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A Morning Stroll

At three months of age William R. Eakin was swinging on a hammock on the way to living in the Pacific: Guam, Japan, and Okinawa--and he hasn't stopped hanging out in hammocks or traveling. Right now he lives in rural Arkansas with his wife Kody, where they raised four kids in a house on a 200-foot cliff with a giant rock in the center of their living room.

Bill has been a professional writer of short stories for some twenty years, with stories in places like Analog, and Fantastic Stories, as well as Amazing Stories, Realms of Fantasy, Fantasy & Science Fiction, etc. He has also been a professor of philosophy, and as always, combines the emotional and character-development of fiction with troublesome philosophical questions. These things come together in "A Morning Stroll" where questions about personal identity and about time travel meet the concerns of the heart.

Recently Bill was invited to a two-week writers' group in NYC with Andre Dubus III (House of Sand and Fog). There Dubus publically called a work of Bill's a "stunning masterpiece," comparing it favorably to a recent Pulitzer Prize winning novel. He's also received a lot of positive feedback on his series of stories set in his own "Redgunk, Mississippi."

His 4-volume series of Redgunk Stories can be found at Redgunk Tales From the Kudzu, by William R. Eakin.
I raised my hand that I was all right, but I was not and the crowd gathering around me knew it. A young woman, maybe twelve, had been the first to reach me. She grabbed the hand so I could pull up to a seated position.
"You're bleeding," she said with a voice close, crisp, peppermint.
I touched my forehead. Never read while walking.
That's what she said to scold me, "Though it doesn't look bad." The rest of the crowd dispersed.
She raised a heavy tome into my wavering line of sight: Jane Eyre. "Been walking myself."
And the tiny bit of bleeding stopped.
I didn't respond when she offered to help, but she did anyway and I stood, looking out at the park around me as if for the first time: people on the green, lounging, walking the sidewalk boundary where the busses rushed around the corner and down 15th Avenue and only sometimes slowed for pedestrians with cell phones.
She wasn't twelve, she just looked it. She was wearing one of those Cosplay get ups.
"Sera Chibi Mun"
How did Jane Eyre jibe with an outdated anime character? Oh, yeah, not yet outdated. "How old are you?" I asked accusingly.
"Twenty-three. You live close by?"
I couldn't remember. I couldn't remember anything.
"I'll help you call--. Cell phone?"
"Never touch the stuff." At least I remembered that much. I looked to the thick book I'd been reading. Fine. I also read when I walked.
"I'll call 911."
"What for?"
"Look, mister, even a minor head injury can--."
I think somehow I persuaded her I just needed to get to an espresso. But when I stood I only vaguely remembered Franklin's Coffee and Cakes around the corner and she took it upon herself to guide me, a parental hand on my elbow. "Worked there as a student," I said. "I think. Barista." I seemed to remember that.
But we found ourselves walking down 15th and around the corner to her apartment instead: Lots of pink against worn cinderblock. Dirty dishes in a sink too small even for one. Mini-refrigerator with not enough food. Grad student?
Obviously no one helped with the laundry piled in several mounds on the floor, next to the unmade Murphy with its rumpled sheets turned gray. No one helped her. Yet.
She was alone, her and her unmade Murphy bed. I felt it in her--and remembered something, starting to shake a temporary amnesia, some guy.
She called him, probably a boy in a cat costume. I heard his voice as a muffle in a cloth, but familiar.
She said into the phone, "I've got him."
I woke on a blanket on the floor, wall side of the Murphy, staring at a pile in the corner of well-used Cosplay costumes. I heard water running and saw, from across clots of fuzz and dirt under the bed: the bathroom. The toilet. The shower.
I closed my eyes when they tried to focus on her form through a plastic curtain made only barely translucent with lime and minerals from the city water.
Eyes opened: different colors in the laundry pile--spin on multiple personalities. Eyes narrowing: graduate student, smart, pretty, pulling the shower curtain aside. For a second I remembered at least this: I was straight in my past life.
But there was a gaping hole in me. And I knew the next thing would happen just as it did.
A kid came through the door--early twenties, sparse beard, black-framed glasses, jeans from Good Will, fatigue shirt, an untried Castro. Like me, twenty years ago.
Hurt, groggy, I knew where I was, when I was, finally, with the amnesia cleared. I turned on my side enough to look up from the floor.
Baby Fidel sans cigar was looking down at me. "Dad?"
Not biological dad. I knew what he meant.
She was barely hidden in a towel as she came over. She wasn't Chibiusa. She was Francis. Thank God she would give up the Sailor Moon crap after he slept with her, after we started working on the project, she and Fidel-me-really-Gregory, after cracking the highest math and physics of the single most important problem of all
My girlfriend when I was his age.
When I was him.
