Time’s arrow


Every story needs an arc, a trajectory. Here’s one—Elliot Greenleaf steps off a concrete ledge and begins to accelerate towards the pavement 200 meters below. He looks down and the street is rushing up at him like a lion. This gives Elliot vertigo and his feet curl and cramp with worry so he turns away and looks across to a building on his left. It’s clad in a coppery reflective finish and the windows are deep green. He can see the people inside moving about like they’re underwater. He peers in at one of the floors and there’s a room full of suits all looking at Dianne—Dianne in that flaming red dress. She’s standing at the window holding a piece of paper up to the glass. Their eyes meet as he passes. On the paper he reads Time’s Arrow.

+ 5 seconds
Dianne turns back to the meeting. Holding the remote in her hand she starts clicking and speaking again. The projector glows and growth histograms, actuarial tables, population pyramids appear on the screen. She doubts anyone noticed.
‘Excuse me,’ says one of the bright young things from executive development. His attention hadn’t been where it was supposed to be. ‘Wasn’t that…? Didn’t I just…?’
‘Yes?’ she replies archly, invoking the pressures to conform and ignore the improbable, the impossible. ‘Mr er…Vincent?’ She holds his stare like a falcon to a field-mouse.
The moment passes. ‘Could you go back a slide. I missed—’
The raptor releases him. ‘The complete presentation is in your folders but if I could quickly summarise, this proposal will significantly reduce your exposure…’

twenty-seven years earlier
All her father had required was one son to follow him into his vocation. Upon delivery of Dianne, his third daughter, he divorced his wife, left the family home and took her with him to raise as he chose. By the time she had reached school age he had instilled in her the skills and the earnest conviction necessary to sell insurance successfully. In her early teens, while learning actuarial tables and risk overlays, she began to show a wilful single-mindedness independent of anything he had taught her. He felt like a miner who had chipped away the capstone to uncover a gleaming nugget, and now, fascinated, couldn’t take his eyes from it. Dianne not only wanted to follow in his footsteps, she would certainly surpass him. As she matured he became amazed and in the end slightly horrified at her ruthless determination.

Elliot: was their only child. From the outset his parents offered him a tepid kind of unconditional approval. They weren’t passionate about much: life was something to be endured and enduring was made bearable through neatness and good manners and by avoiding angry loud coming-home-late-and-banging-abouts. During Elliot’s adolescence he would rail at them, slamming doors, crashing the car, even petty crime; anything to provoke…anything. This accelerated as he grew older, with blades and amphetamines and hallucinations until eventually, they had to admit him to a psychiatric hospital where he spent too many years out of his head on heavy-duty tranquillisers, shuffling about the wards in a tattered dressing-gown.


The terminal velocity of a falling human being with arms and legs outstretched is about 200 km per hour. Given it will take Elliot around 10 seconds either to reach this velocity or mash into the sidewalk, there’s still plenty of time to tell how they met.

They met suddenly and by accident.

last Friday night, after the storm
A low in the Tasman had pushed inland and in 10 minutes dumped half a metre of rain on the city. Autumn leaves, plastic bags and lost shoes blocked the drains and by now all the hollows and dips, including the one outside Anime the comic store at the bottom of Red Avenue, have become pools and lakes.

Careless, a white Renault is speeding down Red Avenue. Inside the car they’re talking on the phone, they’re going much too fast, they’ve never been here before and they’re arguing, they’re looking at maps and taking their eyes off the road, maybe they’ve been drinking or taking drugs and they’re way over the limit. The maybes don’t matter because right now their car will plunge into water a metre deep and send up a huge icy spray.

Elliot steps from inside the store, a bundle of the latest Time’s Arrow zines pushed inside his jacket. He’s a little off balance and doesn’t notice Dianne hurrying past, her red dress is  blotchy with the rain. But she sees the car rush headlong into the water, she sees what’s coming.

They were swept away.

Dianne backs into him. He stumbles forward pushing her back into the wave’s path, touching her arm. The wall of water drenches her and she is instantly chilled except for his hand on her forearm—a warm island in a sea of now iced flesh: a contrast so sharp, so sudden it aches.

