14 | Timing

drama 5a

 < Fate was born in hospitals, the watershed, a four-way stage of dubious magic, and suspended plans. It is, fate, today known, mercurially, silently, as “a life-changing event.” One who really charts a course, however, or in the common, larger view of an ambulatory hiatus, can not more be calmed by gazing interminably from a tall window, a mirror, floor-to-ceiling, watching a life depart the terminal for new places yet unknown.

Aji tried for a joke, and contended his “people were from Coma,” but then she quelled it, realizing the insensitivity of it from the sound of the nouns. He noticed only she felt sensitively. The breezy Saturday afternoon at beach of Coney Island had been his suggestion. The day began with Aji snapping a bright, red-and-white picnic cloth from the corners. “I always wanted a real Earthy picnic on a field of greeny grass,” she said, not even drolly, and missing again. “Sand will do.”

timing rough guides irf{a>A}

He was not a sky-gazer, but alone, recalling Aji’s last visit, –- Maurice was getting a sponge bath, — he drew greater breaths, and entertained more gravity. He allowed his eyes to scale beyond the cafeteria masonry outside his hospital window towards the stars. He said in a few pensive moments, “Nah. She’s attractive. But she’s a flake.”

He had asked her about a restriction. “Because?”

Because otherwise the doors will close. Oxygen, say.”

He said, “You’re an American, or French, n’est-ce pas?”

Aji said, “The French, yes, but not all Americans like oxygen.”

Eighty-three minutes?” he repeated. “You can only stay out for eighty-three minutes.”

The doors close,” she said. “Oxygen is only part of it.”

He searched for a dill pickle. “What do you breathe? Helium?”

Aji said, “Funny. Oxygen. A different concentration.”


She allayed, “There are many technical reasons. We worry about dark matter. We fear outlaws in time-space. Those are posted minutes. Eighty-three. Like forty-eight hours, yes?”

Okay. What doors.”

Aji rolled her eyes and curved her head. “The great doors of the heavens.”

He said, “Scientists, and maybe…people who oversleep a lot, can warm up to the subject of ‘dark matter.’” It was not exactly roast prime rib of beef, and garlic potato in a hospital cafe.

It’s luck, really,” she had said. “Timing.”


The bottle top of a Coca-Cola purchased from Mare to preempt an excusable rage resisted his grip to unscrew it. His roommate Maurice popped it in one try, creating the familiar hiss. He sipped the cola, nodding. His audience was captive, and agreeably caffeinned. He said, “It’s my grandfather’s story from the first world war.”

Maurice lay on his pillows in the open room, and covered his head with a forearm, apparently planning to listen, and catnap. He related, “It’s about World War I, and St. Petersburg, which actually became Petrograd, and then Leningrad after the war. Tsaritsyn became Stalingrad, and then it was Volgograd. St. Petersburg had been the imperial capital, and Tsaritsyn, much worse, — it had been named for the tsar — was nearly taken off the map. His story begins in Switzerland. My grandfather was a Swiss émigré. He crossed the Red Line, and back, many times, a Swiss Army captain in the ‘First War.’ He guarded with a contingent of Swiss guards Switzerland’s border with France. They had been stationed in an abandoned manse, the owners leaving it because of the bombs, and gunfire just about in their yard. The Swiss were neutral, of course. They’ve always been neutral. The Swiss land was not in danger, and the ruckus quieted considerably as the months passed. The name of the town, the canton, was Les Brenets. The owners’ lot of land in fact included the nation’s bounds: if the owner stepped into his neighbor’s yard, it would have been France. The war moved north, and east from Les Brenets after the contingent camped, and there was virtually no activity, besides snow. Snow piled upon snow from the Alps. He said it could snow three feet easily before lunch time. I didn’t believe it until I Googled an Alpine canton, Santis. Santis holds a world’s record for the deepest snow — 570 inches. That’s Babylonian!”

Deep snow,” Maurice said, deliberately. “That is deep snow.”


He continued, “Rather than shovel the Swiss snow, my grandfather opted to follow the civil war in Russia. They learned about it, the civil war, from pamphlets strewn from planes into the neutral nation by both sides. He liked to say the border with Ukraine was only a thousand miles away from Switzerland, — if you’re are a crow. He liked the White movement, and followed it like it was the Mets. These were soldiers, and Les Brenets was isolated. The White Army was led by a guy named Anton Denikin, and another man, named Kolchak. The west was still at war with the Germans, and the Kaiser. They hoped the civil war might undermine the eastern front, and, of course, it ultimately did: the Russians left the war in 1917.”

