by some unseen force.  He was about to trample down the stairs, but the harsh consonants travelling in sickening waves from the invader (who had not noticed the witness) to the little boy's ears kept the watcher from acting.  The little boy heard words he had never heard before and would quickly forget - yet would never leave him.
He wanted, as he fidgeted behind the railing, words from the invader to explain why he was there and why it seemed his will to pin the boy's parents to the floor as they quivered and pleaded.  The boy could no longer hear the invader's voice over the crying of his parents; he almost shouted for them to shut up (words which would certainly get noticed by his dad, since it was forbidden for the boy to say such things).  
But the little boy's desire for explanation went deferred, a series of ellipses ending in one colon (a period for each bullet, put in first one then the other parent's head), the space after which was left for the little boy to fill.
Jordan knew now what he knew then, what he had forgotten in the interim, those two decades watching shadowed processions as he crossed time.  He knew vividly, lovingly, as he ducked down under the bridge, tripped in the mud, spilled the stolen money, resigned to let his pursuers crowd around and rain down their vengeance.  
He smiled.  
From the other side of time, he could find it in himself to smile.

~~~

"When you didn't show, I took it upon myself to look up the address you wrote in your file," Cecil frowned almost guiltily from the hospital bedside.  "Jordan, I could literally follow the trail of blood."
"I'm sorry you had to see me that way," the young man caressed his bruises and lacerations in wonder.  "I was drunk; I had no idea what I was doing."
"Well, neither did I!" the older glared down at the younger, the hurt in his face matching the physical wounds of the younger.  "Son, I had no idea you were so hard up."  He pulled out his cell phone.
"Who are you calling?" Jordan intoned, eager to change the subject.
"Your mom was here briefly.  She told me to call when you woke."  A tinny voice buzzed at the other end of the line.  "Hello, this Shelly?  Your son's awake; you want to talk to him?  Aright, yes, he's fine.  He'll be back to work by tomorrow, promise!  Bye now."
"That's not exactly the truth," Jordan rested his head back.
"What?  Doctor said just cuts and bruises; they're preparing to release you now."
"No, I meant the working part."
"You are coming in, aren't you?"
"I mean..."
"Oh, you mean the remuneration.  Now, I understand it's hard to pay the bills on a volunteer job.  So what say you come and work for us as a financial counsellor?"
Jordan really could not see himself helping people work through the month on their minimum wages, but Cecil insisted he would train him and get him connected with all the right charity organizations in the area. 
In the mean time, Jordan earned his pay writing out the mission statement in the new ALRM handbook.  Abstract notions of benevolence, ideals that had previously had no meaning for him, now stood out pronounced on the page.
On the way home he came across Ernest, his thin legs splayed on the sidewalk.  The old man didn't recognize Jordan, probably didn't even know he was there.  The younger pulled out from his backpack a piece of bread he had not eaten for lunch and he carefully folded it in Ernest's yielding hand.
On the hill next to Jordan's house, cones of prismatic sunlight fell to the weedy ground; the young man walked with a renewed stride, quite content on the wrong side of town on the right side of time.


 


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