Time’s Bending Sickle

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4. Never-Resting Time

I was pleased by Jean’s suggestion, but puzzled by its timing. All she would say was that her father’s death had made her think about her own mortality, and about having children while she was still young and healthy. Yet I got a feeling that there was more to it than Jean was telling me. There was a certain vehemence about her decision and the way she spoke about it that I found odd. “Now that we can have a baby,” she would begin, “we should think about getting a house,” or more insurance, or a station wagon. And although her mother was badly shaken by Cullen’s death, and mourned deeply, taking a long time to pass through the classic stages, I never saw Jean drop a tear, express any sadness, or recall any fond memories. She busied herself with the many details connected with the funeral, the will, and Cullen’s clothes and personal items, relieving her mother of many painful tasks. Her haste to get his clothes out of the house was almost unseemly, and she reacted with unusual feeling when I admired one of his ties. She said that she couldn’t bear to see me in anything of his because the memories would be too painful, but her tone and expression seemed somehow inappropriate.
The first month of our baby-making project was great–almost like the honeymoon my testosterone-drunk imagination had fantasized about. I went around in such a haze of stupid, smug satiation that Perry Fein asked me if I was on some drug. Jean would meet me at the door when I came home from work in a succession of flimsy and sexy outfits. Sex replaced the before-dinner drink. It also served as dessert, nightcap, and morning coffee. I had a hard time persuading Jean not to call the office to protest when I had to go on a two-day sales trip. My homecoming welcome was warm. But one morning, instead of waking up to a wet tongue in my ear, I heard Jean in the bathroom sobbing.
“What’s the matter?” I yelled through the door.
“I got my p-p-period.”
Jean was so depressed for the next three days that I seriously considered urging her to see a shrink, although my own experiences with psychiatrists was not encouraging. I tried to persuade Jean that it was not abnormal to miss on the first few tries, that only in Victorian novels did people get pregnant immediately. My reassurances didn’t help much, but she perked up when her period ended, and we resumed our sexual marathon.
By the third month a certain grim determination had set in. Jean had done some research and bought two thermometers. More than once she would come to the bedroom door, nude and shaking the thermometers, and issue orders: “Tony. Now, and hurry.” Once on a weekend, after several bouts, I just couldn’t get it up. Jean was amazed, then indignant. She leaped out of bed and started throwing on her clothes. “What kind of a dud have I married?” she asked, her voice acid. “The Sigma Chis used to warn me about you–they said all you musicians were queers.”
I didn’t say anything, but got up, got dressed, and took a walk. I remember that when I had first heard about homosexuality I was puzzled and discomforted by the idea, but by the time I got to college I had developed a live-and-let-live attitude that I tried to maintain toward anyone who was different from me in some way. I had known some gays, musicians and non-musicians, and the proportion of those I liked or respected to those I didn’t was about the same as for other people I knew. But Jean had intended to hurt, and I responded to that. When I got back, Jean was very apologetic, and worked hard at seducing me. I had had enough time to recover, so I reclaimed my manhood.
But another period came, and another, each with tears and depression, and sometimes with accusations. I finally insisted we both consult a doctor. “It could be that my sperm count is low–or maybe the little guys are just exhausted.” Jean was reluctant, but finally agreed to go.
As we sat in the doctor’s waiting room, Jean grew more and more tense. Her hands were cold and sweating, and she answered in monosyllables. “Hey, it’s not like the dentist. They won’t hurt you. I’ve got to whack off into a cup, which has got to be almost as embarrassing as the stirrups.” Not a smile.
Jean was called first. She grew even paler than she was, but walked in briskly. I was then taken to a sterile little room with a cup, a box of tissue, and some old Playboys. It was not as much fun as it was when I was fifteen, so it took a while. I was grateful to the nurse for not smirking when I handed her my lovin’ spoonful.
Eventually Jean emerged, followed by the doctor, a reassuringly gray and grandfatherly man. “I didn’t find much that could be a problem. Just keep trying for a while, and if nothing happens, we’ll try some more tests.” He smiled and touched Jean on the shoulder. She tried, not quite successfully, not to shrink away. “Try to relax and enjoy the process. Occupy yourself with something else and try just to let it happen. You’ve probably heard about how many couples conceive after they have adopted a baby. It’s true.” Jean tried a smile and murmured thanks.
After a few days the doctor called and told me my sperm count was normal. While he had me on the phone, he offered some advice. “Try different positions. I found a little vaginal scarring that might inhibit the sperm a bit. Nothing to worry about, though.”
“How could that have happened?” I asked.
“Oh, many ways, some childhood accident perhaps.”
Jean relaxed after a few days and we resumed our efforts, now following the Kama Sutra instead of the how-to-have-a-baby book. But nothing seemed to work.
In the meantime, Cullen Computing Services was muddling along. Mrs. Cullen, now sole owner, was still too preoccupied with her grief to pay any attention to the business beyond putting Howell Drew in charge. Howell, to his credit, did not move into Cullen’s office, but energetically went about keeping the momentum of the business going. Of course his style was different, as was his expertise. There was some turnover, mainly among the programmers and designers. Perry Fein told me that Howell just didn’t understand what some of the technical people were up to. True, of those who left, the ones I knew were especially inarticulate and bound by their technical vocabulary, but they felt that Howell was being high-handed with them.
I kept my thoughts to myself, kept a low profile, and went about selling the products as best I could, but my position, always a bit strange, grew even stranger. I was still a lowly salesman, about average in performance. Although the visions came less frequently during the baby-making project, I was tired and distracted, and still worried about the effect of the hallucinations on my life. It had been hard to generate the energy to make that one extra call that might bring in a sale. Although I had acquired a bit more technical knowledge than some of the other salesmen, I was still very ignorant. But I was a link to Cullen’s family, for whatever that was worth.
Several months after Cullen’s death, Howell called me in. I feared for my job. And if I couldn’t make it where I had an inside track with the family, how could I manage elsewhere? I was relieved to find Howell jovial instead of stern, but I kept my guard up. Although his football huddle humor and finger-grinding grip were as intimidating as ever, there was just enough strain in his confident air to call it into question. I began to wonder if he might need some help in connection with the family; it was clear that he was showing me who was in command before he had to confess that he needed anything. Sure enough, after some banter about travelling salesmen and storming the fort to bring back the wampum, he got to the point.
“Tony, how is Miss Tillie–Mrs. Cullen–doing?”
“She’s physically OK, but she’s taking a long time to get over her loss.”
“Any sign of her coming out of it? Any interest in external events? In the business?”
“No, not much. She did once say she was glad you were around to take care of it.”
Howell rubbed his forehead. “I’m doing the best I can. But as things are, I just don’t have legal authority for some things, and that hurts my credibility with some of our customers.” He looked at me earnestly, trying to give me enough to make me feel like an insider. “I try to explain things to her, get her to authorize some expenses, some loans we need to keep up, keep our fighting edge. She says, not now. She’ll sign off on a few routine things, but is too scared by big bucks. She won’t engage. She won’t see why we need this or that.”
“I can see how that would be a problem.”
“Good. We’re all in this together, you, me, Jean, and her mother. All these good folks that work here.”
“Sales are getting a little better.”
“Yes, sure, thanks to you and your hustling buddies. But we’ve got to keep up with what’s going on. We’ve got to give you something to sell. Did you hear that IBM’s working on a system that will compete with the Apple and the Spectrum?”
“Yes, I heard something.”
“Well, you can be a big help to us all if you can get Tillie Cullen interested.” He looked hopeful.
I had to disappoint him. “I’m afraid I’m not one of Mrs. Cullen’s favorite people. She didn’t like the way we got married. I’ve tried to improve her opinion of me, but she tends to hold a grudge. Oh, she sort of accepts me now, but I don’t have much leverage.”
Howell looked down. “Well, shit.”
“I have an idea, though.”
“Let’s hear it.” He was again alert, eager.
“Jean is very smart, and has a lot of influence on her mother, especially now. I may be able to get her interested, and she might be able to do something with her mother.” And it might get her mind off the baby, I thought.
Howell frowned thoughtfully, and swung his chair around sideways so he could stare out the window without quite turning his back on me. After a moment, he slapped his desk, making me jump. “Sounds like a plan!”
“I can talk to Jean and let you know if I can get her to come in for a talk.”
“Naw, Bonnie and I’ll have you two over for dinner first. Soften up the ground a bit before the assault.” His big hand closed over his calendar. I could see his mind whirring with plans. “I’ll give you a call. Thanks, Tony.” I was dismissed.

