Temporal Foil

Hey everyone! Another Wednesday another story. This week, unsurprisingly, it’s a Sci-Fi story. Not one set in space however. You might be able to guess going off the title what it involves. Still, I elected not to make this story about violence and killing. It could very easily have become that but it’s nice to have a change of pace with what I write. I’m not going to tell you anything about the story. I think my hint has been enough. So without further ado, I hope you enjoy Temporal Foil.

“Would you believe I was almost late today?” Alvin says whilst setting down his blue lunch tray onto the white and grey speckled oblong table that has four plastic moulded seats atop twin steel tubes bent into u-shapes to create the legs.

“I wouldn’t. Not in a million years, Al.” Frank, one of Alvin’s friends and colleagues replies as he lays claim to one of the other seats around the same white and grey speckled table. The position he’s chosen is diagonally across from the one Alvin is now only just settling himself into.

“Why?” Alvin exclaims surprised by the response.

“Because you’re not human Al, come on. You really need to admit it. Everyone else knows.” Chris answers on Frank’s behalf which results in a chuckle from both men that Alvin doesn’t understand. It’s why the mousy haired thirty year old with a couple days worth of stubble and grey eyes twists his face into a confused visage of silent questioning.

“You know he’s right, Al. You have never been late, not once in… what is it, seven years? It’s not normal. And then on top of that, how many sick days have you taken?”

Alvin doesn’t answer at first. To be honest he doesn’t recall. It’s not something he’s ever felt the need to keep track of. If he’d have been given warnings for tardiness then it might have been a different matter. It may then have been something he felt compelled to track, but he hasn’t and so is forced to dig deep into his memory in search of an answer.

“I rest my case.” Frank declares with finality a few moments prior to tucking into the salad that he’s had heaped into the largest compartment of the blue plastic trays segregated span.

Frank likes to maintain a healthy diet. It’s part of the reason as to why he walks to work. Its four miles but he still manages to do the journey in less time than if he was to attempt driving. Another reason as to why he walks and honestly Alvin, distracted by the munching of the salad leaves, cannot recall a time that he hasn’t seen Frank dining on a meal such as this for lunch. They’ve worked together for a little over six years, he thinks. Chris by contrast has only worked with them both for about three and indulges in nothing but junk. Well, the closest things that could pass as junk in the cafeteria, that is. It could be a whole heap worse but company directives dictated that actual junk food be reserved for the myriad vending machines liberally sprinkled about the office building.

The only time that any member of this trio, it was Alvin, has purchased something from one of them was because he had little other option. You see, he had been in dire need of an energy boost, sugar related one, and with the vending machines being his only avenue to get his hands on such an item he’d been forced to dole out the extortionate double the price of the nearest shop cost affixed to all the options presented to him. It had made him wonder how so many of the other workers managed to afford daily indulgences from these machines. He’d never reached a conclusion and had long since decided that it mattered very little. It made them happy and was something they wanted to do, which meant who was he to take issue with their life choices. Better to live your life has always been his philosophy. If only others adhered to such a notion. Instead too many have a tendency to involve themselves in aspects of other’s lives as though they lack a life of their own.

“No, no. I can get this…” Is the protest from Alvin who is yet to indulge in a single item of his mixed lunch.

Almost a minute passes before he next speaks; having reached what he thinks is the correct answer. It’s as if he expects this to count toward some kind of assessment. “Four days. I’ve had four days sick.”

“In seven years, Al. Don’t you see how that’s more than a little on the low side. Most people take at least a week every year off, even if they aren’t sick.” Chris replies with a disbelieving shake of his head that marries quite well with Frank who is chuckling into his more than half consumed salad.

“What, what do you mean? You take days off if you aren’t sick?” Alvin is incredulous, his grey eyes wide to show far more of the whites of them than would be normal, which with his thin rimmed glasses and thick lenses does nothing complimentary for the man.

“We all do.” Frank admits and assures in equal measures while his mouth is half full of partially chewed leaves.

Following this revelation there is a pause, a long one. During it Alvin finally tucks into his mixed lunch of baked potato, salad and fries, but continues to contemplate the idea that people take time off work without suffering some form of virus or sickness. He’d heard tell of such things yet had always assumed it was a joke. He doesn’t know why but feels foolish for ever having concluding such. Not that it matters because he isn’t about to change tact and join the ‘take time off because you can’ club. Yet, the silence between the trio is broken when Alvin double-backs to the original conversation he’d started.

