Conversation on the Edge of Forever

When I open the kitchen door
something’s wrong. None
of Mom’s crocus paintings
are on the wall.
The wallpaper is bright green
and floral. And before
I can step in, Jenna
with the green eyes turns
the corner.

We look at each other for a long time.

Finally, she offers me a drink
and I ask to come in.

This is your kitchen?
Still trying for that award.

Yup, she says.
This is my kitchen.

I like it, I say.
Nice drapes.

They’re from my grandmother’s house
in Norwood. Personally, I think
they’d be better kindling.

Oh.

She sips her tea.
I look at the park. The late sun glints
off the swing-set the town bulldozed
when I was a kid.

When I came back after dinner
you were gone,
she says.
I brought you a newspaper.

Oh… hm. I’m not sure
I would have believed it.

Well, I wouldn’t have believed you
if you didn’t believe it.

I look out the window
and something occurs to me.
How long ago was that?

About three weeks.

This is really weird.

Well, yeah. Where’d you go?

I didn’t go anywhere.
You went inside. A few minutes later
my sister was standing
over me with a dishtowel.
What I mean is it was about
three weeks ago
for me, too.
Is today the 15th?

Mm-hm, she says
looking at the icebox.

I look out the window. The sun’s
almost below the trees.

Look, I don’t know what’s happening.
I’m pretty sure I dreamed
we had a conversation
a month ago. It felt as real
as now—

That’s good. Because you’re in my house
and we’re having a conversation.

I picture the basement door.
I… agreed to see Forbidden Planet
with you because I wanted to see you
again, and because it’s one of my favorite
movies, and… because…
I was dreaming.
Whether we’re both dreaming
now or not, I’d really like to keep talking
to you like that.

Jenna clears her throat and leans back.
I’ve had a long week.
Entertaining a lunatic
who thinks he’s using his dreams
as a time machine, which is—admittedly—
an elaborate scheme
to get under my skirt,
is not my ideal Tuesday night.

I have a drama exam tomorrow.
I have friends coming over to run lines
any minute now. Then my father
and I are going over my essay
on Hawthorne. Then
I have to sleep.

She stands up. I flush with panic.

If I’m a lunatic, that makes you
my hallucination, I try to say smoothly.

No, she says. That makes you
a jerk-lunatic.

I’m sorry. I just want you
to believe I’m not making this up.
Please. Test me.

She runs her hands through her hair.

Fine.
She stands behind her chair
and leans down.
When were you born?

April 21, 1960.

Not possible. That’s almost a year from now.

She taps on a copy of The Townsman
on the table and sighs.

I turn 16
in a week. You?

I’ll be 16 for another five months.
November 2. 1942.
What major events happen
later this year?

I shake my head.
What kind of question is that? How would you even know
if I’m telling the truth?

You have a better plan
to prove yourself?

Wha—I don’t know. No. I stare at the ceiling
and try to remember the year
before I was born.
Uhm… Barton Road—off Route 9,
right on the border with Newton—
will become where veterans go
to be forgotten.
Every couple days
there’s almost a race-riot
at the high school—

A race-riot? In Wellesley?
Keep trying, Dream-boy.

I stare at the ceiling.
If I ran into the basement
it would probably be her basement. But at least
it wouldn’t be this.

I can tell you about every inch
of this house. This whole neighborhood
used to be owned by one family.
This building was a carriage-stall,
and the stall-hands slept
right there. The basement
is the only original piece.
The closet under the first floor stairs
used to be a separate stairwell
that led to maid’s quarters on the third floor.
The front door came sometime
in the ’teens; a businessman built
it with the garage.

A knock comes on the side door.

Come in! Jenna shouts over my shoulder.
Then she smiles at me.
You can tell me and Pat.

Pat has the air of someone comfortable
with a shotgun. She lets herself in
and immediately pulls a soda
from the ice-box.

Pat, this is my new neighbor.
He was just explaining to me
that he’s not really my new neighbor.
That actually, he lives here, in my house,
in the future.

Oh, why’d you have to? Pat says
to Jenna. You know my thing
for loonies. Cute ones, ’specially.
Pat sits down next to me
with her Pepsi.

She really does. Better explain yourself
quick, Dream-boy.

I should go.

Oh, no, please! Not on my account,
Pat says.

I lean back in my chair
and panic. The cabinets behind me groan
like the house is shifting its weight.
It almost sounds like the house
is enjoying this. When I speak, I don’t know
what’s using my voice.

Have… you ever wondered why
there’s a fireplace in the dining room?
In the middle of the Civil War, a fire
started in the night, and the stall boys
barely escaped alive. It’s the only piece
of the first floor that’s original.

Jenna’s arms are folded.
I think she might suddenly
be enjoying this.

I… I… once my sister dreamed
she was approaching the house,
and everything was off: the door
was too thick, and out of place,
and there was a party
inside. A woman in a cream-colored
dress and riding boots was running
around checking on everyone.
I looked it up later: late 19th…
century.

Pat is staring at Jenna.
Jenna is staring
at me. After a long minute
she and Pat seem to exchange
some information.
She puts her hand
on my hand.

Who are you?

This is my house, I say. Or
will be.

Mine, too, Jenna says.

Welcome home.

Finally, Pat exclaims.
Something exciting happens in Wellesley!

Added: March 16, 2013 | Last changed: September 21, 2015