November 6, 1980
Yesterday, I got a second letter from the woman in Salem. This time, it was postmarked that it had been sent from the Beverly post office.
Yes, I know you’re Mike and not “Darren.” I don’t wish to worry you, or hurt you, or anything. I don’t want to interfere with your relationships with Carol, or Melanie, or Judy. Don’t go around nervous that you’re being watched, I promise you aren’t. Live normally, until I can meet with you.
When I can, when I am ready, I’m going to introduce myself to you, but right now I can’t do that. I’m sorry that I brashly sent the first letter to you too soon. I wasn’t thinking straight, and now I am.
Please, don’t attempt to find me. I won’t be going back to the Beverly post office, since that is where this was sent from.
I hope you’re well, and I’m sorry if I caused you any trouble so far.
Of course, it wasn’t signed, and the woman didn’t bother to write anonymous, or anything. Whoever she was, clearly wasn’t familiar with the concept of how difficult it was to not think about something, when you’ve been told not to.
This morning, my grandmother, read the letter a few times, and wavered back and forth between suspicion and believing the author.
“If she wanted to make things difficult for you, she could, but why would she be waiting?”
I shrugged, and turned over a couple of pieces of the fruit salad in front of me.
“Maybe she works for the post office? You’ve been writing Judy as Michael, and not Darren.”
“Yeah, but I’ve never mentioned you in any letters to her. Even when Melanie sent me her letter, she only referred briefly to ‘some distant relatives’. So you’re kind of the piece that’s missing.”
“Unless, it started off as a mail thing, and moved into her following you.”
“But why?” I snapped, and immediately regretted it. “Sorry, I haven’t slept well in like two weeks, and I’m so on edge.”
Her face appeared unfazed, and when it was clear that I was done she resumed talking.
“Maybe she knows Judy or Melanie, and this is motivated by their relationships with you, and she just found out about me in the process?”
That’s when it clicked. Judy’s aunt. The one she had been staying with. It wouldn’t have taken much for her to see the letters with the name Michael in them, and she had my address. She could have followed me, or had someone follow me. Does she think I am the father of Judy’s baby? Judy would have told her I’m not.
“Judy’s aunt…” I mumbled, and got up putting money on the counter.
Grandma grabbed my wrist, and looked up at me. “Be careful.”
When I got home fifteen minutes later, I found a letter from Judy, with her address. I called work to let them know I was going to be out sick, and then I called Melanie at the hospital.
“Hey Darren,” her voice had more pep than I had heard in weeks, and I knew it was because it was the beginning of her shift.
“Hey baby,” I felt frantic, and she must have heard it in my voice.
“What’s the matter?” She lowered her voice, and focused it with concern.
“I’m just going out of town for tonight, and I won’t be able to talk tonight. I think I should be back tomorrow.”
“Is everything alright? Where are you going?”
“Pennsylvania.” I knew that without context it would make no sense to her, but I was barely able to focus on talking with her.
“Why? What’s in Pennsylvania?”
I paused for a second, and realized what I must sound like to her.
“A friend of mine, she’s pregnant, and I need to check up on her.”
“Is it this Judy girl?”
I hadn’t told Melanie about Judy. Immediately I was worried.
“Yes. How do you know about Judy?”
“When I was up at your place last time, I went back while you were at work, and I looked through your bookshelf. I found it interesting, that you had a copy of The Bell Jar, which didn’t really fit in with your other books, and I pulled it out, since I’ve always loved it, and thought I’d read a little bit. Her letters were tucked inside it.”
“It’s not what you think…” My brain had been successfully distracted from the subject of the mystery woman.
“Based on the letters, it didn’t seem I had anything to worry about. I felt foolish, and embarrassed because when I found them, I had thought they were this secret life I sensed from you. But it seemed platonic, and so I felt shitty the rest of the weekend.”
“Our relationship is platonic. She’s just my friend.”
“Is it your baby?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I’ve never had sex with her.”
“Why is it so important that you see her? Why is it so important that you call me sounding like a lunatic, and ready to drive all that way?”
“I can’t really explain.”
“Don’t call me, or write me until you’re ready to explain.” She didn’t sound angry, and I recognized the tone of her voice as being disappointed, and hurt. She hung up.
The disappointment in Melanie’s voice loomed over me in the car, for the five and a half hours it took me to get to Scranton. It was six o’clock when I knocked on the door at Judy’s house. Her aunt, Linda, answered the door. She was definitely not the woman I had seen in Salem last week. She wasn’t obese, but was a heavy-set woman, the woman in Salem had appeared more ‘gaunt.’
“Hello?” She didn’t fully open the door, standing behind the storm door.
“Hi, I’m Judy’s friend. Are you her aunt?”
She nodded and called for Judy before I could stop her.
“Um… I actually wanted to talk to you.” I mentioned quickly before Judy appeared.
“Mik—Darren!” She bounded toward the front door, her pregnant stomach leading the way. She opened the storm door and came out and hugged me tight. “What’re you doing here?”
“I think I might be in trouble, and I need to talk to your aunt about it.”
She had a scolding look across her eyes, and she was not happy to hear that. “I don’t have any money for you. I don’t want to buy anything, or invest in anything.”
“No ma’am, I’m not looking for money. I’m being followed by someone, and I thought perhaps it was you. Now that I’ve seen you, I know you’re not the same woman, but I have to ask you if you know anything about it.”