He coughed, and opened a bottle of spring water. “Sorry,” he said, repairing in the bed, and raising the lifter. “If you recall from History, the Bolsheviks, who became known as the ‘Reds,’ were rival to the ‘Whites.’ The Reds wanted to overthrow the Romanov tsars, unconditionally. The cause of the Reds, and Whites were much the same; nevertheless, they were fierce enemies, and fought each other as much as the tsar. My grandfather called it ‘dumb war.’ The Reds had rebelled against the Romanovs, and the whites rebelled against the Reds, especially once the Reds gained against the tsarist regime, and definitely after the Revolution of 1917. The whites had opposed the tsar, but they attacked the Reds. The hostility honestly lasted until the second world war. I guess the Bolsheviks must have concluded the whites were more inclined to the Tsar, or perhaps aligned. This was a bloody feud.” He said, “He wasn’t interested in the politics of the White Army. The Swiss were very close to the Germans. They share land, heritage, nationality. Their cause was separate, but Germany remained, and would remain their neighbor to the north. The stories of Russian whites were legion. Most soldiers saw them as oddballs, and Tartars, but to others, they were like messianic. It was because of the way the Whites fought the war, a little like the American Indians.”

A registered nurse scheduled for the night appeared at the doorway, and the staff delivered chicken a la king to both men from the cafeteria. Maurice was downcast and couldn’t sleep. His roommate continued, “These troops spent years in Switzerland in the isolation of the Alps at the French border, snowbound, in armed bunkers at the home. I like the one about the deer, squirrels, and the wolves, whom, my grandfather said, seemed to believe the Swiss Army was completely deranged. The Whites were a distant affinity for tentative young men. Every nightfall, and before sunrise, the animals peered from setbacks in the woods at the line of Swiss bunkers, and — for sport, or fun? – they’d sprint between trees and draw fire. It made no sense. It wasn’t sensible. The soldiers followed the nonsense down: They decided to emulate the tactics of the Russian Whites against the wolves! They drilled it and practiced it.”

Maurice interjected, “I’ll bet they got their butt kicked.”

He chuckled, and said, “Well, the Whites focused the war on Nature, like it was a deity, against the Bolsheviks, and the tsar. They bowed to weather before an assault. They gauged the angle of the rays from the sun and shot rounds into the air; they noted the amounts of melting snow, and the depths of streams. He said it all began when a unit of Whites was slaughtered in the nineteen aughts. The reason? They didn’t realize the enemy could see their breath, — a huge, white cloud — over a hundred of yards away.”

Maurice dragged, and dropped chicken, and noodles, and chicken. The roomie continued the story: “Some members of the Swiss contingent didn’t find the Whites all that remarkable, but my grandfather was pretty ardent about it. He was elected to lead the scrum with the forest animals. It’s all they had.”

Like us,” Maurice agreed, carving with a plastic spoon.

He said, “He was snared one day. He said the wolves, and deer had singled him out. He decided to know why. He became the Whites. My grandfather built a parapet of snow, a firing line safe from the encroaching wolves, if they assailed his position. The whole thing was mesmerizing. The wail of the wolves from the darkness of the forest; one, two, three racing in the dark, every one casting a long shadow over him; the wolves split away – one went left, one stayed in the center, another, to the right, changing positions in the hour. He fired once over the trees to scare them away, figuring, he said, they’d see the moon, and run off. He bolted madly from the perch, firing into the sky at the moon, and again into the woods. The wolves were not to be found; just vexed squirrels. He was unable to find the wolves, and eventually returned to the bunker. A female wolf was resting on one side in his spot. He checked, but she wasn’t shot. Her jowls were wide; it was not a smile. He finally saw the pack of wolves to the west of him at the edge of the Swiss property in, well, France.”


He saw Maurice splashing his face with water from the bathroom tap. Maurice commented, “Sleeping in a hospital is like sleeping in an airport terminal.”

