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Shuttle

Rusty gate picture

Two weeks before the lockdown Mrs Fforde and I were getting into shape - made sense to be as fit as possible for when and if it hit. So we upped our daily-ish 3 miles a day to a daily 5-6 miles. This was over on Vega hill, two days before the lockdown. We walk from home now, and keep to the lanes. I always like rusty things, and the subject lends itself well to BW photography. This is actually 1400 pixels wide, so you can keep it and use non commercially.


This is a short story I wrote in 2009, just for fun - and I think I've given it to a couple of publications, but can't remember who - and Google doesn't know either.


    I banished boredom from my life when I was twelve. Here's how: It was a wet Friday afternoon, and double history seemed to drag interminably onwards like a wait for the dentist. As I sat there, bored and a bit hot, I sneaked a look to my left where Patty Simcox was sitting. She was all pigtails and prettiness and I thought how nice it would be to just whizz through the lesson and emerge the other side to carry her books home and take on the weekend. And no sooner had I thought it, than I was.
     At the end of the lesson I mean. The bell was ringing, and the banging of desk-lids and joyous chatter made the time of day unmistakable. A split second ago I had fifty-eight minutes to home time, and that time had simply vanished. Gone. I checked the clock, then looked at Patty Simcox, who raised an eyebrow, handing me back the quizzical expression I doubtless conferred upon her.
     Miss Gibbons asked me if there was anything the matter, and expressed surprise - I was usually first out.
     I stammered that I was sorry for falling asleep in her lesson, and she looked at me oddly, and told me I had disguised it well, for my contribution to the lesson had been sporadic as usual, but at least attentive. And I frowned to myself one of those inward frowns that you try to hide, for safe in my memory was the afternoon's lesson, all snug and fresh, and there on my page were doodles. The afternoon had happened, and I had been there. I just hadn't experienced it. I had stepped over it. I had shuttled.
     Later, I asked my best friend Fenton if he had experienced anything similar, and he said that no, he hadn't, but it sounded kind of useful.
     And that was all I could think of on the bus home. To be able to fast-forward anything dull or otherwise boring or unpleasant could be very useful. School was boring, adults were boring, taking Towser for a walk was boring. If I could just zip through it all I could get on with the interesting things in life. The question was not how I did it, but whether I could do it again. I was quiet over dinner, and I surprised my mother by saying that I was going upstairs to do my homework.
     I sat on my chair, books in front of me, and thought about how boring schoolwork was. Nothing happened. I looked to my left toward an imaginary Patty Simcox and still nothing, so I thought again and then put on two pullovers and turned up the radiator. It had been hot in the classroom. So I sat, and sweated, thought how good it would be to shuttle and looked to my left.
     I was suddenly lying on my back, on my bed, reading a book. The two pullovers lay on the floor in a heap and the clock had registered a twenty-six minute gap in time. I hurried to see if I had completed my homework, but alas, I was as lazy in shuttle mode as I was in real life, and I had only managed a few lines before making something out of lego and then reading the new Beano annual. But I knew that of course. I could remember it. I just hadn't been there. I had vaulted through those twenty-six minutes; built a by-pass around the mundane.
     The first time of many.
     Over the years I refined the skill until I could shuttle with unerring accuracy. I could get up in the morning and shuttle to break, then shuttle to lunch, jump to going home time and leap forward to Lost in Space. I fine-tuned my skills to the point that I could shuttle past the commercials on TV, and lose entire weekends with my uncle and aunt. As far as I was concerned, I stepped out of the car at home on Sunday evening a few seconds after stepping in the car to leave on Friday night, with only the memory of overcooked cabbage and interminable photo albums to show for it.
     I spent my teens shuttling forward from one moment to the next with an almost wanton disregard for the value of my own limited time on the planet. Once, after getting in a strop with everything and everybody, I leapt forward eighteen months, a personal best. While I was away I lost my virginity, got drunk and tried drugs. I was also going out with Patty Simcox. We stayed an item for six years. We left school, I paid her way through college with a boring job that I never saw anything of, and then six years after that when we had a house and I wanted to marry her, I thought she should know.
     "Patty," I said one evening as we were watching a video, "do I sometimes seem distant to you?"
