Sunday, November 03, 2013

An Ineluctable Modality: Chapter 3

An Ineluctable Modality is a novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo's 2013 Challenge where the goal was to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. This year, I wrote a novel-in-blog-posts: you can read the previous chapter, here

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It had been such a mild day yesterday for this late in the season, I thought I would drive into town and walk around a bit in between running some errands, mostly for the exercise knowing that, with winter coming, it will be less likely I'll get much walking done at all. Even after six years, I feel like a tourist here, whenever I drive into Langley ("The Village," they call it, of course). Most people on the street who'd notice would probably figure me for a summer person who forgot to leave. Soon enough, I will be hibernating out here in my farmhouse in the woods. I might as well start stocking up on food – canned goods, cat food and the like – and the grocery store in the old shopping center near the center of town was as good as any that might be closer. The post office was just around the corner so I took care of some business there as well and since the library was only a couple blocks beyond that, I'd check to see if anything new would be of interest.

Normally, I would not bother with a library since I like to buy any book I'd be interested in reading, considering most of the books I would be interested in reading weren't typical of the ones you'd find in a small-town library. But I must get over this attitude of superiority that marks me as a "Big City Fella" looking down on the simpler way of life, here.

I can hardly complain about feeling like an outsider with that, can I? But I didn't move here for the camaraderie, either, whatever I care about their perception of me. The point is, I wanted to be left alone and that is an easy thing to do, here.

At the post office, people were talking about the Halloween parade that had been canceled because of the wind – up to 30mph, they said, and I suspect it had been higher than that up on my hill. It wasn't safe for the kids, though of course they were disappointed. Twenty years ago, Madeleine and I would certainly have gone out, maybe not in costume, with some friends to grab a bite to eat and take in the parade, hurrying back in time for trick-or-treaters, though invariably I would have retreated to my study and let her tend to the candy.

Walking along the street toward the library, I noticed a crowd of people standing in the old cemetery though it didn't look like a funeral. Ah, I thought, a ghost tour left-over from Halloween. Someone walking up behind me confirmed it was a group that had planned on visiting "Old Mary's" grave last night during the parade: much safer, I thought, in the day light.

Old Mary's grave, the only witch in town, someone told me when I first moved here and I asked about witchcraft trials in its past. Salem it was not – there was only one, I was told, and even then, Old Mary (who was neither old and nor possibly even named Mary) hadn't become known as a witch until years after her death and that, it turns out, was all circumstantial. When she died, her husband placed a heavy stone – wolfstone, it was called – over the length of her grave, ostensibly to keep the animals from digging at the new-turned ground. Right.

But it was the only grave in the cemetery like that and so people began to suspect it was to keep her from digging her way out of the grave and coming back to haunt him. Then people noticed large flocks of crows started to gather, sitting on her tomb on the anniversary of her death, the only grave in the whole cemetery they flocked to – and on that day, now, really – what was not to think (or rather, assume)?

The wind rattled noisily, steadily around my house Friday night, despite its being protected by the surrounding trees. The whole idea of watching a program about a history of New England vampires on television didn't help pass the night, alone in this old, creaking house. Usually, such noises had become part of my aural landscape by now, creeping out of the woodwork. They rarely phased me even when they'd come unexpectedly.

Still, I couldn't help but remember the fear I used to have trying to sleep in this very room when I was a child, visiting during those summers, convinced my grandparents lived with a whole family of ghosts. It had been hardly better, last Friday night.

Now, last night had been much quieter and this morning, I woke to gray skies, still fairly mild for Maine this time of year. I know, I didn't want to be writing an on-line journal – which is all a blog is, really, isn't it? – all about weather and the news of the day. They're rather solipsistic affairs, aren't they, these blogs? Only what I experience matters in the scheme of things: leave it to someone else to put them all together to make a whole. I had considered naming myself Sol Lipsitt after an old teacher of mine, but I like Proteus better.

At least, we have a history, Proteus and I. The other names I'm using, not so much. My wife's name was not really Madeleine Elstir. The simple mention of her name evokes a world of memories for me, meeting her when I first started teaching at Cheatham College and she was an aspiring painter just finishing a degree in art. The first time I saw her, I hardly noticed her, but we quickly became good friends and married that first summer. I would like to think we were happy, the two of us, and there were times, frankly, being with her just made me feel dizzy with delight, if that's not too prosaic a statement (vertiginous, perhaps). In the larger scheme of things, shoes fit – worn: Sol Lipsitt rises above the masses. Ita missa est.

