“You have the power of….” The old man began. He lifted his fists into the air and paused. Though part of me was put off by the dramatic display, another part of me admired the show. That part couldn’t help but wait with bated breath. He then brought his fists down. “… time travel!” Wow! For a crazy guy, he sure had great flair. But I seemed to be the only one who appreciated it. No one else in the place raised an eyebrow. Even our waitress who was in the process of pouring his second cup of coffee didn’t miss a beat.
We were in George’s Diner, a strange little place in a strange part of town open 24-hours a day. The chairs of the booths were lined in lemon yellow vinyl and the walls were made of fake, olive green ply-wood. The place looked like something straight out of the 70’s and it looked as though it hadn’t been cleaned since then.
She glanced up at him. “Be back in a minute with your pie, Eddie”, she said and walked away.
“Thanks, Barb!” He called after her jovially. He took a deep smell of coffee and sighed with satisfaction. He picked up his cup and took a big gulp of the steaming liquid. Hardcore. He turned to see me watching him. “George’s has the best coffee in Denver, young lady. Don’t let anyone tell you different.”
I shrugged. “I don’t drink coffee”. I was never a coffee connoisseur, I couldn’t tell a bad cup of coffee from a good one. It was all bitter to me.
He gave me a good long look then said, “You will”. He took another swig of coffee. “Especially since you’re a newbie. It’ll take time for you to get a hang of the time travel thing.”
“Hmmm” was all I said, highly skeptical. I took a sip of my peppermint tea and gave my brunch companion a good long look while he was intent on his coffee. He looked to be in his late fifties, despite the perfectly full head of brown hair on his head. The wrinkles and the full gray beard and mustache completely negated whatever he was trying to do with the hair color.
“I like the look,” he said as he took another sip of coffee.
I started. “I didn’t say anything.”
“Didn’t have to.”
“So are you a mind reader as well as a…. what is it? A granter of superpowers?”
“No. I could tell what you were thinking by how you were lookin’ at me. Barb’s the mind reader.”
Barb came back with two dishes of pie. There was s slice of key lime and a slice of lemon meringue. I frowned. I loved lemon meringue pie, but I didn’t order any. She placed the key lime in front of Eddie and the lemon in front of me. “But I didn’t order any pie.” I protested.
Barb looked at me, calmly. “Don’t you like lemon meringue pie?”
“Well, yes, but-”
“Bon appetit .” And with that, she walked away. Eddie dug into his pie and after a moment I picked up a fork and did the same. Getting pie I didn’t order was the least strange thing that happened that day and it all started with:
“Of course it’s an option. Do it!” Mr. Cunningham yelled at me when I told him changing the program while the conference was in session was not an option.
I was an event coordinator for Finanscene, a financial firm marketing company. We were in the first full day of our fall conference. Daniel Cunningham was CEO of the StaR Exchange, a “very prestigious” investment bank and what many called a “Wall Street wizard”. See, that’s what they called megalomaniacs with sociopathic tendencies, small dicks, and talent for making money out of thin air. He’d been investigated, and cleared, by the SEC five times and married twice as often. He was also our keynote speaker. He cornered me in the coatroom after the breakfast meet-and-greet to complain about the program I put together for the conference. His face was a reddish purple and I was pretty sure he was about to pop a blood vessel in one or both of his eyes- all over one word in his bio.
But I remained calm. “Mr. Cunningham. I’ve tried to contact you over 20 times. I called, emailed and wrote letters, one of which was even FedEx’d, to get your approval for your bio. You never responded. The program has been printed and you’re set to speak tomorrow.”
“But it says I went to the Royal Institute for International Finance. I went to the Royal Academy! There is no ‘Royal Institute’.”
“It’s known by both names.”
“Yes, but only ignoramuses call it an ‘Institute’.” I didn’t think it was possible, but he began to look even more crazed. “Change it- now!” I swear to God, spittle actually flew from his lips. The man was unhinged.
I knew I should have gotten my boss to handle the situation at that point. Cunningham was about to walk and, without him, the entire conference would fall apart. If that happened, Finanscene’s reputation would be in the gutter, figuratively and I would be in the gutter, literally. An intervention was needed by the higher-ups. But, at that moment, I didn’t see all of that. I knew it in the back of my mind but it all seemed so far away. I didn’t get anybody. I just stood there, calm. I was dismayed by how calm I was because it could only mean one thing: I was going to do it again.
