The marquee outside the hotel read “Lucy and the Jazztones.” I’m Lucy. I’m a lounge singer or rather I was a lounge singer. I’m an old lady now, sick, dying. But when I was younger, I sang at one of the new temporal hotels. One of the fancy ones right on the strip. Time travelers dropped in and stayed a while until they faded back to their own time. It was a big business visiting the past, still is from what I hear.
They’re an interesting lot these travelers from our future, filled with stories about their eras. The further in the future they’re from, the shorter their stay in our present. That has something to do with the physics of time travel. I don’t pretend to understand any of it. All I know was I was singing jazz numbers five nights a week in the hotel lounge. It was a regular gig and it paid well. There was a steady stream of temps, that’s what we called our temporal visitors, and locals drinking and generally behaving themselves. Some of the patrons were actually listening to my numbers. I could tell because I got a smattering of applause after every song.
One night a handsome temp about my age came up to the piano and stuffed a hundred dollar bill in the tip jar and asked me to sing Blue Moon for him. It’s an old jazz standby so I smiled and said, “sure thing, honey. For a hundred dollars I’d sing Old Mac Donald Had a Farm all night long”. So I sang the song for the guy and judging from the applause I didn’t do too bad a job. Anyway, after the set I was sitting at the bar taking a break when the handsome temp comes over and offers to buy me a drink. I get my drinks comped by the house but I didn’t tell him that. He was so good looking and sweet, I let him feel like he was doing me a favor. “Sure, why not?” I said, “It’s your nickel. What’s on your mind?”
“Can’t a guy buy a lady a drink without an ulterior motive?” he asks.
“In my experience with men there’s always an ulterior motive.” I tell him taking a sip of my drink. “Maybe it’s different where you come from or should I say when you come from. When is that anyway?”
“About thirty three years from now,” he says. “The name’s Rob by the way, Rob Burns”
“Like the poet?” I ask.
He smiled and lifted his drink, “Not only beautiful but intelligent too.” He looked deep into my eyes and I felt a shiver go down my spine.
“So, Mr. Burns,” I said, “how are you enjoying our quaint present?”
“It’s much as I expected. It was only a generation ago so it’s not all that different from my time. It’s good to see you though. In my time, you’re quite a bit older.”
“Well, I hope I aged well. It’s good to know I’ll still be around thirty years from now. Hey, I thought it was against the rules for temps to talk about specifics. You don’t want to screw things up for yourself.”
This was the big danger for time travelers. If they did anything weird or talked too much about their time, they risked altering the time line and not being able to return to it. Do anything to screw up the sequence of cause and effect that leads to the your personal future and you risk not being able to return to it at all. Temps can play at being tourists, hence the temporal hotels, but if they interact too strongly with our present say by robbing a bank or murdering their parents or trying to make a killing in the stock market, anything like that, then a new future is created that simply doesn’t include that version of themselves. Some other future is created and the one they came from ceases to exist. Don’t ask me what happens to them, it’s physics and it’s complicated but it has the effect of keeping the temps pretty docile. The final result is temps stick close to the hotels and don’t wander too far afield. It’s a strange thing but nature doesn’t tolerate any paradoxes. Screw around with the past and you change your present. The past is fixed, the future is fluid, something like that anyway.
“Don’t worry,” Rob said, “we’re going to meet pretty soon anyway.”
“Oh yeah, how?”
“I can’t tell you.” he said giving me the sexiest smile.
“Well, let’s see. You’re about my age…what, 32, 33? So if we’re to meet in a few months, you’ll be two or three years old? A little young for me don’t you think?” Rob just smiled that smile of his and sipped his drink.
Now don’t think for a minute I wasn’t curious because I was. Everyone wants to know their future and here I was face to face with a guy who knew mine. It was rare to meet a temp who knew you personally. Temps avoid that kind of contact. The temptation to tell all is too great and too dangerous. If he warned me not to do something or to do something different, it would change his time line and put him in danger. So he played it cool and didn’t say anymore and I didn’t push him. Break time was over and I had to get back to work.
There’s a mathematical ratio between how far in the future a temp’s present was and how long he or she could stay in ours. The further the distance between our now and theirs, the shorter the visit. Rob’s thirty year distance gave him about a two day window before his chronons broke down and returned him to his own time; and, providing he hadn’t messed up his future, he’d be back exactly where and when he started.
Another thing that wasn’t lost on me was that time travel was expensive. It was a plaything of the rich. There wasn’t all that much to be learned visiting the recent past so scientists pretty much gave up on the technology. it became a status symbol for people with money to spend on an expensive vacations. A weekend in Las Vegas thirty years before your time was considered a thrill. I had to assume that Rob had lots of money in his own time. I was happy for him. Money was something I never had.
I sang another set and, on my break, there was Rob sitting at the bar handing me a drink. I clicked his glass and said, “So we’re going to get to know each other pretty soon?”
“Yep, we are.”
