The next time I saw him he was wearing the kind of clothes I had not seen for years, which seemed like its own kind of time travel. He appeared at the door to my flat and looked ill – like he was going to be sick or had just been sick or both. And when he limped in and sat down he tried to explain himself and it made me feel like I was being spun round and watched like the earth by the sun.
“It’s like being picked up and thrown around and put back down again, some days I repeat seven times and other days I skip through as though I’m on fast-forward. There’s no logic to the loops, they just happen and…” he shook his head. “Have you seen Groundhog Day?” I nodded. I wasn’t an obvious confidant, just someone who happened to be there when he was hit by the bus.
It was six weeks since I had knelt down in the road and helped the paramedics cut him out of his grey suit. His suit was made of recycled plastic bottles, though that had not done him any good. Those plastic bottles had served as bottles and then been thrown away and recycled and made into a suit and they had failed as a suit the moment he was hit by a bus and had to have his clothes cut off in the middle of the street. I had never expected to live in a time when plastic bottles could be recycled into suits.
“Hospital was not an easy place for someone like me, someone with my physics. They rely on your days moving in the usual procession, it helps them check on your recuperation.” I thought about his smashed bones in the road.
It came down to what you could believe in. I moved in my clothes through to the kitchen to make hot drinks and thought hard about what he had told me. He wanted a cup of tea whilst I would have coffee. I take little pleasure in making tea, the only thing I enjoy is watching the water slowly turn brown as the tea bag hangs in there like a fish on a line. I do not like the smell or the taste and I find the removal of the bag unsatisfactory and dispiriting. On the other hand, I enjoy making instant coffee with the sound of the teaspoon crunching into the freeze-dried coffee and the sound it makes when the milk hits it and I also enjoy the sound and the taste and the soul of it.
By the time I returned to my living room I had come no closer to working out whether to believe him or not. “I know there’s no way I can prove this,” he told me, still looking ill and clutching his mug like it grounded him in the here now. “But this is the third time I have had this day and the third time I have come to visit you.” His confession made me uneasy, as though he had admitted to sneaking in to my room to watch me sleep. Like he said, there was no way that he could prove it – no way of me knowing if he was a nut or for real.
Half way through Groundhog Day, when Bill Murray realises that whatever he does he cannot break the loop, he steals the groundhog and drives off a cliff. “Is that why you got hit by a bus?” I asked. He didn’t want to nod, he didn’t want that to be the first thing he told anyone. I wondered what could possibly cause his world to be structured like this and could not think of any reason for it. I think he sensed that I was close to not believing. I wondered how many other people he had tried to tell.
“Well, I suppose I came to say thanks for your help.” He lifted his mug bottom-up in the air and downed the last of his tea. Drinking must still have hurt, everything must still have hurt. He did not look comfortable as he stood up. “And I suppose I’ll see you again today. Who knows, maybe I’ll be allowed to move on to tomorrow.”
Once he had gone I drew the curtains and sat at the kitchen table and held my head still with my hands so as to think better. I kept thinking of him stepping out in front of that bus, wondering if he regretted it afterwards, how he felt when he did not loop, when he did not have the chance to do it all again. How uncertain his life was. The thought of him returning in another day and telling me the same thing all over again made me feel like a little naked fish swimming in a bowl.
I pulled a big thick jumper on and sturdy shoes so as to ground myself better and then returned to my thinking position. And because I still did not believe him there was nothing I could do but sit and hope hard, hope like I was a kid again, that he would somehow be allowed to move on.