I felt my stomach move as if I were on a boat instead of standing in a coatroom. The world seemed to narrow down to myself and Mr. Cunningham, nothing and no one else even existed. Then, he began to morph. No more was he a perfectly dressed and polished fifty-year-old executive. Instead, he looked to be about six, wearing a tee-shirt and corduroys. And, we were no longer in a coatroom, but in a bedroom. A child’s bedroom. I think it was his. I looked down and saw little Danny Cunningham looking up at me. His formally narrowed brown eyes were huge and shining with tears. He sniffed and it looked as though his heart was breaking. Something happened…
And without seeing it, I knew what it was. Danny was having dinner with his family. They were talking about the events of the day and Danny showed his family a paper he did in his first-grade class. The children went to the zoo and they had to write about it. Danny got an A- and was very happy. His parents were happy, too- before they got a little too happy.
“What was the minus for?” Mr. Cunningham inquired of his wife who was looking at their son’s paper. She was chuckling.
“Danny misspelled herbivore. Instead of h-e-r-b-i-v-o-r-e, he wrote e-r-b-a-v-o-a-r!”
The whole family had a good laugh at that His father even called Danny’s grandparents that night and told them the story. Initially, Danny laughed along with everyone else. But he was confused. What was so funny? It made him feel uncomfortable then hurt and sad. Subsequent years would teach him the word for that feeling: humiliation. He would feel it again and again over the years, his family not realizing the effect their teasing had on him. He vowed never to feel that way again and his whole life was built on that.
Somehow, I knew all of this. Memories of what I hadn’t seen flooded my mind. I was faced with the boy after that first brush with humiliation. Normally I have no idea what to say to small children, but I knew what was needed at that moment. I crouched in front of the child and said. “You’re alright, honey. It was just a small mistake. You practically had it right. It’s just one word You’re smart to even know that word at your age in the first place. You’ll learn how to spell it. You did just fine. ” I paused then said, “I’m proud of you.” I gave him a hug.
Then the image snapped away and I was once again in the room with Mr. Cunningham who looked nonplussed and almost as disconcerted as I did. He ran his hand through his hair and I noticed a wedding band that had not been there before. My stomach sank. I could tell he felt something changed but didn’t know what. I knew something had changed but didn’t want to think about it.
So I talked about the matter at hand. “Mr. Cunningham, let me go get my boss and-”
“No, that’s alright, dear.” He looked startled at himself. I just felt worse. “I should have responded to your messages. You did what you could. Besides, it’s just a word.” And with that, he turned to walk out of the room.
“Wait,” I said. He turned back to me. He just looked at me as I said nothing for a while. Finally, I croaked out. “You’re married?”
Mr. Cunningham blinked and looked at the ring on his finger as if he was seeing it for the first time. On some level, he was. But as he looked at his finger, he seemed to get lost in memories. “Yeah. Third time’s the charm… I guess. This is my third marriage. Fifteen years and still going strong…” He fell silent. “Huh,” he said then walked away.
My co-worker, Jason popped in. “Is everything alright? Did he bitch about the programs? Do I need to get Stacy?” Stacy was our boss.
“No, it’s fine. He’s fine.” That was all I could manage to say. It happened again.
Jason whooped. “You did it! ‘The Fixer’ strikes again.”
Yeah. I did it again. What I did again, I couldn’t tell you. I didn’t know at the time. All I know is that it was something I’d been doing since I was very young, something I seemed to do more often than what I should and, technically, shouldn’t be able to do at all.
I made some excuses about not feeling well and left, abruptly. No one complained since the hardest work comes before and after the conference. I really wanted to go home and shut my brain down. I walked until I got to Colfax and Grant to wait for the bus by the State Capitol building in Denver. While waiting, I heard a man shouting strange words. I turned to see an older black man walking and yelling at no one. I turned away and continued waiting for the bus. Crazies walking around talking, yelling or exposing themselves was pretty common on Colfax Avenue, along with junkies, winos, buskers, and emo punks.
However, what was uncommon was what happened as the man came closer. There is a park right in back of the Capitol building and about thirty squirrels all ran to greet him. They all stopped as they got within a foot of him. He laughed and talked to them and they twittered as if responding. I was fascinated. The man stood at the edge of the park about ten feet from me and took a bag of nuts from the inside of his jacket. Ah, now that made sense. I figured the squirrels must have known the man’s voice and that his voice meant more nuts. But still, the scene was amusing and I decided to watch. I leaned against the bus stop pole and did just that. He spoke to the creatures as he tossed out the nuts.
“Here you go, Rosco. Hey, Penny! I brought you a hazelnut today. I know how much you like ’em.” He tossed a dark nut and, lo and behold, only one squirrel moved to take it. I was really fascinated.
