Pauline kept hugging herself defensively while she glanced this way and that, trying to figure out if she was hallucinating or dreaming. The laughter in the cafe soon died down and the man who had asked why she’d stopped dancing had a puzzled look on his face.
It took another minute for her to realize that she felt different, apart from the dizziness and confusion. With her arms across her chest, she noticed that her breasts were slightly bigger and crammed into a stiff bra, which pushed them up and out at a sharp angle.
She was also a few inches shorter and she felt light on her feet. When she looked down she saw that she was wearing different clothes and shoes. She detected lipstick on her mouth – which she had stopped wearing years ago, in favor of lip gloss. She could also detect heavy mascara. When she moved her hand up to feel her hair, she saw the long, red nails and red, beaded bracelet.
“Hey, Baby. Are you okay?”
The same man was leaning towards her and watching her closely, while the music picked up again and the crowd started clapping and yelling out encouragement.
“Go, man – GO!”
The man was now gently taking her by the arm and leading her off the dance floor. Pauline was absentmindedly running her small hands through her long hair. She was definitely in shock. She pulled a lock of her hair around to her face and saw that it was black.
Starting to feel a second wave of dizziness, the man pulled a chair out for her and she sat down in a daze. He gave her a small glass and told her to drink it. She nearly choked on it, realizing that it was vodka.
“Man, what’s come over you?” He asked.
She looked over at him and noticed that he was an older black man – probably in his late forties – wearing a black and white striped sweater and white, stovepipe pants and white loafers, which were scuffed and well worn. She tried to smile but her confusion kept her in a state of shock.
“Where am I?” She asked meekly.
He frowned and reached over to grab her drink, then slowly dragged it towards him.
“We’re at Mama Rose’s cafe, Julie. Are you juiced?”
“Pardon?” She shook her head and looked down, noticing the tight black skirt.
“Pardon?!” The man laughed and slapped the table. “You are some crazy chick, Julie. Where did that English accent come from – all of a sudden?”
She looked back up at him. “Julie?”
He stopped laughing and shook his head, suddenly turning serious.
“I better get you back to your pad, Jules. Gary will not be cool.”
The man grabbed a brown jacket from the back of the chair and passed a small duffel bag to Pauline. She took it slowly and allowed him to drape the jacket over her shoulders. As he walked her out of the cafe, several people called out to her.
“Aww, going so soon?”
“I like the way you jive, girl!”
When they got out to the street, Pauline’s mind was still reeling and she was finding it hard to even keep walking upright. The city streets were full of activity, which only added to her confusion. It was night and it had been raining, so the slick sidewalks flicked water up her stockings and seeped into what seemed to be cloth, slip-on, flat shoes.
The cars were old fashioned and obviously American. She saw the flashing neon signs advertising things like, “Rent a Girl”, “Cocktails” and “Automat” along with bright lights in the doorways of many establishments. Strange police sirens sounded out occasionally and the people brushing past them were dressed like typical city dwellers in the 1950’s.
Then she remembered the card tag she’d touched in the library. The Beat Generation. Was she back in the 1950’s, in New York, America? She looked over at the man who was still guiding her along the street.
“Who are you?”
He looked down and frowned.
“Sam, remember? Gary’s friend. Geez Louise, you are really gone, sister!”
“Sam.” She repeated dreamily.
They turned down an alley and made their way towards what appeared to be a tenement building. Two men with crew cuts walked past and laughed over their shoulders at them.
“Hey man, nice score!” They yelled out.
Sam steered Pauline towards the walkway down the side of the building.
“Don’t worry, Jules. You’re safe. We’re home.”
They went through a flimsy gate behind the building, which led through a small garden to a little bungalow. There was a bicycle on the front porch and a clothes rack with shirts and underwear drying in the warm breeze.
Sam went to the door and knocked, then he looked back at Pauline with a sympathetic smile. The door opened and a familiar face appeared, although Pauline didn’t understand why he was familiar, seeing as she’d never seen him before. Or had she?
“Hey sweetheart, hey Sam. Thanks for bringing her home. Come in.”
He stood back to let them in, but Sam gestured for Pauline to go in while he shook his head.
“Nah, I think I’ll go back. That joint’s jumpin’ tonight. You shoulda seen Jules. Man – she was on fire tonight!”
The familiar man turned to smile at Pauline as she stood near a small wooden table and gripped the duffel back tightly. Even though she had a hunch that she wasn’t in danger, she was slowly realizing that this was no dream.
The men said goodbye and Sam waved at Pauline before turning to leave. When the door was closed, Pauline started trembling but did her best to keep her cool.
