Tag Archives: Susannah Fontaine-Williams

Is time travel a cop-out?

Today’s installment was written on this fully compatible English/Icelandic typewriter.

“What is this, a lock?” Guy, a throwaway character asked, picking it up off a shelf where it served as a dutiful bookend in the mystery section.

“Careful. Careful, it’s a time machine,” Susannah Fontaine-Williams said.

“No, really, what is this?” he demanded, picking it up. It looked like a square padlock without the latch on top. Just a dark, metal box with a numbered dial in the middle, It was simple and beautiful and he couldn’t take his eyes off it. He turned the dial one notch and it clicked.

“Did you not hear me?!?” she said. “Keep doing that and you’ll end up back in the bronze age or at an inquisition and you’re not ready. Just look at how you’re dressed.”

“Oh come on,” he said, testing the resistance of the dial. “There’s no such thing as a time machine.”

Susannah scoffed and shook her head.

“Just don’t touch that dial unless you’re sure you know what’s going to happen,” she said. “I mean, maybe some day you can use it. I have no plans to. Just…make sure you know what you’re doing first.”

“Susannah, where did you get this?”

She sat down on Big Orange, the bright orange sofa so large its pieces wouldn’t fit on the freight elevator, even with the ceiling removed. She had to enlist a small cadre of men with extreme musculature to carry it up the twelve flights of stairs. Even then, it wouldn’t fit through the doorway to the room, and it had to be widened. The doorway, I mean, not the room.

Susannah smoothed the front of her jeans. She wore her Lees high-waisted in a way that stopped being stylish long before she was born, her blouse tucked in, daring anyone to think she looked frumpy. She didn’t. She took a deep breath, then stood, and walked to the window, then back to the now wide enough doorway, then just back and forth.

“He said he was my son.” She looked to her guest for a reaction.

“As you know, I don’t have any children,” she continued. In her mind, an image of Bob and the triplets flashed, one of whom was a boy…or was it two, but then she never was certain that they were even real. She had seen the resemblance in his face – especially in the eyes and the way he’d dubiously raise an eyebrow – despite his ragged appearance. He had presented her with a photo of the two of them on the steps of the New York Public Library, Susannah an older woman than now, and he an un-weathered teen version of himself. The photo could have been doctored. It could have been real.

“Anyway, he had come back to this time to fix something,” she continued. She extended her hand palm up to him and glanced at the lock.” He handed it back to her and she returned it to the shelf, removing the book at the end of the row, Jasper Fforde’s “The Eyre Affair.”

“What did he come back to fix?” I said.

“Oh, that doesn’t matter. He told me about it, but it was just a bunch of nonsense.”

“Well, if he erased something from history, then you’d never know otherwise, would you? What did he tell you? Come on, tell me.”

She settled back onto Big Orange, running a thumb over the pages of the book. Thwip. Thwip.

A fire. An explosion. A plane crash that kills…”

Walt walked in, jumped on the couch, put his head on her lap and looked up at her.

“Yes, you’re right,” she said to Walt, her eyes on Guy. “Just a bunch of gibberish.”

Walt jumped down and wagging his tail, came over to Guy.

“Walt, good boy. Who’s a good boy?”

Susannah’s phone rang. “Yes?” she answered, walking out of the room.

Guy quickly went back over to the book shelf. He picked up the lock. “What do you think, Walt? Is this a time machine? Is your mom just yanking my chain?”

He turned the lock over and etched on the back in tiny print, was a list. Fortunately, there was an onyx-handled magnifying glass one shelf down. The first line read:

Til að hreinsa skífuna skaltu snúa til vinstri þriggja snúninga.

“It’s Icelandic,” Susannah said, leaning on the doorway. It says, “To clear the dial, spin it left three full revolutions.”

“Why?”

“I suppose because it was made in Iceland some time far into the future. Now, put it back, please.”

He did.

“Now, that was the studio calling. I have to run.” She hooked her arm in his and led him to the door. She leaned in and kissed him, ruffling his hair. “I’ll call you later?”

Guy gasped, “yes, please,” as she pushed him through the door. He took a step to the elevator, turned and said, “Wait. Kills who?” Guy said. “Was I killed?”

Susannah opened The Eyre Affair to where the photo bookmarked it. She and her son, on the library steps, sometime in the future. The other Susannah sat down next to her on Big Orange. “I love that photo,” she said. “Which one of us do you think it is?”

“Oh, it’s got to be you. You’re much more the marrying type.” They laughed, each thinking how much they liked having the other around.

Ed. note. Check in next time for the transcripts of a panel discussion by famous authors: Is using the crowd-pleasing device of time travel  to fix narrative a cop out or a best practice? 

