Swylce

Musings and Writing of GG Alexander

Pinwheel 9: Alice Makes Things Right

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June 1st, 1930

Fort Greene, New York

Alice does not go to the club that night. She sits at the kitchen table and replays everything she has learnt and seen, everything the other her learned and saw. Her sight brings more and more to bear until it is clear to her: her attempts to save Bertram indirectly create deeper and deeper spirals of death. Should she try again, she may not be able to stop John, or something worse, this time. And the image of what she would have done that night – of a young man writhing as his eye melted – burns itself into her.

With a shudder, she rises from the table.

She knows what she must do.

Late that night, she goes to Queens.

~~~

June 2nd, 1930

Ozone Park, New York

Sam wakes to a beautiful summer morning. He sits up, stretches, yawns, scratches, and sets his feet on the floor. They brush something cold. Leather.

Blinking his eyes into focus, he sees a suitcase on his bedroom floor. A note lies on it. Rubbing his right eye again, he picks up the paper and reads:

In another life, I wronged you.

Please accept this as recompense, and use it to help those you love.

– an unseen friend.

Wondering if this is an elaborate prank, Sam kneels on his floor and opens the briefcase.

Inside are stacks and stacks of twenty dollar bills.

‘Ma!’ he shouts. ‘Ma, come look at this!’

~~~

June 2nd, 1930

Fort Greene, New York

The door slams open, then shuts with a curse. Bertram storms into the kitchen a few seconds later. Alice is waiting for him at the table, her hands clasped together before her. He walks to the sink, runs the tap, and vigorously splashes his face. Then, he leans against it, looking out the window onto the neighbouring apartments.

She considers asking what’s wrong, but decides against it.

‘Twenty thousand is missing from the safe.’

She says nothing. He turns away from the window.

‘See, this is the problem with doing illegal things, Alice,’ he says, wrenching off his tie and throwing it on the table. ‘When twenty thousand goes missing from the safe, there’s no-one you can call to handle it. So now I’ve to pull up every single shill who works for me and try to figure out who took it, when I made sure to have a business full of liars. But which liar would be stupid enough to take a whole damn twenty thousand – twenty thousand –!’

‘I took it,’ she says.

He pauses.

‘What do you mean?’

She puts her clasped hands on the table.

‘I took twenty thousand dollars from your safe last night.’

The coiled chain feels pleasing in her palms. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Bertram has frozen.

He asks, in a deep, suppressed voice:

‘Why?’

‘To repay a debt.’

‘You have no debts!’

She hazards to look at him. Furious, yes, but not dangerous. She opens her palms.

‘From another life.’

The necklace spills onto the wooden tabletop.

Bertram breathes in deeply and runs his hand down his face.

‘You shouldn’t play with that thing,’ he says – still in the same dark tone. ‘You shouldn’t use it. I try not to use it. No-one should touch it.’

That is immaterial, now, she thinks.

‘What did you do?’ he asks.

She does not speak.

He slams his fist against the cupboard beside him.

‘ALICE! What did you do?’

‘Nothing, this time,’ she says.

‘Alice…’

‘Something came to stop me,’ she says. She is surprised at the instant clog in her throat. ‘But it showed me what once had been. I hurt people, I crippled a man, twenty people or more died because of my actions. I had to repay that debt.’

‘Let me get this right,’ he shouts. ‘You stole twenty thousand dollars from me, to repay for something you haven’t even done?!’

‘To save two lives I had ruined,’ she protests. ‘To do good for once in my life!’

He slams his fist into the cupboard again. The glass pane cracks.

‘Bertram, stop it!’ she cries. Disgust at his rage floods through her, overpowering her weaker emotion. ‘Stop it! You can live without twenty-thousand dollars! I took less than half of what was there! Between your money and a stranger’s life I will always choose a stranger! You cannot ask me to be so selfish!’

‘You stole from me, Alice,’ he says, turning back. Hand still in a fist. His knuckles are cut. ‘That is the problem. You took what was mine, and now you tell me I’m wrong to be mad?’

‘I love you,’ she says. Again, firm: ‘I love you, Bertram. I crippled people, I betrayed friends, I made paradoxes, all to keep you alive.’

