Many people obsess over their past, but no one more than I. Perchance it’s because, as a man out of time, I left behind so much of it unlived. If that makes little sense, consider that I’m a time traveler. Although the backdrop for my story is time travel and alternate realities, the underlying theme is a more human one—of love lost, another love found only to be lost, and of a decision, the result of a single regret brought about by the realization that my self-professed courage to never risk my heart to love was instead cowardice, to rectify a wrong in a life filled with myriad regrets. You may judge me, as it is man’s nature to judge others, or discount my story as the ravings of a lunatic mind or simply the fiction of an overactive imagination—but before you do, I ask that you read on to the end, and then ask yourself if you would have acted any differently.
J. Conrad gives an overview of the book:
Later, at Connie’s apartment, I helped Ecstasy pack Connie’s things. I was struck by Connie’s sparse belongings—she owned little in the way of material possessions. In that way she reminded me of Lindy, who put little stock in creature comforts; but I wondered if it were because of her lifestyle that Connie found it difficult to find much comfort in living.
In a closet we found a box; out of curiosity we opened it to find a few trinkets that Connie perhaps had found value in keeping—some jewelry that by Ecstasy’s standards might be considered antique and an old watch—some photographs and an envelope.
I picked up the watch. It no longer ran and the stem was stuck, but there was no mistaking that it was the same watch I’d left behind in Lindy’s bathroom after my morning shower, the day I’d promised to take her to lunch after I’d finished my business with the MacIntyres. That day, for me, was but two days ago; yet the watch betrayed the passage of much more time, its face yellowed, and the crystal, now clouded, still bore the crack of some long ago fisticuffs in which I couldn’t recall my adversary.
“My god,” Ecstasy said, handing me a photograph.
I looked at it, yellow with age: staring back at me were the images of Lindy and me. I had my arm around her shoulder and we were both smiling, but not just for the sake of the camera. It’s rare that a camera captures an unguarded moment, where the subjects aren’t posing. I’d seen this photograph before—it was taken during last year’s New Year’s celebration at The Famous Door, Lindy’s favorite club—but I’d never before seen it as I did at that moment.
“She’s beautiful,” Ecstasy said.
“Yes, she was,” I said, aware that Lindy thought herself not very photogenic. Indeed, in most of the photos of her I’d seen she seemed very self-conscious; yet here she seemed comfortable, content, basking in the moment. “As much as a static image can show,” I added, inferring that, for me, much of her beauty was the result of her animation, the warmth she exuded, the charisma she possessed that no camera could hope to capture.
“She looks so much like Connie.”
“Yes, she does,” I said. I ached from the knowledge that I’d never know the young woman whose existence for which I was responsible as well as from the knowledge of the life she’d chosen.
“She’s very much in love with you,” Ecstasy said. “And you—you look very happy.”
Overcome by emotion, I gulped. I, too, had seen in my reflection what I’d previously failed to see.
“Joe, she knew how you felt about her, even if you never told her.”
In that moment I wondered how both the photo and the watch had come to survive a hundred years, passed from mother to daughter to daughter to daughter. Furthermore, I wondered at how Lindy had kept them, not discarding them after I’d disappeared, what she thought of the photo, what memories it may have invoked, how she felt about me whenever she looked at it.
Wife, loving mother. The three words went through my chest like a hot knife through butter.
“Is it arrogant of me,” I asked, “to think she might have held firm a hope that I might one day come back to her?”
“No, Joe, that’s not arrogant.”
And I’d let her down.
Ecstasy opened the envelope and pulled out a folded piece of paper. A moment later she handed it to me.
“It’s for you.”
Taken aback, I took the paper from her, looked at it. The cursive was shaky, but I recognized it as Lindy’s:
Joe: I’d hoped to one day return your watch to you. I understand why you were unable to return for it for so long.
For all the lost time we never had,
Your Lindy, May 1982
The tiny heart beneath her name had been painstakingly shaped by someone who struggled with the simple task of writing a note.
About J. Conrad
My first novel, January’s Paradigm, was published by Minerva Press, London, England. Current Entertainment Monthly in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wrote of January’s Paradigm, “(readers) will not be able to put it down.” I have two other novels based on the Joe January character, One...