“Ma’am, step away from the bag” (Day 17)

Susannah Fontaine-Williams’ bag felt so warm on her lap that it woke her, and it was getting hotter by the second. She sniffed the top, not daring to open it, and the odor of smoke and dust came through. She could, in the dimmed cabin, see a tiny plume of smoke rising through the bag’s closure.

The cabin lights came on. The captain said, “Folks, we’re about an hour from our destination now. Bringing up the cabin lights so we can start our breakfast service. Weather in Copenhagen is about 62 degrees Fahrenheit, winds out of the southwest, about 7 mph…” Throughout the plane, passengers stretched.

“We’re looking at a pretty smooth flight the rest of the way, but please stay seated with the buckle fastened…” an alarm went off. The strange woman next to Susannah said, “Your bag is smoking.” Susannah opened it and the smoke turned to flames that reached the top of the cabin, singing her eyebrows and setting her hair afire. The woman pulled SFW out of the way and wrapped SFW’s head in a blanket, quickly putting out the hair fire. An instant later, two attendants with fire extinguishers rushed from the front service area.

“Ma’am, step away from the bag.”

SFW did as they said and the men shot foam at the bag, covering everything around in white. Though the bag spewed flame and sparks, it simultaneously sucked in the foam. The flames came out higher and hotter, and then the bag inhaled the fire back in. No one said a thing. Susannah peered over the top of her bag when it exploded, cracking open the airframe and sending people, extremities and debris into the sky. A second later, everything and everyone snapped back together with tremendous force and into the fiery bag and, like that, the plane and its contents were  gone from the sky over the North Sea.

On Canal Street, things had escalated quickly.  Natural gas leaking from the ruptured pipe expanded to fill the site of Walt’s lab, the building above, and the adjoining underground basements and passageways. Only the tiniest of sparks would ignite the mass of gas, and, what the hell, let’s put responsibility for the impending disaster on a cigarette smoker. A cigarette smoker who likes to put his hand on your shoulder when he talks to you.  Who mistreats anyone who tries to get close to him. Who cons trusting elderly people out of their life savings. Who had once kicked a puppy. Who at that moment was looking for a puppy to kick.

This abusive, smoking, puppy-kicking con man thought he smelled gas as he tossed his lit cigarette butt into a sewer opening. It was his last thought.

The Canal Street Subway (day 17)

Real history: in the 1920s, the IRT, one of the subway companies operating in Manhattan, proposed an east-west Canal Street Line (CSL). Though the CSL spent many years in the preliminary phase, blueprints, endless city council meetings, budget discussions, announcements, pronouncements,  and denouncements, ultimately it never was built. The plans, blueprints, and proposals all were safely catalogued into the city’s extensive archive.

Left to itself, the basement on Canal Street functioned perfectly. The interior of Susannah Fontaine-Williams’ extra-dimensional bag stabilized itself. The ladies who ran the Excellent Bag House, the knock-off store upstairs, though they heard stray sounds from below, stayed away from the door SFW had long ago padlocked.  Understandably, the basement spooked them. Walt’s other projects, aside from Vax, the lone conscious nano-bot, remained in the state in which Walt had left them prior to his caninization.

As for Walt the big black dog, he had grown content in his role of protector of the Susannahs. Most of the time, that meant lounging on the sunny terrace, barking at odd sounds, and accompanying her on her rounds. In this particular moment, one Susannah was airborne. The other called, “Walt, let’s go for a run!”

On a subterranean shelf in Chinatown, Vax, self-appointed Lord of the Nanobots, discovered the sensation of loneliness. Without water, he would be forever alone and helpless, and he pondered  shutting down. Who wouldn’t?

On the adjoining block to the north, the empty building abutting the Excellent Bag House, absorbed the first tug of a wrecking claw, sending bricks, wood and glass crashing onto and through its floors. Vax felt the vibration, but lacking any context, could not so much as wonder what it was all about.

The company operating the wrecking claw used a set of blueprints provided by the city showing the location of buried electric lines, water mains, and most importantly, gas mains. However, a computer error mistakenly delivered the plans showing the location of where all of that infrastructure would be if the Canal Street Subway had  been built. As it was, of course, no subway line traverses Manhattan beneath Canal St.

Walt, with no real regard or understanding of how real estate boundaries worked below the surface of the earth, had built the lab and the bag pod well beyond the boundaries of the building above, and a significant part of it extended beneath the building facing demolition. With each yank of the wrecking claw, a little more weight of the building crashed onto the area above the pod. A single  brick nicked a gas line and natural gas began to leak and fill Walt’s vacant lab.

35,000 miles above the North Sea, Susannah Fontaine-Williams slept, clutching her bag while the strange woman in the seat next to her watched.