His shoulders sag. He exhales. His fury dies.

Alice looks at the ground.

‘…it never worked.’

‘Of course it didn’t,’ he says. ‘I die in 1943 anyway.’

‘What?!’

He leans back against the counter and gives a bitter smile.

‘I told you to never go to the future, and that’s why. I went to 1944, and I’d been dead a year. A Jap stabbed me through the neck in a battle on the other side of the world. And I never found a way to stop another world war from happening, so I lived with it. I know I’m on borrowed time.’

The room is spinning around her. 1943. 1930. More than ten year’s difference. Ten years! But why the change – she had been told December this year – Sam saw the raid on the club, that’s why, the raid in December when he would have died, when he is going to die. She bought him three months more of life that time – but now she hears that, otherwise, he would have had thirteen years. Thirteen years to live! And what was the difference?

The club.

The club he opened, because of her.

Alice clasps her hand over her mouth. The room is spinning and spinning. I can only ever make things worse.

She stands, swaying. With effort, she walks over to him, arms out, searching for an embrace.

‘Forgive me,’ she says, struggling to keep the sob in her throat.

He pushes her away.

‘No,’ he says. Cold. ‘You’ve betrayed me, Alice. You’ve hurt me, for things that don’t even exist and people you don’t know. I won’t forgive that.’

He turns to leave.

‘I love thee!’ she cries after him.

The front door opens, and shuts.

~~~

June 3rd, 1930

Fort Greene, New York

They sleep in separate beds that night. He comes in late and he does not say another word to her.

On the empty sheet of paper that her dead-self has left, she writes:

December 13th, 1930

Police will raid the club.

I love thee.

She creaks open his bedroom door and allows herself one last look at him.

Then, she is gone. She takes the necklace with her.

~~~

September 19th, 1996

Surulere, Lagos

‘Anteeksi,’ Grace says, as they sit on the warm concrete pavement. ‘That means “forgive me”.’

‘So I guessed,’ Onyeka says. ‘I forgive you.’

‘I shouldn’t have told her.’

Shuddering down time, ripples and ripples. Shadows of what could have been pass over minds, and thoughts alter without any conscious reason.

Onyeka shakes her head.

‘It does not matter. I have made up my mind.’

‘You have?’

In the silence when she sat with her father, ignoring his drinking as they ignored the bribe money he brought home. She has been taught that God provides, but it occurred to her in that moment that she has never seen proof of it. A distaste for the idea of the supernatural now sits on her.

‘I do not care what mother says. I will be a physicist. And I think – I think I will go to Oxford. I don’t think I’d like to be around so many Americans at Harvard!’

Grace looks out at the street, a rare frown on her face.

‘Then I won’t come with you, nnwanne,’ she says. ‘Because I want to go to America. I really…I really want to go to New York.’

‘Really?’ Onyeka asks. Grace has never shown this determination before.

‘Really. Something…something is pulling me there. I need to go.’

They sit in silence and look out at the shimmering heat of the day. Onyeka wants to trap this moment in her mind forever: she and her beloved sister, outside their home in their own country. Soon to be parted.

‘I will miss you,’ she says.

Grace turns and smiles.

‘We won’t be apart forever, nee-san! Think of it as the beginning of an adventure!’