After this meeting, my visions picked up. Their coming and going still had a lot of unpredictability about them, but I was beginning to recognize some consistent features. I had to be in a receptive attitude. Through a kind of biofeedback, I learned that if I held my mind a certain way, at a certain tilt, as it were, like a dog cocking his ear, they were more likely to come. But not always. A passage from one of Hume’s books or writings–I had xerox copies of the music books and petitions now–could trigger a vision, but not always. And I could be serendipitously surprised. I also learned that I could end them–often by simply shaking my head, or by walking into another room, or getting a glass of water. Fortunately for my job and the other things in my life, the visions took place in a kind of dream-time; that is, what seemed like hours in the vision was only a few minutes in real time–if the time I experience in these last years of the twentieth century can be called real.
Since Jean liked to sleep late, I found the early morning to be the most convenient time to let a vision happen, and I covered myself by reading a book on Zen. Jean teased me about my “meditations,” but didn’t take them seriously enough to be disturbed or especially curious.
One of the many causes of frustration I had over these early visions was their chronological uncertainty. Depending on the stimulus, or on whatever particles were seeping through the wormholes of space-time, or the firing of my neurons, the visions would sometimes leap from Hume’s middle age to his boyhood to his old age, or from one day to the day before. I learned to watch for any clue or hint I could find to put them in any relation to each other. I began to make notes and check the details for help in placing the different scenes in time. And though there were still vast gaps, after several months I began to see patterns. I would remember that doublet, that cloak, and judge how new they were. Hume’s beard would be of one fashion, then another. I watched the seasons. I also began to do research–in time often stolen from work–so that I might understand and identify more of what I was seeing. I pored over portraits in history books and in reprints from the collections in colleges, manors, and the National Portrait Gallery. I studied Visscher’s view of London and Norden’s map with a magnifying glass. I read John Stow’s Survey of London, diaries, chronicles. Eventually I could say, yes, Hume was in the company of that gentleman; or that building must be old St. Paul’s.
So I’ve tried to give the descriptions of my visions some order. I give dates and places when I can, and say when there is a gap. I won’t describe the circumstances in which every vision occurred, but some of them are odd enough to be of interest. But not all the visions occurred at the exact time they appear in my own story, though the later visions came more in chronological order.

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