The sound of a distant lawnmower woke him. He stretched as he untangled himself from the couch where he’d fallen asleep. A glance at his watch revealed it was well past noon.
Shaking the cobwebs from his brain, he sensed something was off—but what? Everything looked just as it always had. Even his favorite chair was where it should be, along with the coffee table he almost tripped over when he stood up. But it was different, and he couldn’t figure out why.
Jason Kline inherited the small three-bedroom house from his parents, who bought it new seven years after his father had returned from the war. Many families moved into the neighborhood at the same time his parents did. Jason and his brother had lived since he was ten and Jeremy, seven years old. He knew everyone in the neighborhood.
Jason walked into the kitchen to get coffee and noticed the kitchen wall next to the hallway. It took him a second to realize what was missing and when he did, his heart raced. The marks were gone. As they grew up, their parents had marked their height on that wall. The marks, left as a fond memory, were gone and appeared freshly painted.
He muttered, “What the hell?” Jason went from room to room, tamping down panic, as he noted familiar items of his were missing and the antiques inherited from his family looked brand new. He needed air and fled out the front door, stopping in his tracks.
The porch swing hung from a rafter as it always had, but the chains were shiny, the white paint pristine, not worn as it should be. He stood still, listening to the sounds from the neighborhood—the laughter of small children, the sound of an old lawnmower, and barking dogs, not the sounds of his neighborhood where everyone was retired.
His breathing came in shallow gasps as he turned toward the street. Instead of a neat row of seventy-year-old plus maple and oak trees shading a row of postwar cottages, he found the same houses with fresh paint, newly sowed lawns, and sapling trees staked for support.
The lawn he mowed yesterday was now a patchwork of grass and dirt. The smell of freshly cut lumber mixed with new construction sounds and the rumble of antique trucks passing by. Jason grabbed the arm of the swing and sat before he collapsed. This was the same house—just a younger version of it.
Across the street, children around five or six years old played in the yard. They were familiar, Julie and Tommy Burns. He had known them all his life. Two houses down, Mr. Rigby, looking no older than twenty-five, was mowing his yard. He had moved in before his family did, and his yard had grown lush. The sounds of hammers and men yelling drifted from down the street. A house he knew would fill with more friends.
He closed his eyes, repeatedly muttering, “Think. Think,” and tried to remember what he had done this morning before waking up and finding himself in his private twilight zone.
Jason Kline’s routine rarely varied. He woke up at precisely seven am, and by seven-thirty, he had gotten dressed and had a light breakfast and coffee. He would go for a walk at exactly eight am, turning right onto the sidewalk in his usual route. Jason ventured down the porch steps and looked to his right. Most mornings, Linda Clay was always on her porch picking up the morning paper. She’d wave, and he would half-heartedly wave back. Linda’s house was there, but it lacked the flower garden she had tended for all those years. The bare wood picket fence looked stark against the grass trying to grow next to the newly poured concrete sidewalk. Jason found himself looking at the sidewalk as he walked down the street. Freshly poured and barely dry, the neat lines separating the blocks still showed trowel marks.
He stopped next to a maple tree, touched the trunk, then encircled the trunk with his fingers. He shouldn’t be able to wrap his arms around this tree. The cement block that anchored the sapling was pristine, but he knew years later that the abandoned block would exist as chunks of concrete nearly buried in the ground.
Jason looked down the street toward the house under construction—Lewis’s home. In a few years, he would meet them when he attended a neighborhood picnic and fell in love with their daughter April.
Jason turned to face his house. It was the same but different. His parents moved into the house as newlyweds, raised him and his brother, and lived there until both died.
He turned and went back into the house. Nothing felt right. He wandered around the house until he passed a bookcase and spotted the family photo albums. Maybe they could shed some light on his predicament.
He returned to the living room, where he noticed the large flat=screen TV was gone and in its place a large old-fashioned radio. What else? He laid the albums on the coffee table, sank onto the couch, and opened the top album.
For an hour, he flipped through the pages of the photo albums. Some pictures he remembered seeing all his life, but photos from most of his life were missing. He found a photo of the street and yard, taken from the front porch. Rushing outside, he compared the photo to the view in front of him. It was the same. The photo was dated April, the year he was ten years old.
