My hero, Cole Rogers, just shy of five foot seven inches, could snap a person’s neck in an instant. On a softer note, he was my dad. His sure smile, always accompanied with a nod, won me over a thousand times. A hundred years ago he’d have been a jockey in love with thoroughbreds and places like ‘Saratoga’ or ‘Oak Lawn.’ But he arose from the crude oil pit of the sixties on his Harley, a ‘ghost rider’ whose flames lit up my sky. In love with metal parts, hoses, gasoline tanks, oiled tracks and chains, he embodied the spirit of Paradise Speedway.
I remember as a kid watching my dad, at one hundred forty pounds, throttle ‘Rock’ Rogers, his three hundred pound cousin, at our 1968 family reunion at Paradise Lake. I remembered his superhuman virtues, skinny tight muscled arms, and short legs pumping him to touchdown.
At Paradise Speedway he shattered the Memorial Day lap times repeatedly, even on his last day in 1974.
I grew to know Cole through others’ lenses, eight-millimeter film clippings of him competing in heats, skiing in a choppy lake, chopping dirt BLM trails up climbing hills on his Harley. Long ago, when he called me his ‘Little Trevor,’ or ‘LT,’ I stood in the length of his shadow for protection.
Would you sell your soul to return to your childhood? I did. Stepping on the shoulders of giants, I returned to August 1969, leaving my pregnant Susan to worry for me in October 2010. I had a life/death request to make of someone there; I didn’t know who, whether my dad Cole, mother Sylvia, or myself.
Susan introduced me to the time gate. Her degrees in biology, physics and psychology gained her access. I traveled to the night before my eighth birthday, when I got Puddles. I’d just botched up my trip to 1961. I half expected to see that eight fingered cop again, waiting for vengeance. But to catch me in that meadow, he’d have to of climbed that mountain 8 x 365 days; fatiguing.
I crawled through brush to a landing, and then let the steep trail whisk me two miles to a log truck road near Paradise, Oregon. I ate the dusty gravel. Susan had pushed me through the gate with just a few heart pills, a syringe, and a little black box with a knob on it. Susan had mentioned something about a sub-station as she handed it to me, rushing me through the time gate, so I knew it was a radio. She’d said, “Use this as a last resort, Trevor. If you can’t get to the gate…” and as her voice faded all I could make out is if I couldn’t make it to the gate I was to activate the sub-station. I played with it, couldn’t get it to work. It didn’t even light up or buzz static. I didn’t mess with it long. I’d had no rest since the 1961 debacle.
Susan would be fearfully scanning the August 1969 obituaries. If she checked Paradise Hospital’s records, she’d see a Forest Service worker returning to Paradise from fire-watch had brought me into the emergency room at 4:17 pm and registered me under the name on my forged ID, ‘Leo Benson.’ I suppose the records might also show a nurse who knew Leo Benson’s sister Sylvia Rogers, contacted her with the news her brother was at Paradise Hospital, and Sylvia Rogers came at once.
I’d chosen ‘Leo Benson’ as my cover name. Leo was my uncle, so I knew enough about his life I could answer the difficult questions. Besides, some said I could be his twin. The sight of my parents shocked me, especially since the last time I’d seen them they were dead. My dad, Cole had these piercing raven eyes that made me feel guilty. If he knew why I’d come to 1969, he’d have snapped my neck.
My parents, Cole and Sylvia Rogers, believed I was really my uncle Leo. They invited me to stay and offered me a room. I chose the living room sofa, and slept into the next day, sounds of clanging pots and pans and Sylvia’s voice, and the smell of white cake. It was my birthday in 1969! My eight year old self, little Trevor ran around me, arms spread as if he were a plane. And dad, Cole, bought me Puddles! I watched little Trevor slap and kiss that tiny dog and tease it with snacks saying, “Roll over, Puddles. Roll over.” He shielded that tiny dog from getting squashed by my size elevens. I was ‘Uncle Leo on the couch,’ sick, weak. Even now the house was old, though a brighter yellow, red shutters. The willow tree’s branches wiggled in the wind next to the white Mercury in the gravel drive. And the field, tall grass if you needed to hide. The new swing that rocked and creaked in the yard would one day be old, remembered, abandoned.
Cole exterminated a rat that night. I heard him shaking the tin lid of the garbage can as he threw the vermin out with the trash. I kind of thought he wanted to toss me out. I heard Sylvia putting little Trevor to bed.
“Mom, it hurts.”
“My chest hurts.”
“You shouldn’t eat so fast; you’ve got heartburn.”
“It hurts really bad.”
The voices faded. My eyes rolled into my head. Sylvia kissed Trevor, listened to him. “…and if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” She whistled as she trotted into the kitchen. I shivered in my quilt.
I heard Trevor chanting again; then he wailed. As little Trevor forty years ago, I’d enveloped myself in blankets, plugging my ears in case I heard a voice call me to ‘come here.’ If I’d known what worse disturbances the next forty years held for me. Puddles scratched and clawed that garage door. I was surprised Cole didn’t get up and let him in. I knew Trevor was listening, probably with his warm flashlight by now, reading comics and planning how to rescue Puddles. Cole grew bigger in my eyes when he bought me Puddles. But still this house bled sorrow. For Cole they’d place the stone. For Sylvia they’d cut in the last numbers. ‘1974.’” But Cole, Sylvia, Puddles; once again breathed.’ And, once again, the rough threads of that sofa scratched my skin.