I did not turn the clocks back last night before I went to bed. It seemed better to wait until I was awake to see what time it would have been, then reset the clocks – “Falling Back" to what was now the official time. And just like that, I could see I've received an extra hour, the return on my investment with Daylight Savings Time and Bank.

Of course not, I would tell students who'd nod at anything I'd say. It's Daylight Saving Time and we're only being repaid the hour the government borrowed back in the spring: there's not even a minute of interest earned on that loan. Where's the justice in that?

Now, if I could turn the clock back years, not just an hour, how far back would I turn it? If I turned the clock back one hour at a time, would I wake up with Madeleine beside me again? How many hours, cranking backwards, would it take to reach the time my parents and I visited this house when I was a child?

Not to relive it but to stay a while, until springing forward, back to the present, no more than a vacation in the past. Would I want to spend five months there and then return, knowing what the future will be?

Every year with the return of Standard Time, I would fall back into a summer past or maybe springtime which I prefer (no great fan of cold, neither am I a fan of hot weather). What would the point of this time travel be if could only go back to some past winter? But not just any season: who would want to find themselves (again) in the path of that hurricane which flooded your town or that blizzard which dumped three feet of snow on your house and the old oak tree fell and caved in your roof?

If the government thinks it can legislate time any better than it can the greed of Wall Street – or the health insurance industry, for that matter – what guarantees would there be we would like what happened any better than where we already find ourselves? Then people would be stuck in decades they didn't really want, in seasons they didn't care for.

Where is the political outrage today against a government intent on meddling in our lives and legislating time? Shouldn't Fox News be advocating their viewers protest President Obama's Administration by refusing to turn their clocks back? But then the Right Wing would be in the future, for once, and wouldn't they feel uncomfortable with that? Better to do this in the springtime when they can refuse to turn their clocks ahead.

The implications would be significant: "Tonight's program is at 8:00 Blue Time, 7:00 Red Time." Conservatives show up to meetings an hour earlier than the liberals and push through their agenda. The nation's divisiveness would be made even more manifest, the fulfillment of the solipsis.

But imagine the potential for vacations in sunny 1972. Or going back to attend the world premiere of The Rite of Spring a hundred years ago: only 876,552 cranks. Think of all the jobs that would be created for people who would spend their days turning clocks back hour by hour to the requested destination? How many people would it take to perform 876,552 cranks around the clock?

Of course, one would have to calculate this carefully, accounting for leap years for an extended journey like that, not to mention counting each turn correctly. Perhaps going back to May a year ago would be more feasible: that's only 549 days ago or 13,176 turns of the clock's hour hand.

Digital clocks would be much faster, of course, but would they work as well as the physical turning of an analog clock, watching the hands, crank by crank, swirling backwards?

What would happen if only the traveler could crank the clock: how long would it take one person to perform that many rotations around the dial?

My coffee ready and the oatmeal done, I set them on a small tray and, bypassing the eager cats, stepped out onto my back porch to enjoy breakfast while watching the sun come up. I put birdseed in the feeders on the edge of the porch and the one in the patch of now dead flowers and bare-branched bushes.

I know they tell you not to put seed out for the birds during the summer when they can find enough food for themselves, but I like to see them when they come to visit. It's a mutual bit of welfare.

In the winter, that's different, I'm told, even though I would rather not have to get dressed warmly enough to go outside and face the cold, especially on those windy mornings, or when I must tromp through the snow.

Whether the birds appreciate my thoughtfulness or not, who knows, but I know my squirrels have become fat as a result of it and for this, I'm sure, the hawks are grateful.

But it had begun to rain, now, the temperature too cool to enjoy it as I'd hoped. I was spoiled yesterday, standing in the sunlight. Even though it was no longer summer, it felt like a fresh remembrance rather than a distant memory.

After eating my oatmeal in the warmth of my parlor, looking out over the porch, I wondered how to spend the day: start reading a new book?

Perhaps I should write a book instead? I wonder how Henry is doing with his – it's tempting to call him and ask how it's going.

He will not answer his phone, I'm sure. He would have it and the answering machine unplugged. I would.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * * be continued... 

Dick Strawser

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