I slipped on the wet pavement. I got to my feet and soon discovered it was five hours earlier. This was not the first time this had happened -- I knew all the signs. My phone was not broken, it was really five hours earlier. The newspaper on the ground confirmed it. The paper was bone dry, even though it had been raining cats and dogs, or big sloppy drops, anyway, where I had just been, right here, a split second ago.
I returned to her apartment -- fortunately, about fifteen minutes after I had left, five hours earlier. I was grateful for the second chance.
“You’re wet,” she said and invited me in. “Someone throw a bucket of water on you?”
“Something like that,” I said, with an embarrassed smile.
She took a towel out of her linen closet and tossed it to me.
“Thanks,” I said. “Look, I’m sorry - I was stupid earlier.”
“You were,” she said. “But I accept your apology.” She put her arms around me and kissed me.
Her body felt good next to mine … but I knew we couldn't stay here long enough to take full advantage of this. If I recalled correctly, my earlier self was due to return in just a few minutes -- hell, who was I kidding, of course I remembered correctly, my earlier self was due to return in a few minutes just five hours ago from where I had been this afternoon in the pouring rain, and there was no way I could possibly forget what had happened that first time. Not something that had occurred so recently. Not if it had occurred five years or even decades ago.
I pulled slightly away and ran my finger over her lips. "You know what, I'm starving. How about we get some sushi and continue this later." Neither of us had eaten lunch when I'd left in a huff the first time, so it was a good bet that she was hungry, too.
She agreed. I took her hand and we sprinted down the two flights of stairs to the street.
"Looks like rain," she said and looked up at the sky, which had grown puffy and grey since I'd walked up the stairs of her brownstone just a few minutes ago.
"Yeah, probably not for a few hours," I said, squinting at the sky, then back into her eyes.
She gave me a slightly strange look, and squeezed my hand.
The sushi restaurant was just a block away, but had no line of sight to her brownstone, which was just what I wanted. Last thing I needed was my earlier self catching a glimpse of me now, throwing him and me into an infinite regress paradox, as we both suddenly recalled the incident, and struggled to make sense of the ricocheting mirrors of memory in our minds. That had happened to me once, a few years ago, and I'd been out of commission, a veritable vegetable, for weeks after that.
The weather was still nice, and, since I indeed knew, from first-hand experience, that it would not start raining until at least four hours from now, we sat outdoors and looked over the sushi menus on our table.
The fatty tuna and sweet shrimp that we ordered looked delicious, but I was actually more interested in the waiter who approached with two cups of green tea. Back in Vanessa's apartment -- I guess it can't hurt for you to know her name, how many long-necked women named Vanessa must there be in New York, hundreds maybe, right? -- but back in her apartment, in the previous reality, the tea had coincided with, maybe triggered, that argument. I had slipped on a piece of paper as I walked with two cups of tea towards Vanessa at the table, and a little spilled on her. Fortunately I hadn't fallen to the floor, so no time disruption had ensued. But let's face it, the fight had been about something much more serious than tea, and--
Our waiter placed his two cups of tea perfectly in front of each of us, bowed, and receded. I had noticed that there were certain resonances, echoes, whatever you want to call them, in the various realities I visited, or, who knows, maybe engendered with my time slips. But none regarding the two sets of tea in the previously reality and this one, where the tea in each of the cups now sat still as night and shimmering on the table. I lifted mine, sipped, and looked at Vanessa.
"You look like there's something you want to tell me," she said, slowly lifting and sipping from her cup.
"Do I?" I asked. "And what does that look like? That look?"
Vanessa smiled. There was probably no other woman in New York of any name with lips curved that way. She took my hand and spoke softly. "I already more than accepted your apology. So it's not that. There's something else on your mind."
I started to deny that, but of course she was right. I realized that a part of me now wanted to tell her what had actually happened, and who this man sitting in front of her really was -- no, that was too melodramatic, I was the same man -- but I wanted to tell her that I was five hours older and wiser than the man she thought she knew. And, more, the reason I was actually five hours older.
The waiter arrived with our sushi. "Thank you," I said, and returned my full attention to Vanessa. She bit into a sweet shrimp. Her eyes half closed in pleasure.
I hated to spoil that expression. That was the least of the reasons I didn't want to say what I was thinking. But-- "There's something I need to tell you."
She opened her eyes and looked at me not the plate. "Professional or personal?"
"Personal," I replied. "But not what you might think. I'm not sleeping with anyone else."
She nodded slowly, apparently believing me. "Are you feeling ok?" she asked, with real concern.