He continued to distribute the nuts. “Hi, Annabelle, sweetie, here you go.” And to my amazement, each squirrel he called out to approached him and took a nut. The rest all stood there waiting for their turns. Maybe he had the squirrels very well trained, but the same squirrels didn’t hang out at the park all the time, did they? And, could you even train a squirrel to that extent? My mind whirled with possible, plausible explanations for what I was seeing. But none of them seem to explain everything. Except that I may have been hallucinating. No one else seemed to pay any attention to the extraordinary thing that was happening right then and there. Perhaps I was crazier than I originally thought. I stood up straight.
He continued talking to them. “I brought two for you, Fatty. Good boy. Russell! You better come and get yours now. Hey! Fatty!” He stopped giving out the nuts and glared at the fatter squirrel. “Fatty” stopped and stood at attention on his hind legs. He held a nut in between his claws. He (She?) looked at the man. “Now I gave you two nuts! Don’t you be takin’ Russell’s nut, too! Give it back!” And with what I was sure was a dropped jaw I watched “Fatty” leap over to another squirrel and give it the nut. The squirrel, “Russell” I presume, grabbed the nut and ran up a tree with it. Once he was high he squeaked angrily at “Fatty”. The old man laughed. “You go on, Russell, you tell ’em. Haha!” He began to sing and the squirrels around him started doing a little dance in tune with it. They bobbed up and down on their hind legs and hop all in tune.
A fashionably dressed couple were walking hand-in-hand and they watched the man and the squirrels. The man looked bemused but kept on walking. His girlfriend or wife or whatever paused and watched with rapt attention. Her long dark-brown hair was straight and shiny and she had on a sleek red-blazer and black, red and white plaid skirt. The man had taken a few steps but his companion stayed.
“Hon?” He said.
“Just a minute.” She answered. By this time two of the squirrels were fighting. With a few stern words, the man got them to stop. The woman and I exchanged surprised looks.
Her companion seemed impatient to get on his way. He tugged on her hand. “Honey, let’s go. I want to get there before it gets too crowded.”
She gave him a look. “Don’t you see?”
He looked perplexed. “See what?”
Both she and I looked at him like he had grown two heads. She practically shouted. “The man with the squirrels!”
The man’s head shot up at that. He looked at the couple and as he did, the squirrels did too. It was cool! Creepy, but cool. The old man grinned at them.
The younger man waved. “Hi, sir” he pulled his girlfriend along. “Let’s go.” Reluctantly she let herself be led away. As she went passed, she looked at me almost pleadingly, as if asking me to find out what she couldn’t.
I was way ahead of her. I was determined to talk to the man as soon as “Fatty” gave “Russell” the nut. As the couple walked away, the man went back to his singing.
I screwed up my courage. Here goes nothing. “Excuse me,” I said as I approached the man.
He stopped singing and the squirrels stopped dancing, though they stayed close. “Yes?” He looked me in the eye.
“Um… how do you do that? How do you control the squirrels?”
“I don’t control no squirrels.” He said, indignant.
Okay, wrong question. “How do you get them to listen to you?”
He looked at me like I was crazy. “I talk to them.”
“But how do you talk to them?”
“Much the same way I expect I’m talkin’ to you.” He said matter-of-factly.
Okay, fair enough. “How do you get them to listen?”
Shrug.“I use my power.”
Now we were getting somewhere! “And how did you get your power?”
“Eddie over at George’s Diner.”
“George’s Diner? I said incredulously. I looked up the street about three blocks to where the diner was. I’ve walked and rode past the place hundreds of time but I’ve never been in. I was wary of a 24-hour diner on a street such as east Colfax.
“Yeah, he helped me. I knew I had something inside of me, something that wanted to come out. He helps bring it out.”
It took me a minute to realize I had stopped breathing. I was at a pivotal moment. I didn’t know how exactly, but I knew that I was on an edge of some sort.
But something still didn’t make sense. “So… what was inside of you was to talk to squirrels?”
He glared at me. “I just don’t talk to squirrels. I talk to chipmunks and prairie dogs and degus-”
“What are degus?”
“Ro-what?” He peered at me through lowered lashes.
“Nothing. Do you… like… your… power?”
He brightened at that. “Oh, yes. I’ve always liked small animals. I had me a lot of pet mice growin’ up.”
I wanted to ask if he ever felt like he went back in time, but I didn’t. There was one thing, though. “How can I get in touch with…Eddie?”
The man looked at me exasperated. “I just told you he’s at George’s Diner.”
