TIME ELLIPSES • by Nicholas Ozment

Carl Eliot opened his laptop and looked out at the assemblage of bored, tired faces. It was an early class, late in the semester, and a Friday morning. Their minds were already into the weekend. He had his work cut out for him today, to animate them with engaging class discussion. Somehow he’d have to make the textbook at least as interesting as the text messages that were burning holes in their pockets.

While he was taking attendance, one of his students spoke up: “Dr. Eliot, when are we going to get our papers back?”

Startled, he looked up from the screen. “To which papers are you referring? I returned paper two last week.”

“Paper three,” the young man responded. Someone snickered.

“Paper three is not due until Monday.”

More titters and glances exchanged that suggested they were wondering where Professor Eliot’s mind was today.

“We turned in paper three last Monday,” a young lady in the front row said helpfully.

He looked at the students’ faces to ascertain whether this was a Friday morning prank, some frat-boy version of Punk’d. They were serious. “The assignment schedule clearly lists paper three due April twenty-seventh.”

“Right,” the first student said. “Today’s May first.”

“Very funny,” he said, but he ran the cursor over the time on the bottom-right corner of his toolbar, popping up a little window with the date. Friday, May 1, 2009.

He suddenly felt sick. “Class is dismissed. Work on your research for your, uh, final paper. Be prepared to discuss the readings on Monday.”

This sudden cancellation of class elicited a wave of excited talk, but he closed his laptop, grabbed his book bag, and made straight for the door before he could be plied with any questions.

After telling the department secretary he wasn’t feeling well and would be using a sick day, he drove home. Mariah, his wife, was in the kitchen writing out recipes when he walked in.

“You’re home early.”

“I canceled class.”

“Are you not feeling well?” Her tone took on a note of consternation as she noticed his worried look.

He did not know if he should tell her, but whenever he was anxious, he talked.

“It is May first today.”

She watched him expectantly, waiting for the punchline.

“I thought it was April twenty-fourth.”

“You — you got your calendar mixed up?” Mariah seemed to be waiting for more, as if it was not yet clear to her why this innocuous fact was turning his face into a map of stress-lines, like he was about to crack.

His voice rose. “If I were a day off, maybe it could be a simple error in marking my day planner. Or, who hasn’t started out thinking it was Wednesday and then suddenly realized it was Thursday. But a whole week!”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, neither do I! I have lesson plans for each day — Monday April twenty-seventh, Tuesday April twenty-eighth, Wednesday, Thursday — and I never taught any of them! Or if I did, I don’t remember doing it. Wait — that’s it! At the end of the day, I mark off each class. If they’re marked off, I’ll know I’ve suffered some kind of, of short-term amnesia.” He barked a single half-hearted laugh at the notion, even as he threw his book bag on the table and yanked out his organizer.

He turned to the week in question. His arms went limp; his whole body seemed to slump. Even amnesia seemed preferable to the alternative. “They’re not marked off.”


He waved her away, not unkindly. “I need to think.” He went into the guest room they’d converted into his home office, closing the door behind him.

Seated in his armchair, he tried to reconcile his mind with what was happening. Dreaming? He tried an old trick he’d learned from a magazine, a way to know for sure whether you were dreaming. He picked out something to read: a plaque on the wall.

I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. — E.A. Poe

He looked away, then looked back.

I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. — E.A. Poe

He was not dreaming. In dreams, words fluctuate; no text will read the same way twice.

A full week of his life he had not lived, had inexplicably passed over. He felt like Rip Van Winkle, only this was worse: no one even thought he had been gone!

His head swam vertiginously. The cognitive dissonance of what he was trying to understand was so jolting that it triggered his physiological fight-or-flight response. His knees grew weak, his palms sweaty. His bladder contracted and he needed to pee.

Light-headed, he stood up and headed for the bathroom. After that the liquor cabinet. It’d been weeks since he’d had a drink, but he could use one now.

He held the lowball glass in one hand, the bottle of bourbon in the other, pouring over the kitchen sink because his hands were shaky. When the glass was filled nearly to the brim with ice and golden liquid, his wife walked in from the living room. She was wearing a different set of clothes.

“Sweetheart, the registrar’s office called. I thought you were in the bathroom so I told them to call back.”

“What did they want?”

“They were calling about grades, I guess. They were due the thirteenth.”

“Right. A week after finals. The semester’s not even over yet.”

Mariah gave him a worried look — no, terrified, an O-my-God-does-my-husband-have-dementia-or-please-God-not-Alzheimer’s look. She tried to keep her voice calm, but Carl caught the barely suppressed hysteria, given away by the slightest tremble, a quiver of the lip. “Honey. Today is May fifteenth.”

The glass slipped from his hand and shattered.

Nicholas Ozment received his M.A. in English from Winona State University in 2006. His stories, poems, essays, and reviews span a wide range of genres and styles, and his award-winning work has been anthologized, podcast, and performed on stage and radio. Recently his flash fiction was anthologized in The Best of Every Day Fiction Two. His poems have appeared in the online literary journal The Smoking Poet, print journals Aoife’s Kiss and Mythic Delirium, and numerous other publications. He is co-editor of the webzine? Every Day Poets.

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