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Issue number eight




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Simultaneity by Gordon Ross Lanser


t starts without suspicion: a clock falls on Lazarus Smith's head; the clock breaks and its gears tinkle against the concrete, ringing like a thousand chimes, and the gears tumble in perfectly concentric circles around Lazarus, who is otherwise okay. He proceeds home, without witnessing a tragedy, paces anxiously for three hours for mental exercise, then goes to bed. Lazarus has a dreadful night’s sleep. He tosses fitfully and wakes repeatedly, his heart pounding, worrying about falling behind a schedule someone else made for a manager in a different company. At three in the morning, a distant bell sounds, and he falls into a deep, restful sleep.

When Lazarus Smith awakens, he is acutely aware of all that is around him. A fly buzzes and lands on his arm; somewhere a hawk spins slow wind-blown spirals over a ridge; a trout jumps in a lake; a little boy crawls out of bed, one-eyed teddy bear in tow. There is symmetry, precision, and mechanical delight to everything, notes Lazarus, and it is good. A giraffe bounds forward in an awkward slow-motion gallop; three boys play baseball in a field sprinkled with weeds and aluminum cans; a woman eases into a perfumed bath in a house on a hillside overlooking a beach near Cannes. Lazarus, not without his prurient interests, shuts his eyes and watches intently.

A woman bends over her son, who has discarded his teddy bear but is still wearing his Dalmatian-spotted pajamas, and shows him a light bulb.

"See the little wires?" she asks.


"They make what's called, 'the element.' And they aren't connected -- the element's broken."

"It's broken?"

"It's burned out, dead."

Three pink-orange tulip petals break loose, drop from the tulips to the shelf that holds the clear glass vase. A thrush falls silent in Maine. Lazarus, eyes still closed, smiles radiantly.

The woman drops the darkened bulb into the garbage, and closes the door to the cabinet under the sink. An orange cat stirs in an alley in Paris. In a lake in Montana, a trout bites into a worm, is hooked. A sailboat leans in the wind off of Key West, white sail full and taut, salt water spraying up over the bow and rolling alongside the lower rail. Lazarus feels the warm shower water, but does not remember going to the shower. His eyes are still closed.

The boy pushes his chair toward the pantry.

"No cookies now honey, breakfast first."

The phone rings in the villa in France, but the naked woman in the tub ignores it. An investment banker in London picks up his phone, and waits, his fist clenched, for his contact to declare his firm ready to make a deal.

Lazarus hears the scratch of pen on paper, feels a tickle on his back. A crossing guard in Des Moines lowers, red lights flashing. A bird whistles in the woods in Central Park, and two Japanese tourists cock their heads and listen, hearing a speech from the emperor ringing among the trees. A frog in Vancouver, B.C., snaps its tongue at a fly in Panama. A Hindu Yogi, wearing only a perfectly white loincloth, stands with one leg wrapped behind his ear, listening to everything Lazarus can see.

"Can I play downstairs, mommy?"

"Yes, honey. Are you going to play with your train set?"

"Well, I want to."

It continues without musical accompaniment: a railroad bridge near the Hiram Chittendon Locks in Seattle lowers, clangs shut, and high-masted sailboats circle and wait in Boston harbor. A hyena paces in her cage, moments before feeding time; a maniac stalks the streets of Sydney, Australia. George and Tony trade scrounged cigarettes, waiting in line outside the Union Gospel soup kitchen in the rain.

The little boy snaps two wooden tracks together, links them to an arch. He imagines himself rolling in his little blue train over distant lands. In Manhattan, cleanup continues; in Hong Kong, the skeleton of a skyscraper is fixed, and workers dangle precipitously. The sun whirls overhead: morning, mid-day, afternoon, early evening. Dad comes home, goes downstairs.

"That's quite a train track," he says.

An art critic appreciates a painting in the Dolby Chadwick Gallery in San Francisco. A soldier kisses a tarmac. A priest kneels before the altar at St. Peter's. A Russian mathematician cites his proof for the existence of everything (in a closet) (in Norway).

"Daddy!" The father and son embrace. Two players in red jerseys embrace on a pitch in Spain, celebrating a goal. A fern in the Redwoods National Forest feels a deer brush past.

The father heads upstairs. A mountaineer sucks oxygen, takes a step forward on an icy slope. A wave crashes and breaks, washes over a driftwood-littered Oregon beach. A youth in Kenya runs hard, a blazing sun chasing him across the field; it catches him, and he evaporates.

The father walks into the kitchen. His eyes meet his wife’s eyes. Two peasants in China fall in love. A poet awakens, the moon sets, and brilliant stars decorate the sky over Argentina.

Lazarus Smith opens his eyes, smiles peacefully and goes to work. He works furiously and puts his project back on schedule. When he comes home, he realizes he's been married for ten years and has three children. Last night, when he went to bed, he was single and twenty-four. Something must have happened, but he can't remember any of it. A bird whistles in the woods in Central Park, and Lazarus hears it, and sits at his piano, never having taken lessons, and plays the etudes by Chopin. In Santa Cruz, California, two scientists compare formulas, and decide to announce they've discovered another planet in another solar system. The Russian mathematician proves that yesterday Walt Whitman's body completely decomposed and that the atoms now actually do belong to all of us, as the man had promised. He quits writing his theorem, leaves the closet, and stares out the window at the stars. A Portuguese poet living in Brazil writes The Song of Ourselves, and a coyote howls near Monterey, Mexico.

This night, Lazarus slips into bed, and stares at his wife. He cannot remember getting married, but is not unhappy. He continues reflecting on his non-existent past, burning each moment uselessly. He sleeps fitfully again, until three in the morning, when the bell rings in a little hill village in Italy named Civita. Lazarus then falls peacefully asleep, wondering, as an exhausted child might, what new excitements and revelations tomorrow will bring.

It ends without fanfare: Lazarus wakes up, forgets the prior day’s events, and prepares to live mistakes and successes similar to those he created during the ten years he lived yesterday. A bird whistles in Central Park, and no one, not even the Yogi, hears it. The Russian mathematician proves that everything happens instantaneously at the speed of light, and that an old man, awaiting his turn at Bocci ball, blinked, and missed the passing of the Universe. Lazarus slurps his coffee. A magic bean is crushed in a coffee grinder in Florence, and an underpaid clerk, realizing the mistake, decides to say nothing.

Gordon Ross Lanser has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy, and a Master's in Business Administration. An award winning essayist and published poet, he works as a software project manager. He has lived in Seattle since 1994. His short story, "The Closet," appeared in Issue #5 of The Cafe Irreal.

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