One Day—More or Less
“May you live in interesting times,” is an evocative statement, but not, as assumed by some, based on a Chinese curse. It could be a curse, or an opportunity. For me, my time, the twenty-first century, is often a bit too interesting.
Like today. Problems at work. An unexpected lecture that disrupted class time. Hectic traffic snarl coming home. And that telephone call. Too much. I need a break. Maybe skip my karate class and take a nap.
No. That’s cop-out.
I’ve had the family stone for a week and not yet taken it out of the coffer. Of course I’d heard about it from my grandpa, my aunt, but somehow, never expected it would ever come to me. I really should take it for a trial spin. One day seems about right.
To live one day in the past. An entire day, an entire year if I so desired—with only a few seconds passing in this year while I’m seated in my chair with my hands cupped around the smooth hunk of rock. Yes, I can do it. A year with no war. Let’s say, two years after the end of World War II—things should be back to normal by then.
The stone is black, about the size of a goose egg, or a turkey egg, I suppose, but not so round. Somewhat like a teardrop. I sit inside my locked room, holding the stone in my cupped hands, fingers overlapped, keeping the stone completely enclosed. I close my eyes and envision a new time and space. I whisper the words.
“A history teacher named Anna,” (for that is my name and occupation—a requirement for this process), “in the United States, third week of September.” (School should be comfortably under way by then). “Wednesday. Just as school starts for the day. The year—1947.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
My name is Anna Deming. My school is Mount Baker, Junior Senior High School. The two-story brick building holds all the classes, and even the gym and auditorium. Fall coolness hadn’t yet arrived. Pansies surround the concrete mountain in front of the building. The white paint depicting the snow is a bit dingy. I enter the front door and head for my first class.
Shirley nudges my shoulder. “Rose, he’s in our first period history class today.”Oh, yes, Anna ROSE Deming. But wait! Something is wrong here. “What?”
“Wake up, Rose. Didn’t you get enough sleep last night? I bet you’ve got your history project half done already. Or, were you just awake pining for your true love? Mike. I mean, dream boat. Roger is in our class, so Mike will be too.”
“How long do you think he’ll stay around?” Oh, no. I listen to myself utter those words and I absolutely know. I’m not the teacher. Kill me now, I’m a student. High school student, with all the teen-age angst and emotions of a run-away train. I definitely said teacher!
“He’s not going to take you.”
I know that, I really do. But, he’s… “We exchanged addresses.”
“The F.B.I. will pick him up and take him back to his ship.”
I shudder. It’s unthinkable. “And they’ll put him in jail. Take him back home and put him in a Russian jail.”
But not today. It’s ideal. He’s in my favorite class, European history. I am completely wigged out. I settle in my seat and look around. Mike is in a vacant seat in the back. Really, I should say something to him.
The bell hasn’t rung yet, so I float back, pick up a book from the shelf behind him.
“Hey, Mike,” I say. “How’s tricks?”
“Hello, Rose,” he says. “What is tricks?
His accent is just darling. I grin. “Oh, nothing, really, just something to say. What’s happening? How are you?” I whisper, “It really means I like to talk to you. About anything”
OMG! A whole day of this. How will I ever survive?
Before he can answer, the bell rings and I scurry back to my seat. Miss Henry doesn’t start with the lesson she has listed on the black board. Instead, she says, “Class, we have a new student today. His name is Mike, but, Mike, you didn’t tell me your last name.”
We all turn to look toward the back, and I can tell. He doesn’t completely understand her. I also know that she’s out to catch him. They all are, I bet. Don’t tell her, I think. But Roger says, “He’s only visiting me this week, so you don’t need to sign him up as a student.”
As much as I love this class, Miss Henry makes me almost hate her. She keeps asking Mike questions, and talking about which countries our families come from.
He gets a little excited, trying to answer. She won’t let Roger say anything, but finally, she says, “Mike, welcome to our class for today. Now, students, open your books.”
Everybody calms down. But I know something else for absolutely sure. Mike won’t ask me to the mixer Friday night. He won’t be here. Mike will disappear tonight.
Why didn’t I just suit up and head for an evening of breaking boards with my flat hand and kicking chins?
My best chance to see any more of Mike is at lunch. I look for him as I cruise the line, but I don’t see him. Instead, Roger pulls me over to stand in front of him. “Hey, eat with me today, Rose,” he says. I shrug and start to walk away, but he murmurs, “Saving Mike.”
I look at him, perplexed, but he nods, ever so slightly. I slip in line.
He doesn’t say much more until we are seated with our plate of the day: Macaroni and cheese, plus carrot sticks, a cookie, and a glass of milk. We’re at a table away from any teachers. After we sit down, he looks around again before he says,“Do you have your drivers’ license?”
I nod and he tells me the story. “Some girl in the office running the mimeograph for her teacher heard the principal calling the F.B.I. Mike has to get away right away, but they are watching us whenever we get together.”
Yeah, that’s right. Roger passes me his car keys, and gives me the scoop. I’ll drive Mike away while the teachers are figuring he can’t get away without Roger. Mike will tell me where he needs to go after we’re away from the school.
“Head toward Bellingham,” he says.
For sure, I wouldn’t head the other way. Nothing that way but the mountain.
