(Well, maybe that’s a bit of a misnomer. These aren’t so much stories about time as they are stories in which time plays a role of its own. Both of these stories were written back in 2013 and are presented unedited, so I’m sorry if eighteen-year-old me’s writing is not to your taste. Oh, and the second story’s in French. You know, just for a change of pace.)
“How ya feeling, Marcus? You ready?”
I gave myself a quick shake to try and clear my head – unsuccessfully – before locking eyes with my brother and giving him a faint nod. The two of us were standing in a shadowy downtown alley, the kind of place stereotypically known for exactly the stuff we were in the middle of doing. And yet, we were less than five feet away from the street and the bright, cheery, morning sunlight shining down on it; about twenty-five feet west along this street were the front doors to CIBC’s downtown branch, but we’ll get to that later.
Stephen glanced at his watch. “It’s nine fifty-five right now,” he explained, mostly for reassurance. Both of us knew the plan like the back of our hands. “Darryl will be here at five after ten. That means we’ve got five minutes to get set up, and five minutes to take care of business. Plenty of time, right?”
He didn’t wait for an answer, and I wasn’t sure I could give him one anyway. In one quick, smooth burst of motion, Stephen set the duffel bag he had been carrying on the ground and unzipped the top, stooping to rummage around inside. After a second, he stood with two objects and held one out to me – even though I knew what they were, I couldn’t seem to focus on them. Mechanically, I reached out and took the handgun, feeling the cold, alien touch of its metal against my skin.
“Twelve shots, safety’s on the left side beside the trigger,” Stephen told me matter-of-factly, sliding his own pistol into a back pocket. He must have seen the look of anxiety that crossed my face, because he placed a steadying hand on my shoulder and looked me right in the eyes. “C’mon, bro, we won’t need to use ‘em,” he asserted comfortingly. “Just think of them as…insurance.” He gave a little laugh at his own joke, but it sounded forced. He was nervous.
We both were.
Suddenly, he took his hand off my shoulder and delved back into the bag, withdrawing two black balaclavas and immediately fitting one over his head. I watched as my brother faded into an anonymous criminal, and he held his arms out. “How do I look?” he asked with another unsteady chuckle. “A bit cliché, I know, but necessary. Here’s yours.”
I looked down at the gun that was still in my hands and delicately slid it into the back waistband of my jeans so that I could take the proffered black cloth from his outstretched hand. The itchy fabric pricked at my skin as I slid it over my face.
“Alright, here we go,” Stephen said quietly, redrawing his pistol, flicking off the safety, and pulling back the slide. “Just you wait, Marcus. After this, we won’t have to worry about money for a long time. Didn’t I promise Mom and Dad that I’d take care of you?”
This must have been another rhetorical question, because he immediately looked down at his watch and cut off any reply I could have been formulating. “Ten o’clock on the dot,” he pronounced, turning to step out onto the sidewalk. “Let’s go.”
Five minutes and counting.
We reached the bank doors without incident: the streets were more or less deserted, unsurprising for ten in the morning on a Tuesday when everyone else would be at work. Nobody would see us coming.
As we pushed our way through the double doors, things got a lot more complicated, but we’d practiced it so much that it almost felt like my mind was taking a backseat. I seemed to be watching passively as my body walked calmly up to the security guard, grabbed his taser, and gave him a quick left hook to the face before ordering him to get on the ground. I vaguely heard the echoing bangs as Stephen fired two shots into the air to make our intentions clear and then shouted at the tellers to step back from the counter. That was the key, we couldn’t let any of them trigger an alarm or we were dead.
Four minutes and counting.
I was robotically sweeping my attention around the bank and over the crowds of people who had dropped instinctively to the floor for protection. I had placed the guard’s taser in my pocket and drawn my gun, and the hand that held it was extended but pointing nowhere in particular. All of this was done almost by reflex, as my brain was busy trying to calm itself down. We have to do this. We have to do this if we’re going to survive.
Three minutes and counting.
Stephen was calling the tellers up to the counter one at a time so he could keep his eyes on them, watch them with an unblinking, unyielding gaze as they emptied their tills into the duffel bag. I took a quick glance in that direction and saw flashes of brown, red, and green being transferred. We’d hit it big. Only a few tills left and we’d be free to go.
I was taking another look across the people on the ground when two faces suddenly caught my eye. It was a young boy, couldn’t have been more than seven years old, being held close by someone who must have been his mom. The woman was terrified, and she was clinging to her son for dear life, but the kid just looked…confused. Like he couldn’t comprehend what was going on.
Two minutes and counting.
I felt sick to my stomach. There weren’t supposed to be kids here. That wasn’t part of the plan. My hands were starting to shake, and suddenly I felt an impact against my shoe and heard a clattering on the floor. I looked down, and there on the ground was my gun, having slid through my numb fingers. And now it was just sitting on the tile floor. Halfway between me and that security guard with a bruised face and a chipped shoulder.
