REPLAY
by Ken Grimwood

 

THREE

The girl at the front desk at Harris Hall was obviously annoyed that she’d drawn Saturday-night reception duty, but was taking her weekend entertainment where she could find it, observing the rituals of her peers. She gave Jeff a coolly appraising stare when he walked in, and her voice carried a tinge of sarcastic amusement when she called upstairs to tell Judy Gordon her date was here. Maybe she knew Judy’d been stood up the night before; maybe she’d even listened in on the conversation when Jeff had called from the gas station near Macon this afternoon.

The girl’s enigmatic half-smile was a little unnerving, so he took a seat on one of the uncomfortable sofas in the adjoining lounge, where a pony-tailed brunette and her date were playing ‘Heart and Soul’ on an old Steinway near the fireplace. The girl smiled and waved at Jeff when he came into the room. He had no idea who she was, probably some friend of Judy’s whom he’d long since forgotten about, but he nodded and returned her smile. Eight or nine other young men sat scattered around the airy lounge, each a respectful distance from the others. Two of them carried bunches of cut flowers, and one held a heart-shaped box of Whitman’s candies. All wore stoic expressions that did little to mask their eager but nervous anticipation: suitors at the gate of Aphrodite’s temple, untested claimants to the favours of the nymphs within this fortress. Date Night, 1963.

Jeff remembered the sensation all too well. In fact, he noted wryly, his own palms were damp with tension even now.

Soprano laughter came from the stairwell, floated into the lobby. The young men straightened their ties, checked their watches, patted tufts of hair into place. Two girls found their escorts and led them through the door into the mysterious night.

It was twenty minutes before Judy emerged, her face set in what was clearly intended to be a look of frosty determination. All Jeff could see, though, was her incredible youthfulness, a vernal tenderness that went beyond the fact that she was still in her teens. Girls – women – her age in the eighties didn’t look like this, he realized. They simply weren’t this young, this innocent; hadn’t been since the days of Janis Joplin, and certainly weren’t in the aftermath of Madonna.

‘So,’ Judy said. ‘I’m glad to see you could make it tonight.’

Jeff pulled himself awkwardly to his feet, gave her an apologetic smile. ‘I’m really sorry about last night,’ he said. ‘I – wasn’t feeling very well; I was in a strange mood. You wouldn’t have wanted to be with me.’

‘You could have called,’ she said petulantly. Her arms were crossed under her breasts, highlighting those demure swells beneath the Peter Pan blouse. A beige cashmere sweater was slung over one arm, and she wore a Madras skirt, with low-heeled ankle-strap shoes. Jeff caught the mixed aromas of Lanvin perfume and a floral-scented shampoo, found himself entranced by the blond bangs that danced above her wide blue eyes.

‘I know,’ he said. ‘I wish I had.’

Her expression eased, the confrontation over before it had begun. She’d never been able to stay angry for long, Jeff recalled.

‘You missed a really good movie last night,’ she said without a trace of sullenness. ‘It starts off where this girl is buying these birds in a pet shop, and then Rod Taylor pretends like he works there, and …’

She went on to recount most of the plot as they walked outside and got into Jeff’s Chevy. He feigned unfamiliarity with the twists and turns of the story, even though he’d recently seen the movie on one of HBO’s periodic Hitchcock retrospectives. And, of course, he’d seen it when it first came out, seen it with Judy. Seen it twenty-five years ago last night, in that other version of his life.

‘… and then this guy goes to light a cigar at this gas station, but – well, I don’t want to tell you anything that happens after that; it’d spoil it for you. It’s a really spooky movie. I wouldn’t mind going to see it again, if you want to. Or we could go see Bye Bye Birdie. What do you feel like?’

‘I think I’d rather just sit and talk,’ he said. ‘Get a beer someplace, maybe a bite to eat?’

‘Sure.’ She smiled. ‘Moe’s and Joe’s?’