     She asked me what I meant, and I explained all about shuttling, and she laughed and told me I was a bit odd sometimes but that's why she liked me, and that sure, I was sometimes a bit distant but guys can do that vacant thing really well, and she didn't think I was better at it than anyone else she knew. I asked her if she believed me and she said that she believed that I believed it, and asked if I'd ever shuttled her, and I said that I liked being with her, and there was no point in missing any of it. She laughed and asked if I could remember things when I was shuttling.
     "Everything," I said, "I'm there and not. Like the fast-forward button on a tape."
     She smiled and asked me to prove it.
     And that was hard, but this is how I convinced her: I asked her to get the camcorder out and video everything we did the following Saturday, and then she was to hide the tape somewhere for precisely a year, when she would take it out and watch it several times to refresh her memory, for at six exactly a year from now I would stop shuttling, and she could test my memory on the day.
     "To me," I told her, "the day would be as fresh in my mind as though I had just experienced it."
     "But you'll miss a year."
     I told her it was important that she believed me.
     So that's what we did. We spent a day up in London, and at six in the evening I said I would shuttle for a year, and prove it to her, and then we could get married. So I made my self hot, looked to the left, and there I was, with a foot in plaster, exactly a year later. I had broken my ankle riding my motorcycle, and it was painful. Patty was three months pregnant. I was annoyed I missed that.
     "Right," I said, "I'm back."
     And she said she thought I'd forgotten and I said that no, I hadn't forgotten, and she asked me questions about that day a year ago, and I got everything absolutely right, and she looked at me strangely, and I asked her to marry me, and she did, as long as I promised not to shuttle through the ceremony, or ever to shuttle through her, and I kept my promise pretty much.
     I was forty when I realised what shuttling was doing to me. A year to someone fixed in time was less then three weeks to me. I was getting old fast. I tried to kick the time bypass habit, to make myself take the dull parts of life, but like any addiction, it was hard to break. I couldn't take bored. Never had. Was out of practice. I spent a morning in real time at work once, and swore I'd never do it again. Patty was off at a conference in Rio, so I shuttled until she got back.
     "Miss me?" she said.
     "No," I replied, and she touched my cheek knowingly. "You mustn't shuttle all the time," she said, "you'll have nothing left."
     "I have you," I said.
     It was all I had. By the time I was fifty-eight I had lived only eight years, and that's when I stopped shuttling. My life had gone in a twinkling, and I had seen myself grow old in the bathroom mirror in the same way that you might see a time-lapse film on a nature programme. That's when I got into boredom in a big way. I started to enjoy it, crave it - even seek it out. It helped with the feeling of loss. Loss of years flashed away. Not so much of a wasted life, but a missed one. When I wasn't shuttling, life seemed that much better, and more colourful. Sometimes I sat for an hour in the dark doing nothing, just to feel time drag like syrup, and soaked it in like a heavy temporal poultice, an anchor dragging my body against the inevitable. I became an empty time junkie. I savoured the walk to the shops, the grandchildren's nativity play, my brother-in-law's jokes, the photographs of the new baby.
     "You're not shuttling these days, are you?" said Patty to me one evening.
     "No," I said, "does it show?"
     "You're fuller," she said. I told Patty I wouldn't shuttle again, not ever.
     But I did, one last time, and here's why: I found a lump one morning soon after I'd stopped shuttling, and ignored it as men do. Within six months it was inoperable, and another six months after that long faces told me that I wasn't going to see the next Christmas.
     "I'm going to shuttle," I told Patty when the pain began. "I'll say goodbye now, because it won't be me that you see. It'll be the other me, coasting past. I'm going to shuttle myself beyond the horizon. I won't see any of this happen. Won't feel the pain."
     And she cried, and I cried, and then I said goodbye and she said goodbye, and the family said goodbye, and I told Patty to tell them where I had gone, and not to worry about me.
     "Will you do one more thing for me?" I asked, and she said she would, and she sat behind me like the time we were in History, when she was just plain Patty Simcox full of pigtails and prettiness, and I was bored, and learned to shuttle. I had lived a lifetime in under a decade. But that's past regret. I looked to my left at her, smiled, and was gone.


C Jasper Fforde 2009

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