Where the heck am I? Bellingham? A mountain. Wait, the school name: Mount Baker. Where is that? Ah, yes, west coast. North. Washington. The state, not the U. S. capitol.
Ten, maybe fifteen minutes until classes start. I don’t take my sweater, or even my purse as I wander outside with a lot of the kids. I see Mike. He’s wandering too, close to Roger’s car. I stroll by him, stop.
“Hey, Mike,” I say. No teachers are close. I grin like I’m just tossing off some nonsense, but I say, really quietly, “I have Roger’s key. He says the door is unlocked.” I’m not sure he understands me, so I ask. He nods. “Get close. Wait until I’m near the other door before you get in the car, dig?”
He grins too. “I dig.”
So we do it. It works. I pull out slow so I’m not revving up the engine. But how long will it be before they get the F.B.I. after us? Or, maybe just the State Patrol?
After ten minutes, Mike tells me were to head. “Peace Arch,” he says.
“Peace Arch, at Blaine?”
“Yes, Peace Arch.”
“You want to go to Canada?” I can’t drive into Canada. Or can I?
“No, I meet man. Peace Arch Park.”
I didn’t think I was signing onto an international tour. Why did I end up on what has to be the most unusual day for this girl who is not a school teacher. If I ever get back home, I’ll have to ask a few more questions about the family stone. Meanwhile, I’m a captive audience while Anna Rose drives for a while, then parks at a lovely place, gardens with a huge white arch. I see the words on one side, “Children of a common mother.”
“I see man here.” Mike pulls a folded paper of paper out of his pocket. “He wear sign.”
“Like that?” I ask, pointing to a strange curving symbol of some kind. “Red, like that?”
“Da. I give paper.”
I wonder why, but Mike doesn’t know enough words to explain.
“No with you.”
I’m not sure what that means, either, but I say, “I’ll look for him over there. Okay?”
Mike walks away and I wonder if I’ll ever see him again. But I look around for someone with that curious symbol. Or a sign. There are at least a bus load of people at the park. I know you can wander around on both sides of the border with Canada, but you have to leave by the same door you used when you came into the park.
That makes me feel a lot better. Mike won’t leave the United States. He’ll just see someone and give them whatever he has.
I see Mike talking to a man, so I walk over that way. But I think he is supposed to be alone, so I just pass by and walk to the other side of the Peach Arch. I still hear them.
“This is not the right thing,” the man says. “Where’s the money pack.”
“What is ‘money pack’ you say.”
“Don’t play dumb with me. If Rolf gave you my name, he gave you the money pack. That’s the deal.”
I sneak a peak. Mike shakes his head. But I see something else. The man has a knife. He’s holding it in front of Mike’s face. He says, “I can kill silently and walk away. Give me the money pack.”
I charge around the corner. “Hey, hi, there,” I say.
The guy slashes at Mike, then at me. I want to scream, make somebody stop him. But, there’s no one around. The bus full of people is gone. It’s just me and Mike and a man with a knife. I say, “Oh, we were just going, weren’t we Mike? Bye now.”
He grabs my wrist.
Wrong move, buster. I know the moves to disarm an alley cat. I flip my arm, kick him in the groin, then give his knife arm a chop that crunches bones. He yells, and I grab Mike’s hand and we run for the door to the U.S. side. We run to the car, get in and lock the doors.
“What you do?” Mike asks me.
I’m shaking and crying. “I don’t know. I don’t know.” And I don’t. Just, suddenly, I seemed to know what to do, just did it.
“Rolf say a man help me. He wrong.”
Come on, Rose. Get with it. Start thinking.
“Bad men,” I say. And I start thinking. That Rolf—if there was a money pack, he kept it. He set up Mike, sent him into a trap.“Do you still have that paper?” I ask.
Almost time for school to be over. If we go back, the F.B.I. will arrest Mike, and… And what?
“This is going to sound strange, but I think the best thing you could do is go to the F.B.I. first. Tell them your story. Help them catch the bad men.”
“They send me back to Russia.”
“It’s only another country. I’ll find you. If you want to be found, I mean.”
Mike is nervous like a cat. Maybe he wants to run, to disappear. We talk, and after a while, I head back for the school. The F.B.I. won’t be in Bellingham, they’ll be back at school. Mike isn’t completely sure it’s for the best, but he says I’m Wonder Woman like in the comic books. So I must be right.
I hope my bus hasn’t left yet.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I open my eyes. The stone is still clasped in my hands. One day. One day is gone? Just a few seconds on my watch.
Let’s see, a history teacher named Anna was a student named Anna Rose. My day ended in the middle of the afternoon. A school day! Definitely—the day started at school and ended when the buses arrived to take the students home. But I need to research the family records for everything on this blasted stone and how to be precise in my directions. Or, if I can be precise.
Before I head out for my karate class (better not miss that) I check the internet. Look up names of history teachers. Anna Rose Deming. I find her. Anna Deming, Professor of European history, specializing in Russia.
If I hadn’t been there with my karate moves, would she and Mike have survived?
I wonder, did she find Mike?
It isn’t until after the karate class that I think of another question. What if the guy with the knife had killed Mike. And, killed Rose? Or, how long would my dead body have sat in my locked room?
Yep, gotta ask more questions about the family stone.