All Stories, General Fiction

The Endless Now By Leila Allison

I dislike cheerful old people. Something’s wrong there:  Them with their fastidiously kempt white hair; melanoma-proof golf course tans; smiling Hitler-blue eyes. The existence of cheerful old people proves that there isn’t an even distribution of pain in the Universe. Cheerful old people do not know the Endless Now.

I feel strange when I’m out in the world on a workday. A guilty sense of truancy shadows my emotional core. Although my absence every fourth Wednesday is planned and is covered by a small withdrawal from an enormous store of personal leave time, I can’t shake the feeling. I hear a constant whisper: Sara, isn’t there someplace else you ought to be?

I would have gladly been someplace else when a mated-pair of cheerful old people swooped into my life while I was cooling my sensible shoes in the vast doctor’s clinic waiting area. At the time I was entertaining myself by marking the wobbly comings and goings of appropriately ruined old people. Each one entered the cavernous HMO in his or her own proper state of decay. These are the old people who know the Endless Now.

I’m pushing sixty. Although I have good health, I find myself studying my dwindling elders and I wonder if sticking around just to pad the age in your obituary is such a good thing.

“‘Myrtle died peacefully at ninety-six years young.’ Why did Myrtle do thatWhy did Myrtle continue to hog water and oxygen long past her usefulness and into a century where nobody is named Myrtle anymore?” 

The mated-pair, let’s call them “Earl and Pearl,” sat down on the small couch-like bench across from me. Technology has made it possible for a person to be alone in a world of billions. All you have to do is gaze into your phone and the material world goes away. But my weapon of anti-socialness lay at the bottom of my purse. I could have made a reach for it, but that would have been rude. My parents had taught me that manners aren’t for impressing people, but exist to acknowledge the existence of others. You remember your etiquette in the Endless Now. You remember how to put on the fake-it-till-you-make-it mask and recite desultory small talk, as though you are sane and happy and that all the madness and pain in the world cannot touch you. It’s easier to do this when there is a clean end in sight. In this case, any awkward mess I might get into would instantly dissolve once the nurse called my name.

They nodded at me, I reciprocated. No words, not yet, but I could clearly see that both were the chatty type. I considered making a play for the copy of Sunset (a publication which seems to exist only in waiting rooms) that lay on the small table between us, but that would’ve been ruder than the phone.

“What time did that girl say ten o’clock happens round here today?” Pearl asked Earl loudly. Maybe seventy-five, Pearl (naturally) had blue eyes, but they had that peering, almost dumbfounded expression eyes get after lasik surgery. She wore her shiny silver hair in that upswept, geometric style that had been so popular in the 80’s, and over-tanning gave her skin the texture of fried chicken.

Earl smiled and held up his pink, callus-free palms as to say, “Beats me.” He winked convivially at me when he did that, as though I already knew the weight and length of his happily toted ball and chain. He was tall and handsome as far as old men go, but he also smelled like a thirteen-year-old boy who has just discovered Axe. Earl’s soft hands and thick belly spoke of a lifetime spent behind a desk.

The Endless Now has no memory; nor does it plan nor dream nor move. It is content to be an everlasting, motionless universe unto itself, a universe in which there is space but not time.

And yet in this alien hellscape my mind’s eye continued to helplessly gaze through its own prism of prejudice. This had caused duality in my mind: my prism continued to pick apart what I saw, thus it allowed me to make subjective assumptions that were affected by my biases and current mood. The Endless Now shows the same as it is. The Endless Now doesn’t caveat that with “as it was and always will be,” because those do not exist.

“It’s a different time-zone here,” I found myself saying. “You’ve got to set your watch back an hour and then wait for your time to come round again.” A voice spoke up in my head: That’s brilliant, Sara, truly brilliant. Tell me, do you have enough material to fill the next hour, if it come to that?

My little witticism sailed over Pearl’s head. I watched her eyes grasp at it as it went by. Earl got it to the degree that he knew enough to fake a smile even though his eyes told me that it had merely bounced off his head because he was taller than Pearl. Next time, stick to the weather, the voice said.

I glanced at the beige carpet and steeled myself for another go. I looked toward the main entrance where shafts of apathetic sunlight reflected off thousands of dust particles. “Didn’t the weather say rain, today?”

Earl replied with the same “beats me” gesture with his pink palms. Goddam Pearl reached for the Sunset. They exchanged a glance that said, “Great, this one’s the chatty type.”

I fell silent, and hot waves of embarrassment set fire to my ears and cheeks. I felt naked, I felt as though I had urinated myself right there in public. How could I be so wrong? They never wanted to speak to me any more than I did to them.

For six months I had been taking Citalopram and attending weekly counselling sessions to combat the Endless Now. About two months in, the duality of mind began. Citalopram has produced a state of mind that is almost always wrong. (For the record, the sessions were useless.) When I had finally worked up enough courage to look at Earl and Pearl as though I were viewing them for the first time, the veil woven by the drug lifted and I saw them as they were in the Endless Now.

Although I had got Pearl right the first time, a different Earl emerged. The reek of Axe turned mediciney; what I had mistaken for a tan was actually jaundice, and that I had assumed to be a wink was an involuntary twitch, which repeated itself over and again and seemed to be connected to a previously unmarked palsy in his hands.

All moments of all things are in the Endless Now. Although it never moves, the items in it may be looked upon from various angles, thus what was then everyplace else is visible, which prevents contradiction and paradox within the singular time signature of the Endless Now.

I saw hummingbirds hectoring butterflies at the honeysuckle bush near the cabin on the lake. I saw small red apples stacked in a refrigerator on the porch. I remembered the clean air pushing and passion; the sudden boredom with sex and the slow slide into separate rooms; then the cunning curl of the first hooker’s lip when she saw the ring and raised the price. I saw ashes where the cabin had stood for forty years. And I watched wild ivy wrap itself around and slowly strangle the refrigerator in which the apples had been stored…

I got up and left the building. I didn’t run, but I didn’t waste time either. I remember little of what transpired between my departure and seeing my approach in the bathroom mirror. Everything has been crystalline and motionless ever since I opened the medicine cabinet door, grabbed the pills and flushed them down the toilet.

Sometimes, I gaze into the Endless Now and ask, “God, is this you?”


Leila Allison

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6 thoughts on “The Endless Now By Leila Allison”

  1. I enjoyed reading this because it made me laugh, although in reality it is a sad story, but the observational points in the writing are brilliant. In many ways this story could be an opener for discussions about the quality of old age – do we need the endless number of medicine and pills to survive the Endless Now? But then again no-one likes to talk about such things. If life was like a train journey would you choose at which station to get off? No second choices.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent story. We are taken brilliantly inside the main character’s head and the writing is compelling. Also it conveys an important message: better to face the Endless Now, no matter how frightening, than be numb to it. (At least that’s my interpretation.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Leila,
    I thought this was a very personal and brave piece of writing.
    Not many times the beauty of a piece is from the author and the story takes a bit of a back seat.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Raw horsepower in the emotional despair chamber, powered by Allison. Thank you and ‘the voice’, a POV I know well. I woke up last night from a nap on the couch at precisely 12:00 and lifted my arms in celebration. I then immediately closed my eyes – their colour turning as predicted, the same shade as the wiper fluid used in our pick-up truck. Golden years.

    Liked by 1 person

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