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Cynthia of the Minute(s)

Keeping yesterday informed, about what happened tomorrow...

By Eric WolfPublished 2 years ago 10 min read
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Cynthia of the Minute(s)
Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

“I’ve a hankering,” said Cynthia Merlo, as she put their baby down for his nap, “to fire off a letter to my long-dead Sal.”

“Whose idea was that?” Dennis Merlo gasped, after a disconcerting sort of trance-like pause, during which he may have been processing not just her remark, but a menu of possible responses that he could offer to it. “Cyn, don’t tell me, you hit upon this during your last session with — ”

She patted his shoulder, almost as if she were his mother, not his young wife, and laughed softly. “In fact, dear sir, I am more than capable of mustering up the odd notion of what to do with myself, even without the capable assistance of your… what do you call these people, who offer ‘therapy’ to us temporally-displaced persons? No, I just want to comfort Sally, let her know we’re doing just fine, and that I didn’t burn up in a fiery crash or die of an overdose or — ”

A suitably red-faced Dennis shrugged and hovered, in his own earthbound way, nearby, trying to make his amends to her. Aldous chose that moment to cry out for his mother. She was hovering — not literally (though in this era, that option, too, existed) — over him in a flash. The baby’s name had been Cyn’s choice, in tribute to her favorite author of the moment, Aldous Huxley; she had been reading her paperback copy of Brave New World one cold day in January, during what was to become her last winter in the twentieth century, when Denny had asked her out for a cup of coffee.

“What are you planning to say to Sal in this letter?” he now asked, with the sincerity he had shown from their first meeting. He had partnered with an American chrononaut of great accomplishments, but a limited conscience, in pertaining to the women in his life. She had found Denny, who was at least slightly neurotic, but with a fine heart, far more appealing, and as she informed him, "with the blood of ancient Druids" in her veins, she could “read” people quite well. Which did not prepare her for the shock of discovering what Denny was: a man who would not be born in fewer than several centuries, yet there he was before her: quite real, fully grown.

“Oh, she’s me mate, isn’t she? Can’t keep any secrets from our Sal.” Satisfied in their son’s slumbering state, she made eye contact with him. Her cobalt-blue eyes betrayed no hint of either irony or indecision. “I’ll say I am doing just fine in the bravest of new worlds, the one Mister Huxley did not predict with total perfection, and what a relief that is to us all, and that if it makes her feel better about my absence, she will be able, at the very least, to know that I won’t die. Well, not before every single other bird we knew back then does first. That is going to give her such a laugh, you wait and see.”

Their child, the product of what Cyn joked was, “The longest pregnancy in human history,” was the major source of joy in their lives at the moment, in their new existence, far from London, England, the place in which they had ignited their romance in the old calendar year 1966, to use its original designation. Dennis had been the field historian assigned to her city and era by the Time Bureau — Cynthia was the astounding woman who had returned with him, to this era and this place, to build a family with her Englishman of the far-flung future.

“I imagine it would be possible to post this letter,” she said. “How would we get it to her time, Den?”

“That’s the easy part,” he admitted. “We send it back, with one of the new First Class Researchers who gets my old posting. The real trick of it is to mail it, the way it was once handled, through… I believe you called it, ‘air mail’?”

“Strictly speaking, I still call it that, love,” she pointed out. “Right: post it, right away in their time; she collects it; Bob’s your uncle, and we’re all set.”

All set? You do realize that all mail forwarded to the past is first reviewed by the Bureau, don’t you? To make certain it keeps up the pretense, that we’re a twentieth-century couple roaming the world while I perform my mysterious job that I can’t talk about?”

“What’s so mysterious about advertising? I mean, that’s what you said you did.”

He tried to make his next point. Stopped. Took a deep breath, and spoke, in a lower register and a slower speed: “Hon, I think the main objection the chaps higher up are going to have to this — some of them are not chaps, or birds, but machines, thinking machines, what you might call A.I., artificial intelligence; our term is more descriptive — what they are going to say is that you will give away some details, in your well-intentioned letter, that might… leak out into a world that may take them up in ways that would be injurious to history.”

^^^^

“I like what you want to do,” he summarized, “but I would just say… don’t get your hopes up, love.”

It had been a controversial choice, but at least Cyn could not possibly damage a time-line she had not yet experienced. The real threat lay in returning, with a future knowledge, to her era, which lent a certain awkwardness to Cyn’s joke, about giving away the whole plot to her loyal friend, Sal. For two years, through their many adventures in London’s night scene (drinking, dancing, dating musicians and actors, parading about in miniskirts but no shoes or stockings), the more serious Sal had been her implacable right-hand man, so to speak.

She had to experience everything, see everything, and what teenager in good health and finances, who did not expect to live to be thirty years of age, would not feel the same way? Cynthia believed that a nuclear Armageddon was her best motivation for living in the moment, to the best of her ability to do that. Having traveled centuries past the end of humanity’s Atomic Age was both a reward and an assignment; she had to offer some hope to her long-dead Sal, even if she could not be with her, to do so in person.

Denny had guessed correctly; the Director of Field Communications had the expected objections for preserving historical hygiene. A review board invited Cynthia to make her case, ideally in person, which brightened her up. If she had nothing else, she knew that she possessed a real power of interpersonal persuasion.

“It’s like, the fictions of the time, they actually help me to make my case,” she pointed out. “I wouldn’t mention any names of leaders, or describe anything that’s been invented. Anyhow, who wouldn’t just think she was mental if she were to show this letter from a strange bird she happens to know? Besides… has anything happened to make you think I’ve already damaged the history?”