Mmm,” he said, still at the window. His mind listed into the midlight: He saw everything in the room, and his calm was no greater, or less; it was like a web page loading without complete detail; pop-up ads filled the visual square. Maurice, in a dreamy backlight, was comfortable to see as a clown, in the corner, a mine in a skit. He heard him but did not feel the need to comprehend him; a nurse entering the room in time lapse, outside, with a wheelchair, and entering, outside again, entering the room again; it would continue unabated, his eyes rising, and falling upon Maurice with a slightly-rude stare. He shook his head into reality. He stepped to the window again, thinking about his grandfather. His grandmother’s habit was to call him “Hon,” and he’d correct her. “He’s not a Hun.” One evening, in the spring, with the air so dry it smelled grandly, she said to him, “Good-bye, sweetie,” at a rest home, with a wink of her right eye, and a sagacious look. He didn’t like “sweetie,” either. He was brusque. He was conscious now at the window of a flush of blood filling his body, a renewed sense of well-being, churning through the eve.

He left the rest home in the morning, and never lost the vivid memory. It was an overcast Florida morning, when the early fog stays in the air past sunrise, causing a haze. He saw the brick, and the gray mortar lines of the rest home façade, and felt a wonderful salt breeze from the ocean, and he covered his face with his forearm from sharp gusts of wind; rays of sunlight glanced upon the trunk of a metallic green Toyota minivan. She was a brackish, yellowing picture, with a white border, from the 19th century; anything else was crazy, people would say. She had died, of course; and then forever, his grandmother did not exist. It was striking. She was not part of the world. She was never part of it.

Her maglev had been summoned to Coney Island beach. The pod’s intellect system scanned the heat signal of passengers authorized to board, and was trained to locate them at any time, or place. The capsule could fly, and land invisibly, and quickly, requiring no more than three minutes to travel from New York from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the Earth’s atmosphere; it could wait with innocuity no less than a half-mile away. She obliged the restriction, eighty-three minutes, but the night was no less of a challenge. Aji frowned, resolutely. She swallowed the contents of a silver package, containing nutrients, and minerals from Sombrero not available on Earth; she mused, “not even in New York.” Aji complained to the computer, “I feel like a lost rover,” knowing the Regression regimen, yet a dreadful beta, was soon to commence. The pod would shortly issue the apology technique for its new, and gruff side effects. “I feel like the Huygens, the castoff at the Titan Memorial,” she was saying, and she would have elaborated, but in an instant, her eye sockets blew open, producing a tinge of blood in circles, and Aji shook uncontrollably. Her head and shoulders rolled with the muscles of her neck, side to side; otherwise, her neck would have broken; her skin tightened, tissue pulled into her joints, and she made autonomic fists; in the next stage of the machinery’s automatic program, the vinyl restraints were lifted from her limbs, and she wobbled for 360 degrees in the air; she was dropped her into the chair by another restraint, and it recorded her vital impulses. Aji had begun the fifteen-minute exercise a woman of thirty-two years of age; as the machinery ticked to stop, completing the program, reminding her of a clothes dryer ending a cycle, Aji gasped. She grabbed at her arms and legs, kicked her knees, smoothed her skin, and hair. She glared at her image on the nearby stainless steel mini-refrigerator in the pod, with inexplicable shock. Aji was exactly twenty-one. She fainted in the chair, and she was supposed to faint; the system pumped more nutrients into her blood with an intravenous cord, matter-of-factly, and she slowly restored her color, and control. Aji summoned her pulse, pressed status buttons on the monitors, and maintained her composure with fetching memories of the Deep Vast. She typed the day’s field notes in bold green dos in the monitor screen. The computer reported, “The American Legion briefing will begin in a moment,” and it printed a short piece of paper, like a gasoline pump receipt. It was a sentence, unchanged for the past eleven months.Saturn is unstable,” Aji read.

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theme notesTHEME{a>A}: How to Save a Life,” The Fray | playlist, “Flea Markets, Nos. 1-18,” myopic viale, (No. 17)

The Fray


“The Shadows” is one of three works by SODA TOM

Selections have appeared on Tumblr, and Medium, including The Shadow of Mines.




Copyright Notice

“The Shadows,” by Soda Tom, Vol. I of III,

from The Echo By Seas; & Other Stories

Copyright (C), 2018; 2017, ff., by the author.

All Rights Reserved.

Created by Soda Tom


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