"Yeah. Physically." I had to be very careful with what I said next -- no slips of the tongue about slips of time. Telling my lovers the truth about this had always busted my relationships, though maybe we were all destined to break up anyway. But no one wants to share a bed or even a kitchen table with a guy who thought he time traveled at, basically, the drop of a hat. Or said he time traveled in any manner. They thought I was crazy. I felt like I was crazy even thinking about this. But not talking about this, keeping it bottled up in my brain, had not worked too well, either.
Vanessa's brown eyes had narrowed. She put her hand over mine again. "What's the matter, baby?" Her fingers wrapped tightly around mine.
I sighed. "I--" Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.
"Tell me," she coaxed, gently.
"I didn't tell you why my hair was wet," I said.
"Someone really doused your head with water? That's what's bothering you?" She clearly didn't believe that.
"My hair was wet because I had been walking in the rain."
She laughed, not particularly joyfully. "But it hasn't rained since you left."
"Right. It's going to rain in a few hours."
"So you're telling me, what, that you were thinking it was going to rain, and that's what got your hair wet -- that's crazy." She withdrew her hand.
"No, that's not it. But what actually happened to me might be more crazy."
She waved away the re-approaching waiter. "Now you're scaring me a little. I don't understand."
I finished the last piece of sushi on the plate.
"Let's get the check," Vanessa said, suddenly, and waved the same waiter back over. "We probably should continue talking about this in more private surroundings."
I nodded, and quickly calculated. She no doubt meant her apartment. My earlier self had almost certainly come back already, found no one at home, and gone about his business. Whatever that business may have been. I had no idea what he did after he left Vanessa's brownstone, because that was no longer me. He was no longer me. He was part of Reality 1, and I was in Reality 2, and the branching had occurred the instant I had slipped on the wet sidewalk. Actually, there were far more realities stacked up in my strange existence, but today, fortunately, there had been just one time slip event.
Therefore, so far, there were just two realities -- with me, from Reality 1, now in Reality 2, five hours before the slip, and he, also from Reality 1, now continuing in Reality 1 at this exact same parallel time, up until the slip in time. The key was making sure the two realities didn't intersect. At least, that's how I thought it worked. But what did I really know? I only lived it, that certainly was no reason I would understand it correctly.
The check arrived. I put a $20 bill on the table, then a five, to give the waiter even a better tip. For some reason, I was in a better mood.
I noted it still looked like rain, but of course the rain hadn't yet started, when we left the restaurant.
Vanessa took my arm. Neither of us said anything as we walked back to her apartment. I was relieved not to find myself loitering around in front of her building. We quickly climbed the stairs.
She whirled around and started kissing me as soon we entered her apartment and closed the door. I put my hands on the small of her back and moved them down. She unbuttoned my shirt, I unbuckled her belt, and soon we were in her bed with no clothes at all.
It was ironic, I thought, as her legs wrapped around my back and I played with her tongue, that we wouldn't be here like this right now if I hadn't time slipped several months ago after that party. I'd never taken advantage of a time slip like that before, usually it had the reverse effect on my love life, like it had been having for most of today. There had been a chemistry between us at that party, for sure, but I was slow on the uptake and she'd left with some other people before I'd even gotten her number. But she had mentioned that she'd just landed a job at the university as an adjunct, and when I slipped in time two days later to a week before, I figured, hey, it was worth a shot. I hung out in the Starbucks just off campus a few times and got lucky on the third try. I struck up a conversation, we had a cup of coffee, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Well, as much as anyone could speak of history in my bizarre condition. The thing is, I had no control over when I slipped. I couldn't deliberately slip on something and travel back in time -- it was always back in time, by the way, never ahead, to the future. It was fall back, never spring ahead like Daylight Saving Time. But for the slip to be a slip in time, I had to slip in a truly accidental way--
I felt her body cleaving to mine. Speaking of being beyond control, we were both just about there now. I had to say, this loss of control was a rush that felt much better than slipping in the street--
We were both half asleep, I guess, but I was awake enough to wonder if I should resume the conversation we'd been having in the sushi place, or maybe just let this slide. She made a contented noise. "How are you feeling now?" she asked. "Any better?"
So I guess we would be resuming our little talk. "Yeah," I said, and kissed her gently on the back of her neck.
We were spooning. She turned around and touched my face. "We were talking about the rain."
"Yeah," I repeated. "Sometimes, you know, I suddenly feel like I'm in a different time." I guess that was a good way to get back to the subject.
