Play in Time by David W Landrum

David W Landrum's tale of a romance between a reclusive physicist and an anachronistic thespian echoes Shakespearean themes of predestiny.

Min Yuan liked working for a physics laboratory. She had trained diligently, mastered her subjects in undergraduate and graduate school, and taken the job she had always dreamed of having. She did mathematics to calculate and describe the dynamics of sub-atomic particles; occasionally she traveled to the east coast and helped with experiments that involved a cyclotron.

She had just turned thirty-two, was still a virgin, and had not gone on a date since graduate school six years ago. She lived, she told herself with bitter amusement, like a Buddhist nun: apartment as plain and spare as a room in a serenity house (the Buddhist term for a convent), no sexual expression, a simple diet, and devotion to her calling in life, which, in her case, was the advancement of science.

One of the things the lab focused in its on experiments was the passing of time. Once Min asked if rather than scanning numbers embedded in the workings of satellites and space probes they monitored, they could send a sequence of words.

"We would only end up measuring the duration of whatever words you sent," Marta, the other woman who worked there said.

"No. Words are different," she said. "Words embody concepts and they have a nature to themselves."

Marta laughed good-naturedly. "Okay. Just for fun, let's put a sentence in to be measured and see what happens."

They decided on a quote from Shakespeare - "Out, out, brief candle; life's but a walking shadow" - and sent it to a space probe on the edge of the explored universe. In a month or two they would measure it to see if its duration suggested the relativity of time.

Min went home. Not long after she closed the door and sat down in the chair she favored for relaxation, Danielle called and asked her if she wanted to go to the theater.

"Jim and I were going but he got a call from his father and had to go to Lowell to help him out with something. You want to come? I've hired a baby-sitter and really want to go to the theater, but it's no fun to go places by yourself."

Tell me about it, Min thought. She agreed to accompany Danielle. She often sat in church with her and her family. She did this not because she believed but so she would not have to be alone all day Sunday. Though it was depressing to get glimpses of Danielle's and Jim's affection and to see their three growing, bustling children, she often chose to go with them.

For the play she dressed up a little more than she usually did. When she drove to Danielle's house, her friend exclaimed how good she looked.

"You look great in that outfit - bright colors, short skirt! You're a knock-out!"

Min wondered why, if she was a knock-out, she had not been able to knock out a man so that he would want to date her.

She often stood in front of the mirror and wondered these sorts of things. Though she would say she was not a beauty queen she thought she was not unattractive; maybe a bit of a plain Jane. She had dated regularly in high school and college, but nothing had developed, and her boyfriends would eventually fade out and go their various ways. She supposed her driven, achieving nature had something to do with it. She had wanted to be a physicist. She had become one at a cost: transformation into the quiet single girl tagging along with her married friend.

"This should be a good play, they're doing it in O.P.," Danielle said.

Min was familiar enough with the state of Shakespeare performance to know O.P. meant Original Pronunciation. Of late, scholars had recreated the sound of English as it was spoken in Elizabethan times. Listening to plays done in this dialect fascinated her. Tonight, she thought, she could become so absorbed in the language of whatever play they saw that she might forget her morose mood and have a reasonably good time.

They would see As You Like It. The program notes said the work was most likely written for a wealthy family and performed in a private setting. The witty arguments between Rosaline and Orlando, the semi-philosophical speeches, the five songs (most Shakespeare plays had only one song, if any at all) indicated as much. Entertainment for a wealthier, better-educated audience, Min read. Given the length of the play, the notes went on, it was probably presented in two parts with a long break, refreshments, or even a dinner in between. In keeping with this, the production would feature a substantial intermission with buffet food and wine at the end of Act III. As the house lights went down Min settled back and let herself be taken by the scene on stage.

She had watched the play many times in theaters and had seen it in video. She enjoyed the comedy; and hearing the familiar lines spoken in the speech as it probably sounded in Shakespeare's day made her enjoyment even more pleasant. At the buffet (the price of which was included in the tickets Danielle had purchased), actors mingled with the crowd. One of them - Edmund Paxton, who had the male lead - sat between Min and Danielle.

"In modern times," he said, "actors don't show themselves or fraternize with patrons until after the play ends. In Shakespeare's age, the actors would often break the illusion. People knew they were acting, so they did not try to disguise themselves in their stage roles. Following that tradition, whenever we do O.P. we don't hide backstage; we come out and mix with the audience - much more like players in Shakespeare's day would have done."

He was a handsome man (maybe about her age). He spoke with a slight Irish accent. She had thought his acting natural and his realization of the character convincing, though a bit different from the usual stage-fare. He did not play Orlando as the victim of his cruel brother and the tyranny of the Duke Fredrich. He played a more calculating, dangerous Orlando who fled not from fear but because he did not want to cause violence that might harm his extended family and bring harsher conditions in his city and Dukedom. Min told him how much she liked his interpretation. He smiled, eyeing her curiously.

"Thank you," he said. "I am flattered to be addressed by a beautiful Princess of Cathay."

Cathay, she knew, was the name by which many sixteenth-century Europeans referred to China. She wondered at his reference to her race and her appearance but decided he was remaining in character, speaking as a man from Shakespeare's era would have spoken. She blushed but smiled.