“Who are you?” She asked with a wavering voice.
She watched the man laugh and walk over to the sofa without answering. He sat down and picked up a book, then winked at her with a cheesy grin. He was pleasant looking, slim but muscular with close-cropped, light brown hair and a neatly shaved goatee and moustache.
He patted the seat next to him and smiled warmly.
“Are you afraid of me, all of a sudden?”
Pauline continued to clutch the bag and stood to attention.
“I’m sorry but you have to understand. I’m not who you think I am.”
She just now realized that her voice was changing back and forth from Australian to American, with the diction and tone switching from her usual warm way of speaking and the newly discovered, high pitched, childlike version – making her sound like how she felt.
The man frowned and smiled at the same time.
“Come again?” He asked.
Looking down at the duffel bag, she suddenly thought about going through it to discover who she was supposed to be – not that it made any more sense than the fact she was in another life in another world – if that was possible.
“Sorry, may I use the bathroom?”
He laughed and shook his head in confusion.
“Always. Geez, what’s wrong Pussycat?”
She managed to smile but then it dawned on her that she didn’t know where the bathroom was. She turned and started walking into a back room which ended up being a bedroom. The man called out to her.
“Other way, Julie.”
When she turned around to come back, she saw that the man was walking towards her with a concerned look on his handsome face.
“Did someone slip you a mickey?” He asked as he took her by the arm and led her to the other door.
“Um, maybe.” She answered meekly.
He put his hand to her forehead. She noticed that his hand was warm and slightly calloused.
“I’ll make some tea and you have a shower. Meet me back in the kitchenette, okay?”
She looked up at him and nodded, hoping against hope that this really was a dream.
When the door was closed she dropped the bag on the sink and nearly fell backwards when she looked in the mirror. The face was not her own. It was a young woman’s face, in her mid-twenties. Pauline marveled at how pretty she was – which was a world away from her usual nondescript or slightly bland face – as far as she was concerned. She’d always considered herself dumpy and easily forgettable.
Looking at the pouty lips, painted fire engine red and luscious, she formed them into a kiss and then inspected the rest of the face. Instead of brown, the eyes were green and heavily caked with eyeliner and mascara. The fact that she looked like a cute pixie wasn’t lost on her, seeing as she’d always longed to look youthful – even when she was in her late teens when people constantly told her how mature she looked.
She hated the pancake makeup thickly smeared on her skin and the stiff hairspray on the long, black locks of hair.
Practicing smiling, frowning and many other facial expressions, she then started crying. Pinching herself hard several times – wondering if that would wake her up – she then looked back at herself in the mirror in terror. Was she now inhabiting the body of a woman in another world in another time?
She opened the duffel bag and started rummaging carefully. A hairbrush, several paperbacks, a notebook and many pens were jostling among other items, such as a compact, lipstick, cigarettes, countless matchbooks, a small address book and a crumpled flyer. She opened it up and saw that it was an advertisement for Mama Rose’s Cafe. The scrawled note on the back read, “Dancing at 9 p.m. with Sam.”
Having given up smoking years before, she eyed off the cigarettes and decided to light one up. She reasoned with herself that this body was used to the smoke and besides – she really needed one now. Inhaling the sweet smoke brought a flood of relief and miraculously calmed her down considerably.
Then she noticed a small wallet on the bottom of the bag. It was white and delicately made out of what felt like silk or gauze with a Japanese design, consisting of a crane in a pond, surrounded by bamboo. She flipped it open and saw a driver’s licence. The name was Julie Markham, aged twenty six. There was also a social security card, a photo of the man in the other room, a little cash and a business card which was for a Psychiatrist called Dr W. Phillips.
Putting the whole bag down on the floor, she then watched herself in the mirror and laughed at the absurdity. She thought to herself, “If this is a new reality and this man is my boyfriend, maybe it’s the break I’ve been waiting for!”
Then she thought of Alan, Roman and her friends – along with her comfortable life and the wonderful city of Melbourne. This thought jolted her. What if she couldn’t make it back? She put the cigarette out and decided that she would have a shower, if for nothing else but to give her time to think it all out.
Taking off her clothes was another shock, revealing a body that she could have only dreamed of. The full – yet perky breasts, tight buttocks, flat stomach and shapely legs were well worth marveling at and she giggled when she noticed the full bush. After checking herself out in the mirror again, she stepped into the shower.
There were two kinds of soaps and shampoos – male and female – including a large tub of cold cream, which she used to wash the thick make-up off her pixie face. As she washed her body and hair, she reveled in the experience of possessing such a desirable figure, but also worried over how she was going to get back.
