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Danny Manning

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Talking Clocks And Ticking Hearts
By Danny Manning
Friday, July 11, 2008

Rated "PG13" by the Author.

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Recent stories by Danny Manning
· The Dangerous Summer
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           >> View all 10


Our lives are stories with a million different frames of time.
This life exists in two, and we, the fortunate readers, can view both simultaneously.

I

 

We as humans all live and die the same everyday. We exist in all of our pasts and we indulge in all of our futures. It is all that any of us can do. We revisit, and we wait, and in the meantime, we are caught unconsciously in the middle. Maybe in the future that so many of us are all timidly waiting for, they will invent the time machine. It will throw us all forward into the vastness of our lives. We’ll see those cloudy, crimson skies and those rockets before our eyes, and when it sends us back, we will be forced to savor the true preciousness of every moment.

At every moment, we are caught in the dead center of what has happened and what is to come. If we are lucky, God will grace us with foreshadow. It is our duty to recognize these things as a sign of the times. When we wake up to a shattered life, we will long for the pristine rarity of the time before it. We will call on the previous days as being blissful and beautiful. The tragedy is that we cannot understand these days until we are past them. A fish cannot appreciate its water until it is torn from it.

 

Enter time frame #1.

In time frame #1, we see Michael, a thin young man in his early twenties. Michael is illustrated by an undeniable charm. He has high cheekbones and a wide smile, and his perfectly proportioned face connects to a thick head of light, brown hair. It is full hair that boldly challenges the moon’s capability to reflect sunlight. His parents named him after the fiercest angel in God’s army, and he loves them for it.

He is himself full of character, and sets it loose at the proper moments. Yet other times, he finds himself timid, and desires not to speak. In a moment’s notice, he may light any room ablaze with his charm, laughing the lights on. Michael has passions, but has not yet sharpened them into ambitions. He has emotions, but he does not know what to do with them. His handsome face and living body go about in a mere day-to-day fashion.

Michael is one of these humans that are irresistible for unexplainable reasons. He is an amazing person with only one deep-rooted flaw: Michael fails to realize the absolute rarity of his charm. Michael has the world sitting square in his palms, but his hands are in his pockets. His hands are always in his pockets.

At the end of time frame #1, Michael’s mind will tell him that it is all his fault, and in some sense… It is. He could have done so many things different. He could have done so many things different. He could have done so many things different. The tragedy is that he didn’t.

 

Michael fell in love with the first girl that showed him any attention: a brunette that was beautiful and terrible. Penny was a wolf that bit, and Michael unfortunately felt safer in the jaws of his emotional monster than in the wilderness of solitude.

They met towards the end of his high-school career, and it was anything but romantic. Two desperate bodies floating through space collided with each other, and it was all either of them could do to hold on. Prior to time frame #1, we see the prologue for our story unfolding, and it is a structure crafted with the elements of anxiety and pure, blind disaster.

Just outside of a coffee shop, Michael spilled his drink on Penny. He spilled his drink on Penny, and as the cup fell from his hands, so too did his future. In a black splattered mess that contrasted Penny’s blouse, Michael set himself walking in small steps and faint noises towards time frame #1 and time frame #2.

Penny’s flaring temper was put off by her burning body. Rather than bite into his flaws, she sunk her teeth into his charm, and held on. She was lonelier and sadder than she would ever know. It was only going to get worse.

 

 

II

 

Time frame #2 is a separate, existing time in Michael’s life. It is set in the near future. While Michael can stand in time frame #2, he can look back at everything he’s done in time frame #1. The tragedy is that when he stands in time frame #1, he is unable catch even the slightest glimpse of what is next to come. This, however, is a story, and we the fortunate readers can see Michael’s life in both frames. While we indulge in the concept of his life as a whole, Michael lives it out in one sharp string of moments. Time frame #1 is Michael’s present time, and yet so is time frame #2.

In time frame #2, we see that Michael struggles to breathe. His very stream of consciousness has been shattered. He sits at his desk with wide, white eyes, and fights to cry out, but is unable to. The fear of knowing has seized his lungs.

In this completely different moment of his life, we see another side of Michael. He is unable to breathe, and unable to believe. The charm has been completely flushed from his frame, and he is now nothing more than a skeleton; a skeleton that cannot yell. His God seems unreal to him, and the angel that he was named after has stopped fighting his battles.

Michael is unable to breathe, and unable to believe. He looks at the objects in the room, but he does not see them. Instead, he sees his life, and what is to become of it now. The reality of that moment has seized his heart. His chest hurts so badly, but he cannot hang onto it with his hands. He is seized by planet Earth, wrapped and tied by a bondage made of all the things that were never supposed to come true .

