My father used to say “Time tells who wins.” He used to, he doesn’t exist any more.
I woke up the last Saturday morning with a sharp pain in my head. I stared at the ceiling in my Manhattan apartment wishing it away. Whilst intently gazing at the sea of ecru, I promised a god I don’t believe in that if he would make the mother of all headaches disappear; I would be his dutiful servant.
I arose and went through my morning ritual, the nagging throb almost like a doubt made real, still there in my skull. I put on a pot of coffee, thinking –‘caffeine for pain, let’s fight fire with fire,’ and switched on my computer’s monitor wondering if that was a good line for the next chapter of my book. And fuck it, if it wasn’t I’d crowbar it in somewhere. You see deadlines apparently aren’t like promises- made to be broken. I was two chapters away from finishing my book but I’d gone blank, and to say the least, hadn’t a clue what to write next. It was my autobiography and I didn’t know what to write next- how laughable. But how do you finish your life story when your life hasn’t finished yet?
I fingered the calendar on the fridge and realised the mathematical joke of it. The deadline was in a week’s time and my mind had dried up exactly a week ago. I laughed at the symmetry of it and stopped when I thought again- I hadn’t written for a week. Shit! I poured myself a steam of black coffee and sat at the computer. I clicked on my unfinished masterpiece’s folder and skimmed the last written chapter for inspiration. My head still throbbed but not as much as my heart as I looked at empty pages. Fuck! Where is it? I checked the recycle bin and the deleted files log but they were just as desolate as my mood. I remember saving it and I remember fucking writing it as well- so where in hell is it? Where in hell indeed! I envisioned Sharon, my agent, holding a pitchfork to my head whilst the flames licked around my unpaid ass. Then I panicked. I panicked in that ‘oh shit I left the baby in the back of the car and I definitely didn’t wind down a window’ type way. What if it was a bug or virus and it’s got into the other chapters and sent them to writer’s heaven? I took a slurp of coffee for Dutch courage and skimmed the other files.
It took me ten minutes, as my head-ache raged on, to realise chapters were missing. Not all of them but some. Random chapters had disappeared, just as random chapters were still there. How had this happened? Had I done it by accident? As I pulled myself together I held my clammy head in my clammier hands. I picked up the phone and rang Sharon, my agent and soon to be personal Lucifer.
“Sharon, it’s me… Mark,” I stuttered.
“Ah Mark,” she replied. “And how’s the autobiography going?”
“Going’s the right word, it’s gone.” I tried to sound lighter than I felt.
“Well chapters of it, not all of it.”
“Oh Mark the deadline’s next week.” She sounded cooler, calmer and more collected than I’d thought she’d be.
There was a pause and I readied myself for the tirade. And there was none.
“Sweetie… Mark, how much of the book is left?”
“About half.”
“I’m sure if I explain to the publishers we can get an extension.”
My headache began to ease.
“What exactly has gone?”
I flicked again through the folders, it feeling even more gut wrenching than the last time.
“Chapters on my father…me living in New York.”
There was a palpable silence.
“Sharon are you alright?”
“I thought you weren’t going to write about your father, since you know nothing about him?”
For some reason this made me flinch.
“I realise the old bugger can be a bit mysterious and cryptic but we’ve always been close,” I said.
More silence.
“Are you trying to be funny Mark? And when the hell have you ever lived in New York?”
I drew out a breath of air and turned to look out my apartment window. It had been there all morning and I’d already got bored of looking down on Central Park. But the dark, grim sky that silhouetted buildings so hauntingly weren’t of New York. Big Ben stared at me from a distance.
“Your Dad died before you were born. You never met him”.
I never met him? I never held him close, kicked a ball around in our back garden or felt his pride as my first book was published? How strange our memories can be.
I looked at the monitor and my headache turned from doubt to realisation. I scanned the folders and found the chapter entitled, ‘My agent, My lover- How I met Sharon Moore.’
“Mark? Are you there? What’s this all about?”
I clicked on the folder filled of my past with Sharon. Some happy, some sad- all mine.
I then clicked ‘erase’. The phone line went dead.
I studied the London sky line for a while. I chose ‘delete all folders’ and stared at the screen. The history icon caught my eye and I smiled at it. I smiled at the mathematical joke. I smiled at the symmetry of it all. Then I clicked ‘erase’. The sharp pain in my head disappeared.
My father used to say “Time tells who wins.” He used to, he doesn’t exist any more.


One Response to “Ret-con”

  1. Brilliant. Just finished watching Memento, and this story is very apt. So what happened before then? That’s what I want to know… but wanting to know what happened before or what happened next is a good thing – shows you’ve read a good story.

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