By Julia Bruce
William Timely thrived on order and predictability. He woke at 6:35 every morning, finished his one eight-ounce cup of coffee by 7:15, and walked 1.37 miles in Granby Park. He grocery shopped on Mondays, dropped off his dry cleaning on Tuesdays and visited his barber on the last Saturday of every month. He liked rules, due dates, and items on his calendar.
William was a pilot for DRN, a national package delivery-service. The preciseness of arrival times and departures agreed with him. Information from the cockpit gages and monitors contributed to his sense of control. When he was in the cockpit, a blanket of calm enveloped him.
One morning, after dropping off packages at a distribution warehouse, William was flying back home. He checked his watch, 8:41, right on time.
As he hit cruising altitude, the plane lurched.
William’s stomach heaved with plane’s movement. He had double-checked four different weather apps on his phone. All had predicted clear skies, but a storm front was rolling in fast.
Then the controls on his dashboard went dark. He glanced again at his watch – it wasn’t working either. It simply blinked 00:00. Damp patches darkened the armpits of his canvas flight suit.
William’s mind went blank with panic. He focused on the four-seven-eight breathing technique his therapist had taught him. Breathe in for four. Hold for seven. Out for eight.
He remembered the mnemonic device his flight school instructor had taught him: A-B-C-D-E. A was for airspeed. William adjusted the pitch. B stood for best place to land. William scanned the ground. He spotted what looked like a cow field a couple of miles in the distance. C was for checklist. William liked checklists. He made sure the fuel shutoff valve was on and the throttle set to full. D meant declare but his transponder wasn’t working. Which left him with E. Execute field landing and exit. The ground rose quickly, and the Cessna plowed into the soft earth. William exhaled and popped open the cockpit window.
He was alive, his plane seemingly in one piece.
Sunlight backlit a face that appeared.
“Are you okay?” The face said.
A hand with delicate fingers extended through the window. As a rule, William didn’t touch other people’s hands, ever since reading that article in Health Magazine about the surprising number of germs found on a person’s fingers, but he couldn’t extricate himself on his own. He clasped the stranger’s hand which was surprisingly strong. William found himself standing beside the plane with a petite woman with unruly blond curls.
“Where am I?” William said.
“You’ve landed in the city of Rienprevue. I’m Felicia,” she extended the same dainty hand.
William paused before shaking it but reasoned that he had already touched her, so any damage was already done.
“I’m William,” William replied, as he discreetly wiped his hand on his pant leg. “I’ve never heard of this place. It’s not on my map.”
“After the 2020 pandemic,” Felicia went on to explain, “a bunch of us realized we liked the slower pace of life enforced on the world. We came together to live in Rienprevue, which literally translates into ‘nothing planned.’ We don’t follow any set schedules. Everything is done at our own pace. You can only arrive here through a special portal that’s only open 24 hours every fourth full moon.”
William was having a hard time processing all of this. Not the special portal part. He watched plenty of PBS space documentaries, so he knew about black holes and time-space continuums. But no schedules? Who could possibly live like that?
“Would you care for some dinner?” she asked, as she walked away from the plane.
Without his watch, William wasn’t sure, but figured it to be around 9:30 in the morning.
“Don’t you mean breakfast?”
“Here in Reinprevue, we eat whatever meal we want, whenever we want,” Felicia said.
They strolled through a lush meadow, passing several other people. No one seemed to be in a hurry. They came upon a small cottage. Felicia served a hearty stew, which William quite enjoyed despite the fact that the meat and vegetables were touching.
When they finished, they meandered to a small babbling brook behind the cottage. Felicia removed her shoes and waded into the water. William hesitated but eventually joined her. The icy water was shockingly cold, but his feet soon acclimated. As they navigated the slippery river rocks, Felicia lost her footing. William grabbed her elbow to steady her before she fell. He let his hand linger for a moment before withdrawing it.
Afterwards, they lay on a blanket and watched the clouds drift by. William explained the difference between an altimeter and an airspeed indicator. No one had ever listened to him with such attentiveness.
As the afternoon wore on, the two drifted off to sleep. When William awoke, Felicia’s head was resting on his shoulder, her tangled blond curls tickling his ear. The warmth of her body next to his was pleasant. He couldn’t remember the last time someone was this close in proximity to him. Felicia opened her eyes and gazed up at him. She inclined her head and gently brushed her lips against his.
William’s heart skittered but not the way it did when an appointment was cancelled or when a closed road forced a detour. No, this tingly shot of adrenaline made William feel taller and stronger than he ever had.
“I’ve never felt like this before,” William whispered to Felicia.
“You could stay in Rienprevue,” Felicia said. “We could drift through the days together.”
The serenity surrounding him evaporated. William’s chest tightened and he struggled to take a deep breath.
“You need to decide before days’ end,” Felicia went on to explain. “Once the sun goes down, you won’t be able to return to your former life.”
The sky through the trees was now streaked with orange and pink. Felicia handed William a stone from the river’s edge. It was smooth except for one small fissure. He turned the rock over and over in his hand. He wanted to stay but tomorrow was Wednesday, he watered his plants on Wednesdays.
He gave Felicia’s hand the gentliest of squeezes.
He didn’t know how to convey to Felicia that time schedules and order were the only things that kept him from feeling like everything was spinning out of control. If he knew what was going to happen each minute of each hour of each day, there wouldn’t be any surprises. Surprises caused chaos. William couldn’t risk the chance of chaos.
He dropped her hand.
“I….I can’t,” he stuttered.
Felicia placed one last kiss on his lips. He closed his eyes, savoring the moment.
When William opened his eyes, he was snugly tucked under his 600-thread count sheets. He was startled to see that the bedside clock read 7:30. He stumbled past his windowsill plants and headed to the kitchen. There was a rock on the counter. He picked it up. It was warm in his hand. William felt something inside him soften.
After a second cup of coffee, he walked his usual 1.37 miles in Granby Park. As he left the park, he looked at his wrist to check the time, but realized it still wasn’t working. William felt his pulse quicken, but only slightly. He inhaled for four. Held for seven. Out for eight. He paused on the sidewalk and then headed in the opposite direction of home. It was Wednesday, but he had grocery shopping to do.
* * *
Julia Bruce lives in Ridgefield, CT with her husband, two children and one-eyed rescue dog. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Tiny Love Stories, Herstry, and Potato Soup Journal.