An Odd Old Notion
“Time is the universe’s great lie.”
Where did he find that idea? Inside an obscure physics journal hiding on a low library shelf, wasn’t it? Eyes closed, Quentin saw black words riding yellowed paper, and he felt the binding in one hand and the hard chair under his ass, and that exceptionally clear memory brought the slippery notion that he had read this article last year or maybe the year before. Or never. Time was nothing. That was the author’s chief point. Unless there were multiple authors. Quentin’s head didn’t offer help on that score. But he remembered reading how the universe was a multitude of vivid realities. Every reality was inevitable. To the smallest limits of size and the greatest boundaries of space, every potential arrangement of atoms and energy lay outside time, invincible and perfect. Time was a seduction. Time was that sweet voice promising that every moment was important, that each mind and the foolish places between the minds came at the tail end of a million critical events.
He was asleep, and in a neighboring reality, he couldn’t have been more awake. And cold. The air was chilled and damp, inside the car and out. It wasn’t quite eleven o’clock, which wasn’t late. But sex had relaxed him. Solitude relaxed him. His most recent drive was twenty minutes ago, and it lasted a full block before he turned around, parking in the darkness between street lamps. Except there wasn’t any drive, and there wasn’t any sex before the drive. The musky scent on his fingers belonged to nobody. Nobody had been seduced, and even Time Herself was beginning to lose Her hold.
He laughed, sniffing his hand.
Drive away, one impulse said.
Stay, another insisted.
A minimum of ambient light revealed the blueness of the house standing at the end of the block. Yet the dog in the yard seemed exceptionally bright, that good steel proud of its shine and its indifference to the last dregs of winter.
A car approached from behind.
Quentin scrunched low and for no good reason held his breath.
The newcomer parked in front of the steel dog. A sporty, low-slung vehicle. Quentin assumed the driver was a stranger, probably a male stranger. But the headlights silhouetted feminine hair, and with a genius for misunderstanding, he knew that a midget would now climb out.
But no, the driver was tall and only probably a woman. Nothing was certain. At a distance, through the veil of assumptions and idiocy, he saw a masculine lady of unlikely size. But of course Barbara Stains have would have a driver. Quentin decided. The driver was sent to collect the precious Persian girl from inside the blue house, or this was someone else looking for someone else and the visitor had nothing to do with Farah or with Quentin. The latter story survived until two women emerged together, one wearing clothes that just thirty minutes ago were in a tidy heap on a dusty floor. The older woman was carrying her lover’s hand, coaxing her arm and the rest of her to hurry, to escape the chill, and then they were inside the sports car and gone, and Quentin didn’t just understand, but it was as if everything had always been obvious to him.