John continued to look around and observed a unit with a long black screen.
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"Why the puzzled expression?" Dottie asked as she watched his eyes roam.
"There used to be a small TV in the next room and a record player, too. What happened to them? And what's that thing?"
"The record player got tossed a long time ago. Component home stereos got to be the rage, the in-thing for audiophiles. And that there's a plasma TV. Mom's eyes were going toward the end, so Casey and I chipped in and got her hooked up on FiOS last Mother's Day."
"Hate to keep appearing ignorant, but what's that? Some kind of drug? For her eyes?"
"A fiber optics system from a cable company. Verizon FiOS. No more analog signals since last June. Everything's gone digital."
"There's that name again."
"What name - Verizon? They're everywhere. Like Donald Trump."
He ignored these new names and continued asking questions. "Did you stick with teaching?"
"Never let it be said I ever made it to first grade. A kindergarten lifer."
He smiled at her unflagging sarcasm which had survived the test of time. "And what's with those curlicue light bulbs in all the lamps?"
"Them? Oh, they're CFLs. Compact fluorescents. Part of going green."
"They get moldy? What the hell does that mean?"
"Going green means becoming environmentally friendly. Conserving electricity and fossil fuels. All that helps to lower the greenhouse effect and prevent global warming. And to keep Con Edison from getting rich off of us."
"You lost me. Except for the last part, nothing you said makes any sense at all to me."
"Sorry. I guess it wouldn't...given your present set of circumstances."
As she looked away from him, she said in a voice tinged with lingering sadness, "Your parents and mine, Casey, Jr. and I, your buddies and my girlfriends from college, your co-workers and bosses - all of us grieved when you were never found. The word so often used today is closure. We were never able to hold a wake or a funeral, not even a simple memorial service to attend. All because we never knew -"
When her voice began to falter and crack, John reached across the table to place his hands on hers. "Are my mom and dad still alive?"
Dottie shook her head. "I...I don't know. We lost touch after I got married in '72."
"No matter. I don't really want to know." He paused and lowered his head. Then, "And congrats to the bride and groom. You love him?"
"Yeah, I did. Not like the love I had for you, but Mike was an okay guy. You would've liked him. He's gone now. Cancer, back in 2002. Had two sons by him. Great fellows. Four grandkids. And yet..."
He pressed gently after a too-long pause. "What?"
She both sighed and shivered. "When I was a little girl, mom would take my brother and me to church and Sunday school, I was always impressed when I was told God could do anything, anything He wished, anything at all. So I was quite stunned one morning to hear our minister tell the congregation, 'God cannot drive a parked car.' Imagine hearing that! Something that God in all His infinite power could not do.
"Now it seems the Good Lord can't drive a wrecked one, either. I guess what I'm trying to say is that you've got to keep moving to let Him guide you back. I think both of us realize by now that you don't belong here in 2010, not at all, and that you'll have to try to return...somehow. Return to whatever it was we had...used to have in the sixties."
John fidgeted in his chair. Dottie took a deep breath.
"Remember what we used to say to help us set our clocks correctly for daylight savings time? 'Spring forward, fall back.' You've certainly done the first half, but now I fear..."
He clasped her tense, folded hands even more tightly and stared into her tear-filled eyes.
"...I have the feeling that you might end up rewriting history. What if you do manage to return - and then change things all around? What then? Will anything I've known during the last forty years be the same? What'll happen to the sons I brought into this world? To those precious grandchildren of mine? And how about their kids, still unborn?"
Trying to allay her fears, he said, "If I should succeed in getting back to our time together, maybe now I'll know enough to pick a big fight and break up with you. How's that? I'll even take a subway ride into the city and get a refund on the ring."
She forced a weak laugh. "Why the subway?"
He exhaled a slow stream of breath in mock frustration. "How quickly one forgets my beloved GTO just gave up the ghost."
Not knowing what else to say, she smiled, stood and gave him a long hug as he sat there.
"What was the title of that song by the Beatles you'd mentioned?"
"It was 'Get Back.' Paul was the one singing, 'Get back, get back to where you once belonged.' Kind of prophetic, huh?"
He nodded and reached for his coat. "Gotta get back then. Got me a 'Snow Bunny' to find."
Dottie's voice dropped to a whisper. "Hey, thanks."
"For your...for your unexpected visit, young Johnny Palomino-from-the-past. But I'm having trouble believing any of this. I'll wake up later and swear I've dreamed it all."
"You won't, not with this." He removed his class ring and placed it on the table.
"Forgive me for not believing you earlier?"
"Sure, but you know, if it had happened the other way around, I might very well have been a lot more crotchety in my own old age and tossed you right out in the cold on your keester."
She hugged him one last time in the hallway.
"That's an early happy birthday wish. So many you missed." Her regret was sincere. "And listen, if you don't make it to the ski lodge party in 1969, you're welcome to come back here and stay awhile, Johnny. Then I can give you a crash course - no pun intended - and fill you in on all those other missing years."
They kissed, more a tentative peck. It felt awkward and strange to him, this May-December kiss, but deep feelings between these former lovers had managed to survive this jarring one-way express passage of time.
He smiled and gave a nervous, little wave. "Hope to see you soon."
"Real soon, love. Honest."
As soon as those words were spoken, the wind outside took over and slammed the door behind him. It echoed, flat, hollow and loud, sounding as if it had banged shut twice.
The brightness of the day blinded him, and he asked himself if he had really stayed that long. Accumulated drifts were considerably higher and much more difficult to navigate. As he lit up a long overdue cigarette, he chose not to look up at the front windows to see if this older version of Dottie Gilliland was standing there.
Watching. And waving. Smiling.
[To be con't.]
Copyright © 2010 James D. Young