BY MARGARET TIGER FERGUSON
CUT TO: INT. APARTMENT – DAY
I couldn’t remember when I’d last seen Dalton. My eyes sagged from squinting at reels, shots, and scenes. I’d lost track of time. Somewhere, in between film shots, Dalton’s footsteps faded. On screen, one rumpled and unshaved Dalton blended in with the next stained t-shirt and jeans Dalton. I peeled my eyes away from screen-character Dalton, and texted, called, and emailed real-life Dalton.
This wasn’t unusual for our relationship.
Retreating from me, from the world, was a hobby of his, part of the character he played. I’d been captivated by Dalton since we first met and Dalton buzzed with sparking currents of energy, alive, bursting with ideas. Impetuous, he tugged me through college town nights under champagne stars to drink until boredom and personal space vanished. Streets chorused with a gabble of ambient voices outdoors at all hours. Dalton soaked the place with the language of physics. Flash through vignettes of us together, together, together, me seeking his full focus and him shining his spotlight, his Daltonesque intensity, on me, sparingly. I worked harder for his attention, his affection, and hoped he’d fall for the ravel-black-haired girl trailing after him.
We moved in together at the start of our sophomore year. Two weeks in, Dalton tried to punch through a wall. In the emergency room, getting his hand bandaged, his usual buoyancy deflated, he confessed.
Over the summer, he’d shouldered a globe-heavy weight. Cancer, that cell-splitting mutating fiend, attacked his mother, the lovely woman who’d raised him, alone. In place of a scout troop, she’d taken him camping, hiking, and biking. She’d taught him constellations and flora and fauna. Bedtime had been but a suggestion. When he was older and learned that, as a boy, he should have fished, shot guns, and started fires, he berated her, called it garbage, and made her cry.
He wanted to take that back.
According to Dalton, time wasn’t necessarily directional. A person should be able to step out of time’s channel and look at the world in moments without linearity.
Initially, when I couldn’t find him, I figured he was out, escaping, or trying to control time. I could have called his mother, but since he wouldn’t have wanted her distracted by his problems, I didn’t.
As always when Dalton left, I missed him. Even with my film full of him. No one was around to stop me from staring at film-screen Dalton as long as I liked. His jacket hung abandoned on the hook by the door. My thoughts lingered on how an upside-down cappuccino could get him out of bed in the morning like nothing else, and I fantasized that when I found him, he’d care that I’d gone through the trouble.
INT. APARTMENT – LATE MORNING – Four Months Prior
A chaotic landfill of books, masses of rolled and unrolled charts, heaps of graphs, posters, and crumpled bits of paper. Dalton’s space.
I’d hit my toe on the debris as I tried to inch the camera in. Dalton had barricaded himself away with his grief. I’d unlatched the door and caught him in bed with two physics books. Dalton flung himself in front of the camera to block my shot.
No. No more photos of my room.
Get out of my shot. I’m collecting evidence.
My mom phoned every day for three
months the last time you captured this
mess on camera. I had to send her
The camera eased higher and zoomed toward science books thicker than pillows. If he wouldn’t come out of his room, I was going in.
(Fake deep voice)
Could this mess be a clue to another
Dalton’s chest eclipsed the frame again. My index finger traced milk splatter up his rib cage toward his chest over his cashmere green sweater. When I reached for him, he shrank away.
Is that the Milky Way?
Dalton’s hands on my shoulders backed me out of the room. The view shook. His face, long, straight nose and black glasses, popped in and out of the screen. He bent forward to better shove me, and his mussed hair, in perpetual need of a cut, blurred into the wrinkles of his rolled-up sleeves. Shutting the door behind him, he glared at me. A splotched, black ink stain dashed the thigh of his jeans.
You need to stay out. I mean it.
I need material.
So? Go find your film school friends.
What film school friends?
I wanted Dalton, who plunged past numbers and lines into self-imposed abysses of thought. A camera dolly on his wavelength would redirect his focus onto me. Remember how we used to hum together like well-spliced scenes? Jerky silences had replaced the ease of our old rapid-fast banter, the fights we waged to show we cared, but I thought, given the right frame of mind, Dalton would reestablish affection.