Onyeka smiles. Still, she thinks, I will miss you. I will miss this moment, and this time that will never come again.

~~~

July 3rd, 2005

Nakano, Tokyo

Why don’t you try? Uzu says.

Sosuke puts his fingers on the keyboard, ready to type that it is too much effort.

A shadow passes over him. A realisation.

Why not?

He sits back in his chair and looks at his cave of a room. All the money sitting in plastic or paper form on his bookshelves. His eyes settle on the calendar his mother gave him for new year: scenes from around the world. Forests in Germany. Mountains in Argentina. Skyscrapers in New York.

I’ll be right back, he tells Uzu.

He walks through to the kitchen.

‘Mother,’ he says, ‘I need to get a passport.’

‘Why?’ she says. ‘You’re not planning on going anywhere, are you?’

‘I’m going to New York.’

She looks up from the TV in surprise, eyes lighting on him as if he is mad. Maybe he is. He feels a cool determination, strangely free from the babbling self-doubt that always plagues him.

‘What?’

‘I need English lessons as well,’ he says. ‘Can you book some for me?’

‘A-are you okay, Sosuke?’

‘I’m going to get a job in New York. I need to have a passport, and English lessons. I’ll pay for the rest.’

He turns back to his room. She calls after him.

‘Wh…a…and what are you going to do in New York? Clean toilets?’

‘I’ll program computers,’ he says over his shoulder. ‘I’m…I’m actually quite good at it, mother.’

Complimenting himself feels like the most blasphemous thing he has ever done.

When he gets back to his desk, he types to Uzu:

Do you want any of my manga? Or figures? Or DVDs?

You’re selling them?

I’m selling all of them. I’m going to New York.

Whoa! When did you decide that?

Right now.

Sosuke looks around his room and smiles. The hero begins his adventure – and who knows what will happen, or what people he will meet on the way?

~~~

18th September, 1978

Mahdia Town, Qom

Zahra sighs at the window.

‘I must go to Tehran, as soon as your father returns. Maybe you should come. Maybe you will be a politician. I think you would run the country well.’

Sholeh laughs and shakes her head.

‘I don’t want to be a politician, maman.’

A tremor of dread crosses over her. A premonition of black and white comic book frames. Her schoolbooks suddenly appear worthless.

‘But…I might come to Tehran.’

‘Truly?’ Zahra says, eyes lighting up. ‘Oh, what a happy day! My daughter joins the cause at last! And will you cut your hair now, too?’

Sholeh laughs. She cannot explain the awful feeling inside of her. But hard as steel in her soul, she knows she must take a stand this time. Even if it comes to nothing – even if her mother’s hope is destroyed – she knows she must fight.

As she abandons her books and joins her mother, a voice speaks in her ear:

Don’t you dare give up!

~~~

November 10th, 2007

Combe Down, Bath

‘Oh, honey,’ Tessa says, as Alice sobs into her shoulder. She wants to say “It’ll be okay,” but she knows it won’t.

Half an hour later, she leaves Alice on her bed, and goes downstairs to make some tea. George joins her. He puts his arms around her waist and nuzzles into her neck. She sighs.

‘It’s horrible, isn’t it? And she’ll never be able to go back.’

‘Don’t you go anywhere,’ he says.

‘I won’t,’ she says, kissing his cheek. They stand in each other’s arms, and watch the kettle boil.

‘Did you hear what she said?’ Tessa says. ‘She left us to die in another time. I don’t really think she’d ever do that, but still…it’s weird thinking of another version of yourself dying.’

He holds her tighter.

‘We’re never touching that thing,’ he says, voice feverish. Being near Alice’s emotions, and told what they’ve been told, has exposed a rarely seen vulnerable core. ‘I never want to know what comes next. I just – I want to hold onto you forever, and never let go.’

Tessa leans her head against his. Two years ago, she was homeless and friendless, before chance put her in his way. She treasures everything. She tries not to forget.

~~~

August 4th, 1930

Ozone Park, New York

‘Y–you mean it?’

Sam laughs and lies back in his chair.

‘Course I do. What else am I meant to do with the money? Let it lie there, til my brother steals it? And what else is a business good for, but helping your friends get dough?’

John laughs and shakes his head.

‘I can’t believe you bought the whole building! Store and apartments!’

‘The rest went in stocks,’ Sam said, still smiling. ‘Marco thinks I’m crazy, but I told him, I’ve got a good feeling about those soft drinks…’course, harder drinks give more money, but it’s more trouble than its worth, I think, when you’re watching your back all the time. Anyway, you in?’

‘I’m in, I’m in! Christ, I’ve been looking for a job so long, I’ll take anything you throw at me!’

His smile falls as another thought returns to him.

‘Say, Sam…I hate to ask more when you’ve been so good already, but Al…’

‘Al’s dead weight,’ Sam says. ‘You know I can’t trust him with anything worth more than a dime.’

‘I know, I know, but the thing is – it’s not work, but well…he’s gotten in some deep water with some bad sorts, and I’m the only one left to fish him out.’