Mom’s ‘Old Revival’ radio show didn’t awaken me at 6 am like I expected, but Little Trevor woke me with Bugs Bunny, Roadrunner, and Daffy Duck. As little Trevor I’d jumped onto the cold floor of this house each Saturday morning and crouched, wool blanket in hand, by the warm tubes of the TV. I’d clung to Puddles, but I could never cling tight enough; within the year Puddles would lay beneath the grass.
But now little Trevor held Puddles and laughed. He didn’t care the TV had only black and white, and it buzzed and crackled. He thumbed through TV Weekly with a pencil, marking off a cartoon here he’d like to watch, another cartoon there. The year that TV’s tubes went bad, little Trevor would imagine from just sounds and a feint picture all sorts of scenes that probably weren’t even on the TV.
“Angie, cartoons are on!”
“Go watch em yourself, Trevor. I’ll be in.”
“No you won’t. Come on, get up.”
I was a die-hard.
“Did I wake you up, Uncle Leo?”
I’d been messing with that little black emergency radio, trying to get a station. “No, kiddo,” I lied, “you didn’t wake me.” I supposed if I weren’t able to reach the time-gate at eleven fifty six Friday night in Munter Meadow, which lay a half hour drive on motorcycle from here, then I was to tune in to a certain sub-station on this radio to set up a new meeting point. I couldn’t get any kind of station on it, but I supposed it might only light up around the time of the gate opening.
I put the radio in my coat and watched Trevor cling to the wiggling Puddles. “I’m just a little thirsty,” I said. I had a vision of a two-liter bottle of Pepsi for my parched tongue. I shed the blanket and walked into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator.
“You can’t drink the Pepsi, Uncle Leo,” said Trevor. “Today’s Saturday.”
“I know, kiddo,” I said, “mom’s ‘go to market’ day. The ‘nuclear age’ refrigerator motor vibrated my head, making it ache. I steadied myself against the door and gazed through the porthole. A half empty bottle of milk. Quarter block cheddar. Couple of bruised tomatoes. And a quart bottle of Pepsi, half empty, sealed with a snap top. ‘Of course, in 1969 if you consumed Pepsi by the six-pack you were deemed social misfit. I chose a tiny glass from the cupboard, poured a trickle of Pepsi into it, and gulped. It burned.
The scratched up door hung open. As I strolled down the steps into the ‘shop,’ TV blasted “Underdog!” Cole ‘owned’ this quiet shop. He’d pegged his double ended wrenches and precision screwdrivers on the east wall. He’d hidden countless tools into steel toolboxes and aluminum tool chests. And he’d turned the workbench Uncle Hank carpentered for him into a haven for Black & Decker power tools. The bluish-red stain on the fifty-five gallon barrel pulsed a stream of pounding incognizant regret into my already disturbed mind.
A pattern of light on that shack’s outside wall outlined a door. An icy breeze, uncle to all headwinds that had jerked my Pegasus kite from yellow field to thin blue sky, refreshed me. I creaked open my childhood door. A young sun blinded me. I walked ahead anyhow. A rusty can sat on scuffed up grass near a Toro lawnmower, its lid next to it. So the intelligent rat, a conquered creature, traveled from Cole’s trap to trash-can, to lie amidst Campbell’s soup-cans, wrinkled blue carbon sheets and potato peelings, destined to be strained through the belly of a German shepherd then farted into the field. Can our intelligence do us any better?
I turned toward the house squinting. In a gray haze of the dim lit garage – a red stingray bike. It tickled me. I saw a second, taller bike. ‘Our Christmas bikes wow.’ Sis and I had met at the Christmas tree enraptured. I’d loved my red stingray. We’d covered almost every inch of our bikes with reflective tape to make them look like race bikes.
The wind blew the wet grass. I shivered. Chimes jingled, sprinkling song from above to dissipate in the wind. The sun arose above the yellow field; the field of my dreams. I remembered most a weather-beaten log in the midst of the field. Its stump sat beside it, perfectly notched, proof of the faller’s hand. That log, once my refuge; now held my hopes. Honeysuckle, clover, thick stinging blackberry vines, wet green sprouts taking over for the straw. This field had haunted me. Wow, to visit your earliest memory of home, to sit and talk to your parents over tea. To get up in the middle of conversation and say, “excuse me for a few moments; I’d like to go out and take a look at the field of my childhood.” The white three stories ‘mansion’ far across the field had a large rolling vegetable garden for a back yard. The garden haunted my conscience. I’d stolen from its six-acres, the milk of cantaloupes and watermelons, the elixir’s innocence dripping from my chin onto the old log. I savored Tanya’s pink tongue before the melon, our mouths mixed, but she dumped me when her mom grounded her for eating our stolen fruit. I’d climbed the two trees, the ones that grew twisted. I wedged myself, feet against one tree, back against the other, and crab climbed till I looked like a bridge. I panicked when my feet and body spread too far apart. I yelled for Tanya. Finally, I managed to slide to the ground, dizzy and scared.
You taking me to Bob’s Market today?”
I whirled, and then froze. As I gazed at him, I saw my shadow. I knew ‘little Trevor’ was me. I’d seen him blow out the candles of our eighth birthday cake. But where do our souls separate? Does his soul progress into being mine, or do our souls cleave into two parts at each microsecond of our lives, to split into an infinite number of people? I know I was Trevor, but what now?
