Ch. 25 – These Times (1)

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Zach appeared on the street in front of The Underwater Palace, in the same shabby church-donated suit, holding the briefcase, wearing the baggy cap, his fingers freezing from the morning cold.

This was the third time he found himself here. First, in his beforelife. Second, in the first reiteration of this moment. Third, now.

This time, he knew where to look for Angeline. He also knew not to let anyone know about his speed and strength. That only scared people off and got him no new information.

Instead of searching for Angeline at the dressmaker’s and jeweler’s, Zach walked straight to the end of the block. Barely any pedestrians glanced at him. They were all preoccupied with their own thoughts. Cars honked. The exhaust gas made him cough.

Zach turned around the corner. There stood the emerald car. And up on the roof of the Palace stood Angeline. This time, Zach didn’t call her name. He slowed down and approached the car. He meant to introduce himself. Then what? Then, then…

Seamus, the chauffeur, got out of the car.

“Sir?” said Seamus.

Zach ignored him. People had the right to walk down the street, and Seamus had no reason to stop Zach from doing so.

“Sir?” Seamus said again.

This time, Zach glanced at Seamus. Zach nodded a friendly greeting. But something on Zach’s face must have given it away. The tenseness, the deliberateness, perhaps.

Seamus walked around the car, to the street, toward the Palace building, to the part where a metal staircase was attached.

“Miss,” Seamus said. “Miss?”

Angeline—exactly the same as before, in her green dress, burgundy coat, and white gloves—appeared at the top of the staircase.

“We must go,” Seamus said.

Angeline quickly glanced at Zach, then descended the stairs.

“I just have a few questions,” Zach said.

“We don’t take questions,” Seamus said. He held a hand up to warn Zach to stay away.

In the meantime, Angeline dashed downstairs—how did she manage to do it so quickly and safely in those heeled pumps?—and slipped into the emerald car.

“I only have something to ask—”

“No questions,” Seamus said. He hurried to the driver’s seat, got in, slammed the door, and drove off.

Once again in the liquor storeroom, Zach breathed in the stench of whiskey. He stood right by the metal door leading out to the cocktail lounge, just where he’d stood before leaving. Behind him, Donald Todd’s hair had whitened further. Even more like a shriveled-up koala, the old man lay there.

Zach held the door handle but didn’t close the door. His intent had been to start from the very beginning, that day on which, in hindsight, his life had so obviously gone wrong.

But apparently, to meet Angeline without having her run away from him in fear, Zach had to have played the piano at the Palace. She’d heard him from the rooftop, maybe through a ventilation duct. Him playing the piano had been the reason she’d rescued him. It had made her feel like she knew him, that she’d been introduced to him, well before actually meeting him.

If Zach played the piano for Gus Shevlin, however, wouldn’t things just be the same? Angeline would take Zach home, make some calls, and Zach would be rejected from the same venues that he’d been rejected from before. Reliving those years of his life was completely unnecessary. All Zach wanted to know was everything related to Angeline and Gus Shevlin, not his own failures—those, he knew enough of.

Better if Zach wasn’t playing the piano or talking about playing the piano. Better if Seamus wasn’t there. And better yet, if no one but Zach and Angeline were there. And surely, if Zach went to the day on which he already knew Angeline, she’d have to recognize him.

A day in 1925, say.

Zach thought of such a day. No, of such a night. He closed the door.

© 2022 Ithaka O.

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