‘OK. That’s … on Ponce De Leon, right?’

Judy wrinkled her brow. ‘No, that’s Manuel’s. Don’t tell me you forgot – take a left, right here!’ She turned in her seat, gave him an odd look. ‘Hey, you really are acting kind of weird. Is something wrong?’

‘Nothing serious. Like I told you, I’ve been feeling a little off kilter.’ He recognized the entrance of the old college hangout, parked around the comer.

Inside, it didn’t look quite the way Jeff remembered it. He’d thought the bar was on the left as you went in the door, not the right; and the booths seemed different somehow, too, higher or darker or something. He led Judy towards a booth in the back, and as they approached it a man about his own age – no, he corrected himself, a man in his early forties, an older man – slapped Jeff’s shoulder in an amiable manner.

‘Jeff, how goes it? Who’s your lovely young friend?’

Jeff looked blankly at the man’s face: glasses, salt-and-pepper beard, wide grin. He looked vaguely familiar, but no more.

‘This is Judy Gordon. Judy, ah I’d like you to meet …’

‘Professor Samuels,’ she said. ‘My roommate has you for Medieval Lit.’

‘And her name is –?’

‘Paula Hawkins.’

The man’s grin widened further, and he nodded twice. ‘Excellent student. Very bright young lady, Paula. I trust my class comes recommended?’

‘Oh, yes, sir,’ Judy said. ‘Paula’s told me all about you.’

‘Then perhaps we’ll be blessed with your own delightful presence in the fall.’

‘I can’t rightly say just yet, Professor Samuels. I haven’t really decided on my schedule for next year.’

‘Drop by my office. We’ll discuss it. And you, Jeff: good job on that Chaucer paper, but I had to give you a B for incomplete citations. Watch that next time, will you?’

‘Yes, sir. I’ll remember.’

‘Good, good. See you in class.’ He waved them off, went back to his beer.

When they got to the booth, Judy slid in next to Jeff and started giggling.

‘What’s so funny?’

‘Don’t you know about him? Dr Samuels?’

Jeff hadn’t even been able to recall the professor’s name.

‘No, what about him?’

‘He’s a dirty old man, that’s what. He chases after all the girls in his classes – the cute ones, anyway. Paula said he put his hand on her thigh one time after class – like this.’

She put her girlish fingers on Jeff’s leg, rubbed it, and squeezed.

‘Can you imagine?’ she asked in a conspiratorial tone. ‘He’s older than my father, even. “Drop by my office” – huh! I know what he’d want to discuss. Isn’t that just the most disgusting thing you ever heard, a man his age acting like that?’

Her hand still rested on Jeff’s thigh, an inch or so away from his growing erection. He looked at her innocent round eyes, her sweet red mouth, and had a sudden fantasy of Judy going down on him right there in the booth. Dirty old man, he thought, and laughed.

‘What’s so funny?’ she asked.

‘Nothing.’

‘You don’t believe me about Dr Samuels, do you?’

‘I believe you. No, it’s just – you, me, everything. I had to laugh, that’s all. What do you want to drink?’

‘The regular.’

‘A triple zombie, right?’

The worried look left her face, and she laughed along with him. ‘Silly; I want a glass of red wine, just like always. Can’t you remember anything tonight?’

Judy’s lips against his were as soft as he had imagined, had remembered. The fresh scent of her hair, the youthful smoothness of her skin excited him to a degree he hadn’t felt since the early days with Linda, before their marriage. The car windows were down, and Judy rested the back of her head on the cushioned doorframe as Jeff kissed her. Andy Williams was singing ‘The Days of Wine and Roses’ on the radio, and the fragrance of dogwood blossoms mingled with the scent of Judy’s soft, clean skin. They were parked on a wooded street a mile or so away from the campus; Judy had directed him there after they’d left the bar.