Whether or not little Trevor shared with me my soul, I needed to impress myself upon this family. If I couldn’t, they’d never allow my request. I desperately wanted their approval. I’d put my life in their hands, make them believe, starting with Trevor — the weak link. “Trevor,” I said, “did you know I can be a magician?”
Trevor frowned at me. “No, Uncle Leo, do you juggle?”
I laughed. “No, but I know things only a magician would know.”
“What kind of things?”
“Things about you, your thoughts.”
The whites of Trevor’s eyes widened into saucers. “I don’t want anyone to know my thoughts.”
“Why? I think it’d be neat. Besides, I already know anyway!”
Trevor shuffled his socked feet on the gravel where it spilled into the garage.
“Don’t worry, I won’t embarrass you. But…what was it you asked me a minute ago?”
“If you’d walk with me to Bob’s Market.”
“The convenience store? Yes, Bob’s Market is very beneficial to you at this point in your life, isn’t it?” My mind raced. “Let’s see, kiddo. You pine for Hostess, a Hostess black-berry pie.”
“What?” Trevor straightened like a rubber-band. “How did you know?
I’ve got powers,” I said, trying to speak his cartoon language. “You went to Bob’s Market recently, didn’t you,” I said, “all by yourself?”
“Mom told you.” Trevor frowned.
“Need more? OK, why’d you ask me to walk with you to Bob’s Market if you can walk alone? Hmmm, let’s see, on your first trip across the highway to Bob’s Market, you came home late. So, how did Cole put it? ‘Son, if you can’t be trusted with little things, who’s ever going to trust you with much larger matters?’”
Trevor nodded sheepishly. “And I got grounded, so I can’t walk there myself. Mom told you a lot.”
“Mom told me nothing; I just know a lot.” I patted the stubbles on his head. We didn’t explode, which disproves one theory. “Trevor, you strutted in that door. You looked at the comics on your left and felt jealous of Angie because you had to pay 15 cents for a DC comic and she lived in a time she could get them for 12 cents.”
“Yes!” Trevor’s jaw dropped.
“Yeah Trevor. Then you looked at the Hostess Twinkies and Pies for 18 cents, but no, too much; you got a candy bar. Your dad loves Snickers, so…oh, first you wanted Three-Musketeers; they’re so huge in that silver package; but wait, its size is just fluff. Snickers though, ahhh, so delicious and filled with syrupy peanuts.”
“Wow, Uncle Leo,” said Trevor. “You’re psychic.”
“No kid, get that word out of your mind.” I could imagine how the very Christian Sylvia would react to the word ‘psychic.’
“Then what are you, Uncle Leo?”
I gazed at the field. The wind blew tall stalks of yellow swaying like an elfin crowd. “A man that’s lived in this field with you a long time. I’m a friend who will stick closer to you than a brother.”
“A twin brother?”
“Yes, Trevor, even closer than a twin.”
Trevor looked up, confused. “Who’s your dad, Uncle Leo?”
“My dad?” The fresh painted yellow of the house invited me. “Cole Rogers.”
“What?” Trevor’s eyes popped open. “You’re a liar, Leo,” he said. You’re not my brother!”
Mrs. Johnson did an embarrassed shuffle into her house as I turned toward her. I felt heat rush into my head. I’d blown it. If he told Cole they’d call me a ‘lunatic,’ which would close all the doors. “Sorry Trevor,” I said. “We’ll talk about it later.”
Trevor shook his head. “You wanna watch cartoons, Leo?”
“Yeah, sure, kid,” I said, nervous that he’d stopped addressing me as ‘Uncle.’ I grew a little more relaxed as he asked me about my radio. I even took it out of my coat pocket and let him mess with it. He couldn’t get any stations either.
As I watched Trevor watch TV, fear sunk me. Could this family ever believe I’d come from 2010 for help? If it were hard to convince mini me over there, Cole would never be convinced. The house swallowed me up. I expected Cole to come out yelling, for blood, ready to snap me in two. I’d used up my stupid mind reading trick. It’d just put me further away from meeting my deadline. These tiny scored pills helped me now, but soon my heart would fail. Talking to Trevor might’ve murdered my cause; I should’ve talked to Cole.
Elmer Fudd chased Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck flapped his black feathers inside my head. I dreamed my body was rippled plastic filled with saline. I felt ice flow into my arms, chest, then freeze my head. My bone enforced limbs were strong, but my torso bulged toward bursting. A nurse shook my neck as if shaking an IV bag above a hospital bed. I awoke wet, cold, the dream’s meaning eerily clear. I touched the bulge in my jacket – a shiny needled syringe and saline bag. When had I become the type of person who carries such a kit?
I’d traveled to 1961 to steal from the umbilical and saw myself being born. I’d trade that in for the greater wonder of seeing just once my son Jacob. I wanted to provide for him, teach him to stand, walk, and ride. I wanted to be in that stuffy Motor Vehicles Division offices as Jacob stepped into manhood. How long would it take Susan to grow me a heart? How many innocent would suffer? I remembered that cop’s wide eyes, haunting. My head pounded. Too late in life I’d found a soul mate in Susan, a friend.
“What?” A flood of light blinded me. I felt Trevor’s small fingers tugging my nose. “What you want, Trevor?” I said. I heard Sylvia banging pots and pans, and the Peterson’s lawnmower chopping up a yard.