‘Oh? What kind of deep?’

John mimes slitting his throat. Sam pales.

‘How much?’

John names a high – but not too high – number. Sam laughs in relief.

‘Here,’ he says. He fishes in a drawer beside him and bring out a wad of notes. ‘Give this to ’em as a deposit. Say the rest is coming in a few days, once you’ve shown you’re good enough to work for me.’

‘Th-thanks! Thanks! Gee, Sam, how’d you get so…so…’

‘Rich?’

‘No, no, I meant…good, I guess.’

John’s hands are in his pockets as he looks away, embarrassed. Sam looks up to the ceiling corner.

‘I had a helluva dream, last month,’ he says. ‘Dreamt my eye melted in its socket, my leg lost all feeling, and I was crippled for life. Next part, the mob broke into my house and shot me right here, right in the head.’ He taps the centre of his forehead. ‘Next thing I know, though, an angel with golden hair came to me, asked me forgiveness for putting me through such hell. Said she was here to make things right, and that if I could use the money make more things right for her, then she’d be able to forgive herself. When I woke up…the money was there.’

A wash of light fills John. In a world as dreary as his, one miracle is all that’s needed to make him keep trying. Hope blooms. Kindness swells.

Sam smiles and shrugs.

‘I’m just trying to share the wealth – of money and soul, I guess.’

‘You’re sharing it,’ John says, lifting his glass of coke to clink against Sam’s. ‘And me, I’ll do my best to pass it on.’

~~~

December 13th, 1930

Pinwheel Club, New York

The police shoot him when they come.

Bert is waiting for them. He sits in his usual seat by the bar, and leans back in his chair, smoking the best cigar he could find. Last night he told everyone else to go home, and gave them an envelope stuffed with money in place of their last paychecks. It was the least he could do.

‘Gentlemen,’ he says, as they come up to his seat. ‘I’ve a question for you.’

‘We ask the questions here, bub,’ the officer says, trying to pull him from his seat. Bert kicks him away and laughs.

‘What’s better: dying quickly, as a free and rich man, or having your throat sliced open on a frozen beach – penniless, honourless, and heartbroken?’

‘Quit yapping,’ another officer says, pulling on the shoulder of his suit jacket. ‘You know the answer.’

‘Yeah, I do,’ Bert says.

He fights.

They shoot.

He bleeds, and trembles. He imagines Alice crying, thinking she’s given him a worse death. The idea makes him laugh. He was reconciled to death long ago – seeing your own grave will do that. She merely gave him a better alternative. And without her…without her…the years seem worthless, anyway.

~~~

February 28th, 1931

21 Club, New York

‘Double. Gin,’ Alice says. The barman barely looks at her as he takes her money. She sounds more English now, since she’s been living in Bath. She has imposed on Tessa and George for far too long. The time for weeping is over; she must be strong, and forge another path. But today…today…

The grave was covered in flowers. Seamus said Bert had given them enough money to last six months before it happened. They all did their best for him and his memory.

‘He left you something too, miss,’ Seamus had said. ‘I know you never married, but he considered you his next o’ kin.’

She went to the lawyer. It wasn’t “something.” It was everything.

Told him to take a quarter of it out. Once she knows where she’s going, she’ll change that money into another form, something she can use. Something physical she can sell for more in another time. Like an antique.

She made the lawyer give the rest away.

Alice takes a swig of gin and wipes her cheeks. Was the money a way to keep her here, in his time? It was never going to work. After this, she will not return to 1931.

A familiar laugh behind her makes the hairs on her neck stand on end. She turns.

At a table behind her sit two young men. One has a high hairline and boyish freckles. The other is talking loudly, gesturing, giggling like a child. Both are wearing new suits.

Magnetism, she thinks.

They both pause and look up, directly at her. She holds their gaze, wondering what they might do.

Sam says something and John laughs. They turn back to each other, and forget about her.

Alice finishes her gin.

Outside, a cold breeze hits her. She hugs her coat to her body, and walks briskly along the street, only pausing once to look in a shop window, before continuing on.

Colourful pinwheels stand on display.

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Written by G.J.

24/10/2014 at 2:45 pm

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