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That'll Teach the Landlord for Saying, "All Utilities Included"

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When I said, "I love you so much, I would build a time machine to meet you sooner," I was joking. I don't love you that much.

How was I supposed to know about all those spare parts you keep down in the basement? It was crazy. Cogs and gears and gauges and metal, like some kind of junkyard klepto who got into a fight with the kind of four-year-old who believes every lie. Got your nose, and you might run off sobbing.

So, "Come on", you say, slipping the camera strap over head; you turn it over in you hands, "how hard can it be?" You snap a picture.

And I guess the answer to that question depends on if the damn thing is supposed to run on love and infinity. You can only fit so much of that stuff into a rickety stairwell and a dusty basement that smells like rotting wood and moth balls. Do I love you enough to build a time machine? I don't know--Do I love you enough to offer you a ride in the rain? That depends.

It's weird. One day you fall in love with the smartest girl in chem lab, constructing this awkward, unhealthy bond over stoichiometry, and a couple of years later you say, "Yeah, sure, time machine," and it's all spilling out in front of you, all of it, as if your purse just toppled and everyone can see your tampons and escape plans and getaway cars.

At the bottom of the steps, you turn around. Behind you, a single, swinging yellow bulb. You are silhouetted on a canvas of sheet metal, levers and pulleys, the front end to an old Pontiac painted in a gradient of rust. I wish this was the kind of crazy that filled me up inside like a flickering lantern, the kind you could hold yourself up to like a strand of hair to see if it's split at the end--to see if I'm just as crazy. To see if I'm like you. To see if you're like me.

But it's not that kind of crazy.

It's the kind of crazy that tears through the junkyard of a basement, comes up with a wrench, a spring, a steering wheel and says, "Yeah. Okay. Yeah?"

"Yeah," I say.

And maybe this thing does run on love and infinity. Maybe it's enough that I can exist in this place with you, passing you a tool, passing you a tiny windowpane, because it's coming together. You pass me a legal pad. "Write me an equation," you say, "you know the one." And I do--that's how out of our minds we are, I do know what equation you want and you don't say anything when I hand it back to you. You nod. You adjust your torque wrench.

It's got to be dawn out there, judging from the sharp shafts of light slicing through the clean streaks on your basement windows. People are driving to their jobs. We're in your basement building a time machine. Ten years ago, this would have seemed like the coolest thing in the world.

And in a lot of ways, it wouldn't be so bad, you know? To just bust out of here, hitch a ride on some particle of light, on the tragic fantasy that we would do things better, different, more honestly, if we went back to the beginning, wherever that is. That I could look you in the eye when you looked me in the eye when you said, "I like girls." Maybe I could tell the truth. Maybe in response I could say, "I like you," and that it doesn't matter that we have the same number of chromosomes, all of these Xs and Ys. Maybe I could stop feeling like such a damn rebel, stop feeling so damn revolutionary for loving, when if there is a single thing in this world that is so predictably in a perpetual state of revolution, it's love. Really, I'm sick of the repetition.

And that's the thing. Just because your heart stops beating, it doesn't mean the world ceases to spin, and while you're all caught up in the resuscitation, you miss a turn somewhere and there you are, heart thrumming away on some street corner in a district you've never seen before. Isn't it romantic.

But I'm not romantic. I'm just lost.

So with the machine blinking away and whirring, with you saying, "Are you sure the calculations were right," with me saying, "No," we are opening the heavy, creaking door, and we are stepping inside. Your hair tickles my cheek. I wish I could brush it away, but my hands are too busy trying to figure out what to do with all of the buttons, all of the lights.

"Forward or backward," you ask.

And I remember back as far as I can--back to birthday parties and pinatas and the red plastic bat. Back to laughing at inappropriate jokes, the first camera I ever bought swinging from the cord around my neck like a noose and stacks and stacks of pictures, memories, moments rotting away inside my head but for the prettiness of a still life. All of these photographs I took: you on the bridge, you on the beach, you on my bed, in an egg of light.

"Fuck that shit," I say, "forward."

You seem to get smaller in the tiny space. "I miss my mom," you say, "I miss my cat." Your bones shrink and swallow themselves like Russian dolls and I wonder if you were this cute when you were eight years old, when your mom moved away. Did she take the pets? You never told me. Maybe the cat thing is separate, a non sequitur just like you at your best.

"Yeah," I say. Your fingers are ice when they slip between mine.

"I'd cut her brake line. I'd cut her gas line. She wouldn't go."

I want to say something about England anticipating the French invasion, about the discovery of Post-It notes. I want to say there are no mistakes. I don't want to go backward--I know that's what I said, that I'd meet you when you were younger, that I want an image of you as early in my life as possible. But I don't want to do it all again.

You pull my camera out of the pocket of your hooded sweatshirt. You hold it up. You don't take a picture. You just watch me through the tiny frame. It distances you at the same time that it holds me captive. Well, hold this: "I guess I do love you enough to build a time machine," I say.

You watch me for another moment, the sound of your breath amplified inside this iron lung, the heat of your skin.

Your fingers rasp over the camera strap as your drape it around your neck. "Hey," you say, "you know everything changes right? That these pictures don't freeze anything? Even glass moves over time."

You grab my hand. Your wrist bumps the shutter button. The flash fills the machine like smoke. "I know."

"Forward," you say. You pull the lever. The ground falls away beneath us.

Would I be a better person if I felt bad for blacking out three city blocks?

Would it matter more or less if we never come back?