The conversation tonight had gone better than Jeff had expected. Basically, he’d followed Judy’s lead as they talked, let her be the one to mention names and places and events. He’d reacted from memory or the cues he took from her expression and tone of voice. He’d made only one anachronistic slip: They’d been talking about students they knew who were planning to move off campus next year, and Jeff had said he might sublet a condo. She’d never heard the word, but he quickly explained it away as something new from California that he’d read about and thought maybe they’d build in Atlanta soon.

As the evening had gone on, he’d relaxed and begun to enjoy himself. The beers had helped, but mainly it was just being close to Judy that had set his mind at rest for the first time since this whole thing had started. At moments, he’d found himself not even thinking of his future/past. He was alive; that was what mattered. Very much alive.

He brushed Judy’s long blond hair back from her face, kissed her cheeks and nose and lips again. She gave a low moan of pleasure, and his fingers slid from her breast to the top buttons of her blouse. She moved his hand away, back to her covered breast. They kissed for several moments more and then her hand was on his thigh, as it had been in the booth at the bar, but moving purposefully higher, until her delicate fingers caressed and kneaded his firm penis. He stroked her nyloned calves, reached beneath her skirt to feel the soft skin above the tops of her stockings.

Judy disengaged herself from his embrace, sat up abruptly. ‘Give me your handkerchief,’ she whispered.

‘What? I don’t –’

She plucked the white handkerchief from his jacket pocket, where he’d tucked it automatically as he dressed in the outmoded clothes earlier tonight. Jeff reached for her again, tried to pull her towards him, but she resisted.

‘Ssshh,’ she whispered, then smiled sweetly. ‘Just sit back and close your eyes.’

He frowned, but did as she asked. Suddenly she was unzipping his pants and pulling his erection free with a sure, practised move. Jeff opened his eyes in surprise, saw her staring out the window as her fingers moved on him in a constant rhythm. He stopped her hand, held it still.

‘Judy – no.’

She looked back at him with concern. ‘You don’t want to tonight?’

‘Not like this.’ He gently took her hand away, adjusted himself, and closed his pants. ‘I want you; I want to be with you. But not this way. We could go somewhere, find a hotel or –’

She drew back against the car door, gave him an indignant glare. ‘What do you mean? You know I’m not like that!’

‘All I mean to say is that I want us to be together, in a loving way. I want to give you –’

‘You don’t have to give me a thing!’ She wrinkled her face, and Jeff was afraid she would start to cry. ‘I was trying to relieve you, just like we’ve done before, and all of a sudden you take it the wrong way, want to drag me off to some cheap hotel, treat me like a – a – prostitute!’

‘Judy, for Christ’s sake, it’s not like that at all. Don’t you understand, I want to make you happy, too?’

She took a lipstick from her purse, twisted the rearview mirror angrily so she could apply it. ‘I’m perfectly happy just the way we’ve been, thank you very much. Or at least I was, until tonight.’

‘Look, I’m sorry I said anything, OK? I just thought –’

‘You can keep your thoughts to yourself, and your hands, too.’ She flicked on the overhead light, glanced at her thin gold watch.

‘I didn’t mean to upset you. We can talk about it tomorrow.’

‘I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to go back to the dorm, right now. That is, if you can remember how to get there.’

After he dropped Judy off at her dorm he found a bar on North Druid Hills Road, near the new Lenox Square shopping centre. It didn’t seem to be the sort of place where he was likely to encounter anyone from Emory: This was a drinkers’ bar, a hangout for an older, quieter crowd seeking only an hour’s escape from thoughts of mortgages and stale marriages. Jeff felt right at home, though he knew he didn’t look as though he fitted the clientele; the bartender even carded him, and Jeff managed to find the altered ID he’d once kept in the back of his wallet for such infrequent occasions. With a dubious grunt, the man brought Jeff a double Jack Daniel’s and went off to fiddle with the horizontal hold on the black-and-white TV set above the bar.

