Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Clockworks

A homeless man with no legs frequents the front of Citarella grocery store on Sixth Avenue near my apartment. I stare at his hands as I walk by, trying to make out the titles of thick books he reads; I have yet to decipher one. On a recent stroll, I found a little bird seated next to him on the sidewalk; instead of a book, his hands held bread that he ripped up and dropped in little pieces at the bird's feet. Man-hands and birdy couldn't have been more than 4 inches apart. It was beautiful to see, as the rest of Manhattan shuffled around the three of us unawares.

If I could travel through time, I wonder, would I go backward or forward? ("I miss Nicole so much," the message said. "I want to tell her, but I'm telling you instead.") If I go back, there's that pesky business about butterflies, hurricanes, and apocalyptic effects of changing what has been. But if today is tomorrow, that's the case no matter which way I go. I hate it when I catch myself saying one thing and meaning another.

I wonder if we can know anything for sure; even down to the tiniest, most base detail. Like these atoms between my fingertips and this keyboard; I can't even really say I'm making physical contact with the keys themselves. By that "logic," is it possible that all we do is gamble on the unknown and pray for the best? But if that's so, how does a girl judge what to do, or determine what's right? If I showed the boy-version of the homeless man at Citarella video footage of him legless, dirty, feeding a small bird on a warm Manhattan afternoon, would the young child believe this was his future self? Might he look down, see himself standing on two legs, and reject my intervention? Would he then decide to go forward or back in time; would he climb into the time machine at all?

"Don't let the stresses of the real world make you forget that all it takes is a bus ticket and Finnegan," the postcard said. The next morning I gave notice that I'll be skipping town for a little bit to let that background buzz in my brain take a nice, slow coffee break (black, no sugar). All this musing [Do we sometimes feel so strongly about things because part of us views said things as open outlets; safe for the improbability of them actually being tangible?], on time travel and what might be or have been, wobbles my knees.

I waver. I blink. Long breath in; hold it, then out. I wonder if there's another way; then see there is only through. "I'm happy for you," a friend told me. "It's been a long time coming." And, after all, I suppose it has. See you guys on the other side.

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