Time and Gravity Hit the Open Road
Equations of a Falling Body
Time drove down the street in her vintage Volkswagen Beetle, her best friend Gravity in the passenger seat. The top was down even though it was January. Their hair slapped their cheeks and got caught in the corners of their mouths and pulled against their scalps. They yelled over the top of a Black Flag song, destroying the lyrics.
Gravity laughed at the women on the sidewalk, who didn’t see the Beetle but felt a strange sense of self-consciousness overtake them. Gravity made one girl wobble in her high heels and fall into the arms of a married man. Time grinned and froze the tableau just long enough for his wife to come out of the shop. The girl in heels scraped her knees in the snow, the wife towering over her like a mad titan with mad titian hair. The husband twisted and twisted his ring.
At the next light, the Beetle rolled to a stop next to an old man in a Toyota Corolla. His gray hair brushed against the tips of his big ears, and when he turned to look at them, it started to rain. He had eyes filled with starlight. He remembered them in their cradles, and they wanted to forget.
Gravity pulled up Google Maps, and Time punched down on the gas.
They blasted out of Boston, the blue Beetle wheezing beneath them. It was too cold, and the Christmas lights kept burning out, and the city air – flavored with asphalt and baseball and salt and sprawl – crusted their throats.
Dusty and lukewarm, El Paso wasn’t any better. The women were in tank tops; they accessorized with sunglasses and sweat. The men gazed into their half-drunk beer bottles, waiting for wisdom or unconsciousness.
Time pulled into a dive bar on the south side, vaulting over the driver’s door in ankle boots and short shorts, while Gravity took her sweet sweet time sliding from the car to the asphalt, her eyebrows as low as her neckline.
The bar was a smoke-dark lung that pulled at Gravity. The air clung. She was used to that, but the eyes lit up like wolves’ eyes as she slinked toward a booth at the back. She wanted to return to invisibility; she tugged at the hem of her skirt.
Time was hours ahead of her, slamming her sixth shot down on the cracked brown bar, her laughter arrowing through the dark and waking no one. At the scattered, scarred tables, the whiskey-worn patrons sniffed, their throats rumbled, but they didn’t move closer. The air around Time was a latticework of electricity and don’t-fuck-with-me. Gravity watched her back.
Seattle: Gravity was hungry. Every smile she attracted was bone-thin and braced against the cold night. No one had candles for eyes, or stretched their fingertips toward her under the cloud-broken moon. They hurried past as though she were nothing special.
Time sat on the Beetle’s hood, watching the snow soak into the skin of her arms. She didn’t make it fall faster, only let it take its course. She could be a merciful god, sometimes.
Theoretically, the universe belongs to them now: Gravity pulling, Time propelling. The rest of the old gods – ghost-artists, dust-engineers, planet-mechanics, carbon-masons, silence-miners, fire-defiers, mothers – are lost in their own stories, can’t be bothered.
Time catwalks all the silences between stars in glitter-green ice skates, her umbrella inside-out. The comets swish their tails and streak the sky, uninterested in being pets. Gravity trudges behind. Her tutu droops with rain from Io, diamonds from a nameless place, rust from Mars. Her cigarette smells of silicon-petrichor from Saturn; she can’t light it out here; she slides it back behind her ear.
Time longs for the people with her whole body, which is the whole universe, which balances precariously in her belly, which is a ewer of wishes and endings.
The beginning (there is only one) is so far away now, not even Gravity can grasp the corners. She dons a knee-high pair of boots, and the very last parachute. Time drifts out but Gravity belts her back in. If they’re together when they fall, they always fall toward home.