Dianne’s body is a shield but all the air that surrounded her has been relocated and Elliot is immersed in her: he inhales frangipani and tuber roses and a salty sweaty scent from her scalp; he breathes a musty office and tired air-conditioning, xylenes and polyphenols, a hint of onion on her breath covered by peppermints, the creamy waxy smell of her lipstick.

Then her head comes back and cracks him on the nose, so now he tastes iron and blood and yelps in pain.

This entire balletic movement takes only a second, maybe two, yet it foreshadows and encompasses their whole relationship—sensual, erotic, intimate, painful and bloody. Indeed, it is so complete that hardly anything else is needed; except perhaps for the last few seconds.

5 seconds
It’s all her fault. He wouldn’t be here but for her. But that’s not true. It’s no-one’s fault. It’s the chemicals. His poor little sultana of a brain has been marinated too long in distorting disaggregating chemicals; he can still taste them bitter on his tongue—noradrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, adenose, Thorazine, Stelazine.

He looks around the roof—birdshit, the desiccated corpse of a rodent and in one corner a tuft of colonising weeds. And there, a tough little daisy bobbing in the morning light its taproot down deep in the seam of the concrete, inching between, finding water, relentless, indomitable. Yes, just like him. He feels it now—ruthless, steely, a man of steel. Workers inside the building are gawping and the security guards are working frantically at the door but they’re too late. The power is surging through him, certain and emphatic like joy. He turns into the wind and steps…

last Saturday morning
Elliot is happy. He’s lying on the mattress on the floor up against the wall and Dianne is  next to him. For the past half-hour he’s been watching a square of brilliance climb slowly up one wall, blessing the familiar crap of his kitchen with an intense yellow fire.

Now she’s awake and saying: ‘You know when you have a falling dream? Well if you ever hit the ground you’ll die—your mind will be so convinced that your body will manifest all the trauma of the impact—you’ll be dead.’
She pauses and looks at him expectantly. He shrugs. She continues: ‘Well people aren’t waking up next to flattened corpses are they?’
‘Unm,’ Elliot tries noncommittally.
‘We’ve forgotten.’
‘Forgotten what?’
‘That we’re birds, we can fly.’
‘Cheep cheep.’ He giggles. Wrong. Dianne is fierce and earnest.
‘What keeps you stuck to the ground?’
‘Gravity I guess.’
She taps him with her finger three times hard on the skull. ‘No. No. No. It’s belief. You believe so you’re stuck.’

Dianne jumps up and strides across the floor. She turns to face him so the sunlight falls across her stomach. He watches from the mattress, looking at her breasts and the hair between her legs. Full of longing his gaze walks back up her form to her face, her flaming eyes and her fantastic wings now unfurling in the small kitchen. She turns and knocks a blue china vase from its shelf.

Q: Why are the past and the future so different?
A: It’s time’s arrow. The Universe began with the Big Bang as smooth and organised as a ball but as soon as it started expanding it became irregular and disorganised. Today there are very few organised states but many disorganised ones. Consider a falling vase. There is one and only one arrangement in which its pieces all fit together and become the vase but there are many ways in which the pieces are broken and jumbled up. A crashed vase will normally go into one of these disorganised states. Normally.

The vase


towards the floor,

and then

Elliot sees it


…and stop an instant above the tiles. It hangs there for an improbably long moment until Dianne reaches down and plucks it from the air.


Elliot felt the cold of the high air as he passed over Bondi’s aqua curves. From this height, the people on the beach look like a  seal colony.

One thing he’d learned already was that up here the air was icy—his teeth chattered and he breathed in gasps. Whether it was from the cold or the after-effects of liberation he didn’t know but he was going to need some warmer clothes if he was going to do this again. Definitely.

Mr Vincent, the young executive stood on the pavement looking at the oily patch where the man had fallen. All that was left was a curl of police tape and a chalked outline: arms legs head torso, up over the curb a hand reaching.

He wants to put his hand into the outline. He wants to lay down in it, look up at the sky out of which the man had fallen.

‘You were right,’ she whispered in his ear. He smelled her perfume and the faint waxy scent of her lipstick but by the time he stood and turned she was away, disappearing into the crowd, a blaze in a red dress brilliant in the early evening.


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