MINDING MATTHEW • by Martin Turton

Brian left the basement for the first time in three days. Jane made him bacon and eggs.

She watched him eat, his hair wavering grey to brown and then back to grey again, like a flickering image on one of those old black and white movies. “You need to eat more, Brian.”

“Nonsense. I eat plenty.” He sawed at the egg with his knife, yellow yolk spilling about his plate.

Jane turned the hot water tap. It coughed, emitted a violent torrent of cold water before grudgingly allowing a tepid trickle. “The boiler needs looking at.”

Brian dropped his knife and fork onto the plate and pushed his chair back, the legs scraping loudly. “And when do I get the chance to do that?” His hair was brown, grey, then brown again. Clean shaven, grey-flecked stubble, clean shaven. Jane felt nauseous looking at him. He sighed, reached out to her. Sometimes he wore a watch, sometimes not. Jane didn’t move away from the sink, she hated the feel of his skin. It was insubstantial, like a barely remembered dream. “My work is important. Think what it could mean for us. For Matthew.”

At least his voice was unchanging. Jane closed her eyes and pictured Brian as he had once been. There was a silence. She could feel Brian looking at her. When she opened her eyes he was gone.

The banging and hammering in the basement started soon after.

When he finally did emerge from the basement it was two a.m. and Jane was lying fully clothed on the bed.

He didn’t turn on the light before he laid next to her, his face a black hole of emptiness in the darkness. “I’m so close.”

Jane stared at the ceiling and blinked back the tears. His was now a multitude of voices, all speaking in the same voice, all speaking the same words, but overlapping and distorting one another. He was getting close, as he said. But the closer he got to Matthew, the more he was lost to her. She wanted to hold his hand but feared her hand would pass right through it, like trying to grasp a beam of sunlight.

“I tidied the house today.” she said.

A long silence. “Did you go in Matthew’s room?” Her skin felt cold listening to those voices. She was glad she couldn’t see his flickering face.

“No. I still can’t.”

He said nothing. She could hear his face moving, shifting, changing. It sounded like the hum of a dragonfly’s wings. “I heard his voice yesterday. I ran as fast as I could, but the machine pulled me back.” The voices shimmered in the darkness, wavering in and wavering out like a bad reception on an old television set.

“I’m glad. I still need you.” she said.

Brian’s side of the bed was already cold. Perhaps he had never truly been there and she was speaking to nothing more than an echo of his self.

Jane had thought her eyesight was failing her when the changes had begun. She would catch sight of Brian from the corner of her eye, and she would see his face… shift, alter somehow — a fleshy cheek become tighter for a fraction of a second, the heavy purple under his eyes fading and then returning a moment later. She had ignored it. There was no ignoring it now. He was lost to her, lost in the unbounded strands of time. Lost to his machine.

Jane didn’t hear any sounds from the basement for the next three days. She walked slowly down the stairs, a cricket bat clasped in her hand.

She had never seen the time machine before; a sleek black contraption crouched in the centre of the basement.

Jane hefted the cricket bat. Matthew’s bat. How had she got it? She hadn’t been in his room since that night thirty years before. Tears wet her cheeks. She lifted the bat again.

I heard his voice yesterday, Brian had said.

What would it be like, to hear that voice just once after so many years? A memory of laughter, shining bright blue eyes and the smell of freshly cut grass; of Brian showing Matthew how to keep the cricket bat straight, to keep his elbow up. The bat fell from her fingers as though it burned to touch.

Jane sat in the chair of the machine, pulled the lever back. It felt like jumping backward off a diving board, her stomach left far above her.

She climbed the stairs and walked slowly through the house. How little things changed in thirty years. And then she arrived at the door. Matthew’s door. Brian had made a plaque in the shape of a racing car: Matthew’s Room, it said on it. When Brian had taken that down, she had fallen to her knees on the landing. She had never been in the room since.

The plaque was there once more. She could hear Brian’s voice. He was reading a story; she couldn’t hear the words, only a deep, comforting murmur. Every few moments, a smaller voice would interrupt, asking questions. Matthew was always asking questions.

Jane leaned back against the door, her eyes closed. Just to hear that voice one last time. But it wasn’t enough. It could never be enough. She could hear a hum like the wings of a dragonfly. She wiped at a tear on her cheek; her hand seemed to pass right through it. The hum was louder, a constant drone in her ear.

She lifted her hand and pushed the door open. Sunlight streamed onto the landing and Jane fixed a smile to her shimmering face.

Martin Turton lives in East Yorkshire, England with his wife and three daughters. His work has appeared in The Rage of the Behemoth anthology, Flashing Swords, Reflections Edge, Abandoned Towers, Allegory, Ray Gun Revival and others.

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