“Sis is hurt,” said Trevor.
“Sis hurt?” I didn’t know whether to believe him. Had I changed the time line? “O.K., I’m coming.” I stood anemic, tired, and followed Trevor’s insistent tugs through the front door.
“Trevor, don’t bother Uncle Leo,” yelled Sylvia, “he’s sick.”
“I’m not, mom,” lied Trevor. We stumbled into the late afternoon sun.
“Where’s Angie?” I said, halting near the garage.
Trevor’s hands shook. “It’s big trouble,” he said. “She’s in the field.”
A baptism of memories flooded my brain. “Trevor,” I said, “I know all about it.” I gripped his tiny hand. “You’re not afraid Angie’s hurt. You’re afraid she’s going to be punished by your parents.” I smiled at his surprised eyes.
“Leo, you reading my mind? Sis says I’m gullidable.”
I’d wrapped the quilt around me. “Let me tell you the events, Trevor,” I said. “Then I’ll predict what will happen. I’m telling you the future so you’ll believe my mission.”
Trevor nodded, but jerked me to the field. Gravel stung my naked feet, but the dew soaked grass cooled my toes. “Where is she now?” I said. The swaying yellow field seemed empty. I squinted my eyes, loosened my neck.
“Sis’s there,” pointed Trevor. I followed his insistent finger to a small dot in the field. “Of course,” I said. “You, Angie, and her boyfriend built a fort. Angie got in it and left you outside, just as some hippies came at you swinging paint cans. You ran away and the hippies spilled red and blue paint all over Angie’s clothes. Then they took off whooping like Indians. And now, Trevor, Angie doesn’t want to come for fear she’ll get spanked.”
“She’s not afraid she’ll get spanked,” said Trevor. “She’s got a sleep-over at Rhonda’s tonight and she knows mom’s not going to let her go now.”
I smiled. “Well you tell Angie to pack her bags for Rhonda’s, because your parents will know it wasn’t her fault.”
“So sis won’t get in trouble?”
“That’s what I said.” I was curt. I’d lived the day through; I knew.
“I’ll tell her,” said Trevor. “If you’re sure she can go to Rhonda’s.”
“I’m sure,” I said with a smile. Finally I’d broken through.
Trevor and his blue faced sister dashed by me, both smiling. A shriek came from the living room. “You’re red and blue, disgusting! Take off your clothes, Angie, you’re grounded, no Rhonda’s tonight! Trevor; go, just go!”
Trevor slumped into the front yard. “You were wrong Uncle Leo.”
“Sorry kid,” I said, wincing. I didn’t bother explaining to him the unpredictable aspects of time travel; that I’d done something here to change Sylvia’s reaction to the hippie attack. When Trevor said “don’t worry about it, Uncle Leo,” it just made me feel worse. Finally I said, “Trevor, I goofed up. This stuff is complicated.” The sun irritated my face. Hope of witnessing my son’s birth dwindled. I had to talk to Cole.
Could I convince Cole? The facial birthmark that matched little Trevor’s had already been termed ‘a funny coincidence.’ What about technology? The radio Susan gave me as a backup device didn’t even so much as spit out static. I knew Cole’s speedway race results, who’d win the World Series, Super Bowl, a few stocks to buy, who’d be President after the next few elections. That was all future proof. I needed results now. There was one thing – if I could remember it right. Uncle Hank hadn’t come too little Trevor’s birthday party. Yeah, he’d make up for that tonight.
When I was little Trevor, I loved being around Cole. I hated church. Sometimes on Sunday night I’d get lucky and mom would leave me with Cole who’d smelled of clean shower and Old Spice. We’d watch Wild Kingdom, and then, instead of sitting in a pew listening to a sermon I couldn’t understand, I got to watch the Wonderful World of Disney. Cole sat in his easy chair. I kneeled on the hardwood floor close to the TV. Tinker Bell would emerge from a tiny dot to almost as big as the screen, then turn and sprinkle flashes of fiery fairy lights on a castle to bless its wonderful gates.
I could see why Sylvia was Cole’s pride. Her brown eyes reflected solemn church pews. I’ve heard her moist lips spoke truth from richness deep within and that she thought her body was a temple, and I knew these things weren’t fantasy. She discerned me. Her smooth face had chiseled features; her softness had rigid supports.
“Takes a woman strong to be a woman sweet,” Cole always said.
Sylvia was as tall as Cole, but always looked up at him. Most people I’d heard talk about Cole said they first saw Cole as a small man, but they’d been corrected on that quick. Cole chose his battles carefully, but get in his face once too often and he’d make you see he didn’t like to be condescended to. I worshiped Cole. I remember once being dressed for Easter. I had black slacks and a pretty sailor shirt of white and light blue and a gay sailor’s hat. But I didn’t want to go to Easter Service. I wanted to rebuild the Harley in dad’s garage, us in our ripped blue jeans and crew neck t-shirts, spitting on the gravel while we surveyed some patched together engine parts.
Cole was a reasonable man, but I don’t think things like time travel and double selves fell in his realm of possibility. To convince him would take a mighty good argument, but he was like the big wall in front of me; knock him down, and all resistance would collapse. Still, Cole was a hard-nosed racer, mechanical minded, and no nonsense here and now, not really the ‘Trekkie’ my Aunt Tanya was becoming in this era across town.