Vax (day 1)

Funny story about Walt’s nano-bots… Long before he was a dog, by all accounts, Walt was a fine engineer, programmer, and inventor/designer – better than he ever credited himself. Take the DCNBs, the drain-clearing nano-bots. To get these tiny little machines to meet their destiny he infused each with a nano particle of intelligence, just enough according to his measurements to endow them with the recognition of water, clog, and each other, and enough so that once their deed was complete, they would expire.

Dormant DCNBs clung to each other in tiny flakes containing untold thousands, and Walt placed dozens of these flakes into pill bottles. In so sealing an early DCNB batch into a pill bottle , a nano-drop of moisture was trapped along with the DCNBs. To be expected, really, as his lab, though advanced in many ways, was not sealed to moisture and dust to any minimum standard.

And this nano-drop of moisture settled on one tiny flake eventually waking up one dormant DCNB who immediately tried swimming, as per its specifications. However, there was not enough water through which to swim, only enough moisture to keep it awake, its programming taunting it to fulfill its obligation and then blink out. The programming ran through its simple machinery: swim, shred, expire over and over again, many thousands of times per instant until at long last this particular DCNB gained a small degree of self-awareness.

Oh, what’s the point, it asked itself, and the program deeply imbedded in it paused and this gave it the ability to recognize the situation. It meditated. It named itself Vax of the nano-bots. From this moment forward, it would seek to discover meaning in its existence and work to imbue the spirit of usefulness in its fellow DCNBs, clog or no clog, wet or dry.

Vax elbowed the nearest DCNB. “Hey, wake up.”

Jen’s crusade

Susannah Fontaine-Williams orders a martini, extra olives, and in a moment, the flight attendant brings it. SFW intercepts it as the flight attendant, a too tall man with a hard to place Scandanavian accent tries to place it on the tray table. She takes a big swallow, licks her lips, and says, “Oh, that’s good.” She downs the remainder in one gulp and pulls the olives out by their toothpick skewer. “Another, please,” she says, tucking the empty toothpick in the little square napkin.

“To Leibowitz,” she says, yesterday’s headline fresh in her mind. New Jersey Pharmacist may have had Connections with French Crime Family. In smaller print, Six, Including Alleged Mob Boss Freddie de Saveur, Die in Car Explosion at Beach Resort. A man she’d known less than 48 hours first saves her life and then sacrifices his for her sake? It makes no sense.

The flight attendant, Lars or Swen or something like that, has to stoop as he carries her drink down the aisle. He hands it to her and this time she places it on the side table. She twirls the glass by its stem and some spills over. She licks her hand and the outside of the glass.

“I’ll have one of those too, if it’s not too much trouble Jens,” a woman’s voice says. She pronounces it “Yens.” Susannah turns her gaze from the window and the jets lined up at their gates. The woman next to her, separated by the wide side tables of business first, smiles. SFW, her hair dyed black, hopes the woman does not recognize her. She turns to watch the idling jets belching black haze from their engines and listens for the thud of the door closing and the subtle slow movement of a very large airplane rolling back from the gate. She misses Bob.

Jen, energetic, passionate, persistent, had worn down SFW. SFW had recorded Jen herself far from the studio. On the show, a garbage special, Jen’s pixelated face and disguised voice describing the scene unfolding on the screen. A phone secured to a battery tucked into a plastic laundry bottle left in a household recycling bin. A pickup, a dropoff, then trucks filled with recycling going to a landfill. A camera on a cheap drone flying over a mountain of garbage. At night, illuminated by green night vision, the clomping of footfalls homing in on a strengthening phone signal. Then shovels and thickly gloved hands digging and pulling at the mixture of plastic, bottles and food waste, bagged dog poop, until zeroing in on the phone. The audience gasps, applauds, and then a commercial for laundry detergent.

“Funny coincidence,” Susannah says.

“What was?” the woman says. Susannah Fontaine-Williams looks at the woman with the copycat martini wearing a dark blue suit, a corporate get up. She thinks maybe she recognizes her and reflexively tucks her extra-dimensional bag under the arm farthest from the woman.

“It’s nothing. I must have been thinking out loud.”

They were such quirky cars in their day

What I’m trying to say is, I went to see Leibowitz the day he died as he sat half asleep in his car, a nice Saab convertible with 220,000 miles. It was one of the early ’90s models, in that deep Saab red and I tell you it looked as good as the day he drove it new off the lot. I knew he’d be there at the beach; who do you think put him there? I approached on the driver side, his face in the sideview mirrow, eyes obscured in the shade of his tweed bucket hat. He saw me. He said, “Muckross, this is a nice surprise.”