We made eye contact and he immediately started scrambling for the pistol. I broke from my reverie in time to make it there just as he did, and we started to grapple for control of the handgun. Just as it felt like I was going to lose my grip, there was a piercing bang. I felt something wet against my shirt, and the guard slumped to the ground.
One minute and counting.
Stephen was immediately at my side. “We’ve gotta go, kid,” he told me quietly but firmly, the duffel bag in hand. The other people in the bank had collapsed into tears and screams when the gun had gone off, but now there was nothing but an eerie, panicked silence. I didn’t move. I couldn’t.
“C’mon, I’ve got the money; let’s get the hell out of here,” Stephen insisted, giving me a slight shove and adamantly refusing to look at the man on the floor. My eyes were fixed on the guard’s shirt, where a red stain was growing far too quickly. The gun that we didn’t need to use sat complacently in my hand, eleven lead weights bearing down on my arm and my mind as I stared after their spent friend. I thought I heard a siren somewhere in the distance and vaguely wondered if it was my imagination.
It wasn’t. Stephen heard it too, and his eyes widened in fear at the sound. “Marcus!” he practically shouted in my ear. Some far-off part of my brain recalled that we weren’t supposed to use our actual names. Part of the plan. “We have to leave, now!” He tugged at my arm, pulling me towards the door, and my feet numbly started to follow him.
As Stephen dragged my wooden puppet’s body towards the doors, I made the mistake of turning and looking at the scene we were about to leave behind. The faces contorted into masks of fear, the eyes jumping from point to point with a desperate hope to avoid the man dying right in front of them. The mother, with her son’s face buried in her chest so that he wouldn’t have to see that side of reality. And the last sight I saw, something that I would never forget: the security guard’s eyes starting to glass over and fade, his life spilling out onto the tile floor.
La porte du café s’ouvre avec un craquement aimable, comme s’il voulait proclamer que je suis arrivé. Une inspection rapide des tables révèle qu’elle n’est pas encore ici. Ça va. Il y a beaucoup de temps.
Je jette un coup d’œil au comptoir. Devrais-je commander quelque chose maintenant? Je suppose que ce ne serait pas un problème, et les arômes de café sont très tentants.
Un choix est fait.
– Un café, s’il vous plait.
– Deux dollars, quatre-vingts dix sous.
Et je m’assois à une table au fond, regardant la porte. Autour de moi, le café est vivant avec le bruit de conversation et le tintement des tasses à thé sur les tables. Je souris. Une petite allitération est toujours amusante.
Les autres clients sont absorbés par leurs propres mondes, leurs propres soucis et joies. Je vois une mère avec son enfant, un petit garçon de neuf ans, plus ou moins, qui boit une tasse de chocolat chaud avec contentement. Je vois un employé qui travaille sur son portable, son sourcil plissé. Je vois un jeune couple avec les étoiles dans les yeux, riant et parlant et tuant le temps. Tout est bien. Mais puis…
Mon café arrive, mais elle n’arrive pas. Je prends une petite gorgée et regarde la chaise vide en face de moi, mais mon cerveau part immédiatement en vadrouille. Peut-être qu’elle est juste un peu en retard, bien sûr, mais puis une divergence me prend. Peut-être qu’elle n’est pas en retard. Peut-être qu’elle ne vient pas.
Peut-être qu’elle n’a jamais eu l’intention de venir ici. Peut-être qu’elle me déteste vraiment, mais elle voulait être polie. Lentement, mon raisonnement prend le funiculaire à la cime d’une montagne de paranoïa. C’est vrai! Elle ne voulait jamais rien avec moi!
Alors, quel gaspillage, ce matin! Je suis venu ici pour un rendez-vous qui n’était jamais vrai! C’était toujours juste une grande blague, une farce sale juste parce qu’elle ne pouvait pas être honnête. Mon dieu. Quelle femme fourbe!
Je regarde les autres clients avec un œil suspicieux, trop conscient de ma situation embarrassante. Elle m’a posé un lapin, et je suis certain que tout le monde connait ce fait. J’évalue le petit enfant encore, essayant de cacher ma honte et ma déception. Derrière son visage innocent, je sais qu’il me juge. Constamment.
Je prends une autre petite gorgée de mon café, dans l’espoir qu’il peut donner une amélioration à la situation, si petite soit-elle. Mais non! Le goût est gâché! L’amertume noire du café me rappelle de l’amertume noire qui prend forme dans mon cœur! Oh, quel dommage! Peut-être que je devrais juste partir, et essayer encore une autre fois.
La porte du café s’ouvre avec un craquement aimable, comme s’il veut proclamer qu’elle est arrivé. Elle me voit, et elle prend son siège.
– Désolé! Je sais que je suis un peu en retard. As-tu attendu beaucoup?
– Oh, non, pas beaucoup, juste quelques minutes. Ce n’était pas mal, pas du tout.