Jeff took a long sip of his drink, stared blankly at the news: There was more trouble in Birmingham, Jimmy Hoffa had been indicted on jury-tampering charges in Nashville, Telstar II was about to be launched. Jeff thought of Martin Luther King dead in Memphis, Hoffa mysteriously gone from the face of the earth, and a skyful of communications satellites saturating the planet with MTV and reruns of ‘Miami Vice.’ O brave new world.

The night with Judy had begun pleasantly enough, but that final scene in the car had left him depressed. He’d forgotten how artificial sex used to be. No, not forgotten; he’d never fully realized it, not when those things were happening to him for the first time. The dishonesty had all been masked by the glow of newly discovered emotion, of naïve but irresistible sexual hunger. What had once seemed wondrously erotic now stood revealed in all its essential cheapness, unobscured by the distance of time: a quick hand job in the front seat of a Chevrolet, with bad music in the background.

So what the hell was he going to do now, just play along? Indulge in more heavy petting sessions with a dewy little blonde from another time who’d never heard of the pill? Go back to classes and adolescent bull sessions and spring dances as if they were all new to him? Memorize statistical tables he’d long since forgotten and had never found any use for, so he could pass Sociology 101?

Maybe he didn’t have any goddamned choice, not if this phenomenal, grotesque switch in time turned out to be permanent. Maybe he really would have to go through it, all of it, again – year after painful, predictable year. This alternate reality was becoming more concrete by the moment, ever more entrenched. That other self of his was the falsehood now. He must accept the fact that he was a college freshman, eighteen years old, totally dependent on his parents and his ability to repeat successfully dozens of academic courses that now filled him with disdain and utter boredom.

The TV news was over, and a sports announcer was droning off a list of AA-league baseball scores. Jeff ordered another drink, and as the bartender brought the fresh glass Jeff’s attention suddenly focused with laserlike intensity on every word from the ancient Sylvania.

‘… coming into Churchill Downs unbeaten, there are still two eastern colts that might give the California chestnut a run for the money. Trainer Woody Stephens brings Never Bend into the Derby fresh from a handsome victory in the Stepping Stone prep, and with a clean record for ’63; Stephens won’t go as far as to predict a victory, but …’

The Kentucky Derby. Why the hell not? If he really had lived through the next twenty-five years, rather than imagining them or dreaming them, one thing was clear: He had a vast store of information that could be useful in the extreme. Nothing technical – he couldn’t design a computer, or anything like that – but he certainly had a working knowledge, a journalist’s knowledge, of the trends and events that would influence society from now to the mid-eighties. He could make a lot of money betting on sports events and presidential elections. Assuming, of course, that he actually possessed a concrete and correct awareness of what would happen over the coming quarter century. As he’d recognized earlier, that was not necessarily a safe assumption.

‘… not far off the pace. The horse that just might set that pace is Greentree Stable’s No Robbery, who holds the record, at 1:34, for the fastest mile ever run by a three-year-old in New York … and who won the Wood Memorial one week after setting …’

Shit, who had won the Derby that year? Jeff struggled to remember. The name Never Bend, unlike No Robbery, at least rang a distant bell; but that still didn’t sound right.

‘… both have an uphill battle against the team of Willie Shoemaker and the western wonder, Candy Spots. That’s the combination to beat, folks; and though it looks to be an exciting Run for the Roses among these three contenders, the consensus – and it’s a strong one – is that Candy Spots will wear the wreath this Saturday.’

That didn’t sound right, either. What horse was it? Northern Dancer? Or maybe Kauai King? Jeff was sure those had both won Derbies; but which years?

‘Say, bartender!’

‘Same?’

‘No, I’m OK for now; have you got a paper?’

‘Paper?’

‘A newspaper, today’s, yesterday’s, it doesn’t matter.’

‘The Journal or the Constitution?’

‘Whatever. You got the sports pages?’

‘Marked up a little bit. Braves coming to town next year, I’ve been following their averages.’

‘Can I take a quick look?’

