This is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, “God’s Out Sick,” the project I’ve been working on for Camp NaNoWriMo.
This, as all other works posted here unless otherwise noted, is © me, this blog, S.Rae Meisinger and is not to be reposted, recreated, altered, or used anywhere else without permission. Contact me for more information if you would like to use it.
Constructive criticism always welcome.
This is real life.The words gorged themselves on the pause’s antipathy, growing larger and more fearsome by the moment. Before he could even gasp, Adam had lost his breath under the weight of the phrase. A swelling heat licked his cheeks crestfallen-red. Smiling diffidently, he rolled his shoulders as though he could cast the implication away like a stubborn shiver. He swallowed past his bloated tongue.“I guess you just don’t get it,” he snickered to cover the breathless hitch in his voice. “I already know this is ‘real’ life. It’s been real for me for a long time.”Before he had even finished the thought, Penny threw his hand from her own and stood up, turning her back on him. From paces away, Adam could hear her still exhaling her exasperation. He rolled his eyes and leaned back in the chair, causing the wicker to creak. It was impossible to keep from falling into the same mechanical routine with this Penelope as he would have with his own so many years ago. They may as well have been fighting about too many late nights, or her favorite dress ruined by careless paint spatters.“We’ve had this conversation before, Adam,” she sighed at the wall.That was news to him. He ran his hand down the length of his beard, stopping just before the end to tug the skin of his chin to a small, fleshy peak before releasing it to snap back into place. “Oh, really? When?”Indignation and doubt painted those words with sarcasm and that automated response at once made him feel disconcerted. Eerie familiarity broke in cold sweat across his forehead. She wasn’t his person. Not really. She looked and sounded and even smelled the same, but she wasn’t his Penelope. Interacting with this version was never supposed to have happened. It was as unnatural as talking to a clone created postmortem and yet it felt as ordinary as kissing the woman he loved good-bye as she left for work each morning. Once upon a time…Adam stood at the precipice of truth and looked deeply into it. He remembered what “crazy” felt like, but the room around him, the thick, lifeless clay walls, the stagnant, dusty smell, what was happening just beyond the protected neighborhood, the circumstances that led him to not-Penelope, the friends he’d made, the people still facing persecution, the cause he fought for– none of it was a mere product of a broken mind.Penny wheeled around, her temper pinching her eyebrows together in deep wrinkles. Her fists started as white bludgeons, then opened to pale and deadly talons sinking into her waist where they perched, poised for attack.“Oh, I don’t know. I guess it was maybe six months ago?” She squeezed her hips, digging fingernails into the fabric of her dress. At every pause and questioning inflection, she shrugged and shook her head exaggeratedly. “Do you remember that, hmm? Just before we admitted you. Wouldn’t that make sense?”Adam licked his bottom lip, avoiding looking directly into her eyes. His were searching the floor while he picked through the files of his own mind, thumbing through for proof of his sanity. Six months prior, he guessed he had been on the plane where he buckled under drug addiction at age seventeen, just before his initial leap into this strange future. Explaining that to her would amount to nothing, but it was enough to ground him once again.Tongue still pressed wetly to the pink corner of his lip, Adam looked up at Penelope, exposing the lower whites of his eyes, wringing his hands together to squeeze relief from the reflection. His head swiveled slowly to sling the word “No” around the entire room, to coat her in the elongated vowel. The hesitation he felt began to lift, resolve taking its place. With a modest cluck of laughter he rose from the chair, a groan of friction vibrating through the small, dark space as the chair’s feet slid noisily across the smooth floor. The impatience on Penny’s face diminished into suspicion as Adam took long strides to meet her.“It doesn’t make any sense. If I could count every day on the time-line of my consciousness, as I am now, my relationship with Penelope would have ended five years ago.” The corners of his lips turned up into a cordial smile. “Give or take some. Time isn’t as cohesive as it once was for me.”Penny frowned. Only an inch or two in front of her, he watched her pupils dilate and constrict as she digested the notion, trying to dissect what he said. While she calculated, he imagined he could hear a machine-like whir governing the eyes’ movement– anything to make her seem less real, less intimate than he perceived her.Then she broke. The butts of her palms slammed into his chest, thrusting him backward. One step was due to her force, the other for the sake of distance. He threw his hands up in surrender.“Five years ago? You mean when we started our family? You’re a bastard. A sick, Godless bastard!” By “Godless,” her tone had become shrill and loud and Adam’s small smile had spread to a reactive grin. Penny’s long white neck pulsed, one vein bulging blue while red heat spread from her exposed collar bones to her cheeks. Her lips quivered and her talons fell limp at her sides, no more than a fragile girl’s fingers. Like a popped balloon, she had one vicious outburst and then deflated into her overwhelmed emotions.Adam shrugged, allowing his defensive palms to drop as well. “That’s what they keep telling me.” He approached her again, understanding glazing him in empathy. Collecting her hands in his, he watched disheartened tears well and spill.“Why do you hate me?” She muttered, blinking hard and sending more rivulets down her face. “Why do you hate the life we built, our kids?” Penny’s voice was a croaky whisper, but the guileless tone shocked his heart.“Now, hey, I’m sorry this is happening to you. But I don’t hate you. Hell, I don’t even know you.”She sobbed hard, slumping forward as though he’d dealt a deliberate blow.“Listen, damn it!” Adam squeezed Penny’s fingers, the twinge of pain sending her gaze wide-eyed back to his. She sniffled. “I am not who you think I am, I may not even be what you think I am. You have children, but they’re not mine, you have memories, but they’re not with me. You have a life, but I’ve never been a part of it until now.”She shook her head in denial before he had finished speaking. Adam released his hold on her, but did not retreat. “I left my Penny years ago. We lived together for a few months, but we fought all the time. One time because she didn’t want the baby we were going to have together. That was the last time. Did you fight with your Adam?”Penelope’s eyebrows slanted, her mouth opened and closed a few times as though trying to dislodge the right words. Finally, she rasped, “No… Not really. Not until–““He started going a little nuts?”She pressed her lips together and nodded. Adam nodded with her.“I get that it doesn’t make any sense, but you gotta help me out. I need to get back to my friends and I need no one who ever interacted with your Adam to know I was here. Can I leave and trust you with this secret?”Another nod.“Good.” Adam smiled, this time genuinely and without the pretense of simple habit or self-preservation. All at once, he wanted nothing more than to kiss her, but there was no time for that kind of confusion. She would be all right. Everyone was always all right.In the next moment, he was already across the room, slinging his bag over his shoulder. The soles of his shoes slapped against the concrete floor with renewed vigor and the pack’s weight felt like the embrace of an old friend. He reached the brass handle of the basement door and turned it halfway.“Adam?” Penelope’s voice echoed. He turned, releasing the knob with a metallic click. “I’m sorry that I– that she–“Adam held his hand up to gesture a halt. “Those memories are somewhere else in time, now. We only have this very instant. Let’s do something good with it.” With a smirk, his backpack, and no idea how to become reunited with Molly and Anna Lisa, he left Penelope Clark with the kind of resolved conclusion he’d craved over an infinite span of space and time.