Time Tales by David Daniel

Time Tales

By David Daniel


Past: 7 P.M. Sharp

At 6:00 P.M. the ship is waiting at the pier, music rising over the burble of diesel engines. The college is holding a sunset harbor cruise for its adult education grads, a last big hurrah on a fine spring evening. Dinner, drinks & dancing. Departure: 7 P.M. sharp. The commencement ceremony is slated for the morrow.

By 6:30 P.M. there’s a good crowd on board, ready for a night of fun to celebrate many semesters of hard work.

Come 7:00 P.M. the ship’s horn sounds, a deep bauuuughh rolling across the harbor front. Lines are cast off. Propellers churn. The ship draws away from the pier in a hurry of foam.

Looking off the stern I see a group of women, four or five of them, coming along the pier, attempting to run in high heels and tight skirts. Like they’ve shown up at a bus stop as the bus had started to drive away.

Others see them too, and a chorus goes up to the wheel house. Wait! More passengers! Stop!

But a ship is no bus. A ship cannot stop on a dime and go back. It keeps pulling away.

The women reach the end of the pier “yoo-hooing” and waving . . . but with a dawning awareness that the ship has sailed.

My heart goes out to them: all dressed up like that. Sharp. But, alas, not 7 P.M. sharp.

I wonder what eventually happened. Did they curse and sulk away, downcast and embarrassed? I like to think that they shook off their nautical defeat (one further lesson learned) and went downtown and had a good time.


Present: Painted Ponies

She’s talking about Duran Duran and I interrupt to ask, “Who are they again? I mean, I know, but . . .” She looks surprised, then starts to tell me, sounding just the teeniest bit patronizing.

I gave up listening to pop music after the 70s, figured it wasn’t going to get any better. Plus, I’d finally gotten down to the business of making a living and being respectable (why, I can no longer imagine). Here I am listening to a woman twenty years too young, with a purple scrunchie on her ponytail, tell me about crushing on Simon Le Bon, and how deep the lyrics of R.E.M. go, and more. But I don’t say I wasn’t paying attention back then, or that I’m not really paying attention now, either. I’m thinking about a song from my day, about painted ponies on a carousel and wondering when they speeded way the hell up.


Future: A New World

On a July morning, early, with heat already rising in woozy shimmers off the sand and small gray waves slapping lazily at my feet as I walk, I see the man. He is bending over and then straightening up, repetitively, feet planted, arms in motion. Aside from a few strollers farther away, oblivious, we are the only people on the beach.

He is wrinkled with age and in his loose-fitting white cotton pants and shirt he is intent on his actions. Practicing some Eastern martial art perhaps? Or praying? But as I watch him, nosey and unseen, I grasp the edges of something more. With each bend he is gathering handfuls of beach sand, throwing them into a cloth sack that sits nearby.

I think of the little men and women I see around the city, pushing shopping carts full of aluminum soda and beer cans, gathering up what the rest of us have cast off. And there is the couple I sometimes see walking purposefully along in single file, he holding a five-gallon plastic bucket, she following with a dip net. I greeted them once. “What are you hoping to catch?” I asked. She smiled and bobbed her head in a series of nods. “Eels.”

Now this man on a beach tossing handfuls of sand into a sack.

As I move on in the dizzying sun, the obvious explanation comes to me. All of these undertakings are connected. There is a conspiracy of grand and imponderable design afoot. A future world is in the making. A vast landmass of sand, with towering gleaming buildings built entirely of aluminum, and rivers running with eels. And America, barely bigger than Kansas, become like a stale cracker, empty at its core and nibbled at from all sides.

7 Responses to Time Tales by David Daniel

  1. byron hoot says:

    A clever triptych. Each panel capturing a moment in time.
    It’s well known the past, present, and future is with us always.
    We just need to be reminded.
    Delightful reminder.

  2. jason trask says:

    This is an interesting little experiment that works. I have only one complaint, namely, that in the second story the narrator raises Duran Duran to the same level as REM.

  3. Tim Coats says:

    Dave Daniel, always interesting. I think that we’re getting a look here inside his notebook.

  4. Amy says:

    I just have to single out this great line: “music rising over the burble of diesel engines.” These are like postcards–I would like to see a whole collection of them.

  5. Tim Trask says:

    I love all of it, but where did that last paragraph come from? Genius! Changed my whole way of thinking.

    Guess I’ll have to start over.