I'm moving into the final round after writing this piece of Flash Fiction for round 2, in which I had to incorporate an action (a battle) and the image below.
Start with a tree, or rather, the possibility of a tree.
When you hold a sprouted seed in your hand, you hold Time. You think you know what it was, what it will be, its path as certain as Time stretching out before and behind, like an endless road.
You are wrong.
Time is a rope, infinitely frayed at one end, splayed out in every direction.
It exists only in the human mind to measure changes in things. Notches mark height on a door frame. Photographs record smiles that begin to sag. We find comfort in the predictable patterns of seasonal birth, growth, and death.
But what happens when waves lap against the shore and in their retreat, a sand castle forms? The impossible becomes possible when time ceases to behave the way we expect.
I want to share a secret with you.
I can unravel Time.
When I work(ed) at the Perimeter Institute applying theoretical physics to answer big questions, I discover(ed) a way to navigate in time by altering my own consciousness. As a particle can exist in two places at once, so can I occupy multiple times in the same space. I used to have control over it. No longer. When people experience memories, I live in that time. Occasionally, independent parts of my body exist in different moments simultaneously. My eyes see the past while my body betrays me.
When was I? Oh yes. The mirror always pulls me back into the present.
I am astonished at how I got so old. The woman glowering back at me cycles through looks of scepticism, confusion, fear.
I am in the family room of my house, the same one I’ve lived in for 58 years. Furniture flickers, changing shape and colour, the walls iterate through their various patterns of wallpaper. I stop in front of my favourite glider chair when it was new. I nurse(d) babies on that chair, soothe(d) sore tummies, listen(ed) to tearful recounts of broken hearts. Kali is curled up in my spot. Sometimes she is fat, her body spread out like dough. In other moments, she is a nearly weightless ball of fur. I gather her up and sit with her — now a kitten — on my lap.
My daughter comes to visit. Is it my daughter? Her daughter? It’s hard to identify faces when they change from one second to the next.
Someone is out to get me. They want to cut me open, find out how I am able to do what I do. They take advantage of my chronological confusion by impersonating the people I love.
“Mom?” the traitor says. She leans over me, pretending to look concerned. “Do you recognize me?”
“Of course,” I say, indignant. She tries to trick me. I know she’s drugging me, feeding me food that makes me sleepy. Her form shimmers and shrinks; she is now a young girl, my daughter.
“Lucy,” I say. “Don’t let them dissect my brain.”
“I won’t,” she says, feeding me oatmeal. My hand, existing in the past, has reverted to an infant’s clumsy grasp. I can’t make it pick up the spoon.
The traitor rises and disappears down the hall. There is a knock at the door. Or perhaps it’s the reverse; the sound occurs before she moves. Cause and effect no longer have any significance.
She’s called the scientists, I know it. They can’t fool me.
I grab a fire poker beside the stove and shuffle into the bedroom where I slide under the bed. They prowl around the house, calling my name. I try not to breathe. I hear footsteps at the door. Someone walks in and stops a few inches from my hiding place. A face peers under the bedskirt. I whack it with the poker. He shouts, standing upright as a few drops of blood splatter on the floor. Another man’s feet appear. They begin pulling on my legs. I flail as they wrench me out from under the bed. The traitor stands in the doorway, tears streaking her cheeks. “Don’t hurt her,” she cries.
The battle continues as they attempt to subdue me. They try hiding the restraints and a syringe, but I already know what has happened (what could happen). For an instant, I am in my twenties. My strong arms push back against the uniforms. I kick, I bite. One of them curses. The traitor (my daughter?) calls to me, but I break free and run through the kitchen and out the back door.
Humans instinctively need to create narrative out of chaos. We need sequence, progress. A stooped and wrinkled human growing into an infant is a tale told backwards. A traveller stuck in a time loop is torture.
If nothing changes, there is no story.
But I digress. Too many jumps. Too many shifts. The human mind can’t bear it. I’ve forgotten how to tell a story. Do I start from the beginning?
Where is the beginning is the end.
I am in the middle.
Once upon a Time.
I am in my own backyard. The metal swing set gleams as brightly as the day my husband assembled it. The sun shines: it’s fall (it’s summer, it’s spring). The trees are bare, then crinkling leaves flare bright red, float up, and reattach to limbs. They turn green. The tree shrinks. It is a seedling. It is a seed. I lean over and scoop it out of the dirt. I hold it in my hands for a minute (a lifetime), dirt clinging to my fingers, the green shoot curling and unfurling, uncertain of when to exist in time. Then it is a tree, gnarled and sturdy, branches reaching out in all directions. I curl up beside its thick trunk and rest in the shade of its boughs, knees pulled up under chin, fists resting alongside cheeks.
I am planted, supplanted.
I am reborn.