Judy looked thoroughly confused, and stepped back watching the interaction between Linda and myself.
“Why would I know anything about it?”
“Well, I’ve been receiving letters, from someone who knows information that only Judy would know, and so I thought perhaps she may have shared that information with you.” As I spoke, I watched for any ‘tell’ that she may have about more information. I couldn’t find one.
“I don’t know anything about you. I know that Judy corresponds with someone who she claims isn’t the father of that bastard—” she pointed to Judy’s belly, and Judy rolled her eyes, “—and that you’ve sent some books. That’s all I know about you.”
I took a deep breath, and sigh it out. “I’m sorry ma’am, I didn’t mean to upset you. Someone’s been following me, and I don’t know what to do. Then I thought perhaps you’d know about it, and I needed to know as soon as possible.”
I put my hand out to shake hers, and she looked at it for a moment.
“Is the baby yours?” She’d been wanting to ask me for months, I could tell. She didn’t trust Judy, whom I think had purposely neglected to tell her about her previous job.
“No, ma’am. While you’re niece is a beautiful young woman, I have never had relations with her. We’re just friends.”
She reached out and shook my hand. “If you’re not a deadbeat then that’s ok.”
She didn’t seem any more relaxed, but the anger or resentment or whatever it was, had subsided.
I took Judy out for dinner so we could talk, I offered to take Linda as well, but she didn’t see the point. I told her about the letters, avoiding the subject of time-travel. Then I told her about Melanie and what happened.
“You’re not as good of a liar as you think you are!” She didn’t even look up at me as she said it, just focused on a french fry she was dipping in ketchup.
“What do you mean?”
“Look, I don’t know what’s going on with you, and since you’ve always been nice to me, I don’t care; but I know you’re big secret isn’t that you’re some illegal Canadian immigrant.” She ate her fry and looked at me. “Like I said, I don’t care, but there is obviously something else going on, and if you were my boyfriend, and were keeping secrets this big and obvious… Well, I’d be paranoid and hurt too.”
“What if my secret is too big? Like it’s something that she’d never believe, even if I told her.”
“What were you abducted my aliens? Probed?” She laughed at her own joke.
“Well, she deserves the chance to try to understand.”
I hung my head for a moment, eating my sandwich.
“It’s not really fair to string along a woman you don’t love…”
I looked up. “I do love her.”
“I mean ‘love’ love. Sexual love.”
I laughed. “I’m not gay. That is not my big secret.”
She rolled her eyes. “Sure.”
“Let me try my secret on you, and you tell me if I should tell her.”
“But if I tell you, you have to promise not to tell anyone.”
“And you won’t think I’m crazy?”
She laughed. “Oh this is going to be good! Sure, I won’t think you’re crazy.”
I closed my eyes, and looked around to make sure no other restaurant patrons were near enough to hear.
“I’m a time-traveler.”
She let out a single percussive laugh.
“I’m serious. I know you can’t believe me right now, but I can prove it.”
The look of skepticism on her face gave way slightly to curiosity.
“Ordinary People is going to win Best Picture in March, Robert De Niro will win Best Actor for Raging Bull. Raging Bull should win Best Picture, but the Academy isn’t ready for a movie with that much bad language. At least that’s why my senior English teacher told me it didn’t win. The Oakland Raiders are going to defeat the Eagles 27 to 10 in the Super Bowl.”
She sat back in her chair. She looked stunned. After a minute she looked back at me.
“So I just have to think you’re crazy for two months until the Super Bowl? Then think you’re really good at calling the spread, and maybe slightly less crazy?” She ate another fry dipped in ketchup.
“I know something that’s going to happen next month. But if I tell you, you cannot tell anyone. You cannot try to stop it from happening.”
She leaned forward as best she could and nodded for me to continue.
“Next month… John Lennon is going to be shot… and killed.”
“That’s not funny Mike.”
I sighed, and said, “I know. Mark David Chapman, kills John Lennon on December 8, 1980.”
Her eyes began to well up with tears. “That’s really not funny. Please take me home.”
I nodded, and left some money and bring her home. In the car, she cried and I tried to console her with a pat on the shoulder but she pulled away.
“I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t have told you.”
“Why are you saying all of this to me? You’re being an asshole.”
“Judy, I’m going to drop you off at your aunt’s house. Then I’m going to leave. I won’t write you any letters, or try to call you until after that day. If it doesn’t happen, I will never contact you again. But if it does happen, I hope you can forgive me for telling you.”
She nodded absently, and when we got to the house, she got out leaned down to say to me. “I won’t tell anyone what you said. But I don’t want to talk to you again.”
I agreed and apologized one more time.
I drove in silence; nearly every woman I knew in the world was pissed off at me, and I knew they weren’t wrong to be.
I got home at about 3 in the morning, exhausted, but my brain still wide-awake. Under the door someone had slipped an envelope. It wasn’t postmarked, or addressed at all.
I told you not to look for me. Not because I was afraid of you finding me, but I knew you could screw things up for yourself if you started acting paranoid. I don’t want anything bad for you. STOP LOOKING FOR ME.
With that, I don’t have the brain capacity for anything more. I’m going to lay in bed, and hopefully my brain will shut off. Who knows.