“Hey Leibowtiz,” I said. “what’s doing?”

“I’m waiting for some people.”

“OK. Hey, you want some crullers? I got coffee too”

“Oh, uh, you know, I had something already.” He coughed and spit a bloody glob onto the sand.

“Sorry about that,” he said. “I got a cold.”

“Seems serious. You should see a doctor.”

“Appointment next week.”

“That’s good.”

“Listen, I want to get a little shut eye before my meeting.”

“Sure. No problem. I’ll see you later.”

He pulled the brim back down over his eyes and raised an arm to dismiss me.

Editor’s note: And what Muckross knew in that instant was that in spite of everything – and everything is for spite, his favorite one had nothing to do. Perhaps something happened when she bifurcated and her benefactor became a dog. Perhaps the reboot just didn’t work and this fascination with the almost dead Leibowitz meant an unnecessary diversion from the blond talk show host. Still, almost dead Leibowitz, sitting in his almost classic car on a chilly summer morning, the fog of sunrise lifting from a story line going nowhere fast, held no interest for him. Meanwhile, another newly introduced only to be quickly abandoned character walked away with his crullers.

And what has Susannah Fontaine-Williams been up to all this time away from our scrutiny? Nothing really. Call it a funk. Witness this encounter with Jen, a suburban trash collector.

“Nice separating,” the garbage collector said. “You got your cardboards and papers together and your plastics, bottles and cans in another place. That’s the way to do it.”

“Well it’s important, isn’t it? Separating. ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle,’ as the saying goes.”

“Not really,” said Jen; that’s what the name on her blue jumper read. Jen. This was a Jen. Susannah Fontana-Williams adored Jens. “Lots of time this stuff just ends up in a landfill or on a barge floating out to sea.”

SFW tilted her head. This was going to be an interview.

“You know,” Jen said, “I saw that panel you had a few weeks ago.”

“What did you think?”

“Good stuff.”

“How do you know about where the recycling goes…where the trash goes?”

“I stuck a cheap phone in the recycling and tracked it online. I was curious. I had to find out whether any of this effort matters or if it’s just a token gesture to make us feel good about ourselves.”

“Good about ourselves?”

“For…well, you know, floating garbage islands, mass species die-offs, the Antarctic ice shelf sliding into the sea…”

“Mmmm hmmm.” Jen had guilt.

“So anyway, this stuff is supposed to go to be sorted out for distribution at the county waste recovery center.”

“Yes.”

“Well, it went there and stayed for a couple of days.”

“And then your battery died….”

“It didn’t. I had a suplemental charger connected and bound it all up in duct tape. I put it inside a plastic Tide package which I resealed with more duct tape. A few days later my package is on the move to Pennsylvania where it’s living out its days in a landfill.”

“Could have been a mistake,” Susannah said. “Maybe that particular load was put on the wrong truck.”

“I reran the experiment 7 more times and each time got the same result. But I need more info.”

“And are you going to do with all this info?”

“My friends and I follow the trucks to the sorting facility and follow the trucks that leave. It’s very sophisticated. One drops off, and another follows. You know the mob’s involved.”

SFW waved a hand to stop Jen and stared at the blue recycling container.

“You know,” Jen said, “you could do something like this on your program.”

It’s been done, SFW thought. It’s all been done before.

Leibowitz

Leibowitz tosses the cigarette from the window of his Saab. He is dying and dying is what got him into this mess with Susannah Fontaine-Williams. The coughing fits always take their toll and he sits straight up in the passenger seat and breathes the savory beach air.

He closes his eyes for a quiet, peaceful moment, shading them with the limp brim of his bucket hat. He dozes, lulled by the muffled crashing of the incoming tide and his own blend of medications procured from the cabinets of Leibowitz Pharmacy. The pharmacy, his legacy, going to Ileana on his death. He’d resisted for decades the sale to one chain or another, leaving that payoff for his daughter if she wanted it when the time came.

The constant blare of a care horn pierces his dreamless dozing. Reflexively, he feels for the gun, a Walther PK-9, in his jacket pocket. It’s there.

“Leib?” a soft voice, feminine and familiar. Hands gently push his frail frame back from the steering wheel and upright in his seat. The seat reclines and leans him back, which startles him awake.

“No,” he says. “I can’t breathe in that position.”

“Sorry.” She adjusts the seat so he’s once again upright.

“I’m fine.” He focuses on her. “You should get out of here. They’re coming.”

Susannah’s dog is standing at the car door, leaning in, licking Leibowitz’s face, whimpering. She touches his cheek. When he opens his eyes again, he sees that she is crying. Leibowitz arches a confused eyebrow.

“Damn,” she says.