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Paul Lenehan reports the trials and triumphs of being temporally disconnected.
An interesting challenge to conventional notions of behaviour has recently been brought to the attention of your correspondant. This report/interview features a character whom we shall only call ‘Casey’, who began to realise that the restrictions imposed by the twenty-four-hour day were no longer to his liking. The facts are as follows.
The Strange Case of Casey
Casey, like so many others, had a job from nine to five – a duration which excluded the hour-each-way commute to and from his workplace. He’d cut back on sleep, he told me, and yet still felt he needed at least six hours rest if he was to stop daydreaming about dropping his bound-and-gagged colleagues from the roof of his office block. Together this accounted for sixteen hours of the available twenty-four. Casey was left with only eight hours each day in which to cook his meals or (more likely) order food from a takeaway; to learn Russian in order to read War and Peace in Tolstoy’s own words; to attend public lectures on, for example, global dimming, doomsday cults, or the case for and against astrology; to scream at big screens in sports bars with the like-minded; or simply to meet up with his girlfriend and bicker over drinks. ‘Not enough hours in the day’ then was Casey’s complaint – a grievance shared by many. Casey, however, was driven to do something about that lack of time. No longer would he regard a day as a unit of twenty-four hours’ duration as measured by a wristwatch or by the news bulletins on the radio. He decided that his day – the Casey Day – would consist of a full thirty-six hours as recorded by those same timepieces and broadcast marks.
One problem he faced was that his plus-twelve-hours schedule meant that not only his workplace, but also bars and cinemas, remained shut should he decide to call round one Casey evening (otherwise known as the small hours), often not the best time to catch up with the paperwork, or carouse, or catch the latest art-house triumph the better supplements were full of. Nor did his partner take kindly to being woken at the crack of dawn by her man’s unannounced arrival: Casey on the landing, rental DVD in one hand, bottle of an interesting white in the other, with some idea in his head that both these aids, plus his own presence, was all the encouragement she’d need to indulge in wanton behaviour prior to her 9 a.m. meeting to discuss falling sales. No surprise when she left him.
Simple arithmetic ensured that the Casey cycle synchronised with the rest of the world every three conventional days – equal to two Casey Days. It was at such times that Casey got his work done. His periodic absence from the office was catered for by flexi-time and a switch to part-time status in order to prolong his experiment with time.
There was time too, he revealed confidentially to me, to pester his ex-girlfriend with a view to a reconciliation. But not a hope of that. Picture him outside her apartment block, loitering around midnight – midnight for her, for Casey nearer high noon – dozing on his watch, feet swollen from lurking in the damp, holding a bunch of wilting roses, with plenty of time to ponder whether the Casey Day was worth it after all.
The boost to morale he needed came in November, on his birthday. Casey confessed to this reporter that the anniversary had slipped his mind. He only realised that it was his birthday after taking a call from his mother wishing him ‘many happy returns’. “Returns of what?” he snapped back, edgy at having been woken at what was a conventional 10 a.m. for his parent, but which for him was a couple of hours past his bedtime. His mother told him the day and month, and repeated her congratulations. Then Casey understood that… he’d mastered the art of time travel! Just as his position in space depended on the place from which he was observed (north to an observer south of him, south to an observer north of him), so too, Casey realised, did his position in time. Living a thirty-six-hour day while the rest of humanity travelled at the rate of twenty-four-hours per day, Casey understood that he was effectively living in the past. His birthday wasn’t due to arrive until another fortnight of his own peculiar calendar. Thus his new system was making him younger with every passing Casey Day.1
Each conventional day that passed increased the distance between the world and Casey’s newly smug-yet-alert self. Smug, because only he was privy to his time-travelling adventure; and alert, because more time to rest meant he could refresh his senses. He had become a man more at ease with the world, treating his fellow citizens with much more politeness – wraiths though they were in his world, tetchy phantoms from a time to come.
The situation might have stayed like that but for a bloody-minded streak in Casey’s nature. There was a challenge left unfulfilled. Casey confessed to me that he’d been aware of it all along, yet had for a long time put off making the decision. Yet each Casey morning, on waking, about his lips played the stretched smile of a card-sharp about to palm an ace as he’d whisper, “The future…”
Casey knew, that in the same way that extending the conventional twenty-four-hour day allowed him to dwell in the past, by contracting it he could catch up with that fleeting moment called ‘the present’, and then could even surpass that fickle marker. “And might you eventually,” I suggested, “find yourself asking life-forms from distant galaxies to take you to their leader?” Casey smiled politely at the joke, then proceeded to outline his plan.
