A novella in cycles. It’s about time travel and family relations, also in cycles. This is Cycle 01. For everything, and for everyone.
The spoons are shining like a good goddamn. Each spoon’s lit with midday, if midday were rows of old truck headlamps strung with the kind of thick brown wiring found in grandma attics – wire constricting rolls of newsprint or t-shirts, twisty-tied off at the end. You know the kind: pinchy copper frays, and usually unused in a shoddy circle or wrapped around a loose wad of flotsam not worth the breadth of its restraint. You know the kind of restraint: prickly, a rigidity undue the heft of what contains it, like bad marriages, bad jobs, bad regional massage chain contracts that won’t let you get out early. Restraint, wiring itself into more of itself. Concentric circles of restraint. No one knows what’s keeping whatever else from moving anymore. You know the kind of moving that would happen, could it happen: it’s free.
The spoons are more or less ablaze. Dangle a page of newsprint on tongs above the spoons and watch it blacken into floating orange string. Dangle grandma wiring out with your hands above the spoons and listen for the drip-sizzle of plastic splash above 100 box fans. The box fans are pressuring this garage air to make its good goddamn-ness exit because the spoons are more or less conglomerate starfire. There’s a boxfan in every window.
You know the kind of box fan: white, corner-rounded, cord too short for use without an extension.
You know the kind of sizzle-sound: loose chicken flesh on a hot pan, tightening.
You know the kind of garage: Mother’s.
Mother’s a real pisser. A life of vitriol from the wrinkled urethra of her aging mouth. You know the kind of mouth: bourbon-kissed, unkissed since ’87. The children don’t come around. The hoarding started in late ’88. I am the only one around now, wrapped around her pissy life since ’89.
I began Operation Charred Oak in October of ’89, when there was a clear influx of stuff at the fringes of the on-site cameras. She knew I’d installed cameras in ’84, so the tips of things just now creeping into the television frames had to have some intent. Mother needed my attention, but only some of it. Only some. When I made out what looked like the first hubcap filled with [glass marbles? aquarium pebbles? later, in reality: tepid juice spheres from those Korean bubble tea drinks], I moved back home. I moved into Mother’s garage. That was her welcoming me back. She remembered that hubcaps – the never-ending concentric circle inside the circles of what moves on a vehicle – meant something to us. She remembered the car accident when I was a child, and the way time seemed to reverse itself like the very drive shaft of existence threw itself in reverse.
Which, you know, it had.
You know the kind of reverse: time-travel.
“Who the fuck’d move back?” Terra says with a sushi in her mouth. “Mother’ll just manipulate whoever moves back home to dig at the holes again. You remember those?”
I drop a sushi into the tiny soy sauce tray. Brown splashes onto paper place mat in a pattern that’d turn a crime scene detective on.
“I love Mother,” I say, fishing the sushi out with my fingers. “I know Mother. She’s a lovable, knowable mess.”
“You’re quoting me,” Terra says. “Jon, you’re quoting what I told my last husband.”
“Prom date, ’91,” I say. “You were quoting that to your last husband in the hospital because you felt bad for the car accident. You wanted to let him know his body wasn’t the only part you loved, although it was. You told your prom date that because he’d buttoned his shirt one row off and tried to use his clip-on tie to cover the mess.”
“Gently, and from the empty atrium of my heart: fuck you, Jon. I mean it this time.”
“I love you, too, you knowable, lovable mess.”
“Ugh, I can’t with this tonight. Are you gonna finish your cucumber roll or let it get all tepid?”
“The sun sets behind me. Rays flit between those squatty fake Japanese flags that hang on ropes, whatever the hell they’re called. What are they called?”
“They’re called prayer flags, Jon. You’re narrating again.”
“’Ugh, I can’t with this,’ was six months ago, Terra – to the bank teller who complimented your sunglasses. They were transition lenses. I have the footage. I have all the footage. And I remember Mother’s holes.”
Mother would be fucked if the spoons cooled. We’d both be. Mother and I have an agreement on the power needed from the house to keep them humming at Literally Solar White. I’d agreed to turn the cameras a few degrees to the left each month, and she’d agreed to pay the electricity bill. I don’t know what is happening to the fringes now, as the frames keep shifting away from her shit. But with the exclusion of ’13, we’ve not had any hiccups with this agreement.
’13 was the worst year.
“The hills suck sky under their heat-wave wobble,” I say. I look at the sky, the fuzzing divide it makes with the ground. “The hills gobble the sky – no, the sky drapes. The sky is a tablecloth. The sky is a curtain, something something. It needs a rhythm. It’s almost midnight.”
’12 has been a fantastic year for Operation Charred Oak. The rhythm Mother I have is like the backbeat of a Slick Rick single. You know the song: Teenage Love, his little-known slow-jam. Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick.
“Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick. That’s not Slick Rick. That’s Nice & Smooth. That’s the sky, vibrating. Terra would know the lyrics better to Nice & Smooth’s songs.”
Midnight creaks into view. I can tell by solaris, the guiding star – there’s a spot in the open rafters where, come summers, it aligns pristinely. I can also tell because midnight is when the spoons begin to hum.
“Six more months of ’12,” I say. The spoons begin to hum, and then it’s six months later for me, six months behind for Mother.
“Solaris is a thumb-flicked penny. Welcome home, Time.”
I look over at the west-facing camera. The hubcaps are back in view. The weird gross marbles are also back.
It’s 13′, and hardly anything is out of place. The world is static by comparison. It is the worst year.
Everything is the same, save for the row of Japanese prayer flags that’s appeared at the entryway of the garage.
Summer of ’87 is when mother asks us to dig. She wants a turtle pond. Daddy says the turtles’d ruin his grass, which he loves. At night, he laughs smoke at her from outside, barefoot in the green, while she’s screamig and throwing plates through the kitchen window. She wants a turtle pond. Daddy doesn’t want his lawnmower blades turtle-shelled, much less snapped. He loathes the wobble they already have in the almost-perfect circle down below. Any worse and he might crash.
Fall of ’87 hits, and Terra and I have blisters. We don’t dare stop digging. We keep widening the hole, inch by inch outward, in a perfect circle. We keep deepening the hole, as though all light might get sucked down into it. Mother asks us to place gas cans around the hole. Every night, the gas cans are stolen.