Alex Rezdan - "That Moment When Time Stopped"

 

That moment when time stopped, I saw the future. It surprised me, because I always thought I would see the past flash through my mind before everything ended abruptly, like a film reel burning out, the blackness invading from every direction until that was all there was. Sometimes I thought of it more like when the battery on a laptop dies. It just shuts down, every circuit grasping for an electric current the way my body was grasping for air. I wished I could simply plug in to recharge, and perhaps that’s what led me to ingest those pills as if they were batteries for my soul, but instead, what I got was a glimpse of our future together.

In the park, you--whom I have yet to meet--sat at the bench waiting for me to arrive. You were tapping your foot to the music that always seemed to play inside your head and waved your arms around when you saw me as if you had been stranded in the desert for days and I had come to save you. I liked to think we had saved each other, really. You pulled out your flask from inside your coat, and I graciously took a swig before we followed the crowd into the fair. Maybe it was the drinks that did it, or more likely your terrible aim at throwing a softball, but this was the day I realized I loved you, not in that sense that movies and television have distorted the word, but in the sense that I knew I wanted you to be part of the rest of my life, and even if we strayed apart for ten years, I wouldn’t forget to contact you when I visited your city or be too busy when you came to mine.

It pained me to think I probably walked past you, too shy to strike up a conversation, perhaps several times in every variation: sitting next to you on the train, standing behind you in line at the grocery store, stealing glances at you at the bar.

In another glimpse, in that future city when I visited you, I experienced snow for the first time. I shivered in my thin jacket, and you teased me about being from Southern California. You suggested ducking into a bar to warm up and introduced me to grog, of which I was not a fan. You noticed that I kept looking at the old, beat up piano in the corner and, because the place was empty, I agreed to play a song. It was during that detuned rendition of The Entertainer that we realized this could be it. Our last day. We didn’t say anything, but I knew we were both thinking the same thing: at least we’ll always have those great memories to look back on.

Except maybe now we won’t.

My feet felt heavier as I walked you back to your apartment, each step taking more effort than the last, yet you twirled and danced, giddy from the alcohol. I wanted to grab your shoulders and shake you and scream, “Can’t you see our story is about to end? Stop being so happy!” But instead, we said goodbye as if we’d see each other during lunch the next day. It hurt to see you disappear into that stairwell, but later I realized I preferred this over the farewell hugs we gave each other all those years ago. Looking back at our last day, I wouldn’t remember us standing outside your door, trying to delay the inevitable with awkward conversation. Instead, I’d see us passing around your flask, singing The Middle by Jimmy Eat World while you led me through streets that all looked the same. That song always did make me think of you.

As I walked back to the hotel, the weight in my legs became too much. I stopped in the middle of a bridge--Schlossbrücke, you had called it--and looked into the water, the rippling reflection of stars, moon, and me, and returned to the present moment. Alone in the dimly lit room. Empty beer cans scattered on the bed and my last cigarette burning on the ashtray next to the glass of red wine I swiped from downstairs. The smoke clouded the room, and I wished I could dissipate the same way, leaving nothing but a lingering scent as a reminder that I once existed.

You--who surely must exist somewhere--were not the only thing I saw in that moment. I saw the birth of my child and the name Amelia escaping my lips when the nurse put her in my arms. I experienced the loss of my parents, bittersweet in that I never truly felt independent from them but glad they didn’t have to suffer in outliving their only child. I met other people in other countries and laughed--yes, laughed--with them. I was interrupted in a romantic pursuit due to cat hair. My eyes puffed into bulging slits of red and all the water in the world couldn’t wash away that blunder. I knew it blew any chance I had with that person, and cats forever became a deal-breaker.

Futures that could but would never be teased me with happiness. I inhaled them all until my body rejected them and coughed them into the air together with those pill-shaped batteries and acid-tasting bile. My hands gripped the itchy bed sheet as my eyes focused on the fedora-shaped water stain on the ceiling. My breath returned to me, shallow at first, then steady like a heartbeat. I turned my head to the side and watched the red liquid sway gently in the glass. I looked at time as a pearl in the oyster I created around it and imagined it dissolving in the wine until only a grain of sand was left drowning at the bottom of the glass, and then I swallowed it.

Alex Rezdan is an American writer currently living in Berlin. His short stories have previously appeared in Popshot, Literally Stories, and Fabula Argentea, along with Berlin-based magazines RHNK and Berlin Unspoken. When not procrastinating on Reddit or playing his guitar, Alex is working on completing his first interactive fiction novel.