Once she was done, she got out and dried herself then checked her reflection again. Without make-up, she looked younger and less of a vixen, but she liked what she saw. Innocent and pure. She then realized that she only had the clothes she wore into the bathroom, so she wrapped the towel around her body, brushed her wet hair and slowly made her way out.
The man was in the kitchenette, watching her closely with a warm smile.
“Feeling any better?” He asked.
Pauline nodded and stepped gingerly over to the sofa.
“Aren’t you going to put your Kimono on?”
“Um, okay. Where is it?”
He brought the tea over and placed her cup on the small coffee table, taking care not to knock the large pine cone over. She noticed that all the furniture was a lot smaller than what she had in her other life. She also noticed that the room was very basic and utilitarian, apart from the African statues on the bookshelves and cubist prints on the walls.
The man winked and took off into the bedroom without speaking. When he came out he had a yellow, satin kimono which he handed to Pauline gently. She stood up and put it on and demurely turned her back to take the towel off.
She nearly jumped when she felt him behind her, attempting to assist. Then he drew her back into his arms and hugged her from behind. She shuddered with the pleasure of it, feeling his soft beard as he brushed her right ear with his lips.
He murmured, “Remember me now?”
Stunned into silence, Pauline couldn’t even nod. He slowly turned her around to face him and wrapped his arms around her again. Her heart was beating so fast it seemed like it had stopped. When he leaned in and kissed her she almost died. Jon had never kissed her so softly or with such tenderness. Then she jerked back suddenly and shook her head.
“I’m sorry, I can’t. I’m married.”
He gave her a shocked look.
“You never told me. I asked you and you said no.”
She was sorry for the hurt look on his face and scrambled to explain, not realizing that she was letting the cat out of the bag.
“Look, I’m not who you think I am. I’m not from here. I’m Australian and I live in the future. I mean – I don’t know how or why, but I have another body in Melbourne, Australia. I’m a forty year old Librarian – and yes – I’m married, but that’s in 2016. I can’t explain it properly because I don’t even know how I got here. My name is Pauline. This isn’t my body. I’m sorry – but I don’t even know your name!”
He stared wide eyed and fearful.
“Wow, Julie. You are truly gone! I’m Gary.”
“I’m not Julie – I’m Pauline – please believe me!”
Then it clicked. She now knew why he was familiar. Could he be the famous Beat poet – Gary Snyder?
“Are you – Gary Snyder – the poet?”
She was shocked when he started laughing loudly.
“Sweetheart – either you were slipped a doozy of a mickey or you’ve finally flipped. Of course I’m Gary Snyder and yeah – I wish I was a poet. I’m trying, but – you know that already.” He scratched his head before continuing. “That was a great story, though. 2016 you say? Man, you’ve got to write that down. I always knew you’d be a great writer. Even Ginsy couldn’t come up with that. Bill – maybe – but, wow!”
The overwhelming realization that she had indeed traveled back in time made her unsteady on her feet. It was even more shocking that she had made it to the 1950’s, in America, smack dab in the center of the Beat Generation. Then she remembered the card tab again. She’d touched the tab for the Beat Generation in the catalog. Had she truly teleported back in time?
Gary came over and led her to the sofa, then brought the cup of tea to her lips. She took a sip and enjoyed the warm ginger washing over her tongue. She then turned to look at Gary and the reality hit her. He really was Gary Snyder – young and in the flesh. Back in 2016, she knew that the famous Beat poet was still alive. If she made it back, should she seek him out and see if he remembered Julie?
It was all a little too much but she managed to regain enough of her senses to try and figure out what to do next.
“Gary, I know you don’t believe me, but – if I can find a way to get back to my time and this – vessel – goes back to the way she was, then you’ll know I’m telling the truth. Will you help me?”
He frowned but slowly started to nod.
“Sweetheart, you know I’d do anything for you, but maybe you should speak to the doctor again?”
Pauline remembered the card in the wallet but she shook her head vehemently.
“No! I’m not crazy and I’m not Julie. Look, if I’m wrong – if I can’t get back and I can’t wake up out of this nightmare – I promise I’ll fall back into place and stop talking about this, but you have to help me. Please?”
Gary took a sip of his own tea and gave her a cheeky grin.
“Okay, I’ll go along with it, if it’ll make you happy.”
Pauline sighed and nodded. “That’s all I ask, for now.”
Keep posted for Chapter Three and please feel free to comment or make suggestions!