A chill rand down his spine. What was going on? Why was his world suddenly back in nineteen fifty-two? Jason heard a noise behind him. Turning, he recognized a much younger version of Linda Clay, no more than twenty-one, walking up the street with a basket of flowers.
“Jay-Jay, why aren’t you at school? “
No one had called Jason “Jay-Jay” since he was a little kid. He shared his name with his father, and he was called Jay-Jay as a kid.
Linda came up to him and handed him a bunch of flowers. “Give there to your mother, then go to school.”
Jason watched her walk down the sidewalk. He looked at his hands holding his mother’s favorite flowers, bluebells. They were the hands of an adult, yet Linda reacted to him as if he were ten-year-old Jay-Jay.
What was going on?
Shaking, he returned inside and shut the door behind him. He leaned against the door and closed his eyes, hoping that his world would return to normal when he opened them. The sound of construction filtered thru the windows. He opened his eyes, but nothing had changed.
The flowers weighed heavy in his hand as he remembered how his mother’s face lit up when he brought her flowers. He sighed and went to the kitchen to put the flowers in a vase. He sat the vase on the windowsill, overlooking the backyard. He saw the swing set he and his brother played on and he went outside.
Jason was unsure how much time passed as he sat on the swing—a brand new set. His mom and dad loved to sit in the swing on the front step talking to neighbors as they passed by, but he and Jeremy loved their red swing set, especially the slide.
He tried to understand what he was experiencing, but he couldn’t get his head around any of it. The Linda he’d just talked to was not the Linda he’d seen yesterday on his morning walk. This Linda was young, pretty, slender, not old, wrinkled, and slightly plump.
He saw his image in the bathroom mirror when he wandered through the house. He was the same slightly bald man in his late sixties, not the skinny kid Linda saw. She was young again, but he wasn’t. Why? Did he look like a ten-year-old to everyone else? Was everyone else young again? Were the kids playing across the street the kids he grew up with? If they were young, why didn’t he look young to himself? Was everyone in the neighborhood experiencing what he was?
Hungry, he returned inside and rummaged in the retro looing refrigerator for food. While nothing about his morning was funny, he laughed when he saw a package of bologna—his Dad’s favorite. He made a bologna sandwich and sat at the kitchen table, thinking about what could have triggered this.
He finished his sandwich, put his plate in the sink, and went into the living room. He sat down on the couch where he had awoken to this nightmare. He needed to retrace his steps from the morning.
Everything was blank. He could only remember waking up from a nap on the couch. He picked up a photo album and leafed through it. He remembered something familiar in a photo but what. He searched through the albums as tension rose in him. What had he seen?
Then Jason found the photo—a photo of his father. On his father’s wrist was the gold wristwatch that he wore today. He looked at his wrist. The watch wasn’t there.
He slammed his hand against his forehead. Remember, remember.
The watch… he took it off just before he laid down. The coffee table, he’d put it on the coffee table. Pushing the albums out of the way, he saw it. It looked brand new, shiny, not the patina of old gold that was the watch he wore every day.
Jason picked the watch up and racked his brain, trying to think what he had done. He had unfastened the watch and slipped it from his wrist. Then what? He wound it. It hadn’t been keeping good time, so he wound it. He remembered something his father once told him. Sometimes time had to reset itself. He never paid any attention to that phrase, but somehow, someway, time had reset itself to nineteen-fifty-two.
He stared at the watch. Maybe if he tried to wind the stem the opposite way, he would return himself to his time. His fingertips turned the stem in the opposite direction as he heard the front door open.
Jason looked up to see his father walking into the house. His heart skipped a beat. It had been years since he had seen his father.
“Hi, Jay-Jay.” His father smiled, and as he tossed his hat onto the couch, the room faded.
The late afternoon sun filtered through the large living room window as Jason woke. Disoriented, he sat upright. What a nightmare, he had been ten again, and the house was different. His father—he’d seen his father.
Then he realized it was holding something, a watch.
His father’s watch—a shiny gold watch.