The likelihood of filmmaker success
is below the visible light spectrum.
So you’re saying there’s a chance?
He was still trying to get rid of me, but the longer I stayed at rest, the more force he’d have to apply to oust me.
Don’t you think you should get
outside? Get some Vitamin D?
He shouldered into a coat. Let’s run out of time, he said, and he meant it.
This was the most straightforward, clear, unadulterated part of the film. This picture of our relationship before it disintegrated. I found Dalton captivating in the film, like he vibrated with electric static verging on surging. Intoxicated by the view, I was struck too, that even at our best, we fought so much.
INT. ANTIQUE STORE – AFTERNOON
On the back wall, a calendar read September 21.
A shadowy Dalton weaved in and out of walnut and mahogany wood furniture. Dust motes swirled around him as he ducked in and out of the long shadows patterning the shop floor. Oblivious to the camera, intent on time-circumvention, Dalton sped around the corner of an Edwardian vanity.
ME (O. S.)
Whoa, I didn’t get that. Do it again.
I need to be in the moment when I do this.
Okay, but can you be in the moment
again so I can get the shot right?
Dalton pulled down his wrinkled t-shirt and rewound his route.
I nailed the shot the second time. I’d looked forward to showing it to him. Remember how much fun we used to have? I groaned watching it now and saw it still missed the mark I’d wanted to hit. No one in this footage was happy.
Where could Dalton be? In my family, I was the youngest, known as a frolic of irresponsibility, a clusterfuck of bad judgment, lacking any sense of money. Dalton only sets new standards for gross incompetency.
I placed my nose to the screen. I’d used Dalton’s explorations to structure the material so the result was a group of Daltons seeming to play hide and seek around the shop. All using their hands simultaneously to feel across time’s tissue for a breach. Some of these Daltons have stubble, as if he hadn’t shaved for a day or two, and some of them appear as clean-shaven as the day I filmed. Clean-shaven Dalton wears his favorite green t-shirt. Stubble Dalton is in red, his hair a muddle, his shoelaces untied.
Patting the back of a wardrobe, green t-shirt Dalton tried to climb in and out of time. His scarecrow limbs dangled as he twisted to fit. His attempt to smooth his mussed hair produced additional frizz. He sneezed from the dust clouding the air. Scooting in back first, he tucked his legs up against his chest, scrunched up his shoulders, and brought his neck in like a sea turtle.
A little help here?
I was annoyed with him. I’d spent the day baiting him while he ignored me. I’d felt a failure, unable to rekindle our friendship. My foot nudged the squat bureau’s door shut and not softly. It closed, latched, and trembled. I wanted the door to get stuck. I wanted Dalton to need my help. The bureau rumbled.
Let me out.
For a moment, my wish almost came true, but before I could reach him, the door flew open again to spit him out. How had I not noticed, all that time I was trying so desperately to help him, that he hadn’t wanted my help?
Scrutinizing the film, I saw he didn’t even see me. He was disintegrating underneath all the things he wasn’t ready for: giving up his rightful place at a carefree, youthful college, shouldering the weight of terminal illness, bearing the unbearable separation of death, and saying goodbye. He’d be supporting his mother rather than her taking care of him. He couldn’t hog center stage if he had to care for another person. He was being forced to admit he was not the universe’s galactic center, and in relinquishing that role, he also decided to drop me, the only person—other than his mother—who subscribed to the belief of his indispensability. At the same time, he wanted to grow his influence and become famous as the guy who escaped time.
On screen, Dalton shook dust off his shirt, and the alteration was so slight and so quick I almost missed it. I swore I spotted red-shirt Dalton smirking. That smirk, a slash of delight, not blooming but undercut with clever arrogance that was classic Dalton, tore at my heart. Since his mother got sick, I couldn’t remember the last time he’d smirked. But there’s the Dalton I knew, recaptured, relieved on screen.
Where the hell was Dalton? Because that single frame looked more like him than the version haunting our apartment recently. Then I notice another change: The calendar on the back wall read December 10, two days ago.