A memory of the future: We worked, driven. Only in the cool of some evenings and mornings could we let go, stroll the park.
Now sitting on the bed as I took my first espresso sip, I said: "This should teach you not to read when you walk."
He answered: "We know it should, Dad." He meant Dad-the-future-of-me, the "me" that lured him into who I was, his mentor, teacher, eventual self. I had what seemed just days--three years, in fact--to help get them started with everything I knew. That's what he meant.
I had known it would happen like this back when I, too, was Fidel-bearded, before I aged and came back to warn them, whispering it with tears.
I finished the coffee, looking through her stained window. Despite the Cosplay stuff, she was the most brilliant physics grad I'd ever met. One reason he fell--I fell--in love with her. Just before Fidel moved in with her, she went to the park in part to find the teacher, the old me, on that morning stroll when I slammed into the lamppost.
We would work so hard to get out of the loop.
And the young bearded me looked at her for a long time while the old me watched them both, feeling the weight of it.
"I cannot live without you."
Both of me felt the weight of that.
"Two options," I told him long before he met her. He really was twelve then, before he had anything even resembling Fidel on his chin. After our first meeting, instead of soccer, young Gregory hurtled through basic physics by himself. I would spend ten years waiting for him to grow up, while I myself wandered, trying to catch up with my own know-how so that I could re-meet him and give guidance on the project--for her.
"Okay, old man. So--you are me. Is that your come-on for picking up twelve-year-old boys?"
Things were too serious to banter. "A single chronology is a sort of digital logic line reading backward and forward, with rabbit hole ends. If we're made only of energy and information perhaps we can change those holes. Perhaps. Either way, we must try. She'll be ready because she'll know the science of it. Those morning strolls of hers to the park? She'll find us, an old man who's also been walking and reading there for years. He'll be carrying the time machine."
"Yeah, right, old man."
"What the hell do you know?"
"Enough." Actually he'd already studied it. "Two options. One: we can travel back in time but can change nothing. Two: with enough urge the stream doesn't stay single but multiplies."
"Into numerous new possibilities. Neither option yields a different outcome from the same line. But the second option might mean: one new vibrant line."
And then I told him the weightiest thing of all.
I finished the espresso.
"I don't know if I can convince you," I told her. And I wasn't sure if it was the Fidel-me or the Old-me who wanted it so badly. Didn't matter--student becomes teacher. "But we must begin."
Caught up with myself. Taught myself. Kept teaching as I went through the school, the brilliant professors, as Francis became more Francis, attune to the math and the stars and to our project--the one we did not share with our professors. The one she believed in, too, in the place where science met heart.
And then one morning old-I Fidel gave into the stream, and was gone. He left her his book.
H. G. Wells. She read it, too, and walked.
I knew the day and time. Amor fati, they say, love fate.
I'd made her an espresso, having supported my graduate studies as a barista down at Franklin's. She left it untouched for her walk. We were so close to actual travel. We'd practically done it, but--. The loneliness of the apartment was already too much.
I pressed against her heart, against her going. In her embrace: the impossible.
We both felt the weight of it. Nothing could be done, except--yearn, yearn with the ardent desire that moved angels.
She said. "I choose it, too."
Maybe she meant: just the morning stroll, reading while walking. Maybe.
I knew the key was not to will a different park or street crossing, just a future Francis, costumed or naked as a brilliant light.
I stumbled to the window and watched her cross the street to 15th .
The bus was barreling down the road.
It looked like it might not slow.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, December 23rd, 2016


I have long loved the potential paradoxes of time travel and the yearning I think a lot of us have for making such travel possible. At the same time I've spent time doing work on the problems of "personal identity." How much of ourselves do we have to lose before we have lost ourselves entirely.

What if the deepest most essential part of me is my yearning--that yearning we have to change time? Nietzsche says we ought to love our fate (amor fati). Does that mean we have to love the way we are fated to feel?

"A Morning Stroll" asks whether I can return to the past and make a change, so that my deepest part can change as well. Here I ask: what if that deepest part of me is a desperate longing to change the situation of those I love and hence really ultimately who I am--can I make changes that so affect the heart that they mean everything is at stake? I suppose the closest I come to that kind of heart is in the love I feel--for my kids, for my wife. Here the love I have for my wife Kody inspired me to ask this horrifying question about time and about what gives my time traveler his identity.

- William R Eakin

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