By John Shirley
He stood at the window, looking out at the gray afternoon; the chill sea stretched out, waiting with vast, cold assurance below his cliffside house.
Grigsby had managed not to go to the locked closet for three weeks. He did drugs, he got drunk, he gambled, he chased women. It kept him away from the closet. He knew full well these things were vices; he knew it wasn’t good for him to distract himself that way. But he reasoned that it was better than opening the closet.
Now, standing by the window, his back to the closet—but feeling its pull, which was surely, oh most definitely just in his imagination—he thought about destroying the machine locked within it. But he didn’t move; he didn’t go to the tool shed for the sledge hammer. He simply stood looking out the window. It was winter in British Columbia, and the sea, constrained by the rocky islands of the Sound, shrugged its chill gray body restlessly, thrashing to white spume against the rocks. Very cold, that water would be. Very cold.
Perhaps…he could go somewhere else. Somewhere earlier. But it always happened that he merged with his earlier self, remembering where he’d come from—remembering the future—but able to make only minor changes in the past. So he’d be drawn as if through a sluice to that Spring day overlooking Anvil Rock, though it took years to get there.
Perhaps he might perfect the machine, to go elsewhere…before his birth. Or to go somewhere after his death. But…
But it called to him now.
Try again. This time you can save her. This time…
Strange phrase, that, ‘this time’. In view of…what he’d learned. “‘This time,’” Grigsby murmured. “This time. This time.”
The phone rang. Stopped ringing. Rang again. Stopped ringing. Rang again. Again, again.
It was Sanguelo, of course. He was always very insistent. He would want clarity on the new mine in Santo Miguel. He would want to know if the proper Brazilian authorities had been bribed. Ring. He would want to know if Grigsby were going to supervise the open-pit mine himself. Ring, ring. If the gold assay was indeed confirmed. Ring, ring, ring. If their legal problems had been dealt with…
“Go the hell away!” Grigsby shouted, never turning from the window; his voice rattling the glass.
As if chastened, the phone stopped ringing.
Grigsby snorted. “First time he’s…” His voice trailed off. He gazed out the window.
The key in his pocket seemed to press against his hip. The key to the closet.
Grigsby felt the shift inside him that meant he was going to give in. He wasn’t going to go to Vancouver to find women, to take drugs, to throw money at a card table; to feel himself slowly burning away, like a slow fuse. No. He was going to do something worse. It was worse because it seemed hopeless. Maddeningly hopeless. Because it meant reliving that day.
He was sorry he’d ever funded Kosinksi’s research. “I can take your consciousness back in time. It remains to be seen if your body can go…”
Anybody else would have sent him packing, after mad-sounding remarks of that kind. Many had, in fact—Kosinsky had already tried over a hundred possible funders. Grigsby had been a long-shot—he was interested in funding research into mine engineering, not quantum theory, not time travel. But Kosinski was his wife’s nephew, and he was sentimental about her memory, so…he’d given him some money to work with. And then, a year later, it had happened and he’d gone desperately to Kosinski and then…
He should have shot the bastard, not paid him. But maybe this time…
He sighed, and turned away from the window, walked across the empty room to the closet, and unlocked it. Inside was…
“Hey Dad! Are we going or not!”
Grigsby looked up from his PC to see his daughter, Maria, smiling nervously at him from the doorway. She was an earnest, deeply tanned graduate student—very nearly always, as now, in jeans and work-shirt — with her mother’s long wavy black hair and her father’s blue eyes; and now she had that “There’s something I want to talk to you about” look. She liked to have these talks, always about something she regarded as deeply serious and epochal, in fine restaurants, on the beach, in the back of a cathedral, someplace that seemed to impart drama to the discussion. Today it was a walk along the cliffs near his sprawling house.
It would be her house, one day, he thought. She was his only child and her mother was five years in the grave. If she would just wait for her time—let him be himself while she waited—
“You bet. We taking a lunch?”
“No, I’m going to make lunch for you on the deck, after. It’s a beautiful day…”
He looked wistfully at his email. Jose Sanguelo had a very urgent tone—was quite disturbed about the bad publicity, the sudden judicial interference in Grigsby Gold Mines Ltd, when all had been so sweetly copasetic with the Brazilian authorities for so many years. Still, it would keep an hour or so.
He stood and looked for his coat—and then saw that she was holding it out to him, smiling.
Yellow crocuses were blooming along the cliff path, waving in the wind amidst new grass. The grass had a fresh greenness, that seemed the very color of innocence. The breakers below were cottony white, in the Spring sunshine, almost the same color as the few wispy clouds in the turquoise sky. A brisk wind whipped their hair, it was true, but there was nearly always a wind here.
“You still seeing that lawyer kid?” he asked her.
