Alexander McQue awoke with a jolt. Where was he? He was drenched in sweat and disoriented. He didn’t immediately move but rather he noted his surroundings. A cool breeze flowed through the open windows. It was very dark – it must be late. He sat up and quickly realized that he was where he supposed to be – at home, in his living room, on the couch. He looked up at the wall clock. 10:00 pm. He must have been more exhausted than he thought. It was 3:00 pm when he lay down for an afternoon nap. “Some nap” he muttered, “I slept the whole day away.” He was nervous. Something was wrong.
He walked to the window and peered out. When did the corner bodega become a chicken joint? His street looked the same. The outside noises of the city were the same. Everything appeared to be just as it should be, yet he knew that things were unquestionably out of sync. It was as if he were looking at a picture that someone had turned upside down. It was the exact same picture but it was different. He shrugged his shoulders and walked away. “Being a cop makes you paranoid” he said aloud.
He flicked the switch and turned on the table lamp beside the couch. He walked over to the television and turned it on. He grabbed a beer from the refrigerator and sat down on the couch to watch the evening news. And then it hit him. The opened can of beer slowly fell from his hand on to the carpet. At the bottom of the television screen the date and time were shown; October 2, 2014, 10:07 pm.
2014. Al took a nap on May 1, 2011 and awoke October 2, 2014. He could not believe that it was happening again. The skewed picture made sense now. His eyes darted around frantically looking for a clue, any clue as to why he was here. Two months ago he jumped and ended up in 1964. October 2, 1964. He knew that there must be some correlation between the dates but he couldn’t figure out what that was. Why here? Why now? What does it mean?
He walked to the window again. Brooklyn, New York. 1964, 2011, 2014, slight differences but essentially the same. He walked back to the couch. His couch. His apartment. He looked around the room hoping to find something that would explain why he was traveling through time.
In 1964 the room was different but the tenement building and the apartment were the same. There was a newspaper on the coffee table that told him the date. The sun was shining and he guessed that it was perhaps early afternoon. He could hear voices in the bedroom. There seemed to be a lot of commotion but he was confused and afraid. He walked around the living room trying not to make too much noise. He was fearful that someone would see or hear him. How did he get here? The last thing he remembered was going out for a drink with Linda. They had briefly lived together in one of his many foster homes and she was the closest thing he had to family. She was like a kid sister to him. He couldn’t remember going home and he didn’t know how he had ended up in this place. He heard approaching footsteps and he ran and hid in the closet. He crouched down and began a silent prayer. He was perspiring and breathing heavily. The rapid beat of his heart was thundering. Al closed his eyes and put his hands over his face. When he opened them again he was back home; his home, in his time, on his couch.
In 1964 he was scared and he thought perhaps the whole thing had been a dream. But in 2014 he wasn’t afraid. He just wanted answers. He walked to the bedroom in the rear of the apartment, hoping to hear noises. Hoping to confront whoever was there. He hoped to find answers to his unasked questions. Unlike 1964 when he was afraid of being noticed, today Al welcomed a confrontation. Disappointment coursed through his body when he realized he was alone.
Alone. That was a feeling he was comfortable with. He had been alone and a loner his entire life. At the ripe old age of 46 Al had never been in a loving, lasting relationship. He had never been married and never had any children. He had very few people in his life that he could trust and call friend. Oh, he’d had plenty of girlfriends and he never lacked for female companionship but he was hollow with a hole so deep no normal person could fill it.
As a boy, Al lived in 12 different foster homes until he was eighteen and aged out of the system. He wasn’t a bad kid and he never lived the nightmare that so many foster children lived. He was never molested or treated poorly. In fact, it was just the opposite; he was well liked. He had at least two families that wanted to adopt him. Two families; with a mother and father, and sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles and grandparents that wanted him to be a part of their family. But of course that didn’t happen, thanks to his mother, Beth.
Beth was a charm. She was beautiful, smart, funny, selfish, lazy, and an egomaniac. She never held a job or a husband but men always took care of her. They bought her a home, clothing, food, anything she ever wanted or needed and when one left there was always another to take his place. She expected to be treated like a queen and she was.
