“I’m stuck,” he says, dragging a cigarette out of his breast pocket.
I spread cream cheese on my bagel. “On what?”
I’m not really listening. The day’s already lurching down the tracks, gaining speed. Shifts, meetings, emails, webinars. I already feel a headache coming on. “So I’m meeting the photographer at noon for lunch.”
“At Zizi’s,” he says.
“Right.” I pause. “Wait.”
“No, you didn’t tell me.” He lights his cigarette, drawing a few looks from other tables in the diner.
A teenage girl in an apron with a nametag that says KIRSTEY stops by.
“Fuck off,” he says, she does.
I stare at him. His half-closed dark eyes stare back through fresh blooms of smoke. The waitress is in the back now, talking with a fat man wearing an apron and a trucker hat, pointing in our direction.
“They call the cops when I light my second,” he says. “But they don’t get here in time. You walk back in, we start over.”
I shy away from all the staring eyes. A twenty-something couple with a newborn baby leaves, muttering in our direction.
“In seventeen minutes and thirty three seconds, we start all this over.”
Whatever this game is, I’m not in the mood for it. “Stop it.”
“I’m living the same seventeen minutes over and over.”
He doesn’t joke this way, and he’s looking at me so strangely. His eyes are glazed, lips curled. An hour ago we were talking about the wedding, for once he was laughing, excited.
“We don’t have to talk about the wedding any more if you don’t want to.” I bite into my bagel, seeds fall on my lap.
“I wish I could marry you. Shake the paint off our walls on the wedding night.”
The family in the table next to ours stares. “Stop it,” I say.
“Impregnate you,” he says. “You’ve always wanted a girl. I’d love a little girl, one that looks just like you.”
“I’m leaving.” I grab my planner and throw it in my purse.
“Ambulance drives by in ten seconds.”
I look out the window. A siren honks, an ambulance blazes by in a flash of red and blue lights.
“Need more? Watch.” He puts his cigarette out on the table and lights another. The fat man in the apron picks up the phone, pressing the number pad just three times.
I press my hand to my forehead. “What’s happening?”
“What year is it?”
“That’s what we think.” He shrugs. “The Big Crunch theory says that all the stuff from the Big Bang will come back together again someday. Time and space get fucked. Maybe the space time continuum burped us up, and here we are.”
He grabs my arm. “I’ve been sitting in this fucking diner for years. I’ve thrown myself in front of that ambulance, put cigarettes out in my eyes, I drowned myself in the toilet once.”
He won’t let go. “I can’t fucking remember anything, I’ve been here so long. All I can remember about my life is you.”
People stare. “Would you stop?” I feel my cheeks go red.
“Everything about you. Because I’ve had the time to find out all the details I never bothered to think about before now. Before this. I love you.”
“All right, I get it. It’s not funny.”
He exhales, eyes drift off. “I agree. Ice cream sneeze.”
A little boy sneezes ice cream all over his sister, tears ensue.
I plug my ears with my fingers, but I still hear it.
“I’ve gotten pretty good at convincing you. I watched you walk out of here a thousand times before I figured out how to convince you,” he says. He looks like he’s on the verge of tears – no, it’s sincerity, the kind you save for your wedding day, trying to save yourself from the indignity of bawling at the altar.
I look out the window. An old man hikes up the handicap ramp with his walker. A mom wrestles her kids out of a minivan. Normal. Extranormal. “You’re telling the truth.”
He barely nods. He seems elsewhere now.
“So why can’t I remember?” I remember something he’d said, feel my face go numb. “You killed yourself?”
“Life should be defined as a sequence of memories. So death is like birth. A state of non-memory. If you can’t remember it, did it happen? A tree falls and all that.”
“So I’m dead?”
He smirks. “Sort of. Maybe I’m just the last tree in the forest.” He glances at his watch.
I hear a siren down the road, the police kind. Suddenly I feel like punching him. “Then why do this? Why tell me any of this?”
“I didn’t want to be alone. Even if I only get two seconds out of every seventeen minutes with you, I’ll take it.”
His cigarette ashes, the cherry burns his fingers. I flick it away and hold his hand, he closes his eyes.
Kristen Lee Knapp is an author/student living in Florida with his girlfriend Kaity. His work has appeared at Realms Magazine, Residential Aliens, Aphelion Webzine and other sites. He recently took second place in Fight On!’s Weird Enclaves and Black Pits fantasy contest.