Had the film morphed when I wasn’t watching? My camera sits untouched, neatly bagged on my desk. I hadn’t taken shots of a red-shirted Dalton, but he was in the film. For argument’s sake, what if Dalton found a way back in time and filmed himself?
EXT. PARK – AFTERNOON
The start of October. Dalton wore his favorite olive t-shirt embossed with Maxwell’s equations, and he stretched frozen in a random Yoga pose on the top of a green knoll. He looked like a perched eagle, his muscles engaged for liftoff into time travel. The grass was curling, long and uncut, around his sneakers. Patched dirt and sunlight framed his figure.
Dalton’s unfocused eyes appeared to constantly scan the terrain for emotional landmines he might accidentally cross and land into a surprise detonation of bottomless sorrow. I wondered if another viewer would see this, or if they would perceive a crazy person with pinball eyes.
When he jumped and his arms flapped and his t-shirt sleeve rode up, I spotted the new tattoo, Mom in a heart.
(Straightening, spinning his watch
around his wrist)
Will I be able to keep track of time
when I have access to theoretical
time? See, upsetting time should upset
your understanding of the world around
you. Let’s say you die in Japan on the
fifteenth of some month, and your family
gets the news here in the U.S. on
the fourteenth? When did you die?
Was it tomorrow or today?
Dalton pivoted. He spread his arms out in the air to keep balance. Slipping on grass, he landed on his butt. Propelled onto his feet, the grass a trampoline beneath him, he leapt as though his limbs were rubber.
I cringed, embarrassed that this was my best friend, the person I worried about most. This seemed like a ridiculous way to escape time. Passing strangers avoided us.
When I edited, I dissolved the digital shots of his actions to fade in and out so that Dalton’s movements appeared on top of each other. Dalton’s shenanigans would fade out at one place as he came into view at another on the other side of the screen. To a viewer, my editing would blend separate shots together and make several Daltons appear on the screen at once. It was a way of undoing time.
If you traveled at the speed of light, time
would slow down. Because of Einstein’s
relativity, time isn’t a universal constant.
In fact, at the smallest particle, below
the Planck scale, time vanishes. For us, time
looks like a notation on an event or an
object’s placement. So, if an object moves
from point A to point B in time, then
rewinding time should put it back at
point A. Only, ever since The Big Bang,
time has moved forward. As the universe
expands, time goes forward, but nothing in
physics says it has to go forward.
Well. When I turn this into a filmstrip, I get
control of time. I’ll arrange the frames
digitally and speed backwards and
forwards, and I’ll tell time what to do
and how to look.
Dalton paused and focused on me. I’d waited for this moment. I’d baited him for this moment. I held my breath and prayed he’d come back to me.
Yeah, that’s what I want. To move through
time at will, and when I finally accomplish
my goal, I’ll capture time in frames. I’ll have
the ability to pick what to look at and
when to look at it. Time’s a number, like
coordinates. So I expect picking the
time will be like picking a location.
When he’s talking, there’s vivacity to his words, like they’re sparking with ideas. I remember Dalton’s misery as a flooding faucet, torturous for me to see. An inept plumber, I fumbled my attempts to staunch the leak. Fresh air and sunlight weren’t working. He’d only deteriorated the more I’d filmed him. As I watched, Dalton seemed more awake than I remembered. As if my old friend had been dug out of the archives and resurrected. His listlessness rewritten to exuberance, and for one glorious moment, he looked at me as if I held the secret to his problems.
Then it passed. Me brushed over again. The footage of him in the park continues, the images before my eyes—Dalton doing handstands, somersaults, practicing the robot, sunbathing, and playing leapfrog—were not what I remembered filming. What I had filmed had mutated, destroying my editing cuts, and rewatching brought new changes. Dalton had torn his jean hems. Green grass blood smeared up his legs, and a streak of black dirt wound around his forearm. Reviewing the film, it turned out, was surprising even me. Dalton had done more than film without me and place his footage into my film. He didn’t have a camera, and his edits looked as if they’d been done from inside the piece over green screens that hadn’t existed when we’d filmed.
(Mumbling, sweeping his hair off
My evidence. My evidence.