She gave birth to him when she was sixteen but she didn’t want him and she didn’t want anyone else to have him. She wasn’t a drug addict, she didn’t have mental illness, she just did not want to be a mother. She put him into foster care when he was six months old. She told the case workers that she was too poor to take care of him but she loved him and wanted to remain in his life. He saw her sporadically over the years. Whenever anyone showed an interest in him she would show up proclaiming her devotion to him and promising to give him a real home. She told him that she would never relinquish her parental rights because she loved him too much. She would never sign adoption papers. He was her son and he would be her son until the day she died. So Al remained in the foster care system.
Beth refused to tell him about her family or his father. He grew up wanting to know who he was and where he came from and when he was twenty he began to search for answers. The only thing he found was that her real name wasn’t Beth McQue but he had no idea what it was. Everything she ever told him was a lie. He had no idea who he was or who she was. Beth died six months ago and took her many secrets to the grave with her. He hated yet he loved her.
In the bedroom, everything looked as it had looked in 2011. There was no frilly bed sheets, no women’s clothes tossed about, only his clothes hung in the closet. There were no signs of a feminine touch. It saddened him. It meant that he was still alone. That nothing in his life had changed. The bed was unmade. His service revolver and an empty beer can were on the night stand. His navy blue police uniform lay on the bed with his shoes and socks on the floor beneath. He walked back to the living room and began to pace across the worn carpet. “What does this mean? Why am I here?” For some reason he thought of Beth.
He remembered the last time he saw her. She was in a hospice. She had stage four breast cancer and she was essentially waiting to die. She could barely breathe and had a breathing tube in her mouth. Her skin was sallow and paper thin. She had lost so much weight that her once voluptuous body weighed a mere eighty-six pounds. The chemotherapy had left her bald. He held her hand until she had taken her last breath and just before she died she looked at him in a way that he had never seen her look before. She looked at him with love in her eyes and he was so overwhelmed that he began to weep. For the first time in his life he knew he was truly and unconditionally loved. And then she died. And he came back here, sat on the couch, nursed a beer, and mourned her. He mourned the life they could have had. He mourned the fact that now he was really alone.
He shook his head. No more dwelling in the past and dredging up old news. He had to discover why he traveled through time. What was his mission? Maybe if he closed his eyes and lay on the couch he would go back to 2011. So he tried it but nothing happened. He just laid there until dawn and once the sun came up he put his shoes on and went for a walk. The joggers were out. The delivery trucks were making deliveries. New York was bustling, as always.
He wondered where Linda was. He really wanted to talk to someone. Should he drop by her place? No, she might think it’s too weird with him showing up unannounced. Did she even live in the same place? Was she married with a family? He walked to the park and sat on a bench.
He wondered aloud “What is the significance of October 2nd”? Why would he travel through time on the same date fifty years apart? Why is Beth hanging so heavily on his mind? Al wanted answers but he didn’t know where to find them. He slowly walked back to his apartment.
When he reached home he made breakfast and turned on the news. At some point he fell asleep and when he awoke, he instantly knew where he was. October 2, 1964. The newspaper on the coffee table confirmed his suspicions. Everything was just as it was the last time. It was early afternoon and the sun was shining. He could hear people speaking in the bedroom. This time, he gingerly walked to the bedroom and listened quietly. He needed answers.
In the bedroom, there were four people; an older man, a young man, a teenage girl with brunette hair and a blonde girl who was sick in bed. The girl was screaming and in apparent pain. The young man was furious, the brunette was nervous, and the older man tried to be comforting.
“Daddy help me, the young girl screamed.”
“I’m trying to sweetheart. Please just try to relax and let me get you to a hospital.”
“No, I can’t let mommy find out” she moaned.
“She won’t be angry sweetheart. Let us help you.”
“No, but she will be disappointed. I’ve hurt her so much already. I hate you, Gary.”
The young man said nothing. His face just became red and splotchy.
“Daddy, please — — “
“Honey, we must go to the hospital.”
“No, I’m going to have my baby right here.”
“Jennifer, please. It’s not safe.”
“Just then, the girl let out a piercing scream.”
The brunette walked over to the young girl and held her hand. “Jen, listen to your dad. We must get you to a hospital.”
Al knew that voice. It was Beth, his mother!
“No, Tracey. You know that my mother will never forgive me. I’m sorry about Gary. I thought I loved him and I thought that if I slept with him, he would leave you and marry me. I was foolish. Please, please forgive me. We were once best friends.”