“Can you tell me how?”
“Why take the fun out of it? It’s going to happen.”
“It’s kind of creepy knowing the future.”
“Dangerous too.” He took my hand when he said this. Was this temp coming on to me? It wouldn’t be the first time. Trans-temporal sex was nothing new. A lot of temps came here just for that reason. I’d had a couple of one nighters myself over the years. I have to admit it was a turn on having sex with someone who technically wasn’t even born yet.
I have to confess that for me, that’s all it took. I was definitely attracted to the guy. When my show was over I found myself in his room and in his bed. I can’t speak for him, but I thought the sex was great. Of course, if I knew then what I know now, I’d have never done it. But I didn’t and we did.
Afterwards we were lying in bed making small talk. I was tempted to probe for more details but didn’t want to put him in danger so we talked about art and music, poetry and books. It turned out we had similar tastes in a lot of things. That next day we played tourist. I took him around the city. We went to the new art museum and lunched at a fancy French restaurant. Rob was charming and intelligent. I felt myself falling for him in a big way. Back at the hotel we made love again. I wanted to call in sick but Rob thought it would be too big a change in my normal routine.
So I did my show that night. Rob was there and I sang Blue Moon for him. Rob stayed the whole time and I felt like I sang for him alone. That night was our last. Already Rob was starting to fade, his chronons returning to his own time. I tried to hold on to him but he literally slipped through my fingers and disappeared. His departure left me depressed for weeks. There was nothing I could do. Life went on. There was no way to contact him, I just had to get on with my life and put him behind me. So that’s what I did.
Rob had said we were going to meet in a few months. I was curious to see how that would happen. I went back to my gig at the hotel only now I sang Blue Moon every night. It became my trademark. Eventually Rob’s memory faded and I met a nice guy, a saxophone player who recently joined the band. A real nice guy and a terrific musician. He reminded me of Rob in many ways. When he told me his name was Ted Burns, I got goose bumps all over. Talk about meant to be, well that’s how that felt and, after I got to know him better, he told me he had a two year old son from his first marriage named Robby. You could have knocked me over with a feather.
Ted was a really nice guy but he had one big flaw—he was addicted to gambling. He’d bet on anything but he loved horse racing best. He spent and lost all of his money at the track. I knew that if we married, he lose all of my money as well but after meeting little Robert Burns for the first time, I knew what I had to do. We were married three weeks later.
Now Rob Burns was in my life again only this time as my step son. My marriage to Ted was rocky from the start. I hated his gambling habit and he seemed powerless to change his behavior. We were always broke despite the fact that we both had jobs, We could have lived comfortably on our two salaries if it wasn’t for Ted’s gambling. Las Vegas isn’t the best place to be if you’re trying to stop gambling.
A few years into the marriage, my career took a turn for the better. I got discovered, sort of, and signed a contract to make a couple of recordings. My music received good reviews and I started getting offers to sing at bigger venues. For the first time in my life, I was making money. Ted did his best to lose it as fast as I earned it. We fought about it constantly but he couldn’t stop. I finally gave him an ultimatum—either get help or I was taking Robby and leaving. That finally had the desired effect on Ted. He started going to counseling and attending weekly meetings of Gambler’s Anonymous.
Things were better for a few years. It looked like Ted had turned the corner. We were almost happy. I was about to make my television debut when Ted fell off the wagon. He cleaned out our bank account and blew it all at the track including a wild bet on a long shot called—you guessed it—Blue Moon. I’d like to say that the horse came in at ten to one and we lived happily ever after but that’s not how it happened. The horse lost and so did I. We broke up. I got custody of Rob who by this time was a bright and happy ten year old.
I worked hard and saved every dime I could for Rob’s future. A few years after the divorce, I got word that Ted had been shot dead by mobsters for not paying his debts. I hadn’t seen much of him since our divorce so you can imagine my surprise when I received a check in the mail for two hundred thousand dollars. Ted had taken out a life insurance policy and named Robby and me as beneficiaries. I invested Rob’s half and used mine to buy my own night club. I named it The Blue Moon Lounge. It was an instant success.
The years flew by. Rob went to good schools and grew up smart as well as handsome. He took over our investments and soon turned my modest fortune into a sizable one. Funny how things work out.
I’m sixty four now and dying of cancer. Rob is heartbroken. He tells me he’s going to spend some of his money to see me in my prime. He wants to hear me sing Blue Moon again one last time. I blushed crimson at the memory. I knew it was wrong but I can’t say I wished it didn’t happen. How many mothers can say they loved their sons before they ever met them? It’s not like I did anything wrong. Time travel, it’s filled with paradoxes.
Harris Tobias lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia. His fiction has appeared in Ray Gun Revival, The Calliope Nerve, and Literal Translations; His poetry has appeared in Vox Poetica, The poem Factory and The Poetry Super Highway. You can find links to his novels at: http://harristobias-fiction.blogspot.com/
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