One throwaway remark to Cam – “Landlord’s increasing my rent by $130, in the name of ‘maintenance'” – and a few days later Eran was unloading UHaul boxes in the driveway of Cam and Ian’s Highland Avenue home. He couldn’t afford the rent increase, Cam and Ian did have two extra bedrooms, and Cam could use another adult around after the baby arrived – but Eran couldn’t help feeling that he was going to end up like Bertha Rochester. Not the least because he would occupy the room in the attic.
He had tried making that argument to Cam. “I’ll feel like a Victorian poor relation.”
Cam said, “No more than I do, since my parents paid half the mortgage.”
And so Eran hefted boxes up the ladderlike staircase while muttering to himself. “It’ll be nice not to have to manhandle those old storm windows.” And, “Off-street parking. Haven’t had that in a while.”
He had even called off his class that morning. Why not? Stefan, worried about his secret getting out (Mildred had stayed silent; Kyle was out of contact with the department), was letting him get away with murder. He never asked for proof of activity and even offered Eran an extra $2500 fellowship for the spring, assisting with Stefan’s research (really, “running database searches”) for the promise of a co-authored article.
Eran, however, still felt his lack of progress. While Ian paid the movers, Eran pulled out his dissertation notebook. His latest outline was topics-focused, looking at major changes grouped by theme:
- MONEY. In which Thomas Piketty is proven right and so much capital is dispelled.
- IMPERIALISM. In which formerly triumphant states pay the price for their greed.
- FAMILY. In which the destruction of a generation realigns the balance of power in the home.
- MODERNISM. In which Victorian sentimentality burns itself to death like Qui-Gon Jinn.
There was no birth, only death. Eran was looking, Romantically, at the death of the old world.
“The ceiling is moving, moving in time.” The old lyric came to him. The host was on his back, staring upward out of happenstance. The ceiling seemed to be high above him. The cot – Eran engaged peripheral vision – was a handspan off the floor. It lay within arm’s reach of another cot, in which, Eran saw, lay another body just like the host’s. There were hundreds like him in a room as cavernous as Hozier’s church. Above them floated nurses in dingy, streaked aprons who had no relief to give.
He thought he had been a soldier.
Eran waited for the host to lift up his head and look, but the host couldn’t. He was damp, shaking. Across the century, the body felt like sitting across the room from a fire on a cool, damp night: pleasant enough, but you know that you can only get so close.
A sudden flash of light across his face and the host recoiled.
For his own memory, Eran reached for the host’s name. It wouldn’t come. Before, there had been a sense, something he could divine, even if he were inventing it. There was nothing. Eran realized, with a shock, that the host himself couldn’t remember his name. There were no tangles; the circuits were good. It was just as if the power source that sent the signals was faltering, giving off just enough energy to keep the power symbol lit.
A doctor and a nurse spoke at the foot of the cot. Eran was sure they were discussing his host. But the words sounded as if they were spoken underwater.
It seemed important, moreso than anything since Dinant, that he be able to act. Could he shunt some power backward to the host, like a miracle of government engineering? Wasn’t time simply another dimension?
Too late: he dropped back into his body. No name. Not even the sense of a language. Had he wanted to, he still could never find out what happened.
Typhus caused millions of deaths on the Eastern Front during the war. An epidemic began in Serbia in late 1914 – early 1915, with estimates of deaths there ranging into the hundreds of thousands.