Literary Nymphs Interview
Title: A Token of Time
Author: Ethan Day
Publisher: MLR Press
Release Date: 4/20/12
What inspired the story?
A combination of things came together and brought this story to life for me – a daydream on a rainy afternoon was the first bit of inspiration which came fortuitously right around the time I’d watched an older film I’ve always loved but hadn’t seen in ages called, Somewhere in Time. Those two things mixed together into this unstoppable fantasy in my head. The film is a sad and romantic love story; people should definitely check it out if they haven’t seen it before.
The focus of that daydream revolved around Tab Hunter’s autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, which I’d recently finished reading at the time. Those outside influences came together, infecting my brain with a story I couldn’t rid myself of until I sat down and started writing. It’s a much more complicated story with a lot going on and it really came to me in pieces over several years time.
For anyone who has become used to my usual shtick, this book will likely be a teensy bit of a shock, lol.
The coffee table was cluttered with empty bottles of liquor, an ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts, crumpled fast food bags, wadded up wrappers, and week-old cartons filled with half eaten food that had begun to stink. Zachary rubbed his itchy nose before picking up a cigarette and lighting the tip. Fumbling, he dropped the lighter, watching as it bounced across the hardwood floor.
“Fuck,” he muttered, the cigarette dangling from between his lips.
Listening to the sizzle of burning tobacco as he inhaled, Zachary emptied the last of the liquor into his glass before leaning back into the leather sofa.
The apartment felt as empty as he did. Nick was gone and wouldn’t be coming back. Taking in a sharp breath, the pain cut through his chest and he wiped away the tear running down his cheek.
He flicked the ashes onto the floor.
It is my fault.
Rebecca was right about that. Had Zachary known it would lead to this, he would’ve left Nick behind and never allowed him to become entangled in his family’s twisted bullshit. Nick’s mother, Janet had worked for Zachary’s family so they’d known one another their entire lives – had grown up together.
Nick was a year older and had been straight from the time he’d hit puberty, or so Zachary believed. He’d bedded multiple girls from school and acted as though he’d loved every minute of it. Then Zachary turned sixteen and everything changed.
His life, their lives, hadn’t been the same since.
Zachary stared at his hands, convinced what he could do with them wasn’t worth the price he’d been forced to pay. His gift, this curse which Zachary had never wanted was ironically now the only way for them to be together. Nick could only be found by searching through the past and Zachary’s memories were all that remained.
Zachary pulled himself off the sofa, pausing momentarily until the dizziness subsided. Stumbling over to the fireplace mantle, he grabbed the large manila envelope they’d handed him after being released from the hospital. It held Nick’s personal effects from the day he’d died. Zachary had refused to open it before, but its contents were the things Nick used every day and therefore held the most energy. Zachary needed to see him – to be with him again – if only for a little while.
Ripping open the envelope as he made his way back to the sofa, Zachary removed Nick’s watch from the bag. The glass was scratched. It held no value to anyone other than Zachary – it was a gateway to their past.
He shoved some trash out of the way, clearing a spot before placing the watch gently onto the tabletop, and then reached into the bag, listening to the keys clinking before pulling out the brown wallet. The leather along the sides was distressed and worn smooth from daily, long term use. It was the only one Nick had ever owned.
Zachary held it under his nose and breathed in the scent.
The pain of loss was only manageable because of the booze.
He could feel the tears welling up, placing the wallet next to the watch, followed by Nick’s keys and cell phone. He took one last drag off the cigarette before snuffing it out by jamming it into the overflowing ashtray.
It wasn’t fair. People shouldn’t be taken away like this.
Nick was only twenty-one, far too young and his life had never really been his own.
Zachary dropped the envelope onto the floor after removing the final item. He rolled the ring between his fingers, thinking it was priceless. Silly considering it was made from some sort of plastic polymer and molded into the shape of a coyote. The animal’s body created the circle, its head resting on the tail.
Glancing at the ring on his finger, which was similar aside from being green and shaped like a lizard, Zachary took another deep breath. He rubbed the tips of his fingers over the textured, rounded surface of Nick’s ring and closed his eyes.
Normally he would concentrate on a specific question that required answering, something which would steer his vision toward a specific time or event in the past. It was the best way to control his psychic ability. This time he didn’t do that—willing to see whatever came to him.
He rid his mind of all other thoughts and concentrated on Nick as the light began to flicker behind his eyes. A blinding stark white light flashed and the vision came slowly into focus. Zachary could feel the smile stretching across his face watching his memories of the past play out like a film inside his head – a movie that only he could see.