And then all he knows is noise. His voice paints the walls until he is lost in screams. The only color red pours back into his body, and now he cannot stop screaming. He is unable to stop.

 

 

III

 

In time frame #1, we see that Michael and Penny have been dating for 533 days. Michael checks on this in spare moments for the pure sake of knowing; knowing that he breathed life into something, and that it’s lived for this long. This knowledge is bittersweet; much like their relationship. It is an airplane, fractured and falling, but still in the air. It is a beast, bleeding and limping, and gasping for air. Michael acts as if everything is okay, knowing full well that it is not, but knowing even more that he does not have the ability to fix it.

It’s actually very sad. Penny lives for the thrill of exciting new things, and Michael lives for the security of comfort. The more Penny tries to grab adventure, the more Michael gets left behind. The farther away Penny slips, the more Michael tries to bring her back to what’s safe and sound, to what’s comfortable and secure. It is a dance, and Michael just keeps falling.

Oh, God bless these poor people. Two dark-haired lovers are caught in the clutches of desperation. Michael wants nothing more than to go back to bed with her after the alarm goes off in the morning. Very sadly, Penny wants everything that is more. The constant flood of questions that flow from Michael step on Penny’s toes, and the consistent stream of telling that Penny does takes her steadily away. Michael is falling. The only things keeping him still airborne are his clouds of charm: irresistible and inexplicable.

Poor Penny cannot say exactly what she wants, for she does not know. Her frustration in this leaves her short-tempered and usually barking away at people; particularly the man she says I love you to. But the more she uncovers about her hidden desires, the more inclined she feels to do something new. Their relationship was once a blazing beacon of hope, shining through stormy weather and lonely nights. Now it is simply a nuisance.

Her words are insincere, but the wounds they leave are gaping. The act of tearing into someone doesn’t make her feel better in any way, yet she continues. She’s grown addicted to the petty thrill of doing damage. Little by little, her words are digging backwards, leaving their marks in her as well. It is terribly destructive.

Oh, that poor boy. He’s in love. He’s in love, and he cannot see the ground just waiting to break him. She never says I’m sorry, but he’s in love. He’s in love. That poor boy, he’s in love.

 

 

IV

 

God, please help me, he tries to say, but he is unable to. In time frame #2 we see Michael: the skeleton that cannot breathe, and cannot believe. As he floats down Seventeenth Street, he hits his hands against the steering wheel; first he shoves the wheel with his palms, but by the time he reaches the stoplight, he is banging his fists against it, wailing out to the summer twilight. Michael’s slender and rigid body rattles along with his steering wheel. His jaw is trembling, and all of the loving words and incredible expletives that he would love to speak clatter around in his ribcage before settling in his lungs. His eyes are streaming.

Green light, but he does not notice it. The man has hands that are not even capable of clasping together in prayer. They can hardly manipulate a steering wheel. The man is broken. Were it not for the only other car on any road anywhere honking behind him, he may have never bothered to move again. With the horn in his ears, and his heart in his hands, he advances. He advances all too swiftly down Seventeenth Street. He had no idea. He had no idea.

Within a translucent moment, Michael is bathing in panic. His sweat burns hot, and through spewed breaths of awful air, he can feel a match burning brighter in his chest. Michael’s insides are a burning landscape: dry and empty.

His lips are caught between his teeth.

Our man Michael did not mean to come this way. He was so lost in his violent emotions and turbulent visions that he completely disregarded his path. A hundred orange construction barrels fill his sight, and he swallows his heart. His face feels as though it will fall off, and so he scratches at it in the hopes of saving it. The sun is setting, and in that moment he realizes that he is all alone. The furious endeavor of man to salvage the past and save what is good is entirely fruitless. Horror will best us all. His hands cover one eye, but through his right he can see the tire tracks, and he shrieks against them.

 

 

V

 

In time frame #1, we see Michael who has wonderfully lost his concept of reality. He has lost his concept of the moment. He is absorbed in a world of desperate pleasures, and they are only confirmed by the body next to him, filling the dark space with her words and her silence. His slender body is tripping over trembles, and his lips are parted in a way that calls out for more. His eyes are closed, but he can see clearly the perfection of her face. He is satisfied from the understanding that he has of her face. She must have her brows arched down, but her lips leaning upwards, much like his are. He listens for her breath, and then listens to the air. It’s so cold as it drapes his neck and she slides away from him. Her torso moves from out his hands, and as he loses her in that bed, a gaping space comes between them. He worries that he has lost her completely; that as she slid out and broke the warm atmosphere, a barrier was built between them, and she was lost beyond all hope of humanity.

