Charlie kept the promise he had made to himself and stopped taking Dr Clarke’s pills. He gave the pub that Twig liked to do business in a wide berth, believing that if he avoided temptation, then the chances of a repeat of Thursday’s incident would be vastly reduced.
As he put more and more days between himself and the event, it became easier to think of as nothing more than a particularly vivid dream. A chemical and emotional hiccup. After a while, Charlie had all but forgotten the entire episode.
It was almost three weeks later that it happened for a second time. Charlie had just bid Kat goodnight after a curious dinner which she had insisted was Persian, but looked and tasted more like Indian food would if it just stopped trying. Charlie slumped down on the sofa with a beer, intending to flick through the channels until he came across some post-watershed foreign film that showed a little flesh. But when he reached for the remote, he touched nothingness. He could feel neither the sofa nor the floor beneath him. There was only blackness, and silence.
When Charlie felt something solid beneath his feet, he opened his eyes which he hadn’t even realised were squeezed closed. He was surprised by how little surprise he felt at being back in Yoko’s; this time, he had been deposited in the red corridor leading into the main club. Thankfully, he didn’t appear to have been sick as a result of this latest trip.
He looked down, and sure enough, he was wearing the creased shirt and leather jacket from three years ago. Even his shoes carried the same stains from numerous spilled beers. Charlie walked slowly into the club, passing two young men who were engaged in the age-old ritual of mutual shoving, and scanned the room, knowing she would be here somewhere.
And sure enough, there Alicia was, dancing with her girlfriends to Joy Division, although Charlie knew for a fact that none of them would recognise this song beyond its use in remixes, samples and other bastardised efforts. "Love Will Tear Us Apart". A little on the nose, Charlie thought, not to mention out of the ordinary for Yoko’s on a Saturday night, when the edgiest fare one could expect was “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
Alicia tossed her hair in that rehearsed, stripper-like way of hers, and he could tell she had spotted him from the corner of her eye. She waited for the song to finish before retrieving her tiny handbag from the small pile in the middle of their group and sauntering across the dance floor towards him. She looked less angry than the last time – had he arrived at a different point in the evening? Charlie glanced down at his wrist, but it was no use; he had never been the type of guy to wear a watch.
Alicia greeted him with a peck on the cheek, then took a small, expectant step back.
“Now I just know there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for why you’re so late.”
“Almost certainly,” Charlie said, old habits easing his tied tongue. “And as soon as I think of one, I’ll tell you.”
Alicia frowned to cover up her involuntary smile.
“Stop me if you you’ve heard this one before,” he continued, “but did it hurt?”
“If the next words out of your mouth are ‘when you fell from heaven’, I may have to leave immediately.”
“Then my lips are sealed.”
“Let’s not be too hasty,” she interjected. “You know how fond I am of your lips.”
“Why don’t you remind me?”
He pulled her into his arms and kissed her. Alicia kissed him back, completely unaware that from his perspective, this was their first kiss, their first embrace, in over one thousand days and nights. This was more than a simple dream or memory. Charlie knew his mind was incapable of recreating the smell of Alicia that night, the perfume and smoke and sweat. She was real, and she was here; he could feel the heat and weight of her in his arms, on his lips.
Except, Charlie knew that this was not how things had played out that night. He had arrived late, Alicia had been furious, and the spiteful row that followed had cracked their relationship open, allowing every tiny annoyance and resentment to come spilling out. She had been unable to hold in any longer how much her friends pitied and mocked her for having to forever hang on, waiting for him to grow up. He had decided to bring up the exact number of her close friends who happened to be male, succeeding in calling her a whore without ever uttering the hateful word.
Remembering that bitter truth was all it took, it appeared, to break the spell. Charlie could physically feel Alicia vanishing from his arms as the strobe lights, drunken revellers and humid din of the club gave way to his living room once more.
“No!” He exclaimed, turning to punch the nearest wall. Not satisfied with the first jolt of pain, he did this again, and then again, continuing to drive his fist into the wall until both his knuckles and the plaster were spattered with blood. She had been right there. He had spoken to her, kissed her for heaven’s sake; how could she simply be gone again? It felt wrong. Beyond unfair, it was obscene.
Charlie sank to the floor, cradled his wounded hand, and made a mental list, exploring every possible explanation for what was happening to him. It turned out to be, inevitably, a rather short list:
1. I am actually, physically, travelling back in time.
2. I am going mental.
He was naturally inclined to believe the second one and get on the phone to the funny farm straight away, but something stopped him. Something about the way Alicia's hair had smelled. Like coconuts and nicotine. If he inhaled deeply enough, he was almost sure he could still detect it. Or at least, he thought he could. Charlie dismissed the idea temporarily as he rose from the floor and went in search of a bandage for his hand. He could be certain of only one thing. If time travel really existed, then it was purely as a means for the universe to play a cruel joke on him.
He switched on the battered radio on the kitchen windowsill before putting his hand under the cold tap. The Pixies were playing on whatever obscure, too cool for school radio station he had tuned it to months before. “Where Is My Mind?” Charlie swiftly turned the radio off before it could offer any answers.
To Be Continued
Read Part Four
Read Part Four