He watched silently, transported back in time to the day he and Nick walked through the aisles of the outdoor market – could almost feel it as the backs of their hands brushed together, as if it had only just occurred. They smiled at one another and Zachary was now able to experience how badly Nick had wanted to hold hands in that moment.
Zachary remembered the day—their trek through the desert several months after arriving in
Zachary missed living there—they’d been happy for a while, before he’d opened
his mouth and ruined everything. He was like a plague on the people who loved
him, innocent of any wrong doing yet somehow to blame nevertheless. New Mexico
Reliving the day from a fly-on-the-wall perspective, Zachary looked on as he and Nick meandered through the market, which had been awful. One of those tourist traps filled with cheap southwestern tchotchkes – the type grandparents enjoyed perusing when purchasing mementos of their vacation or gifts for their grandchildren.
They were both laughing after Nick put on a garish Indian headdress that looked less than authentic with its neon colored dyed feathers.
Nick winked. “Wanna play cowboys and Indians?”
The owner of the store and the other shoppers had begun to watch them as Nick was creating quite a scene – mainly due to the fact Zachary had been unable to stop laughing.
It was the first time they’d been comfortable letting their guard down long enough to simply have fun. They’d been living in
for almost nine months without
incident and had begun to believe themselves safe. New Mexico
Nick removed the headdress and placed it back on the hook, before moving further down the aisle where he began digging through a plastic bin. He pulled something out of it and smiled, watching Zachary out of the corner of his eye.
Without warning, Nick thrust his hand in Zachary’s face, smiling like a little boy while proudly displaying his offering.
It intensified Zachary’s sadness, experiencing what Nick had been feeling back then – so light and carefree – the depth of his feelings for Zachary.
“Would you marry me if I spent a whole four dollars and ninety-nine cents on this ring for you?” Nick asked, looking quite serious.
Zachary watched himself grin while staring at the cheesy lizard ring. “How could I say no? Of course, you’d have to wear one as well.”
“I think I’m good without,” Nick said, trying to keep a straight face.
“Well I’m not tainting my hand with this cheese while you get off scot-free.”
He watched himself digging through the same bin, retrieving the coyote ring.
“I’ll wear the coyote ring and you can keep that snazzy lizard for yourself.” Zachary smiled, deciding the brown one wasn’t as noticeable as the lime green colored lizard. He nudged his head down toward Nick’s crotch. “Your lizard’s bigger than mine, so it suits you.”
Nick fell to his knees dramatically, taking Zachary’s hand. “But I picked this out specially for you!”
Zachary was attempting to shush the man who was now yelling loud enough for everyone to overhear, looking on in horror, despite his uncontrollable laughter.
He’d forgotten how big of a ham Nick could be, like the boy had seen one too many Adam Sandler movies and couldn’t resist the occasional juvenile outburst.
“Consider it my lizard’s way of marking its territory.” Nick slipped the hideous thing onto Zachary’s finger before bellowing out in a deep, horribly executed southern accent, “Would you do me the honor of becoming my betrothed?”
Zachary could feel the tears running down his face witnessing his reaction, doubled over in laughter, attempting to cover Nick’s mouth since he wouldn’t stop yelling out ridiculously corny declarations of love. He wasn’t sure what had gotten into the boy, but everyone was staring at them and looking mostly un-amused.
He’d gotten used to never seeing that side of Nick’s personality after their lives became one long nightmare. It made that particular day seem all the more special to him in retrospect.
Zachary began to distance himself from the vision, unable to handle any more. The happiness he’d experienced at the time brought nothing but pain to him now, knowing they’d never have moments like that again. The picture faded into a flicker and Zachary forced his eyes open, sniffling as his sight turned from the vibrant color of his past to the darkened reality of his present.
Zachary’s lip quivered, trying to hold it all in. He wanted another drink and a cigarette with equal voracity, but remembered he was out of vodka. He then saw the lighter laying well out of reach where he’d dropped it earlier and cursed.
Sinking back into the cushions, he stared off into space realizing this was all that was left. There was no point going on, aside from making sure Rebecca never got what she wanted. Even that couldn’t spark much of a fire in him now.
Zachary slumped over onto his side and curled up into a ball, making himself as small as possible. It was all he could handle, to hide away and attempt to forget he’d once had something special. Nothing could right that wrong and he’d suffer the guilt with every breath for as long as he lived.
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