“Do you want to know why I was nearly late?” He sounds more than a little sheepish as he says those words. After all, many times previously in his life he’s been told he’s annoying for returning to conversations that had since moved on. It had got him picked on at school as a kid and was, he thinks, largely why he’s generally tended to have very few friends.

“Sure, shoot Al.” Frank reassures having long since picked up on his colleagues’ tendency to retread ground since departed from. It had annoyed the shaven headed man when he’d first arrived at the company, but this tendency wasn’t because of some form of superiority complex due to narcissism, as Frank had first suspected. Rather, it seemed to be part of Alvin’s prevailing air of awkwardness. That is not to say that Alvin struggles with conversing with people. He really doesn’t. It’s just he does it in a very him way. Not what would and is considered the norm.

Frank, after having learned more about his mousy haired co-worker had decided it was because Alvin had grown up an only child. There was certainly nothing else in his background unless he was omitting things, which does not at all seem like something Alvin would do, to suggest any other possibility. In fact, Frank would say Alvin’s upbringing was the polar opposite to his own. He grew up a product of a broken home. You see his dad died shortly before he was born due to having been involved in a massive and horrendous car accident which totalled eighteen vehicles.  His mother meanwhile was an alcoholic and a violent one at that. The first chance Frank got, at the age of fifteen, he ran away and never looked back. Well, until the day he nearly ended up in prison after falling in with a small gang. His place in the gang was undertaking small crimes; petty theft, pick pocketing, that sort of thing. But his opinion soon changed on it being harmless when he was involved in an armed robbery. He was never told it was going to be armed. He was told they were going to steal a few items from a local grocer. Reality was while they were intending to steal a few items those few were meant to all be cash, bills. There’s a lot less cash floating around now than there was then. Regardless, they all got apprehended and the police worked them in hopes of getting one to turn evidence against the others. Frank was that guy. The gang had been under surveillance for a good while and the police; well they showed Frank the true extent of what the remainder of the gangs’ members had been up to while he’d been out doing small time stuff. He’d been horrified. It was the bulk of the reason as to why he elected to turn and give evidence against them.

When they had their day in court the other members of the gang, principally without his testimony which couldn’t contribute too much of the big stuff committed because he hadn’t known about it until after, got eighteen years minimum a piece. Frank meanwhile was been taken into witness protection, given a new name and put on the path of a law abiding life. The same life he’s still living. Though, a few of his old gang should be out by now. He’s made no attempt to find out if they are. He doesn’t care and is across the country from them. They might look for him but he doubts they’d find him. They certainly wouldn’t recognise him if they saw him. He had been a scrawny kid with a full head of thick black hair.

He started balding in his mid twenties and so shaved it. He didn’t want to be the young guy walking round with bald patches and a receding hairline. It was a personal choice. He doesn’t judge anyone who doesn’t do the same. After all, their life their rules, and it suits some people. Just it didn’t suit him. It was too obvious.

There is also no way Frank, birth name Davide, could be called scrawny now. He’s a little under six foot with biceps almost as wide as his thighs, and he has sizable thighs. Alas, Frank isn’t exactly the name he would’ve picked for himself, not that he got the option to choose. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, it simply isn’t a name he would have picked for himself. He certainly, in his mind, doesn’t look like a Frank. Yet, it’s never been queried and so perhaps he’s wrong.

“Well, I woke up… I don’t have an alarm. I’ve never needed one.” Alvin adds an aside which results I a comment from Chris, “Of course you haven’t.” He chuckles right after the playful jab. Alvin shoots his co-worker a glance, it’s filled with confusion but is fleeting and following it sees him carry on with his story unabated.

“I look at my watch.” Alvin signals to the old leather strapped wrist watch that is loosely wrapped around the base of his arm right where it transitions into being his left hand. “It said three in the morning. But it felt wrong. There was sunlight coming in and shining right on my face. I thought… This can’t be. What am I missing? So I rolled over, grabbed my phone, unlocked it and bam, five in the morning.” Alvin stops as if done and so Frank suggests, “Sounds like your watch needs new batteries, Al.”

