Weekend Fiction: Narratological Chronosis
We were sat on the beach on the Costa Blanca. It was too hot, too many people crowded towel to towel, the bodily perspiration…the two of us had been lucky to get a space.
I didn’t want to come here, but it was the best I could do given my financial situation. She seemed pleased enough, both when I told her where we were going and when we were there on the beach. She lay on her stomach on her towel, reading a novel, the cover caked in streaks of sunscreen, edges browned and dog-eared. I sat in a rented deckchair, with a copy of the New Statesman.
Why I brought her on holiday with me I will never know. By that point of sitting on the beach I admit I could barely stand her. We had almost nothing in common and we had barely spoken since we had got off the plane. She was just sprawled there, reading her trash…
I finished off the last article and put the magazine on my lap. I realised that I should’ve brought along my poetry anthology from the hotel room as I looked at my watch and saw that it was exactly 2:30 in the afternoon.
Four more hours of this before our evening meal, I thought.
I looked across at the humming mass of beachcombers, and then down at her. She was on the book’s thirtieth page. I was just about to ask her if maybe if she wanted to go on a walk to break up the day, when she suddenly jumped ahead to page fifty.
I was shocked.
“What on Earth are you doing?” I asked her.
“Hmmm?” she replied, looking up at me and pulling her sunglasses down slightly so her green eyes met my mine.
“Just then. You jumped like twenty pages.”
“It’s how I’ve always read books, to, y’know, get a sense of what’s ahead.”
I rubbed my forehead. This was the last straw; literary blasphemy.
“I don’t understand you at all” I said to her and resumed looking out at the sea.
My comment rolled right off her tanning back and she returned to her book,
Seriously, I thought, how can anyone read like that? This woman’s insane, she may kill me in my sleep, I need to get back on a plane, or at least get a different room…
A nervous response, I checked my watch again. It was now 3:07. Impossible. It was barely a minute since I’d last looked and it was 2:30. Could I have been so shocked by her bizarre habit that I had whiled away more than half an hour of my life?
I looked around, and there had been noticeable shifts in the demographics. That Scouse family to our right had left leaving several beer cans as an epitaph. No one had refilled their space. Some others seemed to have moved slightly, to have disappeared, or been replaced. Some seemed to be more or less exactly the same, many still asleep.
I turned around and looked up. The sun had progressed in its westerly direction.
I gazed back down at my companion, just as she turned back to page thirty.
“Got a good sense of what’s coming then?” I asked her.
“Not really” she said, “it’s not all that obvious at all.
Maybe you should try reading the novel like it’s a novel, is what I wanted to say to her, but I kept my mouth shut.
I looked back at my watch. It was 2:30. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief and looked again, but the two hands remained static. Everything around us was back to the way it was.
“Baby” I said to her, trying to be more amenable, “maybe you should try going all the way to page 100 or something, just to see if it works better for you?”
For the first time since we had arrived she smiled at me and agreed. She turned to page 100 exactly and started to read.
I looked at my watch and it was 5:14. I turned around and saw the sun disappearing behind the mountains, emitting an orange glow. Around us large gaps had opened in the fray. Towels were being rolled up, deckchairs undecked.
“Has it suddenly got darker?” she asked, not taking her eyes on her page.
I didn’t say anything about the changes, but instead asked her: “Is that any better?”
“Not really” she replied.
“How about you try re-reading the first page?” I suggested.
She turned back to the first page and began to re-read.
The sun began to blare, and the beach was full to the brim again. I looked at my watch. It was 1:19. We had moved backwards.
I sat and thought as we relived that seventy minutes, and eventually we got back to just after three. The changes I had noticed in the first instance had come to pass.
“Are you okay just sat there?” she suddenly asked me.
I was passive: “Yeah, yeah, just taking in the sun and sea air…”
“Why don’t we go for a walk?” she said as she started to stand, her sandy right thumb keeping her page.
“Don’t you want to finish your book?”
“Naw” she replied, “re-reading all that lot was a waste of time.”
She looked at her own watch.
“Although it seems to have not wasted too much time” she added. “You look tense anyway; you need to stretch out.”
As she started to slide her thumb out of her book, I recognised what might happen.
“Wait!” I yelled, lunging forward, but it was too late.
She looked at me in surprise as it slipped shut with a creak and a pop.
Since then there has been whiteness all around me, and nothing more.
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