A heavy silence fell on the room. Then Tracey said “Hush, don’t worry about that now. Let’s concentrate on you. I’m glad you told your dad to call me.”
Jennifer screamed again; a loud, piercing scream. “I think I have to push — .the baby is coming.”
“Please Jen, let’s call for help” Tracey begged.
“No, you’re my best friend and you will help deliver my baby, please — — “
Tracey sighed, unsure of what to do. “I don’t know how to deliver a baby”
“You don’t have to do anything — I will do all of the work”
Gary, finally spoke up. “Jennifer, that’s my baby too and I’m going for help. You have to be reasonable. It’s too late to worry about what your mother will think. Your father and I are going for help.”
As they left the apartment, Jennifer reached for Tracey. “Just hold my hand, Tracey. The baby is coming.”
The two men walked right past Al without seeing him. Was he invisible? Al watched his own birth and he watched the woman who he thought was his mother help her friend. Was this why he was here? Did his time traveling have something to do with her? Was he born in the very apartment in which he now lived? He always thought his birthday was November 5th. This was too weird.
The paramedics took mother and child to the hospital. What now? He decided to follow Tracey. He walked closely behind her. He didn’t think that she could see or hear him. He wanted to know how this woman became his mother. Suddenly, she stopped and stood directly in front of him. They looked at each other for a moment. Her blue eyes were crystal clear. Could she really see him? “You have to make this right” she said. “You have to fix what I’ve broken.” Then just as suddenly she turned and walked away and continued down the street.
Al broke out in a cold sweat. He felt faint and nauseous. “What? Wait! Don’t walk away. Come back.” Then he fell like a heap on to the concrete sidewalk.
He awoke again in 2011. The clock said it was 4:30pm. He bolted up. Was it all a dream? He was confused and he immediately reached for the phone to call Linda. Of course she wasn’t home. She would be teaching her yoga class at this time.
“Hey darlin, it’s me. Look, I really need to see you. Please call me when you get this message.”
Al walked to the kitchen to get a beer and then he thought better of it. He needed a clear head so he filled his glass with water instead. What did Tracey/Beth mean? How could he fix this? It was all in the past. It happened over forty years ago. He felt sick again. He was going to throw up. He ran to the bathroom to take care of himself.
After a nice dinner and a long chat with Linda, Al realized it must have been a dream. While it wasn’t fuzzy like other dreams he’d had, he knew that time travel was impossible. He was dissatisfied with his life and he wished things could be better. The dream was just a manifestation of those thoughts.
Months went by without incident and he continued to live his life. He dated but had no real feelings for anyone in particular. He went to work as a beat cop. He drank beer. He went to the gym and he spoke to Linda daily. But as October 2nd approached an ominous feeling began to overtake him. Was that really his birthday? He knew something was coming on October 2nd but he didn’t know what.
On the morning of October 2nd he was drenched in sweat and he knew that he had traveled. Where was he this time? What year was it? Someone was calling his name. “Al! Help me please, Al!” He sat up in bed. He looked around. This time the room had the remnants of perfume and there was women’s underwear on the bed. He got up and ran to the sound of the voice. He ran to the Bathroom and on the floor, clutching her stomach, was Linda. “I think it’s time” she said. “The baby is coming. Grab the bag, get the car and let’s go to the hospital.” Al was stupefied. Linda was pregnant?! He glanced at his Left hand and noticed the wedding ring. He glanced at her hand and noticed her wedding band. They were married?
“What’s today’s date?” He said.
“No, the year?”
“2010 — .please stop asking me stupid questions and get me to the hospital” Linda begged. “Move quickly, I don’t want to have our baby on the bathroom floor in this apartment. Get the car and meet me in front of the building, just like we discussed.”
Al was happy. He couldn’t believe it. How had this happened? He and Linda?! Married, with a baby on the way? He was more than happy. He ran down the stairs in his pajamas and bare feet. He didn’t know where his car was but he was on his way. Then suddenly his foot slipped, he fell down the steps and banged the back of his head. He was out.
He woke again, looked around, and groaned. Not because his head hurt but because he knew he had traveled again. He was back in 1964. He listened for sounds. He heard what he thought was singing. Yes, someone was singing a lullaby. He walked towards the bedroom and the sound grew louder. He watched Jennifer as she held him. She caressed his check and she kissed his forehead. She spoke to him. “My little Alexander, I’m so happy that I have you. I love you so much. They want to take you away from me. They say I’m too young to care for you but you are my child and I will always take care of you. I can give you what you need the most – love.”
