By William Gallagher
A sequel, an update and maybe even a replacement for It’s About Tim, my first Prompted Tale from January.
TIM Lambast woke up like he was wrenching himself from sleep. An urgent drive forced him upright before he opened his eyes and then when he did, it was as if realisation caught up at the same speed. “Oh, sod this again,” he said, and fell back down.
He stared at the slanted ceiling just above him and he looked at its pristine new paint. Just about the last thing Dad had done around the house before he left. Tim reached out to the beside table, grabbed the marker pen he knew would be there, and then he wrote the number 37 onto the ceiling.
Tim threw the marker pen as far and as angrily as he could, knowing that the next time he woke up it would be right back there by the bed. Knowing that the next time he woke up, the ceiling would be pristine and the desk mirror would be clean and the door where he used to carve the count on would be unblemished.
The phone under his bed bleeped with a text message but he didn’t consciously hear it. The sound was just one more of the endless repeating details that he was stuck living through over and over.
Yet maybe something of that detail did register somewhere because now he found himself raising a finger and holding it poised like a conductor. “Annnnnnd cue Mum,” he said, smashing the finger down exactly as her voice called up the stairs telling him to hurry or he’d miss his exam.
He knew every movement, every word his mum was going to say. If he closed his eyes and bothered thinking about it, he could work out the movements of everybody. Pamela is next door, getting ready and coming to walk with him to school. She can whistle for that. Mr Brown the chemistry teacher is right now considering whether he’s got time before the exams for a second coffee in the café up the street.
He does. Every time through this day, though, he panics during the delay waiting for that second coffee to be made and hurriedly changes the order to a take out. He drives to school, sipping as he goes, and arrives in enough time that he could’ve just taken as long as he likes to finish it. But there’s a problem with either the Bobson twins in Year 9 or Mrs Hendry pretending she wants his help with her PC. It’s weird how there must be something Tim does that alters something he has no obvious connection with. He’d never spoken to the Bobson twins, he didn’t know Mrs Hendry until a few times through this loop. Yet something he does at some point makes the difference between who gets Mr Brown’s attention.
Tim doesn’t even know what happens to the twins or what they do. But he has seen that Mr Brown deals with it faster when it’s them than when it’s Mrs Hendry. Either way, he gets to the exam all in plenty of time to see Tim come in.
When Tim can be bothered to go to the exam hall.
Of course Tim had done the exam the first time through this day and once or twice he’d somehow been manoeuvred into it again. On the 17th and 27th times through it all he’d chosen to sit the exam out of sheer frustration at his inability to change any other outcome of the day.
The 27th time was actually fun. Again, it must be something he did that somehow cascaded on into making a significant change – why could he change all these things and not the one he wanted? – but the 27th was fun. Because of Pamela. Every time up to then she’d been concerned for him like a sister and patronising him like another sister. On his 27th go around, she seemed to share his new attitude to the exam. She seemed to realise that in the end the exam didn’t matter.
It was funny to think how much pressure he’d felt under the first time he’d sat it. Now there had been that one time when it was actually was fun and in the last few loops Tim had come to realise that he even enjoyed sitting the exam over and over. He could handle the exam now, he could do it. The exam made sense and it felt like the sole thing in his life that he could control.
What he cannot seem to control is that his mum dies today. And she has done, 36 times in a row.
It makes Tim angry that in all these times through the same day he has still not found out who her new boyfriend is. He’s tracked the man’s car by waiting ahead at each point in its route, seeing where it turns and then being there for the next go-around.
Still it happens. For the first 31 times, it looked like a car accident as she goes out with this man, whoever he is, and he drives them into a tree.
On the 32nd time, Tim gave up trying to delay his mum, trying to get his dad to come back, trying to divert this fancy car, and instead told her straight what was going on.
Before the end of that 32nd time around, his mum was calling someone for advice about mental issues in teenage boys and it turns out to be this new boyfriend. He’s not a doctor, he’s a PhD like Tim thinks Pamela’s dad is, but he knows something or knows someone, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that for the first time Tim is successful in stopping his mum going outside the house and getting into that car, getting into that accident. But still she dies.
For this boyfriend, presumably freaked by being told he was going to kill them both in a car crash, he chooses now to come to the house instead. Not to pick her up outside, not to have her admit to him that there is anything going on between these two. Instead he comes to kill her, Tim and himself.
The world went black for Tim on this 31st go around, it went black before he could even see the face of this man. Then when he woke up yet again at the start of the morning. The only differences were that he had drenched the bed in sweat and he now vomited onto the floor.
So the 33rd time was spent trying to get his mum away from the house while the 34th was getting out early and going to the police. Didn’t make a difference. Not enough of one anyway.
So for 35 and 36, Tim just stayed in his room, stayed on the bed, and let his mum go out, get in that car and be killed in what was apparently no accident at all.
He put his hands over his ears as his mum called louder. He stared up at the number 37 he’d written. Tim remembered now that he’d sat the exam on the 17th and 27th times, maybe it was something to do every ten times.
His mum was calling even louder now and for a moment he was back to being a normal teenager, back to before he got stuck repeating this day, for he forgot that he knew every syllable, every moment, every gust of wind in this day. He forgot that he knew everything and so he forgot that this was something new. He just yelled back “What?”
This was also new.
He could hear his mum talking but not what she was saying. Because she wasn’t talking to him, she wasn’t calling up the stairs.
Tim sat up and swung his legs to the floor. He sat on the side of the bed, trying to hear what was going on. And then as he got up, as he trod on the Coke can by the bed, there was a knock at his door.
“God, you’re a mess,” said Pamela. She was holding her revision folder against her chest. It was like a shield against the room’s smell of body odour and a long-forgotten curry.
“Er, do you want to come in?” asked Tim.
She gave the room a look and then gave him one too. “I think I might catch something. Anyway, I need us to work together now.”
“Oh, would you fucking forget the chemistry exam? That is truly, totally, absolutely the last thing on my mind.”
“Tim, concentrate. I’ve tried everything else I can think of to change today. If we work together, maybe we can finally put it right. Hang on.” Pamela paused for a moment and then turned around her revision folder. “I’ll lose count if I don’t make a note.” Then she wrote the number 11 on it. “Ready to save my dad’s life?”
© William Gallagher 2016