She could see the ones that had come before her, and after, that had perched in the chair in the waiting room of the auto dealer shop. They superimposed over her body like layers of frosting on a cake, a finger here, a curly bit of hair there. One tapped their hiking boot. One hummed the tune to the Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
This, she could handle, even the coldness of their spaces, where warm body heat should exist. She’d always had this sense of a timelapse, where the minutes and seconds did not seem to matter, they stretched beyond a linear thing into the spiral of the edge of someone’s notebook on her lap, looping over and over on themselves, onto her.
So, when she rose and traipsed over to the front desk to sign for the repairs on her Buick, it surprised her when the guy at the desk blinked and asked, “Who’s here for the Buick Lesabre?” Even though she stood right there, and no one else waited.
“Me,” she said, and the overlapping people all responded the same.
The guy stepped back.
“You can sense them, too?” she said, all in a rush, before she lost all courage to mention them. She’d learned never to mention them.
“Why are there so many—” he stopped, and squinted, like he had spotted someone across a crowded bar. “What did you say?”
“C’mon.” She pulled at his arm, and he was too shocked to pull back. She tugged him from behind the desk to where the line of afterimages stopped, over to the side of the room where no one usually stood. “There. Better?”
“Y-yeah.” He rubbed at his eyes. “What the heck just happened?”
“You must’ve just opened your senses somehow to it. Check the sides of your head.”
He brushed his fingers against his temples. He twitched and pulled away. On both sides of his head, through his longish hair, the symbol of infinity swirled like a raised tattoo, pink and raw and new. He hunched his shoulders.
“I call it teetering,” she said, just talking. She didn’t know what else to do. Excitement surged through her. No one else understood. They had all thought she needed pills. “You know, ’cause you feel like you’re teetering on the edge of the past, or the present.”
He swayed a little, and she caught him, helping him right himself. Someone else ambled in, another employee of the auto shop, then peered at them. “Hey, Darren, you good, man?”
“Yeah.” Darren backed away. “I didn’t ask for this,” he said in a low voice to her. “Can you make it stop?”
“Oh.” She deflated a little. That made sense. It bothered him. It had bothered her for many years. The feeling of existing in more than one time, but with one foot in what everyone thought was the present, induced a sense of vertigo that had made her nauseous for decades. “I mean, if I could, I would’ve a long time ago.”
The people flowed closer around them. Their clothing changed from edges of jeans to lacy, flowing dresses and spurred boots, then to flashing neon fabrics that swirled if she looked too long. The autobody shop hadn’t always been there. Maybe it used to be a saloon. Maybe it would become a dancing studio.
Darren’s lips had whitened, and his jaw clenched. He spiraled through time and she had to help him. She gripped his hand, trying to steady him, to anchor him in the present with at least one foot.
His breathing evened out, and the infinity symbol on the side of his head smoothed out some.
She released Darren’s hand. She’d wanted a friend. Someone who understood. Had she caused the symbol to disappear somehow?
Darren stumbled, and his coworker ran over. “What’s happening? Is he having a heart attack?”
“M-maybe,” she said. “Call an ambulance!”
The people around them swarmed on the edges of time, looping in and out of her periphery. Flashes of dirty, bare feet, then button-up boots, then something unknown that wrapped around the foot like wallpaper, changing colors with every step. Darren shuddered. His coworker dialed 911.
She licked her lips. She couldn’t let this happen to someone. How much would she have wanted someone to help her, when she’d vomited for five days straight? When she’d ended up in the hospital? When everyone acted as if she were hallucinating? She teetered between wanting this connection and wishing that she could return to herself, to a different time, and help the person she used to be.
She gripped his hand again. Concentrated. Steadied him, pulled him back.
The swarm of color, stampede of feet, and parade of hands dissipated. The infinity symbol smoothed out. Darren’s breathing slowed, and his eyes stopped flickering under his eyelids. He opened them.
“Thank you,” he said.
She glanced over to the coworker, who stared at them, the phone still held to his ear. “You can cancel the ambulance.”
She left, then, picking up her keys at the front desk. She left her credit card there, for them to run. She had to leave. She couldn’t stay here, not in the present. She would leave. She needed the comfort of the masses, of those who had never known her, and those who never would. The numbness of such company would help take the edge off, after experiencing a connection for the first time in her life.
“Hey,” Darren called after her. She half-turned. The edge of someone’s jeans flickered by. “Come by any time.”
She swallowed the lump in her throat, nodded, and left.