…then stand up, catch our balance. Drink water, local stuff, mix it with the stuff we brought, bring our bodies slowly in sync.
“Here, Brian, take another drink”
But Brian’s got to be all macho, and just pats his fro like it ain’t no thing.
“There!” He’s got to be the first one to spot the spot: a rock on the banks slightly up stream. We lift it up and sure enough there’s our stuff and all our IDs.
We walk a mile through the trees, down the hill to the dirt road diner at the edge of town, sit at the counter, and order some coffee, maybe a donut, our bodies still getting used to the food.
“Looking for work.” Brain says in his deepest voice.
“Spaceport.” the waitress responds.
“Still?” says Harry. We quickly shush him.
The boys get temp work digging dirt. We get temp work in payroll: less pay, more air conditioning, especially in the break room.
“Skirts are getting short again,” Barbara spies.
“Yeah, but no one’s smacking my ass,” I reply, though I certainly feel the stares.
The first thing I do is throw up, then get back up, hoping no one saw me stumble down for a second time.
“Where is it now, Brian?” Jerry says, his head bent over a log.
“There,” Brian says, pointing to a stick in the ground.
“A stick?” but Brian pulls it up, digs it up, and sure enough, there’s our stuff: a lot of clothes, a little money, and all our IDs.
I’m mixing water from the stream into my canteen.
“Bags came in on time,” Barbara says, bringing me my bag with grin, wearing a black wool coat with a red velvet trim just a little too fine for her to afford.
“At least baggage claim is something we don’t have to think about.”
“You think about too much” Barbara says in between her drink. “Just do it!”
“The sneaker ad?”
I’m not sure what she’s talking about.
“New coat?” I ask.
“Like it? Feels warm. It must get cold later.”
We walk a mile through the trees, down the hill to the dirt road diner at the edge of town, sit at the counter, and order five coffees, some toast on the side. New waitress walks by: younger, guess the old woman finally died.
“Looking for work.” Jerry says. The waitress offers him a smile while the rest of us get dirty eyes.
“They need help building the new Spaceport.”
“Still?” says Harry. Shhh! Every time.
The boys get part time on drywall, part time on cement. Just gates and control rooms, they haven’t even started the launch tower yet. We’re back in Payroll: barely pays except when it rains we don’t get wet.
“They still haven’t painted the break room yet,” Barbara says, moving her straight black hair from her light green eyes.
“No,” I say, but I’m watching where people sit. More checkerboard, less pixel: dark skin and pale skin less likely to mingle. There’s a tension in the air, it’s a whole different kind of stare. I offer a whisper to my friend “Guess we’re back to this again.” Not sure she gets it.
We throw up, but not as much. Find our stuff in the clogged drainage pipe on the side of a dirt road, probably clogged it ourselves. Find a note in my coat pocket. Do not sleep with Brian.
We walk a mile and change to the diner, nearly deserted. Same waitress, but she doesn’t recognize us. I chirp up this time.
“Looking for work.”
She leans in close. “Union?” She’s aged well; there’s a softness in her tone. I shake my head no.
“You can always try to get work at the Spaceport.”
Brian and Jerry throw Harry a look. “Union workers are on strike, but I hear they’re paying temps under the hand.”
I think she means by hand or under the table. Slang’s really starting to change with time.
It’s less of a picket line and more of a mob with signs and bullhorns and big guys with batons on the other side making sure no one steps out of line. There are demands of all kind: healthcare, holidays, magnets made in America, twelve-hour days for twelve-hour pay.
“The more things change…” Barbara says.
I want to go, but Brian wants to stay, says something about his daddy working for the factory back in the days before we started all this traveling through time.
“Brian, at this point in the timeline, your ‘back in the days’ was a hundred years ago.” Brian puts one hand to his fro.
The boys find work working with the fleet of food trucks bringing cold protesters hot meals, and at strike-dollar deals.
Barbara taps me on the shoulder and puts one eyebrow up.
I’m standing up, but not throwing up. I barely feel sick at all.
“It’s always easier traveling into the past.” Barbara says.
“Cause it’s already past.” The bad joke makes me gag.
The two of us grab our stuff: only a couple of pieces of ID, long black dresses, heels, stockings, and long white lace.
“What kind of place are we going to?”
Barbara smiles but doesn’t respond, pins her long black hair into a tight black bun.
We walk two miles through the trees the other way to catch a bus to some glitzy neighborhood above the hill: white pillars and mission tiles shine right through the trees. Cleanest streets I have ever seen. Old money mansions.
