Category Archives: Vignettes

Details lost to history

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On the Moon

She never smiles. I wonder, briefly, if it is because the lack of weather depresses her. The moon doesn’t have a breath of wind. Between the stillness and the endless powdery grey, the place feels like a graveyard. Forget the awe of standing on the moon.

The inside of her little pod is painted a cheerful sunshine yellow, like she wants to be happy. Or like somebody wants her to be happy. Her husband, an enormous jovial man named Moque seems to be forever trying to improve her mood. At least, I think he is. I have no business being there and so I have to watch from afar. He seems a good man, the kind who might smuggle a gallon of bright yellow of paint from the Earth if it means cheering his wife.

I don’t know her name. Her husband’s lunar suit has a name-tag, but hers does not. She has a wide face, flawless, with large dark eyes. Her hair is short and black and compliments her long slender neck. Hers is a face like you don’t see in the present, like how paintings from the middle ages show faces just slightly different than ours — not ancient, but old and from a time gone by. Only hers, this woman on the moon, her face is from a time that has not yet come, and I find it difficult to look away.

I did not come to see her. I did not know she existed. I had come to see the Earth while standing on the moon. Most people choose the distant past for this. I had to travel ahead more than a hundred years to do it and I picked a timeline in which I never existed. It is like some part of me knew she was here.

It’s hard to be inconspicuous on the moon, even if you do not, technically, exist. There are only a hundred or so people on the whole colony and a visitor who arrives without a ship is not only mysterious, but impossible. She has seen me at least twice, and both times, rather than panic, she has only looked, blinking at me like I was a phantom  she could not clear from her eyes.

I planned to come once, look at the Earth and go. I’ve gone back three times now, I confess, mostly for her. The Earth in the sky… I keep expecting it to occupy a space in the sky the same size as the moon does from Earth, but of course it is larger. It is more intricate, colored pale blue and green and brown. It is beautiful and amazing and everything people said it would be, but somehow, on this third trip, I have acclimated to the sight of it — but somehow not to to her.

I should not return. I don’t plan to return but as start my journey home, to my timeline, I spy a future me crouching behind a large tank of air, and I am glad.

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Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

“You want a peek?” A young gentleman asked the question. He held out his binoculars. He was eager to share. It was a moment of pure joy for him, watching the new queen pass. I took them. I looked. The Queen’s gilt carriage had already passed far enough I could only see her hands. Still, I let out a whistle so my new friend would feel I’d been impressed. He quickly took the binoculars back and scrunched his eyes up as he tried to get another glimpse, but of course it was too late.

I told him I liked the bells. Bells were ringing everywhere. He said he liked them too.

I looped back and did it again, getting his attention sooner. The second time I saw the queen. She looked quietly pleased. I told my new friend I liked the queen’s hat and he went bananas.

“A hat? You call that a hat! It’s a crown you bloody lunatic! A sacred crown!” He yanked the binoculars from me and stewed as he tried to focus on her.

On my third and final loop, I called her crown “resplendent” and he smiled as though I told him he was going be crowned king of the world.

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Rosa Parks

One of the most frustrating things about time travelers is that they can take credit for anything. They claim they nudge history along and in making these grand pronouncements, they diminish our heroes. Take, for example, Rosa Parks. White people just can’t can’t seem to let her have her credit.

She boarded that yellow bus without the help of any of you time travelers. None of you whispered in her ear to “stand up for herself.” Not in this timeline. When James Blake moved the sign behind her and lazily ordered her and the other “Negroes” to the back of the bus, her weariness after a long day transformed into a determined resolve that took on historic proportions.

When you claim, at a party, over cocktails, that you helped her along, that you nodded your approval or sat firm in your seat too, it makes you a fool and, frankly a bit of a racist, even if you think you’re helping — even if you only mean to express your awe.

 

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Ellis Island 1910

The smell is rank, even for 1910. No one has showered. The lucky ones had time to air on the decks and cut the smell with an odor of briny sea. A family have blotted themselves in cologne, not realizing that stink makes the line move faster. The immigration officers will linger over them in the relief of their perfumed cloud.

The mother, nearing the front, hisses in Greek at her son to stifle his coughs. She pinches his cheeks so he’ll look rosey. The boy growls to sooth his throat and she glares at him. “Are you an animal now?” He stops, but now he is thinking of what animal he will be.

He tells me this later, when I meet him in 1965. Though, to be clear, I meet him first and then loop back to Ellis island to see the small tiger.

 

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Valley Forge – 1778

Valley Forge Time TravelOn a recent visit to Valley Forge, a low funk wended its way over the snow and cut through the cold. “Firecake farts,” my companion whispered. He’d been here before. Firecakes were made from half burnt flour and water. It was all the troops had to eat. General Washington’s speech was something to behold. “But keep back from that breath,” I was warned.

All these little details, lost to history.

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Meditations on a Giant Moa

I’ve only seen a single Moa. It stood at the edge of a forest clearing in a patch of dappled, early morning sun on a warm spring day in 1503. It was more than twice my height and nervous. It barely seemed like a bird. Moa are often depicted in a way that imply feathers, but the enormous creature I saw was shaggy and grotesque, like a horrible Muppet stumping through the trees.

Its sharp eye was deep green and suspicious. It moved off from me with slow massive strides. Thick, heavy talons gripped and released the dessicated leaves and dirt of the forest floor as if warning me not to follow.

To imagine it, you might be tempted to picture  an ostrich enlarged, but the the nearest physical experience in terms of height, strangeness and awe might be a giraffe, if a giraffe were an anxious and irritable bird that half-resembled a dinosaur.