‘Sure thing.’ The bartender reached beneath the place where he kept the garnishes and produced a tightly folded sports section.

Jeff flipped past the baseball pages and found a preview of the upcoming race of races in Louisville. He scanned the list of entries: There were the favourites the announcer had mentioned, Candy Sports, Never Bend, No Robbery; then Royal Tower, Lemon Twist … no, no … Gray Pet, Devil It Is … never heard of either of them … Wild Card, Rajah Noor … uh-uh … Bonjour, On My Honour …

Chateaugay.

Chateaugay, at eleven-to-one odds.

He sold the Chevy to a used-car dealer on Briarcliff Road for six hundred dollars. His books, stereo, and record collection brought in another two hundred and sixty dollars at a junk shop downtown. In his dorm-room desk he’d found a chequebook and savings book from a bank near campus, and he immediately withdrew all but twenty dollars from each of the two accounts; that gave him another eight hundred and thirty dollars.

Calling his parents was the hardest part. It was obvious how deeply his sudden request for an ‘emergency’ loan worried them, and his father was clearly angered by Jeff’s refusal to explain any further; still, he came through with a couple of hundred dollars, and Jeff’s mother sent another four hundred from her own savings.

Now he had to place a bet, a large one. But how? He thought briefly of going to Louisville and putting the money down right at the track; but a call to a travel agent told him what he’d already suspected, that the Derby had been sold out for weeks in advance.

There was also the problem of his age. He might look old enough to order a drink at a bar, but making a wager of this size was sure to draw close scrutiny. He needed somebody to front for him.

‘A bookie? What the hell do you want to know about bookies for, kid?’

To Jeff’s eyes, Frank Maddock, at twenty-two, was himself a ‘kid,’ but in this context the senior, prelaw student was an older, experienced man of the world, and obviously enjoyed playing that role to the hilt.

‘I want to make a bet,’ Jeff said.

Maddock smiled indulgently, lit a cigarillo, and waved for another pitcher of beer.

‘What on?’

‘The Kentucky Derby.’

‘Why don’t you just start a pool around your dorm? Probably get lots of guys to come in on it. Be sure to keep it quiet, though.’

The senior was treating him with an affable condescension. Jeff smiled inwardly at the young man’s practised, if unearned, air of worldliness.

‘The bet I want to make is fairly large.’

‘Yeah? Like how much?’

Manuel’s was half empty on a Thursday afternoon, and no one was in earshot. ‘Twenty-three hundred dollars,’ Jeff said.

Maddock frowned. ‘You’re talking about a hell of a lot of money there. I know Candy Spots is pretty much a sure thing, but –’

‘Not Candy Spots. One of the other horses.’

The older boy laughed as the waiter set a new pitcher of beer on the worn oak table. ‘Dream on, son. No Robbery isn’t worth that kind of risk, and neither is Never Bend. Not in this race.’

‘It’s my money, Frank. I was thinking of a seventy-thirty split on the winnings. If I’m right, you could clean up without risking a dime.’

Maddock poured them each a fresh mug, tipping the glasses to keep the foam down. ‘I could get in a lot of trouble over this, you know. I don’t want to do anything to screw up law school. A kid like you, all that money; how do I know you wouldn’t go screaming to Dean Ward if you lost it?’

Jeff shrugged. ‘I guess that’s where your part of the gamble comes in. But I’m not that kind of guy, and I don’t plan to lose.’

‘Nobody ever does.’

A raucous number came up on the jukebox, Jimmy Soul doing ‘If You Wanna Be Happy.’ Jeff raised his voice above the music. ‘So, do you know a bookie or not?’

Maddock gave him a long, curious stare. ‘Seventy-thirty, huh?’

‘That’s right.’

The senior shook his head, sighed resignedly. ‘You got the cash on you?’

The bar on North Druid Hills Road was packed that Saturday afternoon. The commercial-laden pre-race show blared from the TV set as Jeff walked in: Wilkinson Sword trumpeting its newest product, stainless-steel razor blades.

