A Short Story; to read while the clock is ticking
It’s all relative; at least that’s what John thought to himself. All the various inputs he was capable of processing at that particular point illustrated to him that it was, in fact, relative.
He didn’t consider himself all that clever in the scheme of things, after all, relativity and its ensuing variants had been couched and proffered by far cleverer individuals than he and he had to bow in the presence of the arguments from such sources.
Still, John had no problem with his particular bent on the familiar theme, after all, the concept of relativity and its applications are open to interpretation; at least that’s what John thought to himself.
No doubt there were certain rules in place, after all the patent master’s assistant had done a good job of getting the first five or six theories in place a little while back, although John reckoned that he had stumbled across about another thirteen of the mongrels in the past 24 hours. The joke being the more he found the more he was sure existed, leading to the question, if its relative now, what was it before.
Further, were there degrees of relativity?
Was it possible to be more relative now and a little less later on? That would explain a lot. God, quantum physics was not the realm of the pastry cook and John considered himself a very good pastry cook.
He seemed to remember from one of those kid’s shows that populate those early afternoon hours on Saturday’s where men with beards and brown polo-neck jumpers show you the theory of time travel using a plastic coffee cup and a polystyrene ball, that one way to consider all this had something to do with sitting in a train; looking forward, then backward and then on the roof; all relative but the views considerably different.
“Buggar me” John thought to himself “what does it all mean?”
Coffee scrolls and vanilla slices were his reality; that and working in the early hours of the morning and spending the afternoons in a world that is slightly out of sync to the rest; shared only with other folk that start their day at mad times. This, in its self, introduced the concept of “sliding”, something John was continually endeavoring to verbalize in and out of his own thoughts. That window of time where his reality was, sitting over the rest, looking in and, in places, traveling through; as he poured the custard over the pastry sheets, and seeing the clock by the oven declare 04:27am, proving that his place was just that little out of groove with everyone else’s.
Ending his working day when most others were starting, his wanting to eat dinner when most wanted Cornflakes and his wanting to sleep when most were organizing their luncheon appointments was enough to show that it was strange and, more importantly, strained, to say the least.
The joke was he was a late starter in the scheme of things; Davie “Bull” Trenant was there hours earlier, getting the ovens ready, making the base pastes and icings. Bull was a strange fellow, John often considered him in his own world, Bull’s day started at 11:30 p.m. Now, this was late to most, early to John and normal for Bull; the concept of “sliding” seeming to fill the void of these realities very nicely.
Then there was Sarah, she was the early shift for the shop front, getting the displays in place, making the float, preparing the standing orders for the deliveries; greeting each day with the street-lights on yet making her entrance when John was finishing his lunch.
They slid and moved through each other’s places, and all their’s at odds with most others’.
In his concept was the effect of time on it all. Not time in a linear sense because this was well experienced in everyone’s day as the hours marched forward; more so the effect of the seasons on the very linear nature of the time and its “windowing”.
In the depths of winter the movement away from “the norm” was at its most obvious, the late gray dawns and early evenings, lengthening the gaps, moving the sync away. Then spring and now, summer, when the times are the closest, the apogee in a sense; when John Davidson was as close as he ever got to normal times and normal places.
For as long as he could remember, since he made the conscious shift into this particular suburb of time, he had been aware of this phenomenon. He had no control over it but he was aware of it. Learning how to exist in it had been the hardest, finding the tools to exist a real challenge. Small things, like learning to sleep during day-light and never getting a chance to see first-time movies on television, well not unless he wanted to go without sleep for a day. John was the most ardent supporter of the video-cassette recorder when they first appeared and was the very first in his entire family to buy one, an early Sony Beta, cost over $1000 back when that was a lot of money. DVDs were the answers to all his prayers and the Internet had allowed him to skip to other places where he was almost in sync but this was not real; not reality per se. The more technology intervened, the less alien his “sliding” became but, in the real world, it was just as absolute as ever.
His world had different sensations, his reality of sleeping when it was warm took on a completely different meaning, given the fact that he often did it in the heat of the day, and his working day was never as hot as others. Strange shifts and slinks in the fabric all right but on the face of it; close enough to the other times to be common.
What John was not really aware of was just how close to being different it really was, almost as if he was being teased by the other reality, the one where most people went, sort of “hey, John, we can see you” and he with his vision slightly blurred.
Fair enough he supposed; his lot in the scheme of things. That was before Friday morning, the day before yesterday; the day that he discovered all about the relativity of it all.
It was normal to start with; that is John’s normal; that normal that saw him starting his day at 03:00AM; that saw him riding his 10-speed through the quiet streets of Geelong West, up Britannia Street, across Pakington Street and down Gordon Avenue; the fog eating up any sound and returning it as a damp caress on ruddy cheeks. The “aloneness” John took as the norm on his way to work.
Arriving at the shop, in a small side street of the main shopping mall was uneventful. Inside the sound of the radio, tuned to one of those blasted “golden-oldie” stations producing Eagles music for its own sake, Glenn Fry continually singing about things no pastry cook in Geelong, Australia, really knew much about anyway.
Bull was finishing the bottom shells for the pies and yelled a greeting to John over the protestations about “the new kid in town” and it started, another day in the life of John Davidson.
