duke | artist, engineer

Against Time


Against Time

There was something tragically beautiful in the way raindrops painted themselves across the windows, she thought, watching the mosaic of water shift and dance on the glass. They yearned to make themselves known, leave their mark on a world in which they were but an infinitesimal fragment; every splash was a call for attention, a hefty proclamation of being and existence. I am here! they shouted. I exist! And yet, she murmured to herself, their efforts were futile: each landing of a raindrop drowned out another, replacing one fleeting moment of glory after another in an endless cycle of short-lived eminence and everlasting evanescence.

Was this the fate that awaited us all? she wondered. For does every piece of matter, every intangible fractal of memory and emotion not ultimately fade into inexistence with the passage of time? Try as we might to leave an impact, a legacy upon this world, does time not disintegrate and decay, rendering our every effort as futile as that of the raindrops outside? The thought exhausted her, for it reduced her to utter insignificance, drained her of hope; what, then, was the point of it all? Pushing the thought away, she leaned into him, nuzzling her head in the nook that ran between his neck and chest.

Her smell, he thought, was a distinctive, smoky mixture, redolent of ocean breeze, fresh-cut wood, and dewy grass. She smelled like Hull’s willow forest on an autumn dawn, like the gradual awakening of the town as it emerged from quiet slumber; she smelled like the gardens on the day after a storm, humbly pleasant and alluring. She smelled like home, and he breathed her.

Drifting his eyes across her umber-brown hair, a tender warmth ignited somewhere in the depths of his chest, engendering a soft fluttering that matched the rhythm of his heart. There were times when he felt as if God had fashioned an angel on Earth just for him, when he wholly understood the surge of emotion that had swept over Adam the day God presented him with Eve. For her touch, her presence reassured him that she was there, that there was someone who cared for him, trusted him, believed in him. You’re not alone, she said. I’m here.

As the bus rumbled slowly up the mountain trail, she prayed that this could last forever. But what was ‘this’? Love? The word was not enough to encompass the emotions that ran, in an unceasing auroral flow, between their two bodies. Love, she felt, had become overused, hackneyed, meaningless. Kids tossed the word at each other like some empty greeting. Performers sang and rapped about love so often that it had become indistinguishable from petty crushes, casual flings, and unbridled lust. Insecure couples attempted to concretize their relationships with constant use of the word, as if saying I love you, I love you too over and over again would transform them into something they weren’t. But what the two of them had, she knew, transcended the futile expressions of words, language’s inadequate attempts at label and definition. What they had was an unspoken understanding, an unconditional willingness to sacrifice, a roaring fire that drowned out the restless hum of the bus and its passengers. It formed an invisible, soundproof wall around their embrace, parting them from everything else around them in a way that, at times, it seemed as if they existed in a separate world of their own. A meager four letters wasn’t enough to encompass the unspoken promises lying beneath their touch, the history of shared experiences that grounded their relationship in foundations greater than diamond and concrete. A meager four letters, she knew, wasn’t enough to describe all that.

Could it be moments like this, she pondered, that refused the advances of mortality, defied the decadence of time? Could it be moments like this that endured the onslaught of other raindrops, and immortalized themselves upon the glass panes? She wanted desperately to believe that it was so, that somehow their bond could establish itself in eternity, that a million years from now, someone would recall the young couple traversing the Midwest on a stormy night and marvel at what ran between them, a bond that eclipsed every definition of love.

For there was a timeless transience, she mused, in traveling from one place to another. For a short time, they slipped into some hidden sliver of time that ran between the present and the future, weaving precariously close to each but avoiding contact with both; for a short time, the bus became an entity of its own, impervious to the passing of time, and the road upon which they wandered renounced its destination, so that they traveled on and on and on without having to worry about what they’d do when they got there because they’d never get there, or anywhere for that matter. In travel, the relentless wheels of time ceased to turn, and it stranded them in a perpetual, unmoving state of temporal transition. There, perhaps, they’d find immortality, she thought.

But she knew that the moment was only temporary. As soon as they reached their destination, the wheels of the bus would stop turning, the wheels of time would resume their steely orbits, and wild, raw reality would come rushing back at them. So she lied to herself. She pretended that it wasn’t momentary, that it was permanent, that she would never have to leave this little corner of the bus, never have to relinquish the soft touch of his arms. She lulled her mind into forgetting the stress and the anxiety, the pain and suffering that had plagued her every step; the fact that the world continued to spin around and around outside while they rolled through the Nebraskan plains; that everything would crash right back the moment they stepped off the bus, knocking her off her feet and slamming her into the ground. She pressed herself closer against him, as a ship hugged the shore to weather a storm, for he was the safe port, the staunch cavalier, the watchful guardian, Gatsby’s green light.

He remembered the first time they’d come this close, two years ago. They’d gone down to Georgia with some friends, spent some two weeks down by the Savannah River. On the 13-hour bus trip back, she’d plopped her pillow down next to his and, smiling coyly, said, “You’re sitting with me.” And without a trace of hesitation, she had leaned her head into him, just as she was doing now, and promptly fell asleep.

Stroking her hair absentmindedly, he smiled at the memory. It had taken him an agonizing ten minutes to muster the courage to slowly, ever-so-carefully slip his arm out from under her, and, with nonchalance, as it were the natural thing to do (and indeed it was, but he was too nervous to realize so), drape it over her side and rest his hand just above the tip of her bellybutton. There it had hung, precariously, for what felt like eternity, bouncing with each bump on the gravel and his heart leaping with each jump. He had known then that, no matter what became of them in the future, he would always think of this initial point of contact, on that bus coming up from Georgia, whenever she – and they – came to mind. Now, watching her lean softly against him once again, he promised himself that he’d never let this moment fade into inexistence. It was too surreal, too beautiful, too perfect to ever be forgotten. He’d carry it with him through the years, until he grew old, carry it with him into and beyond death. He’d write it down on some scrap of paper, slip it into a bottle, and throw it out to sea; he’d inscribe it on the wall of a Peruvian cave, leaving it for the next generation of cavemen to decipher; he’d preserve it in cyberspace, bury it in code within the vast expanse of the digital realm. And maybe, just maybe, it would break the bounds of time, and find itself a place along the walls of perpetuity.

He looked down and met her gaze. She saw the unspoken promise in his eyes, and she understood. This moment would transcend all temporal constraints, and immortalize itself anachronistically upon the windows of time. For he was the safe port, the staunch cavalier, the watchful guardian, and he would weather it from every storm; protect and preserve it, for as long as it took, against time.


written for my modern thought & literature class, senior year at lawrenceville, 2015. inspired by virginia woolf.