Her dark head of hair rests stoutly on his forearm. Michael speaks. “Baby?” he calls out to her, and leans in. His words float through valleys and voids to reach her, and by the time she hears them, she feels uncomfortable and unclean all over. “Penny, what’s wrong?” A routine question at this point.

The question stimulates Penny in an awful fashion, making her body tingle all over.

Her response, which has also become routine, crashes and clamors throughout Michael’s ears. She draws her breath in, and he listens, hanging on for dear life to everything he has left. “Nothing, Michael,” she says. “It’s nothing.”

Here in time frame #1, we see Michael in a delusion of subjection that will last him the rest of his life. Here his charm is crushed beneath tons and tons of time and counts for nothing. It is oppressed. His time and his chances have slipped steadily through his fingers, and now it’s all wreckage from here. With false conviction in one hand, and his slipping passion in the other, he makes a bold move. “Penny… I know it’s not nothing.” He is talking slow and thinking quickly, but his mind is not thinking properly. Again, I mention the delusion he is in. “You’ve been staggering away from me for the past months now. I love you, darling. I love you, and yet you refuse to show me your love…”

“Oh please don’t throw that word at me,” she barks at him, now concealing her face and showing him her back. Michael is sorry and amazed at how beautiful it is, and he bites his lips, not knowing what to do next.

“But sweetie, can’t you just tell me what’s bothering you?” His voice sounds unsure, even to his own ears. “Look, you know I’ll try to fix it if you just tell me. I’ll try my best.” She says nothing and shakes her head. “Penny, I… I love you, and I can’t have you doing this to me.”

Here she sits up, turning her head to face him, and leaning it back on the headboard. “You know what, Michael? I can’t have you saying that to me.” She speaks to strike, and there is not the smallest hint of regret in her voice. “I’m really starting to feel like you have absolutely no understanding of that word, love. You’ve spoken it to me so many times now, that it is just an insecure slew of noise falling from your lips.”

“But— “

“Yes, that’s exactly it. The sound falls from your lips. You don’t even speak with enough force to send them into my heart the way you’re supposed to. Instead they fall on the floor, and it is so awkward.”

Michael feels the earthquake that trembles all around him, shaking his room and jarring his thoughts. A mumbled mess of emotions races across his heart, but unfortunately none of them ever make it up to his mind. “Penny, what are you doing?”

“Lovely question, Michael. I would love to ask the same of you.”

Michael notices the make-up that she has across her face, and he can see her freckles showing through. Her face is so typically cute, and yet now it bares the façade of a monster. You fucking monster swishes around in his stomach, but he cannot recognize it.

“What are you doing in this relationship you call romantic? What are you doing with these, your golden years, huh? I would love for you to tell me, Michael, because then maybe you could tell me what the hell I’m doing with mine.” Tears start to swell in her eyes, but as for him, he cannot comprehend the whole thing. While she feels more frustrated than she’s ever felt in her entire life, he feels feverish. He feels confused.

“Why are you doing this?” he whispers, calling out to her in one last hope of salvation. He feels that his lips are parted in a way that calls out for more. More, more, God, more…

She is sobbing when she finally says, “I don’t know,” and she pulls her shirt on. “I don’t know, Michael,” and grabbing her things, she is gone before he can even turn the lights back on.

All our man Michael can do is sit there as reality comes screaming at him. Oh well, Michael. It could be worse. It could be worse. It could be so much worse…

 

 

VI

 

In time frame #1 we see Michael, sitting at his desk and waiting for the phone call. He looks at his hands, but he cannot appreciate them. He stares across the room at his bed, but he cannot appreciate that either. Rather than feel the fortune of his life, he can only feel the swelling of his chest and neck. Rather than operate his hands for the sake of something beautiful, that is, the lyrics of the moment or the music of his body, he can only wrap them around the phone and let minutes slip away as he waits for his awful, awful darling to call him back.

Oh, that he could help to fix things if he walks away right now never bothers to answer when it rings. Our poor man Michael cannot recognize that Penny’s forthcoming perturbation is due, among other things, to the fact that he is waiting. Romantic and stupid, he is losing her. He is losing her…

It rings, and before the first shocking break of noise is through, Michael has jumped on it, like a beast onto its prey.

“Penny?”

“Listen Michael, I can’t talk for long, I’m—” Michael can barely hear through the static of the phone.