“Not that old today.” Barbra says. Don’t why she’s so giddy.
I keep my eyes to the ground as the woman at the gate looks us up and down. I’m don’t bother to check, but I think Barbra’s doing the same.
“Six dollars a week and you and your girl must use the back door.”
I’m on the floor scrubbing up milk the child spilled and then just walked away. Barbara’s at the bookcase dusting around various knickknacks: statuettes, a small brown box, leather-bound books no one’s ever read.
“Really, Barbara, why are we here?”
“To get paid.”
“Six dollars a week? I didn’t go start traveling through time to be a damn maid. I have a college degree.”
“This is not the ‘70s, Lucy. This is a different time”
“This is still my time! What the hell are we doing here?”
“Not much longer.” She moves from the bookcase to the fireplace.
“Mr. Big-Money’s been eying me.” I say. “Is there even a punishment for rich white guys attacking their maids in the 1930s? I know if I break his jaw, I get lynched.”
“I thought they only lynch black men? Not sure what they do to black women.” Barbara’s really not funny right now.
She picks up a figurine of a small dog, dusting around the ears and the paws, then dusting the fireplace too until the paw marks are gone and everything is the same stone surface. Putting the duster down, she takes a rag out, wipes it around the body of the dog; damn thing so dusty it goes from violet to dark blue. Then, with her finger to her lips, she lowers the dog into her apron pocket, positioning the dog so that a bulge won’t show.
“Okay, let’s go.”
This time we both throw up, then hurry up and gather ourselves and change back into our clothes. They’re starting to pave the road. We hurry past the diner, into the middle of town, and head right down to the antique store. With his white gloves and big ol’ magnifying glass, I watch the storeowner stare more intensively at this dog than I’m thinking anyone really has.
“It’s certainly old,” he says “ and in good condition. Solid stone, good craftsmanship, they don’t make them like this. Where did you find – “
“Family heirloom” Barbara keeps straight face.
“Give you fifteen hundred.”
We under-sell if we calculate inflation, still the answer is “sold.”
We meet back up with the boys for drinks to celebrate Jerry’s farewell. He said he met a cutie last Christmas on a trip to Miami. They’re looking for a time when someone will let them get married.
“Why can’t they go back home? Does his family not like Latin girls?”
“Not Cubana, Cubano.”
“Oh, I didn’t know.” I go quiet, not sure any of that’s good Spanish.
I can barely stay erect as Brian walks me back to my room. Three drinks and I need an escort; traveling has made me a lightweight. He’s holding me up, chatting me up with questions he already knows the answers to: Did I have a good time? Where am I from? What am I going to do when all this traveling’s done?
“Who knows, maybe I’ll stay.”
“I want to return and settle down one day,” Brian says “Get married, open a business, maybe have a couple of kids.”
The streetlights flicker as I fumble for my keys. There’s a click of the lock and little bit a comfort as I feel the first kick of warm air.
“You sure I can’t come in, Lucy? I make the best motel coffee in town.”
He offers me a smile. I play with the paper in my pocket.
“Good night, Brian,” and I close the door.
I pick my bags off the floor and throw them on the bed, pause while the sounds of the springs buzz around in my already buzzing head, and start throwing my clothes in, trying to remember what the weather was like when we arrived. Does it get warmer or colder? I can’t recall. I look at the note and debate whether I should write it again, then I throw the original in. We’re hiding the bags in a storage drain. We’ll probably clog the damn thing.
The first thing we do is get to our feet, run to get off the busy street, throw ourselves into an alleyway and throw up there. Cheap concrete everywhere, cow-blood brick, cars flying past splashing drainage water back up into the driving rain. It’s dark. We usually arrive in the day, but maybe it’s just the rain.
“Remember when this was all forest?” Barbara says smiling while catching her breath.
“Where is it this time, Brian?” But Brian looks stumped. He turns his head left then right; the rain keeps coming down.
“Ah,” Barbara says without her smile, “It might be in the walls. Look around for a loose brick. It’s an old homeless trick.”
We feel around and after a while find a loose brick near the ground behind an old dumpster nobody wants to touch. We remove the brick and feel first through wet grout then dry dust to find our stuff: Harry’s, Barbara’s, my own.
“Where’s mine?” Brian asks. We reach in deeper but find nothing to pull out. “No, seriously, where’s my stuff?”
Barbara stands up.
