Warfield lives and writes from Philadelphia.
1) Xavier sat in his room, the uncurving walls wrapped around him like a prism. Something clawlike was reaching down at him, talonless but grasping. He looked at his watch and realized he was going to be late. He dived gently, a controlled dive, out from the clutches of the claw and rolled beyond its reach where he got dressed and left the apartment. He got to the posture night school 15 minutes late.
“Sorry, everybody,” he said. Everybody looked at him. Were they angry? He looked at the teacher. His teacher had immaculate posture and well-defined calf muscles. He felt obligated to fall in love with her, though he didn’t want to.
“I’m sorry,” he told her, gazing directly into her eyeballs, which looked back at him full of forgiveness. She did not love him. Her name was Monica.
He had really bad posture. It was true. At the posture night school they did not balance books on their heads. They carried buckets of water to and fro, they placed orders for Chinese food and walked down the block to pick it up, they watched Marx Brothers movies. A student once asked about the teacher’s methods.
“What does walking your toy shih tzu have anything to do with good posture?”
Monica arched an eyebrow. “Good posture is not arbitrary. You cannot sit up straight in the movie theater and then slouch on the bus ride home. It is essential that you be consistent. Who has straighter posture, you or me?”
“You do,” the student said.
“And between the two of us, who gets paid to teach proper posture professionally and who is paying because he doesn’t have good posture?”
“Um, that would be you and me, respectively.”
“That’s right. So why don’t you get back to programming my VCR and straighten your back.”
Xavier spent the evening cutting coupons out of the newspaper and sneaking looks at Jalinda, who had gotten the privilege of painting Monica’s toenails. Malibu Pink.
Everyone milled around the exit after class was over. It was almost midnight and some of the students were making plans with each other. No one invited Monica. Xavier’s sweat was wet and cold in his armpits.
“Would you care to possibly…” he formulated the words in his brainbox. But there was nothing that he would care to possibly do with Monica. Couldn’t they just spend the rest of their lives together without having to get to know each other?
The post-midnight air on his walk home, alone, was like the skull of a squirrel. Returning home was like denture sores, an oozy chafed hole where the prosthetic of his life wore down on him. He batted at his inflatable punching doll, which fell to the floor and then rolled back upright.
There were only 32 installments of the class, after which he would walk tall but perhaps still alone through the garlanded arches of night school graduation. The time in between threatened to be a minuet of anticipation and dread.
2) Xavier thought of pizza. He paced his apartment contemplating the efficiency of the pizza pie. He yearned, longed for the pinnacle of pizza consumption. It was all too easy for pizza to be sullied. For it to be a rushed and hurried affair eaten in conjunction with watching television. Xavier pined for a transformative pizza. He would ask Monica if she had any recommendations.
In the pocket of his winter jacket, Xavier found a $20 bill. He would use it to purchase pizza for himself and Monica.
A millennium passed and Xavier took a time machine back to the past, to this moment, and killed his past self and replaced him with his future self, himself. He still forgot to set the alarm clock. Was it his future self that had put the $20 in his pocket?
Xavier walked outside and remembered the smell of nitrogen as he experienced it. He walked with a confidence and posture that he should not possess yet. He arrived early to the posture night school. Monica was alone, slumped over her grade book. The classroom door banged against the wall. She looked up at him. There was a mist of fog that was something else filling up the room, emanating between them. He unclasped his hand from the doorknob. He could sense her pulse; she had one. There were tigers and pumas fighting each other in her eyes. He wanted to eat an apple.
They didn’t move. They were unmovable. She started to say something. His finger was on her lip. He kissed her. But mostly he kissed his own finger. It tasted like dirt and skin.
Two eternities passed and then were rescinded.
“The best pizza I ever had was at Calvino’s,” Monica proclaimed breathlessly.
“I know. I ate there about 400 years ago,” Xavier gloated, staring straight into the pores of her face.
“I had to give you an incomplete,” she apologized, gesturing at her grade book.
He wanted to say something witty like “I’ll give you an incomplete.” But instead he just shrugged. Awkward silence erupted all around them. It bit at their lapels.
“Let’s get out of here,” Monica almost said.
“Let’s get out of here,” Xavier almost remembered her saying.
Xavier went back to his apartment, where the other Xavier was still lingering, dead and sprawled on the floor. Xavier wondered if it was even possible to change the past. He remembered what had happened, what now would happen, and he had no idea what he was doing, what he was going to do, what he had done. He stared at his prone body and decided maybe he should just go back even further into the past to when he was still alive, before he had met Monica. Maybe maybe. He smoked a cigarette. He ordered a pizza, but it wasn’t from Calvino’s so it was only mildly awesome.
He thought that maybe instead of killing himself, he should have made friends with himself and kept himself company so he would have someone to talk to. Oh well. Next time, maybe. Maybe maybe.
3) He went to the posture night school. There were only five classes left. Monica was sick. This hadn’t happened the first time. Or had it? He couldn’t remember. Everything was clouding over in a cumulonimbus of forgetting. What had he come back here for, to aright? What decision had he wanted to undecide? The new teacher was more strict but also more traditional, not having them do her laundry but instead kneel on rulers and grasp for golden rings.
Time was fraudulent. He was an embezzler. He couldn’t make any two things co-align. He read in the newspaper that Monica had died. Had that happened? Was he happening? Xavier felt unmoored, like a flour-coated hound. He would wait a millennium and come back and fix this. Somehow it had been his fault, his meddling from the future. He would come back and kill his future self and leave his past self alive. But, of course, he hadn’t done that, had he? Or had he?
He stood up straight, the posture night school was dissolved, he wandered the streets trying to locate a smell, he cried himself to sleep, he woke up with regret.
And then one day he saw her. Monica. He wasn’t dreaming. She was clad in a trench coat. She looked him in the eye. There were calliope horses racing against real horses in his eye. She’d come from the future. She’d killed her past self. His heart beat like a wax model of a heart.
She took his hand. It felt like plaster. He understood everything. Everything was understood.
They went to Calvino’s and had the best pizza in the world.
Monica looked achingly into his eyebrows. “Is it possible for two people from the future who have killed their past selves in order to be with each other, to be with each other?”
“Yes,” he intoned with a resounding s. “It is. It might be. I’m not really sure.”