Had my best friend found a way into my film? That sounded crazy. Dalton and the film, one and the same? Dalton looked destabilized. He cartwheeled across the grass, as oblivious to me as ever. Film-screen Dalton didn’t listen to me anymore than real-life Dalton had.
EXT. UNIVERSITY—SUNSET—Late October (?)
The last footage I have is from the night we’d climbed onto the university’s rooftops. We carted, pushed, stumbled, and hauled up projectors, my camera, long extension cords, and a tripod. Three straight weeks of focusing on Dalton, trying to get him to cheer up, while he retreated further into his own head, and I’d thought if I got the shots just right, he wouldn’t be able to ignore me, but I’d been nothing but ignored.
Dalton rolled his eyes as I adjusted the projectors one last time to perfect the stage lighting. The night was chilly, and he skipped a little to warm up. He hated my obsession with light. It took attention away from him.
Come on. Lay off the light already. It doesn’t
have to be perfect.
For the shot to come out, I need the light
Dalton’s feet kicked over the ground. It’s not just his eyes anymore. His entire being is unfocused, incapable of being contained. He’d shown a keen new interest in my filming, how it was done, where I stored it, but he barked questions rather than asking them.
What I intended as a key light—a spotlight on him to show him and his actions—became back lighting when Dalton positioned himself between the light and the camera. He disregarded the light I had constructed for him, and his figure became an outline, a dark shadow.
Dalton ignored me.
Come back this way. I can’t see you.
You know if I actually do disappear you
won’t be able to reshoot it, right?
I’d been so caught up in my anger that I hadn’t noticed his word choice. He’d planned his exit, even then, laying the groundwork, constructing his own disappearing act. I couldn’t have done it to him. I wouldn’t have. I was too bent on trying to capture the moment to notice the breakage fragmenting it. I was too caught up in idolizing Dalton to notice he was too caught up in loving himself to value me.
If you end up with control of time,
are you going to be mad if I make you
relive a moment?
That depends on if I can be in several
moments at once or not.
Dalton, you are the star of this film. This
is what you wanted.
Keep your masterpiece under control.
Dalton and I had shared a love: of Dalton. However, rather than accentuate his good points, capturing him on film served to magnify his flaws.
Let’s go to a new roof.
The night rolled on. Dalton spun endlessly on the grass under a streetlight. As I watched the film, I noticed a cardboard sign “Ah-Ha!” taped to a lamppost. I don’t remember it. Rubbing new stubble on his chin, red-shirted Dalton points to the sign, smirks, and nods at the camera. The Dalton in the film was proud. Then green-shirted Dalton sprawled on his back, prone, facing the sky, waiting for his world to stabilize.
While he rested, I’d started to pack up my equipment. Once bright, his wattage fizzed and failed, a remnant of his old self, but when he was thinking, he still flickered. He rocked onto his feet.
(Rolling up an extension cord)
Why are you doing this anyway? What’s the
point in filming this?
I thought it would be nice to have to
remember. Evidence of our time together.
I’m going to be able to come back to it
whenever I want anyway.
The mercurial footage winds through mismatched frames, stuttering and sputtering through the last cuts. Instead of immortalizing us through film, I’d captured our downfall. When I came into view to turn off the camera, dark circles echoed underneath my eyes. I refused to remember us like this: Dalton villainous and me spineless. I wanted an ode to our youth, our friendship, and him requiting the smallest portion of my affection.
The screen blackened.
The footage restarted, artfully disjointed. The last scene settled, became sedentary on the screen. From the film on the night at the university, as I remember it, the shot showed Dalton standing in a circle cast by a street light. In my original, he looked up at the night sky, and as if a mirror, the dark space winked and twinkled back at him. When he breathed, white air plumed out. The camera clung to him as if gravitating to that special Dalton magnetism. He looked young and alive and full of possibilities and not like someone called home for a worst-case scenario, his youth about to be stolen from him. In the new version, Dalton swept his eyes from the sky to the camera. He strained as though lifting an object as heavy as my camera and pulled a piece of paper into view from off screen. I paused the film, and his entreating eyes stared back at me. Black vertical lines on a white sheet read, “Get me out of here.”