Phillip had counted six. The last hour had repeated six times. The moment his hand had touched the metal plate next to the door frame of the lockers, he would black out and awaken standing on the pitcher’s mound with the bases loaded. His back damp with sweat, his fingers sore and on the cusp of cramping, Phillip would massage his right hand as he nodded vigorously in agreement with the pitcher in regards to the punk-ass Horatio, who was on second base but a few moments ago had inadvertently brushed into the man on the mound. The commentators could only speculate as to why a batter would practically be kowtowing to the pitcher of an opposing team with all that head-bobbing. Phillip just wanted to get on with the game and didn’t want to see himself or his teammates cursed upon and ridiculed by the speed of keystrokes and convenience of social media channels.
Like a megaphone to the town crier, where everyone is a crier of proper behavior and what-you-should-have-done-was judgments, the crowds at baseball games, and sporting games in general, were thinking too damned much. Of course, the people had a right and a duty to announce their incidental-violence-as-entertainment fatigue in any way they could, but after a while, nobody listens. The demands for courtesy and leaving “stuff off the field” all blended together into a muddy groan. And, now, as Phillip stepped away from the pitcher for what would be the seventh time, he saw Horatio as smug as ever, pacing around second base like he didn’t have all day (or all night)..
Phillip was taking his time in returning to home plate. He had all the time in the world and knew he was going to hit the ball so far into the stands that the telecast director would have difficulty calling the camera with the best view of the skinny, red-haired boy who’d end up fishing the ball out of a large bucket of shelled peanuts. Phillip used to take in the sights and sounds of home games like it was the first and last time he would ever be on the field. When he first started playing Major League baseball, he felt so in awe of the atmosphere and the energy that his teammates and the visiting team could gather and push out, almost like an old Tai Chi master rolling a giant ball of dough.
After ten years playing in big stadiums, though, despite his good health, that wonder had trickled into dust and Phillip had stopped looking up and above the the lights. But on this night, on the seventh occasion of his picking up his bat, he looked. He wondered if anyone watching the game live or on a TV would notice that the last hour had repeated. If so, were they watching him? Did they notice that he was doing things a little differently now compared to the previous six times?
When he was ready, he bent his knees, gripped the bat and waited for the ball to come. The game-winning hit happened on the second throw an hour later. Cheers chorused through the air like born-again vegans praising mother Gaia for her bounty and born-again omnivores paying tribute to their local butcher. Barker, who was on third, and Mulvaney, who was on first, ran for home. Horatio was halfway to third and Phillip jogged around the bases, breathing in every happy shout, savoring the approval from detractors. There was almost nothing Phillip loved more than wrenching recognition of achievement from people who didn’t believe he could do it — whatever it was.
When the on-field group hugs were completed and the initial wave of press photos were taken, Phillip headed down to the lockers with the rest of his team. Before he could tap that metal plate and send himself back onto the field to relive that epic ending for the eighth time, though, a hand encircled itself around his right forearm with such force he thought someone was trying to take his blood pressure in the wrong place. One hand became four hands in total. In the chaos of players mixing with journalists and stadium personnel, nobody had noticed when Phillip was ushered away from the locker room and into a storage closet.
“Get your hands off of me!” he screamed much quieter than he intended.
Two men, an adult woman, and a middle school-aged girl were staring at him, the girl actually baring her teeth in preparation to bite (or spit).
“I’m Klaus,” the man in the Chicago Bears jersey started. “And this is Tsai-Ming, that’s Olivia, and the little one is Carlotta.”
Phillip didn’t know if he was more confused by the sight of a man wearing a football jersey at a baseball game or that someone actually named their daughter “Carlotta” and didn’t make her wear a “Phantom of the Opera” t-shirt. He was about to speak, to ask what these people were trying to do and apologize if there was some fan signing where he didn’t get around to signing everyone’s balls and bats but management could be careless like that, but Carlotta opened her mouth and the heavens opened up a torrent of blame and rage like he’d never heard before in his life.
“What she’s trying to say,” Olivia added. “Well, we’ve all noticed that a specific hour of our lives have been repeating unless we make a different choice about something we did or said today. We’ve all figured out what they are for us and so that hour stopped repeating, but then the day kept repeating. And we all saw you in the game on TV and knew that you probably hadn’t yet changed your routine for the day.”
Phillip listened to each of them explain how they’d discovered their hours were repeating, what they had been doing, and that it wasn’t easy for them to do what it took to break their loops. Klaus was about to give his dissertation defense when he’d happened across a stack of love letters between a Korean soldier and a Chinese peasant during the Korean War; Tsai-Ming had just finished the most delicious meal of the entire semester; Olivia and her long lost love had spent a most blissful hour together after he’d confessed his true feelings; and Carlotta had finally summoned up enough courage to not hit back the boy who’d “accidentally” killed the class pet snake and somehow decided that she made him do it.
Klaus remarked that he was more interested in the lives of two people he’d likely never know anything more about than he was in his own life, his own future. Tsai-Ming worked double shifts at the coffee shop so that he could afford to gorge himself on authentic Taiwanese cuisine, food from his homeland and that he missed desperately. Olivia had never tasted contentment, never knew what love or passion or satisfaction was until that hour came upon her.
“And I lived it twelve times in a row before I let myself make a different choice…I was getting exhausted, you see.”
Carlotta about spat on Phillip when she detailed what she’d gone through and how hard it was not to let that hour play itself over and over and over again for every classmate that boy had teased and shoved.
“I looked into his eyes and there was nothing in them, he cared about nothing, not even himself.”
“Wait, wait, what does any of this have to do with me?” Phillip asked, suddenly aware of how hungry and thirsty he was. And tired, good lords and ladies, he was tired. His right hand felt like it did after two hours of batting practice.
Olivia took Phillip by his shoulders and shook. “You made a choice today before the game or leading up to that game-winning hit, a choice that came with an alternative that you were considering. You need to figure out what it is, and decide differently, do something differently…and once you do, that last hour of the game will stop repeating. And the day will stop repeating, and time will go on as normal.”
“What happens if I don’t? Wouldn’t you all just go back to your lives and enjoy the day forever? I mean, Klaus, you could find out about that soldier and the Chinese woman. And Tsai-Ming, you could eat have that meal forever…or something else, right? Olivia, you could know happiness always. Carlotta! Why, you could kick that boy’s ass til he goes home crying.”
They all scowled at him and sighed. Klaus explained that while their minds knew what was happening, their bodies did not. In fact, depending on the time of day that their respective hours were repeating, they might as well have stayed awake for days straight. The more that the hour repeats, the more time is lost. The body thinks twelve chronological hours have gone by when the mind thinks the same hour has taken place twelve times.
If they were right, Phillip could very well die on the field and it would be a very slow death. Years worth of hours would have to pass and he’d be an old man trying to hit a ball. What convinced Phillip to consider the choices he’d made that day, though, was not about time. What chilled him and humbled him to the core were Carlotta’s words.
“Think about everyone who watched you play today,” she said. “They had a good time, but what about everyone else who didn’t watch you play? Do you know how many pets are abandoned every hour in this country? Can you imagine being a dog and being left at the side of the road over and over and over again? Or, being sentenced to die over and over again? Or, having your trust in someone obliterated 100 times in a row? Just because you had the greatest hour of your life, doesn’t mean someone else did.”
If you could relive an hour of your life and only you knew it was happening, what would you relive? If you had to give up re-experiencing the best hour or best day of your life for the love of humanity, would you? And, how many “reruns” would you need before you could let it go and hope that the future gives you a better hour or day?