The sound of his mother speaking to him brought tears to his eyes. The young girl had made a mistake but she truly cared for him. Al openly watched her but she couldn’t see him. There was a loud knock on the door. He knew that it was bad news. She grew still and put the baby down. “Don’t open the door” he begged. “Please. Don’t open the door.”
Jennifer moved toward the door and looked through the peephole. She breathed a sigh of relief. It was Tracey. “Please, Al begged again, louder. Don’t open the door.” Jennifer opened the door. Tracey was alone and she looked right at him as she entered the apartment.
“I thought you were my parents” Jennifer said breathlessly.
“Nope, just me. How’s little Alexander today”?
“Wonderful, as always” Jennifer answered. “I can’t believe it’s been three months.”
Tracey looked at Al again and he looked at her.
Little Alexander began to cry and Jennifer rushed to pick him up again.
As Jennifer left the room, Tracey asked him “Why are you here? What do you want?”
Al didn’t have an answer.
Jennifer returned to the room. She was so happy to see her friend. They chatted for a while and then Jennifer made a fatal mistake. She asked Tracey to watch the baby while she took a quick nap. Tracey agreed.
As Jennifer slept, Tracey dressed the baby and packed his bag. Al asked her what she was doing but she just grabbed the baby and walked towards the door.
Al knew. He knew why he was here. It was his chance to change his fate. He saw what could be. He saw that he could have love with Linda and he saw how bleak and alone his future could be. He had to do something. He had to do it now.
He remembered that day when he last saw Beth/Tracey. He remembered the smell of the room. He remembered the look in her eyes and it wasn’t one of love as he made himself believe. It was the same look that he had seen over the years. It was the look of cold, hard, hatred. He remembered all those years in foster homes and she never told him she loved him. She told him that he would suffer. She would never let him be adopted. She didn’t want the little bastard but no one else would have him. She stayed in contact with him so that she could enjoy his suffering. She told him that she should have smothered him the day he was born.
He remembered that last day with her in the hospice with alacrity. This time he remembered it as it truly happened. They didn’t hold hands. There were no sweet feelings and no unspoken words of love. The room was cold and sterile. Just like her. He stood over her and slowly pulled the breathing apparatus from her mouth. He watched detachedly as she struggled to breathe. He hoped she was suffering. He hoped she was in pain. He didn’t know why she listed him as her next of kin. Why did she request that he be contacted? He hated her. She knew and he knew it.
He remembered the last time he was in 1964. The day of his birth, on the street, when he thought she told him to make things right. When he thought she told him to fix what she’d broken. What she actually said was that he couldn’t change anything. She looked at him with those piercing blue eyes and told him to go back to where he came from. She told him that this was the way it was supposed to happen. There was no fixing this. She was going to kill him.
Al had to bring this to an end. As Tracey walked towards the door, he looked for something to stop her. He could find nothing. So he used the only weapon available to him; his bare hands. He grabbed her neck from behind and squeezed as tightly as he could. She had a look of disbelief on her face as he crushed her throat. When her knees began to weaken, he grabbed the baby and placed him on the couch. Tracey tried to stand so that she could fight back. He didn’t give her the opportunity. As she lay on the ground gasping for air, he took his foot and placed it on her throat. He pressed firmly, depriving her of oxygen. Then it was over. He had killed her twice. He looked at her on the floor and he felt nothing. He opened the door and closed it behind him. Then he used his shoulder to force it open. Jennifer heard the noise and woke up. She saw the door off the hinges, Tracey’s body splayed on the floor, and she began to scream.
Al woke with a jolt. He was sweating profusely. Where was he? He looked around and breathed a sigh of relief. He was at home on his couch and it was dark outside. He looked at the wall clock and it said 12:00am. The air was still and thick. It was a hot, summer evening in July. The television was on. The date and time read July 7, 2011, 12:02 am. He shrugged off the feeling of discomfiture and walked into the bedroom. He removed his clothes and looked around him. He opened the nightstand drawer and saw his service revolver. His blue uniform was hung nicely in the closet and on the bed were his wife Linda and his baby daughter Beth. He climbed into bed and went back to sleep with a contented smile upon his face.