The clock was not really a clock per se, it was one of those old Westclock wind-down timers, a white case with a big dial, graduated with minutes, the whole thing turning then ticking backwards and finally screeching its ring across the making room, and not a battery in sight. It was the same Westclock they had been using for as long as John could remember, since the day he started his apprenticeship with Kaiser’s Fine Cakes 20 years prior and it preceded him by many years. It must have been used many thousands of times prior and the way it was going would be so for many thousands more; it was just there.
The custard powder was added to the mixing bowl, hot milk added and the motor started. He turned the clock forward to the line next to the 5, actually it looked like a blank because the black in the engraved 5 was gone, worn away with use and it did what it was designed to do; it started to tick backwards.
John turned away from the mixer and back to the shell pots, to fill them with pastry ready for the custard. Alone the west wall of the room, measuring 20 meters, was a row of windows, set high in the wall and designed to open inward and swing down, effectively opening a 2 meter gap in the wall to allow the hot air of the ovens to escape into the still morning air. The glass was frosted and rough, a fine mesh visible as reinforcement in the large panes. Through the glass was a wonderful blue sky; a summer’s day. Nothing out of the norm, except it was 04:25AM.
Across the room the sound of the music played, it was the Kinks, “Lola”, the clock ticked back, Bull was head down and arse up, the change, the shift, the what ever the fuck it was had not seemed to have been noticed by his big friend.
The song played out and the DJ’s voice was not “Mad Dog” Dillon, their fellow “slider”, mores the point, words like afternoon and a hint at a time of day that just wasn’t right seemed to mesh with the optical feedback John was experiencing, just as he was about to call to Bull the bell on the timer rung, breaking his reverie and in the time it took to turn his head the Eagles were back, the sky dark and John quietly wondering whether he had just gone quietly mad; for a second anyway; giving any March hare within a mile a run for their money.
The mixer turned as the custard turned bright yellow. John turned the varispeed control down to 0 and the beaters stopped. He absentmindedly turned the mixture out over the pie shells, running on autopilot, his mind completely in another place, the Westclock sitting where it had sat for ever, its face worn and covered with flour, jam, dried custard and what else ever that had found its way to it; looking all the world to John as if it was waiting.
The time came to do the choux pastry for the cream puffs. The ingredients came in big brown paper bags with a brand that sounded like those people jumping off towers with rubber bands attached to their ankles. John added water to it and turned on the mixer, the shiny silver bowl turning in the opposite direction to the beaters.
He turned the timer on and back to 5, it started to tick back, outside, an afternoon shower had water running down the windows, the smell of hot steamy tarmac reaching his nostrils as soon as his fingers left the raised dial. “Jumping Jack Flash” ground to a halt, the time was 5.20, exactly twelve hours and the few minutes remaining on the timer forward.
This time Bull was in the cool-room during the shift, the clock run back and, as it rang; Carly Simons was singing about Warren Beatty, the first glimmer of a Summer Dawn made its way through the windows and the open door at the back of the work room.
John took the timer off the shelf, it was just the same as it had always been, the back, a silver metal bell plate, two screws holding it neatly into the back of the plastic casing. Its base cracked as it had always been and the dark imprint in the floury ledge testimony to its consistent inhabitance of that place.
He turned it back a minute, it ticked and nothing happened; then 5; nothing.
This time all the way around to the hour and back, the room changed, hot now, heavy with the heat from a very warm day, the sun streaming in through the back door, peaking over the roof of the delicatessen across the lane. He turned it back to its stop, the bell muffled by his fingers holding it. The dawn was fuller,
“You probably think this song is about you.”
Turning it again, just a tad off the hour, the dawn advanced slightly. As John turned the dial he watched the sky change, so much like that scene from “The Time Machine” as Gene Barry pushed the gem encrusted handle forward and the Morlock’s rotted away before his eyes.
Moving the dial back and forward seemed to pull the sun across the sky in likewise directions, well, at least that much of the sky as he could see. He turned it back to the bell stop and the dawn stretched itself awake a little more.
The rest of the morning swam, John found another timer in the store-room. It was red, God knew why, and it was “normal”. He finished the cakes, helped Sarah with the deliveries and cleaned up the room. The mid-morning bake completed, the fresh meat pies moved to the shelves in the shop and John’s day was done.
He rode home as quickly as he could, had what was his dinner and retired to his room. John turned the clock to the hour and let it tick backwards. Outside the night sky was full of the summer constellations, the Southern Cross overhead, the pivot of the Milky Way.
He laid back, his head on the pillow, the gentle tick of the clock a soft counter-point to the night noises. He put his hands behind his head, his palms sitting under the nape of his neck.
At that particular time, right there, John realized; it was all bloody relative; as his eyes drooped and for the first time in such a long time he was going to sleep at night. He knew he would need to practice it and he had further realized that he would have to turn the clock back on the hour but for a man locked in his other time these overheads were a very small cross to bear.
John Davidson lay quietly on his bed, the timer ticking backwards in its unceasing desire to eat up the hour; the digital clock by the bed’s red eyes blinking 4.30pm. It may all be relative he thought to himself in that soft haze before REMS it was just a case of working out what it was relative too or with.
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