When he determined his new strategy, Casey had already lived in the past for ninety conventional days, although during this period only sixty Casey Days had elapsed – hence his relative pastness. By living a new twelve-hour Casey Day for each standard twenty-four hours, only thirty Casey Days needed to pass before he caught up with the here and now.
Sure enough, thirty Casey Days later, the present was reached. Then he began to overtake time itself.2 His twelve-hour day meant two Casey Days passed for each earthly rotation. Within three conventional months he was three months ahead of the posse. Within six conventional months he was living quite happily in the following year – a secret he hugged to himself as a consolation for the dreadful state he was now in: bloodshot eyes, greasy skin, unwashed, undernourished, over-tired – all due to his halving the normal unit of time in order to live in the future, while holding down a part-time job in telesales. It came as no surprise, given his body odour and tendency to keel over from exhaustion during cold calls, when he was ordered to clear his desk and to seek alternative employment.
What did surprise him, given his appearance, was the attention paid him by his Russian tutor, Tatyana – a woman nine conventional years his senior whose breath smelled of macaroons and whose work visa had expired. One evening she asked him to parse a sentence, paying special attention to the tense of the verb. Tense, of course – past, present, future – is time; and time was what weighed most heavily on Casey. He began to sob; Tatyana offered him a consoling hug; he told her everything; and at once she decided to share his chronology with him.
Casey was at a loss as to why his project so intrigued her. I believe Tatyana was cosying up to him to secure a relationship that would abolish her status as an illegal immigrant. Yet if Casey had any misgivings about his tutor’s motives, they were dispelled by her determination to catch up with him. First she lived twelve-hour days; then six-hour; then four; finishing on three-hour days, which she lived for a dozen conventional days in succession. Her Russian capacity for enduring suffering was staggering, as her own appearance deteriorated during this interval: lank hair; a blotchy face, dopey from a lack of sleep. Such sacrifice for his sake Casey had never known before.
The day she joined him in the future – his present that was now hers too – they walked the streets as a King and Queen of Time. Two Casey Months later, her brother joined them, living illegally in the spare room of the basement flat they rented. Since it was impossible to conceal from him their journeys to and from the present, so Anatoly too began to criss-cross the timelines, easily evading the attentions of Immigration Control, which was hindered from pursuing him into the past or future due to wildcat strikes.
Then the time travellers began to recruit. Each new member was not so much chosen by Casey, as presented to him by happenstance: by a conversation overheard, or a notebook left open at a page… Up to half-a-dozen chrononauts might meet up for coffee of a Casey Evening, complex smiles playing round their lips in combination. So be warned! Those folks at the next table might just be from the future!
In the final minutes of our interview, Casey dropped hints as to future projects his time team might pursue. Most intriguing of all was the notion that if a Casey Day could become an increasingly smaller fraction of a normal day – a quarter, a thousandth, a millionth, all the way to the infinitesimally small – then a time traveller, accelerating into the future at unimaginable speed, might soon arrive at the end of time. Casey expressed a belief that he might wake up one blurred morning to find neither Monday nor Tuesday, but Judgement Day.
However, when I rang him again for some final crosschecking of the facts, Casey was gone. Tatyana too had disappeared. Had they reached the end of time, or just failed to meet the (conventional) monthly rent? Were they approaching the dark edge of the universe, or queuing at Hatch 7 at the Employment Exchange?
Fanciful, yes, to think of Casey and Tatyana clutching one another as millennia rip past them in the blink of an eye. And yet what use are hard facts in the face of evidence to the contrary? For Casey, his system worked. He’d gone from wage slave to Time’s master, and found love along the way. Casey and Tatyana have left science behind – have left us all behind. They’ve set the controls not for Judgement Day, but for the time of their lives.
© Paul Lenehan 2013
Paul Lenehan lives, works and writes in Dublin. He has just completed a Mathematics degree with the Open University.
- With his calendar showing a date prior to that of the standard calendar, it was as valid for Casey to regard himself as visiting the future rather than living in the past. However, at this stage in his life, the past appeared a vastly more appealing prospect.
- Again, with his Casey Calendar showing a date in advance of the rest of the world, it would be possible for Casey to regard himself as visiting the past rather than living in the future. But now it was the future that interested him more.