I saw my chance out of the blue one day while watching Star Trek. Little Trevor, excited by the show, said, “Uncle Leo can tell the future sometimes!”
Cole folded his Paradise News in the middle and gazed at me. “He can, can he?”
I expected Trevor to talk some more about our conversations, but he rested his chin between his tiny hands and returned his focus to the starship Enterprise. Cole’s stare didn’t relent though, so I figured Trevor’d already spilled the beans to him. He seemed to want a confrontation. I suppose Cole and me approached each other equally unprepared for a conversation on the unknown. He worked with gear ratios, pistons, happy with the smell of leaded gasoline and the feel of cold unrelenting metal. I liked Science fiction, late night radio, and rock and roll.
“What about it, Leo,” said Cole, “are you psychic?”
I winced. “Sort of, Cole,” I said. “What you want to know?”
Cole smiled. “How’re things going to end in Vietnam?” He said.
Cole’s face reddened. “That’s easy for you to say now,” He said.
“I answered your question.”
“OK, Leo,” admitted Cole.
“Ask him what you did at Bob’s Market,” said Trevor.
“Bob’s Market?” Cole screwed up his eyes at me.
“Yeah,” said Trevor. “He told me everything I knew about DC comics and Hostess berry pies and Snicker bars and everything at Bob’s Market.”
“O.K., Leo.” Cole settled into his chair with a grin. “Talk, make me a believer, if you can.”
“Oh, I can,” I said, my heart pounding. “But will you accept it?”
He smiled. “I’ve always been reasonable, Leo,” he said.
So it was on. “O.K.,” I said, “I can tell you all sorts of things. Ronald Reagan will be a great President; the USSR will disband in twenty years. Computers will be real big. The telephone and computer will combine to create a device known as the ‘internet.’ I prefer the gas prices and inflation rate here though. I could talk about football, baseball, but none of that helps; you must know tonight.”
“I must know what tonight?” Cole genuinely looked puzzled.
“We’ll talk about that later,” I said. I breathed deeply, steadied myself, and sighed. I felt for the radio in my coat, and I could see it coming together. “Tell me,” I said, “what’ll convince you tonight?”
Cole’s marble stare made me nervous. “Tell me what’s going to happen tomorrow,” he said. “And be specific.”
“O.K.” My jaws locked as Angie walked in, soured from her grounding. ”Cole,” I said, “I’ll say what’s going to happen tonight.”
Cole nodded. Trevor spun toward us.
“So we’re sitting here,” said Cole. “Not much happening. It’s Wednesday…”
“Two things will happen in the next hour,” I said. “First Sylvia will come home from church.”
“Yeah,” said Cole, “there’s a pretty darn good chance of that, since she lives here.”
“Ah,” I said, “but she won’t come in alone.” I decided to step right out onto the ice despite Angie’s cold stare. “Hank will come in with her.”
“Not too shabby,” said Cole. “Hank hasn’t been here for three days, so there’s about an eighty percent chance he’ll show tonight.”
Trevor gripped Puddles tight. He scooted toward us, licking his lips. “Why’s Hank coming over,” he said. “Does he have my birthday present?”
“Trevor, Hank doesn’t owe you a present,” said Cole.
“Oh, Hank’s bringing you a gift alright, Trevor,” I said.
Cole’s face reddened. “Don’t go telling my kid lies,” he said.
“I’m stating fact.”
“Then you’d better be right!”
I mustered up my courage and leaned toward him. “In a few minutes,” I said, “Sylvia and Hank will walk in. Hank will have a box, a heavy one, wrapped in a red ribbon. He’ll apologize to Trevor for missing his birthday. Fact is, he got in a fight with Tanya and hit the road all mad in his car.”
“You mean his truck.”
“No, I mean his car, the car he just bought at the shop.” I was elated, retelling what Hank had told me a hundred times over the years. I didn’t think that the story might’ve changed in the retelling.
“I haven’t heard anything about Hank taking a trip or getting a new car,” said Cole.
“Oh, you will,” I said. “He’ll open that box and there’ll be a…” I gazed toward Trevor, not wanting to give his birthday present away, ruin the surprise. “It’s something to do with horses,” I said. “You know the old saying, ‘close only counts in…’
“Yeah, I know the saying,” said Cole evenly.
I waited, rubbing the coarse threads on the couch. Cole forced a smile and dropped his paper onto the floor beside the lamp. I could see lights flashing into the living room through the front street window, and heard gravel displaced by tires.
“My horse!” Trevor bolted up and ran for the door.
“Oh my god,” said Cole, rolling his eyes.
Trevor swung open the door. He chatted excitedly as he heard feet pounding up the steps. Everyone gazed at the door. It opened. Sylvia came first, carrying a worn Bible and hefty purse. Hank stumbled in next, a huge box in his arms.
“Happy birthday Trevor boy!” Yelled Hank, dancing around Sylvia. “Sorry I missed it!”
Trevor peered outside, confused. “Where’s my horse?”
“Your horse?” Hank shook his head. “Sorry, kiddo, didn’t know you wanted a horse, but I got the shoes!” He set the box on the floor; Trevor tore into it.
“What is it?” Yelled Trevor.
“It’s horseshoes!” Shouted Hank. “Let’s go in back and play!”
“In the dark?”
“Yeah!” Hank picked up the box and swung it in circles as he exited.
“Wait!” Cole stood, his mouth screwed up, forehead scarlet. “Hank,” he said, “why did you come here tonight?”
