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They spoke for quite some time. A long time, actually …. given the fact that hardly spoke nowadays. Telephone or otherwise …. he hardly spoke.
He preferred to stay cushioned in his own little cocoon. All he needed for company was his bottle of alcohol. Whisky, vodka, rum, gin …. it did not matter. Alcohol in any form was his panacea to all the evils that he believed had been bestowed on him. He had grown used to living in the stupor that the booze created, making the world a seemingly better place for him to spend his days.
He waited until the person on the other end put the phone down. He waited until he heard the rather eerie sound that a telephone line makes when it’s been disconnected. That sound which symbolized the end of something.
It reminded him of his days in the hospital, when he had been used to hearing that sound all around him, in the Intensive Care Unit. It reminded him of the day his life had been shattered – yet again because of that very sound. That very sound which played in an incessant loop inside his head, right to this very day.
His fingers, rough and callused through all the years of working in a factory, automatically sought the chain around his neck. They ended up where he knew they always would. They instinctively clasped the locket at the end of the chain, the locket that now housed his beloved Joan. The locket, in which he took Joan around with him, wherever he went. The locket, in which were trapped memories of about twenty five years of his life.
Joan had been his childhood sweetheart. He had been busy building a plane with LEGO blocks in his kindergarten classroom when Joan had stepped into the room. He could still recollect that moment when she’d stood shyly at the door, in her pink frilly dress, clutching her beloved little doll close to her. Right from the time she stepped in through the kindergarten door, he had known that she was the one for him. By some quirk of fate, or maybe a whim of nature itself, she seemed to have known too. He still remembered her shy smile and the unseen spark of electricity that flowed between them then, fusing their souls into one. They had attended school together and then college. Life had been idyllic. Love, laughter, smiles ….
It all began on that fateful day when they had visited their neighbors for dinner. There had been four other couples there and somewhere along the way, they formed a cozy little group of their own. What started off as a friendly game of poker between the men soon took a serious turn when money came into the picture. An addiction never knocks and waits for you to open the door – it just pushes its way in and barges into your life and before you know it, it has you in an iron grip that shows no signs of loosening. It was pretty much the same with him and his friends. Very soon, they had taken to gambling every Friday night.
He refused to acknowledge the silent, accusatory looks that Joan sent his way. He preferred the oblivion which the bottle helped him achieve. He could not bear to look at those dark eyes, brimming with tears, silently pleading him to change his ways. As he left home on Friday nights for a game of poker down the street, he was well aware of Joan’s muted sobs. Yet, he did nothing about them, for he was well and truly in the grasp of his habit.
One fine day, when Joan had finally brought up the issue of his addiction and the brochure of Gamblers and Alcoholics Anonymous, he’d thrown a mighty fit. “I soak myself in alcohol because it takes me to a happy place” he yelled, as he walked off to their bedroom, bottle in hand. Screams and tears later, Joan had threatened to end their relationship if he did not mend his ways. He paid no heed as Joan stormed off with the car keys.
Eyes blinded by tears and heart brimming with sorrow and pain, Joan had not noticed the truck which was coming into the lane. It had been over in a matter of seconds. The harsh screech of the brakes, that realization at the very last minute about impending doom, that sickening crunch of metal as the truck plowed into the car. He had heard none of this, though. He had been busy with his bottle of alcohol. He vaguely remembered the phone call from the hospital where they had taken Joan. He had staggered into the hospital in an alcoholic daze, only to find the limp, lifeless form of Joan, swathed in bandages from head to toe – or so it had seemed then. The harsh lights of the hospital, the incessant whine indicating a flatline on the ECG monitor, the funeral .... had all passed in a daze.
The harsh flat tone of the telephone brought him back to his senses. His rough fingers were still clasped around the locket. From where he was sitting, he could see the newspaper where he had left it. He could see the red circle around the advertisement. The advertisement had called for volunteers for an experiment to be conducted by Professor Smith - the very same Professor Smith, who claimed that he had perfected the art of time travel, the very same Professor Smith who claimed that he could send people back in time, to the date and time specified by people. No one knew if it would work. No one knew exactly how dangerous this experiment was. It was a gamble of the highest order.
"I'm coming to you, my darling Joan" he said, speaking to himself. "I could ask Professor Smith to bring us back here, using his time maching" he thought, as a tiny sliver of hope began to bloom in his mind. "I shall soak no more, Joan, my darling .... I promise, no more alcohol. I shall soak no more, I shall soak no more ..... Give me another chance, Joan and I promise, I shall soak no more" he said out aloud, unaware of the tears that were silently coursing down his face.
That phone call earlier had been from Prof. Smith’s office – confirming that he had been selected as one of the candidates for Prof. Smith’s experiment to travel back in time. Back in time … to his darling Joan.