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How long is a time loop?

"So, what exactly is a time loop?" I ask, on a wet winter's night, as I take my shoes off and recline on the professor's sofa.
"Again, father?" I hold back a sigh as he speaks; it has become harder to talk with him over the last few months. Instead, I nod and smile eagerly. Sitting down next to me, he speaks in a patient tone. "Time repeating itself, conceivably forever. Nobody knows what one would remember between the ending and starting of each loop or whether it's even possible." He looks at me and in his old eyes I see myself. I see pity.
"You never did get around to telling me where you got that, professor Tony." I say, breaking eye contact and pointing to the large grandfather clock across his dark room. The second hand ticks forward twice and backwards thrice. His head swivels around and I instantly regret the change of subject. With just a scratch of his cheek, I can see his confusion.
"You bought it for me, about 25 years ago when you went to Devon." I stay silent as he stands and admires the clock.
When Jess told me about his dementia, I didn't realize he would get me confused with someone. I always thought it would be close family members. Not students, not distant friends. Not me.
The clock strikes ten and thunder rolls across the sky. He turns and grasps my hands with a fierce tightness, one I would not expect from a man so old. "We'll speak tomorrow, father." He speaks in a hushed tone, as if not wanting a lurking figure to hear him.
I awake in a hospital bed. Slowly, I find my glasses before looking about the room. I'm partially reassured by the sight of the old grandfather clock. The second hand ticks forward twice and backwards thrice. I try to leave the bed but I feel too tired, despite just waking up.
The door opens and a young man walks in, carrying a stack of boxes filled with pastries. The stranger greets me, then places the boxes on the table at the end of the bed.
"Did you come with Jess?" I ask, yet don't know why I expect him to know who she is.
"No, you know... you must remember at least that." I shake my head slightly, not enough for him to see, and scratch my cheek.
"Is she helping her father today? You know he gets awfully confused, I was talking to him yesterday night." I hear him sigh as he sits on the edge of the bed.
"You didn't have any visitors yesterday, especially not from him." I stare at him. "Granddad's been dead for decades."
"Who are you?" My voice is now faint. Something in the air irritates my eye and I try to wipe it. "More importantly, why am I here? I'm going to be late." I try again to stand but my legs don't move well enough. I fall to the ground, hearing a thud and seeing black.
I wake up again, this time sitting on the sofa next to the rigid bed. The stranger is kneeling, grasping my hands. I look away. The clock ticks backwards again and I see it strike ten. Thunder cracks. I notice he wants to speak but I start before him. "How long does a time loop last?" I look into his eyes and see them sink.
"Again, father? Conceivably forever." He glances at his watch. "We'll speak tomorrow, father."
I awake in a hospital bed and feel familiar. Somewhere in the back of my mind, something rings. I look around the room but without my glasses all I recognize is the grandfather clock. The second hand ticks forward twice and backwards thrice. I wish Tony could see it. He'd have found it funnier than Abbott and Costello.
Through the thin walls I hear the familiar step of the professor. The door opens and the professor walks in, carrying a stack of boxes. Without my glasses I can't tell what's in them. Then something hits my mind again and I have an urge to ask a question I'd never thought of before.
"Professor, what exactly is a time loop?"
The End
This story was first published on Monday, April 17th, 2017

Author Comments

The general trope with a looping time is that the protagonist is able to remember all previous events of the loops. I wondered what it would be like if they could only partially remember what happened, like a long faded memory. That would be some kind of hell, in my opinion, and I wanted to show a glimpse of that. My focus changed to be more about what I imagine living with dementia might be like. The parallel with time looping is obvious in my story but it's something I hadn't seen before.

- H. Burford-Reade
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