Monday, December 17, 2012

A Heartbeat, Reversed

Have you ever wanted to go back to your youth, to reverse the flow of time? For you, is it tempting thought? It would take some kind of magic, which I describe in my story A Heartbeat, Reversed. In it I use a silent movie projector as a device that allows my character, Edna, to rewind her life. She can control time, or so she wants to believe. 

At first, it stirred into motion, casting a glowing, larger-than-life face into the darkness. The eyes sparkled, and from the lips came a laughter. It was giggly, yet utterly silent. Edna smiled back at this girl, the spirit of her youth. The eyelashes fluttered and then—with a sudden stutter—something took over the machine; for stuck on that single frame, it started rattling uncontrollably.

I have introduced Edna in my previous post, Like a Kiss Through a Handkerchief. Now in this state of mind, Edna watches her long-forgotten wedding event flickering on the wall. The sequence, which is so formal we all know how it ought to be arranged, is reversed. Starting from the moment he carries her across the threshold, we go back through events:

Ethan gathered her to his chest, his face dark with effort, his brow dripping with sweat. He swept the bride off her feet, and carried her in his arms, walking backwards. He backed away from the living room, out through the corridor. Edna shouted, Look out! She sucked in her breath; somehow she was quite sure that in a snap, the veil would ensnare him. 

And going farther and farther back in time, here is how the groom and bride place the rings and exchange vows. Seen in reverse, the meaning is changed, too. You realize that they are about to separate, perhaps even forget they ever met:

Ethan and the bride had just separated out from a kiss and stood still, facing each other. The silvery light could barely filter through the wedding canopy. Gathered around them were members of both families. They bore witness, in a serious and ceremonious manner, to the unravelling of this union. 
Edna could see clearly how he kept tugging at that ring on his finger, as if it did not fit, no, it did not feel quite right, now did it. She caught herself hesitating, wavering there under the gray shade, between one nail and another. Finally the bride took back her vows and set him free. With great gentleness, she recovered his ring. Ethan, in turn, recovered hers.

How far will she allow this magic to take her? Will she lose control over it, and what are the risks, the repercussions of denying the normal flow of time? Will Edna go back to being a young woman? A girl? A baby? Will she lose her mind? You can reverse a sequence of numbers, but when you get to a single heartbeat, no longer in the context of a sequence, would it matter anymore which way it is played, forward or backward?

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