Perhaps the declining toe had been the warning bell. If it had been, it had been unheard. Perhaps it had been the visual warning that had emerged from the drawer of my bedside stand when I opened it and took the time to rummage the several expired driver’s licenses that were kept in the drawer into some form of sequence among the other flotsam and jetsam. Whenever I had laid those licenses side by side - oldest to newest - the question always formed “who is the young guy with all the hair?” That question would be followed immediately by the follow-on question, “who is that increasingly older guy with less and less hair?” And finally I would wonder, “who, for that matter is the guy on the license in my wallet?” By laying them side by side and blinking rapidly I could see a movie like progression of a somber faced, vaguely familiar looking person changing from younger to older. It took only moments. “How many years do those moments’ of metamorphosis represent?” I would wonder. Those pictures looked progressively less like the “me” that I thought that I remembered. They looked progressively less like the “me” that I continued to feel as if I were. In fact, rather than looking like “me” they looked more like some ancient grandfather. If they had anything to do with “me” it could only have been from some other consciousness or some other life or some other time or some other place. Except for being mildly entertaining, nothing else ever emerged from that experience of the progression of the pictures; no bells of warning had rung.
The longest day of the year, every year, had begun to seem to be closer every year to the shortest day of the year. The shortest day was always a day of quiet introspective internal celebration; after all, the darkness would begin to retreat with the following dawn. The longest day was a day for quiet introspective internal grieving; after all the darkness would only advance with the following dawn. Those days had both increasingly seemed to have been bent upon lurching out of their temporal containers of years and into increasingly brief temporal containers of months, days and hours. It seemed as if the longest and shortest days were moving toward merger. Would time reach a point where it flowed back upon itself? And if so, what would happen then? Was the apparently accelerating compression of time an intensely individual experience, or was it universal? And, if it were universal, what would be the end-game of that universe? Or, what was that universe? Or, even, was – as in did it exist - that universe at all? Am I it? Is it me? How can it have become fluid to the point of being actually in question as to its existence? Am I where? Where am I? Am I, even?”
The toe had been the second one in from the big toe. It had capitulated to the leftward pressure from the big one following the big one’s collapse. Perhaps it had been the partially buried flint of Jardin de Luxembourg; perhaps it had been something else that had sealed its doom. But its doom had been sealed. And the toe next to that one had been in the process of going the same way. The composite result had been that running had ceased to be an option. But the real reason hadn’t been the collapse of the toes. The real reason had been the iron grip of arthritis. A feeling of being encased in a vaguely painful cage of steel had been creeping forward for years only semi noticed.
The increasing spin of the hands of the clock, the flow of the days, of the seasons, of the months and of the years and the little movie of the rapidly aging face in the pile of expired driver’s licenses had only seemed to accelerate. And there were the chestnuts. The specifics of their yearly march never varied. Only the interval had changed. The sticky and shiny protectively coated buds would always burst forth into little palm tree-like fronds. The fronds would become full-fledged leaf clusters, appearing from nowhere and taking on a darker green hue and looking like serrated green fans. Then emerged Christmas tree shaped clusters at the tip of each stem. Each Christmas tree shaped cluster would soon become a glorious burst of creamy white flowers with dark rosy colored throats or, in Paris, beautiful pink flowers with deeper rosy colored throats. Little round green nubbins would appear where the flower clusters had been; the leaves would continue to darken; the nubbins would become golf ball sized and then bigger; and the little protrusions that had been on the nubbins would become identifiable spikes. One-day fall would arrive. The angle of the sun would always confirm it. The leaves would turn yellow. On a chilly night the wind would rise and the husks of the golf balls would split and shiny brown gems would fall in cascades to the ground where children would pick some up. The rest would be pushed around in piles of leaves; those piles of leaves were then raked and burned. And some of the chestnuts would get charred. And some would escape getting charred. And those would be ground to meal by passing automobiles. And then the rain would begin to torrent. And the car ground meal would roil into the gutters with the rain and be washed into the drains. And only moments – it began to seem – would have passed. And then it would begin over again. And each time the interval of the chestnuts would have been shorter.
And there was the Mountain Ash. There would be the rapid-fire sequence of fans of small pointed leaves, masses of flat multi petaled creamy white flowers and an unpleasant smell. The flowers and fans would rapidly fade and disappear into a summery green mass of leaves that fluttered and shimmered in the summer breezes. Suddenly after an extended anonymous absence on the part of the Mountain Ash there would be emphatic attention-demanding clusters of red-orange berries, which would have appeared as if from nowhere. Robins, and sometimes, wax wings, would briefly complete the scene as it rushed by with increasing speed but with undiminished clarity. And only moments – it had begun to seem – would have passed. And then it would begin again. And each time the passage of the Mountain Ash would be faster.
