Thomas scans the room looking for something familiar, something to ground him in the present. He’s recently taken to leaving the daily paper on the coffee table so that when he returns he’ll have something definite to reference his existence to.

When he first started to time shift, he discovered that the return journey often caused a kind of travel sickness—mental nausea—a confusion as to when he was. He’d chanced upon the newspaper solution one day and used it ever since.

His eyes catch the banner and then the date, and his mind quickly reorients itself to the present.

“Cup of tea I think. Could do with one after that.”

Thomas stood outside the hall and rubbed his boots on the back of his standard issue trousers. No light escaped the blacked out windows, but the sound of a dance band drifted out through the doors. A nervous breath and in he went.

At twenty, Thomas was a product of his family’s inhibitions, shy, lacking confidence and forever putting himself down. Just walking into the dance hall took nerve; what he experienced there could have been a different world entirely. The swirl of humanity before him grabbed his attention. Men in all sorts of uniform: airmen, seamen, soldiers. Each man desperately clutching a woman, some in uniform, some not. The couples danced round the hall to the crackly sound of an amplified gramophone playing big band music. Laughter and shouts punctuated the steady swing rhythms of the music. A layer of smoke drifted over the moving couples, sometimes wafted here and there by a particularly energetic move. It was all action, sound, movement, smell.

Thomas edged his way around the edge of the hall to the makeshift bar serving weak beer and tea.

“What’ll you have soldier?”

“Pint please.”

The barman placed a glass of flat looking brown liquid in front of Thomas.

“Shilling squire.”

He paid, and sipping his drink, watched the door to the hall. The last time they’d met she’d been cross with him. Over what, he didn’t know. She wouldn’t come, he knew she wouldn’t, but he had to be sure. If she did and he’d not come…

He’d been posted to the Far East in two days time. He just had to see if there was a future for them, someone back home he could write to and stay alive for. Theirs had been a quiet, unremarkable courtship. Films at The Hackney Empire when they were both free, or afternoon teas in a café on Homerton High Street. It hadn’t been a whirlwind romance, but as far as Thomas was concerned, their relationship had grown steadily with the passing months until he couldn’t think of anything without asking himself what Grace would think. He knew he loved her like he’d love no other.

“Another gov?”

And then she was there, in the door way scanning the hall.

“Another gov?”

“Er, yes please—and a half. Back in a tick.”

Thomas edged his way back round the edge of the hall, never taking his eyes form Grace. He was almost to her when she spotted him. Her smile told him everything was alright.

“Hello Tommy,” she said, taking his hand.

“Hello. Dance?” he replied, surprising himself.

And that’s when it started: sensual woodwind overlaid with muted brass counter melody and a lazy double bass. Right hand around Grace’s waist, left in her right hand. An easy and rhythmic drift around the floor. Three and a half minutes they danced through Moonlight Serenade. Three and a half minutes: his face in her hair, hers on his chest.

“Marry me?”

“Marry you? Tommy…yes.”

The dance ended. Thomas wanted to leave with her, to be somewhere quieter, more personal. He led her to the door and into the foyer.

The spiv leaned against the wall holding an imported American camera and large press flash head.

“Photograph soldier? Only a shilling; I’ll post it anywhere you say.”

“Two,” he said boldly.

There they stood, against the drab brown wall: him Brylcreamed, her freshly washed and curled—smiling at the start of their adventure.

Thomas scans the room, lost in time again. He looks at the Hackney Advertiser: June 7th 2009, Headline: Sixty-five year Anniversary of Homerton Hospital Bombing.

He’d served eighteen months in the Far East and safe home. Grace had served six months at the hospital and been buried under tons of collapsing rubble.

He sighs and picks up his photograph album, empty save for the first page. There, looking out from the black pages are a handsome young man with slicked back hair and a face splitting grin, and on his arm, a beautiful, shyly smiling young woman.

Thomas leans across to the turntable and picks up the needle.

The LP begins to turn its regulation seventy-eight per second. A crackle as he carefully places the needle in its well worn home, and then it begins: sensual woodwind overlaid with muted brass counter melody and a lazy double bass.

# # #

Time Shift by Phil Robertson
originally published August 23, 2009



Phil Robertson's "Time Shfit" first appeared on Big Pulp in August, 2009.

Big Pulp credits:
Time Shift

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