A radar screen tells time, one big hand going round and round. Blocks of time going away. Six sweeps per minute, each reaching through miles of air, cloud, touching aircraft, touching lives within tubes of metal. Then it returns and whispers truth to me, truths about them. A block of data, a collection of numbers. Call sign, speed, altitude. All of these things are important. I care about these things. The data block doesn't tell a name, it doesn't tell dreams, or loves. I don't need to know those things, things that do not fit neatly into truth. Each sweep, each update, now this is true, now, this second. React to this. A moment ago, that vast second or minute or century before now, those things can never be true, again. Lost choices, nonexistent, now. The sweep whispers to me of a small aircraft, a Cherokee, a loss of altitude on each sweep, two hundred feet or so. Now.
He'd overshot an airport moments ago, or a century ago. I told him to descend quickly but he would not do it. Would not give away altitude left to him. The air is full of water droplets; quiet, almost pretty pieces of suspended moisture you might feel on your face while walking, cool tingles on a cheek as foggy silence envelops you. The droplets freeze as they touch the Cherokee, along the wings, on the propeller. The shape of his aircraft is changing with this ice, getting heavier, and it is causing him to bleed altitude. A pilot who cannot hold altitude wishes for that altitude above him, behind him, choices available before this sweep found him, this now. I told him to descend nowbut he tried to save his altitude, and he passed where I could save him. He created a new truth. Now. Maybe if I had begged. Please, please don't kill yourself and some piece of me tonight.
There are too many things I know. Things the data block does not say, things I don't want to know. It's in his voice, on the radio. I've heard them before, when dark truth reaches them, envelops them. On his shoulders he has his babies, his wife too. I can hear them, through the radio, around his words. His voice shudders, breaking. The kids, they can hear it. He talks to me seeking to change truth, return to any moment but this one. In the crackle of static, while truth envelops him, I hear his wife in the background. In my mind I see her face, too. This is not truth; I do not need or want to know these things. She's yelling, sobbing over the seat at the kids, "Be quiet, it'll be okay, be quiet so Daddy can concentrate, please, please God please."
We deal in truth, the radar and I. Truth. We are taught these things. The reality of this moment is a truth that transcends everything. A math problem, an absolute solution. Time does not rewind, cannot, this is what we have now, what we do now. Ice is building on the Cherokee, he can't turn. Ten miles ago I tried to help him, to save him. Ten miles back I told him to descend, do it now, we're going to make it, me and you, listen to me goddamn you, bring it down, now.
Watching truth spin time away, a sweep, another. I lie. I tell him he'll make the landing strip at the end of the valley. I know that he won't. Damn him.
He knows. Nine miles to the next strip. Three minutes in your future. But you can’t get there. A now that can never be. His voice is clear; he knows what I have not told him. I hear a choking sob in the back, followed by a plaintive "Dadeee." He is crying too, Daddy is. My truth is far from his, a warm place with earth beneath my feet, but he has me there, for a moment. My reflection in the screen is calm, casual.
You'll see the trees, perhaps. The earth is 1800 feet there, we already have the ambulances and trucks headed that way, we'll make the motions for you, for your wife, for your children. Now. Damn you.
The primary radar target disappears and the data block floats free, a yellow smear of numbers on a sea of green glass, gradually fading away, radar reaching through empty air for truth, six times per minute, truth now. And my reflection sips a cup of coffee.
© John Holley 2009
This electronic version of "Now" appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the author and publisher. It appears in the anthology Fast Forward, Vol. 2, edited by K. Scott Forman, Kona Morris, and Nancy Stohlman, FF>> Press, 2009. Book ordering available through amazon.com and amazon.co.uk
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