Jeff was more nervous than he would have expected: This had all seemed perfect in the planning, but what if something went wrong? As far as he’d been able to tell, the previous week’s world events had duplicated the past that he recalled; still, his memory was as fallible as anyone’s, and after twenty-five years he couldn’t be sure that a thousand, a million, different incidents in 1963 hadn’t turned out differently than they had the first time around. He’d already noticed a few minor things that seemed slightly off-kilter, and of course his own actions had been drastically altered. This race could just as easily have a new outcome.

If it did, he’d be out everything he owned, and he’d skipped midterms this week, putting his academic standing in serious jeopardy. He might not even have the option at this point of buckling down to repeat his college career. He could be out of school on his ass, broke.

With Vietnam on the horizon.

‘Hey, Charlie,’ somebody yelled. ‘Another round for the house, doubles, before they leave the gate!’

There was a chorus of cheers and laughter. One of the man’s buddies said, ‘Spending it a little early, aren’t you?’

‘In the bag, man,’ said the generous one, ‘in the fucking bag!’

On the TV screen the horses were being shut into their gates, restless, hating the confinement, eager to run, as they’d been bred to do.

‘Anything can happen now, Jimbo. That’s what a horse race is all about.’

The bartender set out the doubles the stranger had bought for everyone. Before Jeff could pick up his glass, the horses were out of the gate, Never Bend breaking away as if electrically charged, with No Robbery almost at his side. Candy Spots, with Willie Shoemaker coolly astride him, was only three lengths back at the first turn.

Chateaugay was sixth. One mile to go, ten lengths behind.

Jeff tossed back a gulp of his drink, almost choked on the near-straight whisky.

The front-runners sped past the half-mile pole. Chateaugay hadn’t gained an inch.

A smaller school, Jeff thought. Even if he flunked out of Emory, some community college would probably take him. He could work part time at a small-market radio station. His years of experience wouldn’t exist on paper, but they’d count for a lot on the job.

The bar crowd yelled at the screen as if the horses and jockeys could hear them, four hundred miles away. Jeff didn’t bother. Chateaugay had pulled up a bit towards the end of the backstretch, but it was as good as over; a three-horse race, just as the odds-makers had predicted.

Shoemaker took Candy Spots in on the rail as the field turned for home, then moved him back out for the stretch. Chateaugay was in fourth place, three lengths back, and with that kind of competition ahead of him he’d never –

At the quarter pole No Robbery suddenly seemed to tire, to lose heart for the closing battle. He dropped back, and it was Never Bend and Candy Spots tearing for home, but Shoemaker wasn’t getting the final spurt he needed out of the California Chestnut.

Chateaugay passed the favourite and bore down, steady and relentless, on Never Bend.

The din in the bar swelled to riotous levels. Jeff remained silent, unmoving, his hand nearly frozen, though he didn’t notice, as it clutched the icy glass.

Chateaugay took the race by a length and a quarter over Never Bend, with Candy Spots relegated to a close third. No Robbery was back in the field somewhere, fifth or sixth, exhausted.

Jeff had done it. He’d won.

The other men in the bar began loudly and angrily analysing the race they’d just seen, with most of their ire aimed at Willie Shoemaker’s tactics in the last half mile. Jeff didn’t hear a word they said. He was waiting for the figures to come up on the tote board.

Chateaugay paid $20.80 to win. Jeff reached reflexively for his Casio calculator watch, then laughed as he realized how long it would be before such a thing existed. He grabbed a cocktail napkin from the bar, scribbled some figures with a ballpoint.

Half of 2300 times 20.8, less Frank Maddock’s 30 per cent share for placing the bet … Jeff had won close to seventeen thousand dollars.

More importantly, the race had ended as he’d remembered it.

He was eighteen years old, and he knew everything of consequence that was going to happen in the world for the next two decades.

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