A dissertation on Freedom. She browses through the library stacks for Freud’s “Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious.”
Reading it at home that evening she finds a passage underlined that exemplifies what she seeks from the book: “Freedom produces jokes and jokes produce freedom”.
She flips to the back of the book and looks down the list of date stamps. It had last been checked out of the library in 1987.
* * *
Unseasonably warm. She sits on the grass and plays the ukulele with her friends. Pleasant times.
She sets the instrument aside to listen to her neighbour play his guitar. As he sings, she flips through the art book at her side. Someone had underlined a passage: “Music doesn’t lie. If there’s something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.” Jimi Hendrix.
“What are you reading?” asks the singer.
She smiles and shakes her head. “I think someone has been put into my life to go round libraries underlining sentences in books that are relevant to me.”
“That sounds like a good love story.” He strums his guitar.
She flips to the back of the book. It had last been checked out in 1987.
* * *
Night. The last of a bottle of pinot noir tops off her glass. People should just be drunk all the time, she thinks. She holds her glass up to the light.
Beside her, her cat sits on a pile of books and papers. She pulls a slim volume of poetry from underneath him. He meows in protest and stalks off to sulk on the other side of the room.
She lets the book fall open in her lap. A poem by Baudelaire, Get Drunk. Someone had underlined a line of the poem. “Always be drunk. That’s it! The great imperative!”
“The great imperative, Lion,” she says to her cat, and sips her wine. The cat ignores her and washes his back. The pen on the page looks familiar and she narrows her eyes and wonders.
Plenty of people had checked the book out from the library. Among the date stamps was one from 1987.
* * *
A week late in May.
In a Quad building, one of the oldest in the university. Music class. Desks installed in the early 20th century and never sanded down. Generations of graffiti. She traces her fingers along the assorted carvings of names and dates.
She pauses on a sentence, a name, and a date. It is a quote from Tennessee Williams. “Time is the longest distance between two places. Ben, 1987.”
She walks home that night half-drunk and dreaming in the dark. She tweets on her phone and breathes mist out into the night. There is something odd about the sky.
She starts as she almost collides with a man in front of her. He appeared out of nowhere, as if he’d stepped through a fracture in reality and into her world. Yet he seems solid. Real. More real than most things. She feels as if she should know his name.
The man meets her eyes with the same expression of shock, and the same glimmer of recognition.
He reaches out, and disappears almost in the same moment. The night is silent, save the distant drunken laughter of students.
The cold closes in around her. The sky seems normal now.
She blinks and feels unaccountably like crying. The man had been familiar, but she has no memory of ever seeing him before.
* * *
School holidays. She de-stresses with alcohol, music and books.
A trip to the library. Among the stacks on the second floor, a book on Dadaism catches her eye. She takes it and several others to a special hidey-hole that makes the most of the weak winter sun.
Flicking through it with a listless air she stops when her eye catches on a message scrawled in the margin of a page.
“I saw you. I don’t know how. It was a dark night and I was walking, and the sky was wrong somehow Then there you were, just for a moment. I felt like I knew you. Like I’d been writing letters to you all my life. I hope one day you read this.
– Ben, 6 June 1987″
She would need to find a time machine.
…To the physics department!