This Time, This Place (30 Stories — 7)

The alarm — 5:30, the same as every morning — sounded warped.  That was the first clue, the first hint that the day wasn’t going to play out as planned.  Dave frowned, reaching over the lump of sleeping Melanie to cut off the awkward sound that offended his ears.

That was when he saw the glass of water on the night stand, a glass of water back lit by the harsh lights on the other side of the curtains, a glass of water sporting a full set of false teeth.

Dave drew his hand back fast and scrambled to get out of the bed.  A quick look around the room showed him the same motel decor he’d complained over before going to sleep the night before, the same mock adobe walls painted a sickly yellow.  But there was a mammoth, bright green hard-sider suitcase in front of the TV stand, not the neat, coordinated Samsonite set he and Mel had received as a wedding gift, the set they packed for every trip.

He looked back at the bed and started violently.  The sleeping lump he’d reached over to cut the alarm wasn’t Melanie.  Instead of the knotted fan of her blond curls across the pillow, there was a bald head traced over with thinnest-thin wisps of white hair, just catching the glow of the neon vacancy sign.

Dave looked down at himself and might have been relieved that he seemed to be, in fact, himself.  But the frisson of relief faded before it could fully bloom.  He was himself, but he was wearing the wrong clothes.  His clothes, but his clothes from maybe 1979, from his 500% polyester past.

He looked back at the suitcase, realizing it wasn’t as alien as he’d thought.  He’d traveled with that suitcase numerous times throughout his teen years.  He’d traveled with that case when he’d gone on trips with —

His brain stuttered, and he looked back at the bed.

“Daddy?”  His voice was clear, not the raspy, post-surgery croak he’d gotten used to, but the unblemished baritone resonance he’d lost in his 20s.

“Too early, son.  Let it snooze for ten minutes, right?”

No mistaking that voice, the calm and confident half-hoarse grumble of his old man.

“Sure, sure,” he said quietly.  He walked to the window and looked out.  A beat-down parking lot surrounded by wings of motel rooms faced him.  Such a familiar sight from his trips with his father, tagging along on his dad’s business trips during his high school vacations.  It was a view that was unchanging for cheap motels anywhere, any time.

Did it really happen that people woke up in the past?  It couldn’t, could it?  In movies, sure, but not in anyone’s real life.  He had to be dreaming.  Had to be.  He looked at the clock to check, went to the bathroom and flipped the light switch on and off.  Either move should have clarified the whole scene, placed him safely in unconsciousness.  But he could read the time on the digital clock, could turn lights on and off.  None of the markers of dreams were there to save him.

So it was real?  Somehow it was real?  Somehow he had slept thirty years back to his childhood?  He wondered if the sameness of the motel was the secret, if the view and the room that had come straight out of his memories had somehow opened a door between his now and his then.

 “You really up, Davey?”

“Yeah, dad.  I’m up.”

“Alright.  I’ll join you.  Call down-a the desk, okay?  Say we want pancakes, sausage, bacon and lots of coffee.  Do that, will ya?”

“Sure, dad.”  He walked back across the room and picked up the phone.  He heard his father’s lumbering breaths, the sound a thick, sodden wool blanket.

That sound and his slow struggle to rise told Dave it was late, then.  If he father’s movement and breathing was that labored, it wasn’t 1979, but 1980, closer to year’s end, closer to the phone call from a motel manager in Poughkeepsie telling him and his mother that his father had been found in his bed, dead for several hours, nothing anyone could do.

But here he was, David.  Here he was as a kid but with all the knowledge of the future, of the complete destruction of his equilibrium that would flow from his father’s death.  Here he was, and maybe early enough to do something, change something, shift everything.

What did people do when they fell into the past?  He’d never paid much attention to those movies, and couldn’t call up anything for guidance.  Should he rush around changing everything — avoiding the fights and mistakes that had almost derailed his senior year, choose a different college, not let fear of discovery prevent him from losing his virginity to Shirley Coombs in her parents’ bedroom?  And was this backward slip permanent? Would he have to grow up all over again, or would he wake up right in other day, another week?

He called the front desk and placed their breakfast order.  He listened to his father coughing in the shower.  He turned on the television to pinpoint when he was.

And then he thought of Melanie.  She was lost somewhere in his future.  Was she waking up alone in a room he’d shared with her the night before?  Would he ever find his way back to her?  And if he changed anything in his past, would he lose her forever?

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