Hank paused, craning his neck to peer at Cole. “It’s the kid’s birthday, Cole,” he said. “What, is he in trouble or something? I didn’t know.”
“Hank!” Cole’s face scrunched into a scowl. “Why did you buy my son Horseshoes?”
“I don’t know, Cole.” Hank stood in the dining room, mouth agape.
Cole calmed himself. “Where have you been the past three days?”
“Oh.” Hank dropped the horseshoes on the tiled dining floor. “You hear about the fight? Yeah, I’m sorry. I can be a real ass.”
Cole’s hands trembled. “Hank, who’s idea was the horseshoes, Leo’s?”
“God sakes no,” said Hank disgusted. “To tell you the truth, I ain’t seen anyone since the fight. I left mad in my new car, told myself I’d go for a little test drive, and I got stranded in Newport. While I waited for an alternator to be shipped in, I stopped by this little fishing shop – never noticed the place before. And I saw these horseshoes in the window, so I remembered how it was, you know, that first horseshoe set dad got us?”
“You think I’m stupid, Hank?” Cole gripped his fingers into a fist.
Hank’s jaw dropped. “Can we backtrack here a bit big brother? I just drove three hours. I haven’t even been home.
“You talked to someone since you got home!”
“No,” mumbled Hank, “ain’t called anybody; ain’t seen nobody.”
“No, of course,” said Cole, relaxing. He forced a smile on his quivering lips. “Just playing with ya, little brother. Go ahead, play in the dark. That’s the best time to play horseshoes, in the dark.”
Hank nodded. “Come on, Trevor,” he said, and they took off like chums.
“Cole,” said Sylvia, folding her fur coat onto the dining room chair, “you look peaked. Are you alright?”
Cole gave a nervous shaking chuckle. “I’m fine,” he said, sticking his hand into his jeans pocket to jiggle his keys. “I think I’ll go for a ride.”
I wanted to say something like, ‘hit the nail right on the head,’ but I arose from the chair closed lip. Cole stopped, turned toward me, nodded, and said, “So what you wanting, gold watch?” He said, and afraid of messing it up I just stared.
Finally I said, “And now?”
Cole frowned. “Good trick, Leo,” he said, slapping his CZ hat on.
“Trick?” My courage returned. “Check it out if you think it’s a trick. Ask Hank; he’d never collude with me!” The closer Cole got to the door the more I shook.
“Leo,” said Cole, “don’t matter how you pulled the trick off, it’s still just a trick. What gets me is why you’d go to such extremes for this fantasy, this lie.” He turned to Sylvia and scoffed. “He needs medication alright, the type that can be found at the nearest nut farm.
Anger swept over me as I watched him strut out the door. Sylvia turned her gaze toward me, and I tried to remain calm.
“What was that all about?” She said.
“I don’t know.”
“I swear I never said you needed to be on medication.”
“It’s all right,” I said. “Cole went out for air. I think I’ll do the same.” I opened the door as Cole’s Harley roared to life. The vibrations rattled the windows. I’d won. I’d shown him all the proof he needed and he’d brushed me off. To him I’d always be the good for nothing Leo, moocher. I’d trotted in here like it was a family reunion acting noble and lobbying Cole for permission. I didn’t need Cole’s permission. In less than six years Cole would be out of the picture anyway. Who’d Trevor be left with then? The night air cooled me. I closed my eyes and envisioned Susan’s thick auburn hair, its fresh girl scent. Why couldn’t he just believe? I gazed southward where I knew sat the mountain. On the mountain, Munter Meadow, was where the gate would appear for six minutes tonight. One more day didn’t seem like enough time for the task I had before me. I felt in my pocket for the radio. I had to make it to the gate; the radio Susan slipped me so quickly as I fell through the gate still had no signal. Of course it could only work at certain times. Maybe the gate would cause it to come on when it appeared, boost its signal. But I couldn’t depend on that backup plan.
I heard the clanking of horseshoes. Voices echoed. Right here on the edge of the field I used to lie in the tall grass with Angie while dad mowed trails for us to play in, isolating us into our own world. We weren’t afraid of spiders; they were as colorful to us as pictures in DC; puffed brown spider on web trailing over us as we crab-walked the grass, slipped in the dew. The stiff grass slowed our marbles, agates, steelies, so we’d call ‘dropsies.’ Our field, golden, scarlet, joy blue, heartache, sunset yellow city, Paradise, which we discovered by the block chasing fallen kite string over uncharted fields, haunted houses, gregarious trees; we rested in fruitful gardens, climbed barbed-wire fences, gave up string to power lines. The full moon seemed touchable, its sunken craters near.
I’d always looked at the 1960s as a fantasy, like heaven, where you meet the shades of your past and live happy. But here Cole worked ten hours a day to stay alive as a professional racer. The dining table was meeting spot for Cole and Sylvia each morning to discuss over steaming coffee cups the business of the day. Who thinks of the importance of a garbage bill due twenty years ago? It rated discussion in that rented house. The Milkman didn’t deliver for free. Rent, electric, phone service, even the babysitter – money. Who built Christmas each year, creating laughter for a couple kids? Maybe the milkman or the babysitter didn’t work for free, but Cole and Sylvia did for little Trevor. And I wanted to live long enough to create Christmas dreams for my little Jacob. If I returned without the sample I could touch Susan again, but Jacob would be raised hearing only rumors of what I’d been like. It’d been hard enough me losing Cole at age thirteen. Jacob would have it worse.