“Penny… Penny, what? I can’t—”

“Michael, listen to me.” She is speaking fast. “I’m done with this. Don’t try to call me anymore, and don’t call my family.”

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, spits across his mind in one solid syllable. Fuck! He wants to say. You’re awful! He wants to shout. But instead he tells her only what is crackling and crumbling out of his mouth, and it is worth nothing to their pitiful relationship. “Penny, dear God, don’t leave me. God, God, I— I can fix this.” It means nothing to their old and dying monster, 534 days old. Don’t say it, Michael! Says the army of angels that’s gathered on his shoulder. Don’t say it! But they cannot shout louder than the static of a bad connection. “I love you,” he says and he is not crying, but his hands are buried in his face.

“That’s great. Write a song about it.”

“Penny, where are you?”

“Driving, Michael. Have a nice life,” and that is all she said.

In time frame #1, we see Michael, and he does not know what to do with himself. His healthy heart and hearty lungs are background noise. He takes great gaping breaths of fresh air, but they feel so tastelessly awful. The million pangs of heartache that circle like failing airplanes inside of him make him so very honestly aware of the room that he is sitting in. The room’s bright wallpaper may as well be the greatest expanse of gray ever known to man.

Our man Michael failed, and he is lost in the wedding that will never happen and the veil that he will never lift. This is sad, but it is not a tragedy. In time frame #1, we see Michael, with his hands wrapped anxiously around the receiver of a phone.

 

 

VII

 

In time frame #2, we see Michael, with his hands wrapped around a bouquet of flowers. They are white tulips: Penny’s favorite. As his hands clutch the flowers ever tighter, he walks up a hill, anxiously anticipating the other side of it. Michael raises his arm to smell the flowers. It is the first fluid motion he has performed in a while, for right now he is not distracted by the ugliness of his life. He is interested only in what is still consistent and beautiful. Dropping his arm back at his side, he continues to march up that grassy knoll. Keep walking, Michael. You will overcome this.

 

 

VIII

 

Our lives are stories with a million separate frames of time, and the grass is always greener on the other side. We live like kings today compared to the possibilities of tomorrow, but we will never know that. We will never know the pain of tomorrow until we get there.

There is so much more to space and time and life and existence than we as humans can ever, or will ever understand. This universe is incredible, and even more so when viewed from the third person. The fact that we have life, that we breathe in and are able to recognize the absolute wonder of this place is amazing all on its own. We could be dead. We could be unborn. Instead, we have sunlight and the warm breath of humans. But that is not enough… That is never enough…

Humans have problems that will never be satisfied, and humans have desires that will never be met. We break our bones and we cry out loud. We fall in love and we make bad decisions, and it hurts. It hurts. But we have life.

At the beginning of time frame #2, Michael thinks to himself, what do I do now? That is a question that all of us must answer. We sob, and it hurts. So we can sit there and take it, or we can rise above it.

We live as if we will live forever. We live as if those around us will never die, and we cannot let this happen. We were not created to let time pass us. We were created to run and jump and live and laugh. We have life, and it should be lived in the alertness of waking moments. We have life…

 

In time frame #1 we see Michael, losing hope in the very real sense of the term. The heartache that he feels is in no way horror. He is sad, but he is not terrified, and woe for the man, he is not aware of the tragedy that is to come. Woe for Michael, as he sits in time frame #1.

The phone rings again, and he chooses it in nervous excitement.

“Penny?” he asks, but all he can hear is noise noise noise.

“Car crash! Car crash!” and the impact of panic slams against him.

“What? Who is this?!”

“Oh God, Michael! Oh God!” It is Cheryl, Penny’s younger sister, and there is just not enough solace beneath his eyelids.

“Cheryl, what the hell is going on?!” he cries into his receiver.

“It’s Penny…” Her voice cocks back, ready to blow. “Michael, she’s not moving! I can see her arms, and she’s just not moving…”

“Cheryl, I—I just talked to her.”

“I was with her,” she wails out over cracking sobs. “We were on our way to our parent’s house and we were cut off by a semi-truck. She swerved into construction—,”

“Oh God…” Michael whispers, looking down.

“Michael, she wasn’t wearing her seatbelt!” she screams, and then is lost in violent sobs.

He has nothing to say. He has nothing to say. He has no one. “Cheryl, where are you?”

She takes a deep breath, and then delivers her line from the confines of her excitement. “Seventeenth Street. Hurry,” and then she hangs up. She cuts Michael off, and leaves him to dry in the daunting silence of the moment.

Enter time frame #2.


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