And there was recycling and garbage pickup. It had seemed as if I had no sooner put the garbage and the recycling on the street than I was doing it again; and then I was doing it again; and then I was doing it again. Individual Saturdays or Sundays sometimes appeared fuzzily through the blur of Wednesdays, and sometimes a Monday, but it had begun to be that every day was Thursday. Thursday was pickup day. Early every dawn seemed to begin with the roar then the silence, then the roar again of the oncoming trucks. Intermittently the sound of a bell of the truck backing up punctuated the silences. And then the roar and the bells were separated by hours, then by minutes then by seconds; and then it was just one roar punctuated by bells.
And the chestnuts had begun to interleave with the Mountain Ash and they had both further merged with the Thursday morning roar and silence and roar and silence and the bell; and all of these were merged with and punctuated by the blinding transition from shortest to longest to shortest to longest days of the year. And none of these were blurs but were instead distinct and clear as individuals; and they were distinct and clear from each other; and in spite of their increasingly astonishing speed they had continued to act as individual marks in time. And the moments that those things were brief were becoming briefer between the beginning and the end and then the beginning again.
What I had previously perceived as the inexorably forward progress of time had begun to appear as if it were spinning toward some sort of merger – front to back - where, like the spokes of a wheel seen through the slots of a stroboscope running faster than the wheel, the wheel would actually appear to be in reverse. It had begun to seem as if there would soon be a moment when the longest day and the shortest day would appear together and then would pass one another in the opposite direction. And the blackened chestnuts of the rainy gutter would merge with the reddish orange splash of Mountain Ash. And there would be a flickering moving picture of a man with measured acceleration oscillating between images with hair and images with no hair, between younger and older. At some point would it all become one and then, perhaps, would all fade to black just like a real movie? And then, what?
Then one spring morning I had awakened very early. It had been barely light. I had long since ceased to be accustomed to be being asleep at that time of day, and on many similar mornings I had become familiar with the silence of that time. When I had realized what I was hearing I had assumed that it must be a dream. There was an almost deafening sound. It was almost like a medium pitched roar with occasional wisps of sound leaking out of it. It was the sound of myriad birds, all chirping at random, and singing their morning songs. I had heard it before. With a feeling of joy I recognized a chorus of robins sequentially calling for rain. Or were they calling for the sunrise? I was never to know.
The house had been strangely silent. It had seemed totally out of character for it to have abandoned its periodic creaks, snaps and pops. Perhaps it had known something that I hadn’t known. Perhaps it hadn’t felt the need to keep me awake anymore.
“I must be asleep and dreaming,” I had concluded. “How else could I be seeing and hearing what I am seeing and hearing?” “How could I be seeing and hearing the flow of the chestnuts, the flow of the Mountain Ash, the bell of the recycling truck backing up? And how could the huge tribe of birds long missing suddenly have returned? And why was the face in the driver’s licenses lurching backward beyond its long known limits?”
And what are all those other sights and sounds: my nose against a huge Parisian "mirror"; peepers, leopard frogs, toads, bullfrogs and my family of tadpoles fully grown; sodium flares and things roiling the evil smelling nasty soup of a small roadside lake; flashes of blue followed by flashes of yellow; thunks heard through a haze of grey lint; "wake up Maggie" and a little blue light; toilets straddled; murders considered and murders not committed; and more; more; and more.
And then everything folds backwards upon itself. The chestnut blossoms have become recycle days and recycle days have become mountain ash berries. The time of a clock that appears from nowhere is at hyper speed even as it stands still, even as its hands pass one another intermittently backwards, even as it blurs, even as it disappears. A sense of mortality blends with the realization of boundaries. The dream is not a dream. The dream is reality. And reality is a dream. And the boundaries fade and opportunities lost and achievements unattained loom and overwhelm. Whatever it had been that I had ever thought that I might be or might have been is becoming a neatly wrapped package; it is becoming a sleekly designed capsule. And then some infinite unseen and unseeable facility or force compresses it all – the hopes, the dreams, the illusions, the achievements, the misses and near misses, the loves, the hates, the intentions good and the attentions bad - into an expendable portion and inserts it into infinity.