“I’ve got to convince Trevor tonight,” I whispered to the field. “This time I’ll be straight with him. It’s nothing to do with Cole anymore, just big Trevor and little Trevor. I sidled over to the garage, lifted the timeless door. Cole’s CZ, a bike I owned in the future, waited. Tonight.
I’d heard major events in the past can’t be changed once they’re history, but I wouldn’t have been able to rest if I hadn’t tried it. I wanted to go home, but I didn’t want the dad I’d adored from a distance to Part Company with me an enemy. So I caught Cole as he came back from his ride, confronted him point blank. “Don’t race Memorial Day 1974, Dad. Then you won’t die, and Hank won’t raise me and Angie up, mom won’t give in to cancer, and everything will be nice.”
“Oh my god,” Said Cole. He walked straight from the front door to the back door and disappeared again into the garage.
“Why can’t he just believe?” I said.
“What do you want him to believe?” Sylvia stopped crocheting.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I feel a little dizzy.
“Pardon Cole,” she said softly. “He worries.”
“I know.” I saw that look in her eyes, a look I sometimes thought was understanding; other times I feared it to be pity. She didn’t seem to have a notion of her family being threatened.
Sylvia put her hooks and thread away and stood in front of the couch. “Let’s drink something hot,” she said, pointing for me to sit in a chair.
“I couldn’t pass that up,” I said, taking a load off while she brewed her magic tea. Trevor snored in his bedroom not twenty feet away. “You should give your heart to the Lord,” she said setting my tea on a saucer next to me.
“That could be true,” I said.
When I finished my tea I set the cup next to mom’s red and blue crochet pile. She disappeared. I stood, crept to Trevor’s room, and touched the door. In forty minutes the gate would close to me forever.
I had to make little Trevor believe. He and I only. Poor kid, he had my past as his future. I entered to see Trevor hugging his cotton quilt. A motorcycle shrieked to me through the window as it passed by. I looked at my watch. Thirty-six minutes.
“You like Hot Wheels, Uncle Leo?”
The voice startled me. Trevor was propped up by cotton. “Sorry, kid,” I said, “didn’t mean to wake you up.”
“Yes you did, Uncle Leo.” His eyes glowed. “How can I help you?” I saw Sylvia in his smile.
“Nice Corvette,” I said, picking up a Hot Wheel from his night stand. “In 2010, Trevor, this Hot Wheel will be worth over two hundred dollars.”
“Are you better from your heart attack?” Said little Trevor.
“Sort of,” I said. I moved the Corvette onto the night stand, felt Trevor’s small fingers press the car into my hand. “You keep it Uncle Leo. I got thirty-two Hot Wheels.”
“Thanks, kiddo,” I said, stuffing the Vette in my jeans. I glanced at my watch. Thirty four minutes, barely enough time to ride to Munter Meadow. I felt in my coat for the communication device Susan had given me, touched the pitted plastic. “Hey,” I said, noticing his comics, “Who’s your favorite superhero?”
“Superman,” said Trevor.
A flood of red, green, blue pictures of nobodies transformed by radiation into super beings. “Of course you like Superman,” I said. “Superman’s the strongest and fastest.”
He nodded, gripping Puddles tighter.
“Look,” I said, “the stuff I told you…about having powers?”
“About Bob’s Market, Angie getting grounded?”
“That horseshoe thing was great! How did you fool dad?”
“I didn’t. I predicted all this stuff, but not with psychic powers. Trevor, I am you.”
My hands trembled. Only thirty two minutes. I felt for the bottle of pills in my pocket. I had to make it. I couldn’t depend on that communication device or whatever it was. It seemed to be broken. It would’ve been easy to just lie down and dream.
“Uncle Leo,” said Trevor, “tell me…”
“I’m not your Uncle Leo,” I said, “I am you, Trevor Rogers. I came to you because I’m dying.”
“What do you need, Leo?”
“Fluid from your spine. My wife is a doctor. She can create a healthy heart for me out of fluid from your spine.”
“Will it hurt?”
A horrible moan erupted in the street followed by screeches and a long shriek. Puddles struggled at the sound, almost ripping himself from Trevor’s hands. “Darn cats,” said Trevor. He hugged Puddles close. “O.K., Uncle Leo, what is it really?”
“You don’t believe me?” I surveyed the room. The small window let in traces of light from the huge night street. Crumpled socks covered a pair of dry summer dusted tennis shoes near door’s flat edge, and something white stuck out of the corner of Trevor’s pillow. “So, Trevor,” I said, “why you got a Superboy comic hidden under your pillow?”
Trevor looked startled. “How’d you know it was a Super boy?”
“Why do you keep it under your pillow at night?”
“I like comics.” He pulled the comic out and looked at it.
“If Superman’s your favorite hero, why do you keep Superboy under your pillow?
“Superman is in this comic,’ said Trevor.
“Trevor, I know you don’t believe what I said.”
“About me being you?”
“Trevor, can you give me a chance to prove myself?”
Trevor’s face calmed. “I’m fair,” he said in a deeper voice similar to Cole’s.
“O.k.,” I said. “Trevor, I am you. Remember that pitch in Little League t hat hit you high?”
Trevor put a finger on his neck.