"You know, having sex makes me feel a little like that," she said.
"Yeah, I know what you mean, but I think what I'm feeling is different -- like I'm actually in a different time."
"Seeing a different time or actually being in it?" she asked.
Her tone was still affectionate. This was the make or break point. I could soft pedal, blur what I had been saying, or--
"No, actually being there, actually moving back a few hours in time." I took the plunge. "Sometimes days, weeks." Thankfully it had never actually been more than that.
She stroked my face and kissed me. "What is time, really, anyway? It's in our heads, all subjective, right?"
"The rain on my head a few hours from now wasn't just in my mind," I said. "You saw it. It was on my head, not in my head." I turned away from her and caught my breath. I was surprised that she wasn't frightened, like she was in the sushi place, and the last thing I wanted was to blow up her good mood, but I had gone too far down this path of true confession to turn around now.
"How does it happen," she asked, gently turning my face back to hers and apparently not perturbed, "your flipping back in time?"
"It happens when I accidentally slip and fall," I replied, "and not every time, not even most of the time."
"You are a little bit of a klutz," she said, playfully, and kissed me some more.
"I'm not clear if the physical slipping causes the time slip, or whether something else triggers the time slip and also makes me slip on the street."
Her response was to put her arms around my body and pull me closer to her, and she couldn't answer anyway because her mouth was on mine and then on my neck and chest and--
The second time was in some ways even better than the first, as it often is, and as we lay in each other's arms in the sweet, soft afterglow, I wondered again if I should resume the conversation. There was a part of my brain which was saying, enough already, forget about it, move on to other things, but I knew this wouldn't go away.
"Each time I slip back in time, I trigger a new reality, if that makes any sense," I said, tentatively.
"Mmm…" she said, maybe more asleep than awake.
I pressed on. "In the previous reality -- before the one we're now in -- we had a big argument."
"We had an argument in this one," she said, almost tenderly, "about your complaining that I hadn’t bought any orange juice for you, and I already forgave you for that, remember?"
"Yeah, but there was a second argument, worse than the first," I replied.
"What was it about?" she asked, softly, and put her head on my chest.
"I guess… I don't know, you were asking what was on my mind, what was bothering me, and I was thinking about these time slips, but wasn't ready to tell you, and you got really upset, wanted to know what was I keeping from you, and …"
"I'm not angry now," she said, and rubbed my belly.
I put my hand over hers. This was unbelievable. She was unbelievable. My story was unbelievable. But the more I talked about these crazy time slips, the more she wanted to make love. And then it occurred to me -- maybe she was turned on somehow by the time-slip talk. Maybe the idea of sleeping with someone who transgressed time was exciting to her.
I should be so lucky -- but here she was, in my arms, and acting like she would enjoy a third go. In the previous reality, we had argued bitterly because I hadn't told her what was on my mind. Now that I had told her in this reality, we were having at it like Energizer bunnies.
And we did it again. And we got hungry. "Should we go out for dinner?" she asked. "I've got next to nothing in the fridge."
"Sure," I said. We both dressed. I went to the refrigerator anyway, and guzzled down a small bottle of Poland Spring.
"We'll need an umbrella," Vanessa said, with a bright smile. "It's raining pretty hard outside."
"Right." We walked down the stairs, out into the street, and hunkered down under our big grey-purple umbrella in the pouring rain. There was a good French restaurant just a few blocks away.
There were puddles on the sidewalk. We did our best to sidestep them. At one point, I stepped on a soggy newspaper some slob had left on the street and nearly lost my footing -- probably the same paper I had stepped on in the rain in my prior reality.
"Be careful," Vanessa said and laughed. She clung more closely to my arm, as much to steady me as her. "If you slip back in time, we lose this whole afternoon, right?"
"Yeah, probably," I said, "unless I slip back just a few minutes."
"Well, let's not take any chances," she said, and wrapped herself around my arm. "I love you just the way you are right now."
We crossed the street. A car came too close and splashed us before we jumped out of the way.
"On the other hand," Vanessa said, "what do you think would happen if you slipped while I was holding on to you, and you pulled me down, too? Do you think we would both slip back in time, at the same time, together?"
"I don’t know," I said, "probably not -- for either of us -- the slips so far had to be accidental for me to slip back in time. Nothing happens other than a bruised knee and ego if I deliberately fall down."
She nodded and held on to me tightly.
I kissed her forehead.
We stepped onto the sidewalk, and with all the rain and talk, we missed the broken curb and pitched swiftly downward--