An unnamed Case Minister of artificial construction was quick to answer, “It cannot be verified that temporal disruption has happened. Therefore, it is reasonable to surmise that one of several outcomes has applied to this history. You have been prevented from sending your letter. The letter was lost during temporal transmission or via historical delivery methodology. Your friend chose never to reveal the information in your letter. And lastly, that the information, once revealed, was dismissed as a fantasy.”

“In other words, we’re diamond,” Cynthia enthused. “So, what do we say then? Have I got permission, to post the letter to my best mate, who’s alone, without me, in the Swinging City of our dreams, hundreds of years ago?”

The review process took only a few hours, but it felt days long to Cynthia. She was aware of the possibility that she might be turned down, but the eventual, crushing disappointment of it still hit her hard. Cynthia was despondent for a couple of days; dealing with the baby, learning about her new century from a neural teaching headset provided to her by the Bureau, did nothing to mollify her.

So: when Aldous consented to take a nap, she sent Dennis off to his office — and sat down to compose her first letter to Sal. She minced no words, going a considerable depth into the details of her experiences in the future, speaking of her amazement of the new time in which she lived, her ongoing wonder at the maternal experience, and her desire to hear the Yardbirds play live again!

^^^^

Earth continued to spin around its axis, as it circled its Sun, and Cynthia put more words, tens of thousands of words, onto paper in what Sal would call a “valiant attempt to write in legible English”. And she stored these letters away, unconvinced she was writing them for anyone other than herself, by the time she had launched into composing maybe the dozenth one.

At first, Cyn had played it coy, in an effort to win over the Case Ministers, who commanded Dennis and his colleagues. She would claim she and her two lads (one big, the other small) were in Morocco, or Bermuda, or Hong Kong. Toss in some details from 1967, and Sal would be convinced. Over time, however, Cynthia’s annoyance at having been denied a chance to be honest with Sal, a “Ghost” from the world’s past, long since deceased, began to eat at her, and in due course, she could dissemble no further.

Dennis wasn’t so obsessive, in pouring over the details of his imminent next assignment into the past, that he had failed to detect his bride’s melancholia, but made halting attempts, with expected English reserve, to smooth over any rough edges in their conversations. Of course she valued his efforts to be of good cheer, even as she also resented them; how could he stand to be with her, a person out of step with her new culture, when she would surely show much less patience, for his ill moods, if their positions had been reversed?

Aldous, just past his first birthday, was a familiar weight on her arm as she tried to tidy up about the flat. She pulled open the drawer in which she was filing away her unmailed letters to Sal, and saw only the naked face of the drawer’s interior. Not one letter was contained within. Had she moved them someplace and simply forgotten about doing so?

She felt no longer alone. Denny was watching her from the doorway, concern and affection battling it out for domination of his expression. She didn’t know what her own expression looked like, but it wasn’t cover-of-Cosmopolitan, she suspected. Was this what going mad felt like?

No, she was in superb health; those “restoratives” she had swallowed, a day after her arrival, had seen to that, cleaning out her lungs and kidneys, to the point of making her even more herself than she had been before she had arrived in the future… sorry, the present. “Did you happen to see — ” she began to blurt out, to plead, even to demand, all at once. “Even if she was never going to read those letters, I just had to write to her, Den… did you happen to see them?”

“See them?” he said, with an infuriating smile. “I mailed them, love. Sal’s read them all, I should think, more than once, each time.”

“Wha — ” Cynthia realized that this was not a full word, and she tried to say it again, this time properly. “What did you say, my lad? You broke the first rule of time travel and mailed my letters to Sal, who’s how many bloody hundreds of years behind us? You’ve set a torch to your whole career, for me?”

“Well, all right, you’ve spotted my boast,” he admitted. “It was that new bloke, a First Class Researcher named Dunbar, remember him from the faculty party we threw last summer? He’s been posted to the late Sixties, posing as a photo journalist. Roams all over the place, mails your notes to Sal whenever he can. Smashing bloke. We owe him an introduction to Sal, if you ask me.”

“I’d be amenable to that,” Cyn sputtered, “but hang about, why haven’t we seen any effects of the… do you suppose she just stuffed them into her knickers and hoped nobody would notice?”

“You can ask her yourself,” Dennis said. “We’re going to pop in on late ‘67, London, deliver some of my notes to another First Class, and have a good meet-up, with Sal, at that place we both like, before the live gig by this new bloke — a Mister Pink Floyd, I believe his name is?”

Cynthia hugged him, almost to the point of causing genuine asphyxiation, wiping a tear-that-wasn’t from one cheek. “I just know what she’s going to say when we catch a glimpse: ‘You’ve simply got to come meet some mates of mine, Cyn, I’ve been telling them all about these absolutely mad letters that I have been getting from you, and all of the fairy stories you’ve been telling me in them. You really do have the most fanciful notions!’”

“Certainly hope you’re right, darling,” Dennis winced. “Otherwise, there may not be any ‘here and now’, when we feel like coming back — I mean, forward.”

© Eric Wolf 2021.

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About the Creator

Eric Wolf

Ink-slinger. Photo-grapher. Earth-ling. These are Stories of the Fantastic and the Mundane. Space, time, superheroes and shapeshifters. 'Wolf' thumbnail: https://unsplash.com/@marcojodoin.

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