“Yeah,” I said touching my neck, “We’ve got the same scar. Look, I know that’s not going to convince you, but I’ve got to try. Remember that Pegasus kite you used to have? Yeah, I dragged that stupid kite through the field just like you, too stubborn to admit there wasn’t enough wind for it to fly. I crashed into the back of that pickup on my sting ray, tumbled over the handlebars onto the concrete. Sound familiar? I don’t want to die, kid.”
“How old are you?”
“I’m from 2010.”
“How could you be from 2010? This is 1969.”
I felt a hardened wad of spent gum on the bed post. “Trevor, your arteries are plugging up. It’s weakening your heart. If you help me tonight there’s hope help will be there for you in the future.
“In forty years?”
“I won’t lie to you; it’ll get worse before it gets better.” I waited, pulse pounding. “Trevor, you want to be Cole. He’s tough, cool, lives life in fast forward. But you’re weak and it confuses you. So you dream.” It all fell into place in my mind like tiny fingers assembling a puzzle. “Trevor, there’s a reason you cherish that Superboy comic. In it Superman marries Lois Lane and they have ‘Superboy!’ But Superboy isn’t as powerful as his dad. He’s strong, but can’t bend a bar of steel. He’s fast, but not quite as fast as a locomotive. He jumps far, but he can’t fly.” In your imagination your dad is Superman, and you’re Superboy. “Cole’s like a rock, but you’re sand. Reading that comic makes you feel better?”
“But why Uncle Leo?” He looked guarded.
“Because in it you see you. OK, Superman cares for Superboy, his half super son, so he uses the strange powers of red kryptonite to take away his own powers and give them to the son he loves.”
“Trevor’s eyes lit up. “To Superboy, yes!” He yelled, maybe dad…”
“No, Trevor,” I said, “Cole cannot transfer his power to you.”
Trevor gasped. He slumped into his sheets, his face buried in them. I patted his shoulder. “Superman loves his son,” he said meekly.
“And your dad loves you, Trevor,” I said.
“You are me,” Trevor whispered. He sat up, his face wet.
My heart pounded as I pulled a box from a pocket inside my coat. “Yes, Trevor, I am you forty years from now.”
“What am I going to do? If it takes forty years to…”
“You’ll make it, Trevor,” I said. “And when you meet her, Susan, it’ll put a whole new meaning in your life.” I touched the lump in my coat, my heart pounding as I waited for Trevor to mull the situation over. I looked at my watch. I had less than half an hour.
“You’ve got to go now, don’t you?” He said.
“Yes, Trevor, I’ve got a woman and an unborn baby.”
“His name will be Jacob.”
“Like in the Bible?”
“Yes, Trevor, a name mom would be proud of.”
“OK,” he said with a deep sigh. “I’ll do it.”
“Thank you, Trevor,” I said. I pulled out the long needle. Trevor looked at me with fearful eyes but rolled up his sleeve. “No, Trevor,” I said. “I must draw the sample from your spine, so you’ll have to take off your shirt.” My heart skipped as the needle tasted his spine. I had twenty eight minutes to get to Munter Meadow. Would I have to use the radio, the fail safe device?
“Moooom!” His scream echoed through the house.
The needle shook in my fingers. A dog’s irritating bark blasted my ears.
“Oh god, that hurts!” A gray liquid clouded into the syringe. Trevor winced as I jerked the needle out and shakily put it in its case. “I’m sorry, kiddo,” I said. “See you in forty years. Tell dad he can find his CZ in Munter Meadow.”
“My baby!” I gawked as Sylvia appeared blocking the doorway.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, and barreled through her, knocking her onto the living room floor. Ignoring her pleas for help, I burst out into the yard, heart palpitating.
Her scream carried into the night air. “Help!”
I hopped on the CZ, kicked. The engine sputtered to life, then quit. I kicked it again. The engine only coughed. Twenty five minutes, and I was stranded.
A motorcycle howled a few streets up. The emergency radio was my only chance to set up a new meeting spot. I ripped it from my pocket and pressed the button. This time a green light came on. “Mayday. Susan, are you there?” I spoke into the radio, but got no reply. I leaped off the bike, slammed my fist against garage. “Nooo!” I drew the radio back and heaved it into the middle of the field.
“Leo, how could you?” Sylvia wailed at me from the porch.
I shivered as a small point of light appeared up the street. Cole’s Harley.
“You need help!” Shouted Sylvia.
“I know I need help!” I screamed. “If you’d just listen to me!” I fell to my knees, barely able to catch my breath. The throb of Cole’s Harley deafened me. Then a louder roar erupted from the field, heightening into a high pitched buzz.
Sylvia heard it too. She stumbled onto the drive and gazed at the field. We both shaded our eyes to the blinding wall of light. Cole’s Harley stalled up the road, but he was too busy staring at the intense whiteness of the field to care.
“I thought it was a radio!” I shouted. “But she didn’t mean ‘station’ as in a radio. She gave me a freaking substation! Goodbye, mom, forgive me!”
I froze, looking back at her. “I wanted more,” I said.”
“What’s going on?” Cole was running toward me. He seemed to know what was going on. Shouts carried to me from all sides as I plowed into the tall grass, my arms stretched out toward the light. As I drew closer a gate appeared as the light’s center and unfolded into a rectangle. The siren vibrated into an unbearable pitch, and I caught a frail glimpse of a shadow I recognized as Susan.