“Take it easy, Brian, I’m sure there’s a reason.” The rain’s in her face. “I’m sure we can figure this out.”
“If I made it here, then eventually I plant my stuff. Where is my stuff?” Brian starts to back up.
“Just slow down, Brian.” Barbara stumbles her speech. The rain’s carrying heat. Brian is now in the street.
“Arrive, grab our stuff. Travel back and leave our stuff right where we found it. Leave it right before we arrive. Ride the paradox. That’s how we survive.”
The rain sizzles as it hits the street lamp. Brian takes another step back. Keeps his back to the curb, keeps his face to us. Square jaw starting to quiver, water weighing down his fro. “What’s wrong this time? Where did my stuff g—“
It’s a step, or slip. It’s a trip, or a fall. It’s a screech or a swerve; a wail of a horn. It’s a splash of drainage water unto the sidewalk. It’s a sudden stopping, though stopping does no good. It’s the taillights of a car where Brian once stood.
The driver rushes out and over to the body.
“Brian!” Harry starts to scream, but Barbara grabs him, grabs his mouth, grabs our stuff, and pushes us deeper into the alleyway through trash and rain and the rattle of cheap windowpane.
“How do we know he’s — “
“Shouldn’t we do something?”
“And explain to the cops why the man has no ID? No Social Security? No place of birth? Get wise or go back and act dumb.”
We run and we run until we see a light on the other side.
There’s the sound of birds and squirrels and sunlight if light ever makes a sound. We make a makeshift campground. Our stuff is filled with tents, plastic bags, cooking packets, no need for IDs in this day. The three of us decide to get away, come to a place before spaceports and disco balls, definitely before cars. None of us feel like throwing up. I feel nothing.
“Keep track of everything. Don’t leave anything behind,” Barbara reminds us. “We don’t need some archaeologist discovering Early American fiberglass frames.”
“Is this where your people are from?” Harry asks.” Your ancestors, I mean.”
Barbara sits on the ground with a stick and a knife, peeling off slices of wood then blowing the sawdust off both stick and blade. “I’m like one-eighth Cherokee, Harry. I was born in Baltimore.”
Harry pauses for a minute or two.
“Um, you guys,” though he’s the only guy left. “I think this will be my last trip. I found a diploma mixed in with my stuff, Dr. Harold Hu. I was thinking about applying to grad school, now I guess I don’t have to.”
The two of us stand on the balcony sharing a cigarette, staring at the launch tower all lit up even though it’s still only nearly complete.
“Remember when this was the break room?” Barbara asks, flicking off a little ash.
“Yeah, I much prefer the open air.”
“I’m guessing two more trips and we’ll be up there. I’m laying the groundwork for new identities and all the right credentials. Space travel’s finally going commercial and we’ll have our pick of flights.”
“As what?” I ask, “Navigators? Engineers?”
“Flight attendants. Two badass chicks like us, they’re gonna want us working with the customers. And we’re gonna look great in those uniforms.”
I lower my head just a little.
“What is it Lucy?”
I say nothing.
“Maybe,” I mumble.
“Wanna to go back? Cause if you think the 70s were bad, you should see the rest of the century. Riots. Terrorism. War is everywhere. There’s got to be somewhere better. Let’s just keep pushing until we get to a future we want.”
Barbara turns and puts her back against the railing, throws back her long black hair. She put the cigarette to her lips and throws out a quick puff.
“Picture it, Lucy. Lunar colonies. Satellite cities. The world won’t be ours. Worlds will be.” She takes a long drag and enjoys an even longer exhale.
I look at her elbow, look at her light skin next to mine. Look at the launch tower, at how the floodlights shine off the scaffolding, then bounce off into the night sky so that the sky is filled with light, but no single star can be seen anymore.
“Gary Gilmore,” I say.
“Just do it. Last thing he said in front of the firing squad.”
“Was he a criminal?”
“Murderer, many times over. How long ago did Brian die?” I ask.
“In this timeline or ours?’
Barbara pauses. “I’m not sure.”
The smoke I exhale dissipates into the air. “Me neither.”
Quincy Scott Jones’ work has appeared in the publications such as the African American Review, The North American Review, and The Feminist Wire, as well the anthologies such as Red Sky, Poetry on the Global Epidemic of Violence Against Women, REsisting Arrest: Poems to Stretch the Sky and Drawn O Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books. With Nina Sharma, he co-created the Nor’easter Exchange: a multicultural, multi-city reading series. His first book, The T-Bone Series, was published by Whirlwind Press in 2009.