His daughter laughed and shook his head. “Oh my God, if he could hear you call him a lawyer kid. He’s thirty one.”
“Just seems boyish to me, I guess. More like just out of college.”
“Because he’s an idealist?”
“There’s being an idealist and then there’s being silly. He always pushes everything too far.”
“Well…he doesn’t, dad. I mean…I met him when he was working with Amnesty International, in Sao Paulo—they’re very established and serious. They’re not some flaky organization. The UN respects them.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t respect the UN either. What was it you wanted to talk to me about? You had that earnest carrying-the-world-on-your-shoulders look.”
She scowled. That face-transfiguring scowl she inherited from her mom. From pretty to ridiculous in a split second. “It’s pretty serious, dad.” She dropped the scowl and stopped at the peak of the cliff, turning to gaze at him, hair whipping around her face. She brushed a few strands from her eyes, squinting in the bright sunlight. “What I carry on my shoulders is my karma—you’ve paid for everything I have with blood money.”
He stared at her. She’d tasked him about his mines before but never so self righteously, so bluntly. “So—would you like to repay me the college funds? Like me to take away the annuity?”
“I won’t be taking the annuity anymore, actually. And you may need the money, for your own lawyers. Dad—” Maria made a sound that was something close to a moan. “I had to help Joel when he—he’s representing the Santos family.”
He felt like he’d been struck by a baseball bat. “Your fiancé is representing the people who’re suing me?”
“The Santos brothers have moved to Vancouver. And…” She licked her lips. “I think I’m getting chapped up here. Maybe we should go in the house.”
“No! Just stay right there and tell me exactly what you mean by you had to ‘help’ him!”
“I…copied some of your files. The money transfers to Colonel Vega. Dad, you paid those soldiers to murder those people so they’d stop talking about the cyanide from the mine—so they’d keep quiet about your company poisoning the village. What was I going to do? I…look, you’re my dad and I love you. I didn’t want to just…screw you over, even for a good cause, from a…like, from a distance. I wanted to tell you face to face what I’d done. I think you should own up to it and…pay restitution. I mean, up here, you’re not likely to be prosecuted for hiring—”
“I didn’t hire anybody to kill anyone anywhere!”
Of course it was a lie. But he had learned that lies work best when you’re deeply insistent, over and over. And he was never going to cop to having anyone killed—especially not to Maria.
“Dad—I know what you did. You were sloppy about the emails. We have the money trail. You paid to kill those people to keep them quiet. And…it has to end. I mean, Joel told me about it and I…couldn’t believe it. I thought of you as tough and conservative and even ruthless but –not without human feelings. I figure you managed to…to forget they were people too, for awhile. I know you have human feelings, dad. You were good to me and mom. Mostly. But…”
“So Joel poisoned your mind!” (Why was he saying that, again? This time…he must remember. The closet. The closet. The future. He must…but it was so hard to believe it, so hard to…)
“Dad—should we go over the paperwork? You made me an officer in the company and I…on that authority I gave it to the prosecutor. Now like I said he won’t be able to—”
“You gave…you let that boy tell you what to think and you turned your own father in…you….” (No! This time he…but he felt so caught up, so angry, so…) “You treacherous little bitch! I ‘m already under investigation for taxes—” All the blue had sucked out of the sky—it seemed white now, with veins of red. The sea seemed to roar in fury—in demand. The wind whined in pity for him—stabbed in the back by his own child…a child he had given everything to!
“I didn’t know that you were under—”
“And now you’re going to help them destroy me! You already have!” (This time, remember—the closet—but the feeling was so strong, so…)
“Dad—it has to stop! It’s a matter of conscience! Someone has to—to stop people like you! I’m so ashamed of our family, of the way we live of—”
That was what did it. Ashamed of our family.
He lashed out, backhanded her, and she staggered for a moment, teetered, and there was a second when he might have, might have, might have caught her. (Now! Remember! The closet, you–)
But then Maria was falling backwards over the cliff, screaming. Falling, falling. Striking Anvil Rock below…And he was looking over the edge, wanting to throw himself after her, but not having the courage.
Seeing the dark red splash around her head, below, diluting to pink when the wave of high tide washed over her…
Then the machine in the closet detected the ‘moment of return’ setting and he was caught up in a vortex, screaming, twisting…stopping.
Swaying in the dusty closet. Sobbing in the darkness.
He fumbled for the door, opened it, stepped blinking out into the room, with only moments having passed from the time he’d entered the closet. The winter light came pale through the window of the barren room; the room that had been Maria’s bedroom.
He closed the closet door behind him and went to the window.
How many times is that? he asked himself. He thought about it. How many times have I gone back?
At least three hundred.
Next time. Next time, the three hundred and first time.
Next time he wouldn’t kill her.