“Sounds more like you need to get up later. Five… in the morning! Why the hell are you up at that time?” Chris is shocked. They don’t start until nine and Alvin doesn’t live so far out, an hour tops, that he has any reason to need to get up at such an hour. He personally doesn’t rouse from slumber until seven thirty at the earliest. But then Chris lives less than an hour away and has long since elected not to have traffic reports on prior to departing. Hell, he’s even gone as far as to assure his bosses, past and present with fabricated proof, that he has no way of getting traffic reports. It didn’t take much. If you don’t have a TV or personal computer that really helps. Thankfully his current boss isn’t astute enough to query why Chris can’t check traffic on his phone. He could but truthfully it is less Sally hasn’t thought of it and more she isn’t in the mood for another excuse as to why that wouldn’t be possible. She doesn’t believe Chris has no TV or PC of his own, regardless of evidence provided, and so lets his occasional late starts, partially, slide. After all, Chris is a good worker, with a solid employment history. The occasional tardiness is nothing to sack him over, especially when there is no guarantee his replacement, which wouldn’t be too difficult to find, wouldn’t be worse. Better the devil you know because some battles and headaches simply are not worth the hassle. Still, Chris knows not to push his luck. It wouldn’t be worth it too. He’s never had such an easy job. He gets his work done well within his allotted hours and once there makes sure to look busy but enjoy his paid downtime.

A shrug is the response from Alvin and it comes alongside his assurance that, “You’d think that but no. It’s not the batteries. Look…” Alvin extends and shows the face of the old watch off to both of his colleagues. The time is correct without any hint of it struggling to keep pace as the seconds tick by smoothly, effortlessly.

“It’s still the batteries Al. That’s how it starts. Watches and clocks lose time at odd hours. Hell, it might be losing time during the day. A second here, another there. You wouldn’t notice, but it all builds up and then you wake up the next morning and there it is a couple hours behind. Just get some new batteries in the thing.” There is conviction in Frank’s words because he’s speaking from experience. There was a time he didn’t have much more than an old clock and that sort of time loss is exactly what it did prior to needing a battery refresh. Sometimes he hadn’t possessed the money for replacements and had been forced to mix and match older examples in hopes of eking out a little more use than any manufacturer likely ever planned. Bit like how he had to use candles to light where he lived. This was in the months prior to him falling in with the gang. But even after it, for a while, he’d been forced to live much the same way. In fact, he isn’t sure why the landlord never kicked him out. Pity perhaps, but Frank will never know. Even if he was inclined to go back and find out he can’t. It would be far too dangerous, regardless of how little he looks like that scrawny teenager now.

“Why do you even wear that relic? Phones give you the time.” Chris pulls out his and shakes it side to side as if doing so helps to illustrate his point. Meanwhile Frank winces and waits for the inevitable explanation as to why it matters so much to Alvin, and why Frank was replying in such a careful manner. He too had made a similar mistake early in his relationship with Alvin. Not the watch needing replacement batteries but… He realises he doesn’t remember what his error was apart from that it too related in some way to the watch.

“Because it’s a family heirloom. It was my grandfathers. My grandmother bought it for him when he was twenty one. They’d not long been married and had no money but she’d put a little aside every week until she could afford it. He cherished it. To the day he died. After that it got passed to my dad. He wore it every day. That was the promise he made to his father and then when dad got ill he passed it to me.” Alvin is emotional. You can see it in his eyes. They’re teary. No tears are falling but Chris quickly realises just how much the gold faced watch with its brown leather wristband means to the mousy haired man. He feels bad, knows he’s put his foot in it and wonders whether he should offer his condolences. Before he can Alvin adds, “But dad made it through. He’s still kicking.” A smile spreads across the thirty year old man’s face which is otherwise filled with relief. After all, Alvin’s dad, Michael, isn’t old. He’s mid-fifties and had to fight off cancer with the help of chemotherapy. Alvin decides at that moment he needs to call home and speak with his parents before the day is done. It’s been a few weeks. He knows they worry and them being nine hundred miles away means he can’t exactly just go and visit them at the drop of a hat.

“Sorry Al.” Is the apology Chris utters in response. He feels he should say more but hasn’t a clue what to say and so hopes these two words will be enough.

“It’s ok.” Alvin sounds brighter now. The tears are still present in his eyes, never having spilled, but a smile is painted across his face. Following his assurance the mousy haired man returns to his lunch. He’s caught sight of the time and the status of his lunch, barely touched compared to his two co-workers who are finished, which is why he begins to quickly shovel the food into his mouth. Once he’s done there should be just enough time for a quick period of relaxation before returning to his desk to finish out the day.

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