I was confused. “Now?”
The man rolled his eyes. “He’s always at George’s Diner. If you want to know more talk to him.” Thus, I was dismissed.
I started to walk away. “Thanks for everything. Have a nice day.” I waved at him, and the squirrels. He waved back and turned back to his friends.
Did I want to do this? I wondered to myself. Apparently, I did as I walked the four blocks to the diner. I told a hostess who approached me that I was looking for someone named Eddie. She took me a booth where there was an old white man with the mismatched head hair and facial hair. He looked homeless but clean. He waved me into the booth with him. He agreed to help me if I bought him brunch and so I did. After only five minutes he made his pronouncement that my power was time travel.
And so there we were.
Eddie calmly ate his pie and, for a few moments, I let him. Then the suspense was getting to me.
“Um…. how do I have the power of time-travel?”
He looked at me askance “I just said you did.”
He raised an eyebrow. “What do you want? Sparks to fly from my fingertips? A bolt of lightning, perhaps?”
“No!” The cook yelled through the pick-up window. “No sparks, no lightning! The insurance guys gave us a lot of grief the last time!” He set a plate of eggs and potatoes on the sill. He slapped his hand on a bell. Ding. “Pick up!” A waitress came and took the platter to the other side of the diner.
“Jesus, Phil. That was ten years ago!” Eddie shook his head. He looked at me. “Some people never let things go. If you want to use your power right, you gotta learn to let shit go.”
I think I understood what he was saying, but I wasn’t sure. But I went with it anyway. “Right”. He gave me a satisfied nod.
“So, about my ‘power’-” I began.
“Yeah?” Eddie said as he took another swig of coffee. He frowned into his cup. “Bar-”
“Here you go. I’m leaving the pot.” Barb appeared with a fresh pot of coffee and set it down. Wow, she was a good waitress, I thought. She always seemed to know what was needed. I wondered if it was her power. Ha!
“Yes, it’s her power,” Eddie said as he poured himself another cup. I looked at him long and hard. I hadn’t said anything, yet he knew. Maybe it was the expression on my face.“And yes, it was your facial expression.”
“I didn’t say anything,” I said, terse.
He gave me an enigmatic little smile. “You didn’t have to. After all these years, I’ve gotten pretty good at reading people.” He leaned back in his seat. “Now, what were you about to say?”
“Earlier… I was talking to a man who had been married ten times.” I went on to explain the vision I had with Mr. Cunningham. “Then, afterward, he was still on his third marriage.”
“I think I changed his life.”
I felt like a little kid, but I had to ask “Isn’t that wrong?”
“Girl, we all change someone’s life one way or another. This Cunningham guy, he changed peoples’ lives, didn’t he? Someone had a house or was homeless on his whim, right?”
I squirmed. “Yes, but-”
He snorted. “’It’s different’. I know. I’ve heard it all before. If you’re gonna bullshit me, do something different.”
I didn’t know what he meant by that and didn’t want to know. I felt like a coward for not asking, but I didn’t feel as though I could deal with any more information right then.
“This is serious!” I stopped and looked around. No one was paying attention, but I lowered my head and my voice and repeated: “This is serious!” I whispered. “I am going around, changing people’s lives on a fundamental, quantum level. Don’t you think that’s messed up? Who am I to do that to someone?”
Eddie just shrugged. “Yet you’re doing it.” He peered at me over the rim of his cup as he took another sip. “I have to say I’m glad you have power, as opposed to some others.”
“I didn’t know.”
“Bullshit, you knew on some level.”
I fell silent. That was true.“I think… I had this power… before.”
Eddie nodded. “You’ve always had it.”
I scowled. “Then you didn’t ‘give’ it to me or bring it out.”
He laughed. “You seem the type not to believe something unless someone else confirms it. So I was just obliging you.” He narrowed his eyes at me. “And now that you know. There are no excuses. You are absolutely responsible for it.”
I felt the bottom drop from under me. I wanted to deny everything he said, everything that happened that morning and other mornings, noons and nights over the years. I didn’t want that kind of power. I looked at Eddie and gave him my best glare. But then that calm washed over me and the old man in the rough clothes changed into an little boy in knickerbockers. It was winter in some old city with carriages going by. Young Eddie was holding the hand of a woman wearing a shawl, bonnet and bell skirt. He looked right at me and gave me a mischievous grin. I pulled back from him and found myself back in the dinner, staring at the same grin in an older face.
“It’s time to grow up, little girl.” His chuckled, but I failed to see the humor. “You’re gonna be fun to watch.”
© 2010 Genine Tyson