"Thank you."

"Thanks is for me to give. You've graced me with your presence."

She gathered her courage. She knew she had to act quickly or she would not act at all. She spoke.

"I'm impressed at how well you've mastered O.P. You have a touch of Irish in your speech. Are you from there? Did your native accent help you to get such a good grasp of the original pronunciation?"

Immediately she felt sharp-edged waves of fear go through her. Was she being condescending? Had she offended him? Would he think her stupid and dismiss her as not worth his time?

He smiled.

"One needs either to be a well-trained expert or from the Midlands to speak it properly," he said, his voice gracious. "I'm actually from Shropshire, Shakespeare's home shire. In the rural places where the speech has not changed much over the years, it is quite easy to go the few steps into speaking as we spoke in the olden days."

He did not seem offended, but Min thought she needed to give a small apology. At that point, Danielle entered the conversation.

"Do you live here in the U.S., Mr. Paxton?"

He smiled up at Danielle but gave Min a smile as well.

"I've been living here a while, and I like it. I've found opportunities to act, mostly on stage. If one can do Original Pronunciation well, one has quite a few opportunities to work. I'm almost all booked up for the next year."

"Wonderful," Min said and then felt silly for saying it.

"It certainly is. When I first arrived here I didn't think I would be able to get any sort of work."

"How long have you lived here?" Danielle asked.

"Three years. I like it. And I don't have much choice."

"Why is that?" Min asked.

"It's hard to get work back in the Kingdom. I've found it easier over here."

Someone from the theater told Edmund it was time to return to begin Act IV. He bowed, taking leave of the two he had sat with - probably more role-playing, Min thought - and headed for the auditorium and the stage.

"Very nice-looking man," Danielle said.

"He is."

"He seemed to like you."

"I hope he did. But if he's an actor I imagine he has a girlfriend - or lots of them."

"Well, maybe you can become one of the many."

After the performance, when the two of them were going through the receiving line Danielle said she and Min might come to see the performance again. "Or maybe just Min," Danielle put in.

Min blushed. Edmund smiled. "I would be delighted to see you here again, Miss" -

"Yuan. My first name is Min. M-i-n. Please call me that."

"Ah, yes, and address me as Edmund, if you will. I hope to see you again, Danielle. And Min."

He emphasized the word and. On the drive home Danielle said he wanted to see her in the future. Min dismissed her statement. "He was just being polite," she said. That night when she turned off her bedroom light she hoped it might be that he did want to see her but also knew she needed to be realistic. Maybe, she thought, she would go to the play for a second time just to see how he reacted to her being there; or if he would even remember her.

She saw him the next day.

Min was supposed to go to lunch with Marta, but something came up that Marta had to attend to. She went alone to a coffee bar she liked. She saw Edmund sitting at a counter, sipping coffee. His face lit up when he saw her.

"Ah. Miss Yuan. I'll say Min. I see there's a booth open. Will you sit with me?"

She got flustered but knew she had to settle down and behave with resolution.

"I would like that a lot, Edmund."

They crossed the room to the empty booth and sat down. He did not sit across from her in the booth but next to her.

"You look very nice, Min," he said.

"Thank you," she said, trying to not get tense being so close to a man. She had not been much in contact with men except at work, and there proper distances were always kept. As close as they were sitting she could feel his warmth and the energy of his presence.

"Purple - the color of royalty," he observed. "Are you certain you're not a Princess of Cathay?"

The Cathay thing again, she thought.

"Well, I could be. But if I were, my ancestors would have lived there some years ago. My family came to the United States in the 1800s to work in the gold mines and on the railroads in California. We've lived here for five generations."

"This country is all the better for it."

She wanted to dismiss him. Silly, glib comment, she thought. Too silly for a modern person. But even as the thought crossed her mind, she also realized (again) the possibility that to perfect his abilities as an actor he had immersed himself in all things Elizabethan and Shakespearian. Maybe he lived his Fifteenth-Century persona to the degree that he did not realize how much he had assumed it. Min liked the way he talked and acted - even if it was acting. It was nice encountering the elaborate politeness and the elegant language of that era. She decided she would not call him out for it. She would instead play the game and enjoy it.

"I suppose so. Tell me, Edmund, what Shakespeare play do you like the best?"

"How can one choose between the finest jewels that have ever been set in gold? But, if I were forced to choose - and I am being forced - coerced by the force of beauty - I would say, Macbeth. It has the speech I love the most."

"What is it? I'd be fascinated to know."

He seemed to take a posture, sitting straighter, his eyes remote as if he were on stage looking at no one in particular but reciting for everyone in the theater to hear. "Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

She felt hot. Her throat constricted. She remembered the sentence she and Marta had sent into space and time. She tried to act as if she were not startled, but he caught the look on her face.

"Is something amiss, Min?"

"No," she said. "Well, yes. It surprised me because I was discussing those lines with a friend the other day."

He smiled. "They're wonderful lines. Magnificently crafted."

She and Marta had fractured time, she thought. They had sent words into space, into a vehicle traveling at light speed, exceeding the limitations of time. The sentence had somehow connected with someone saying them in a different temporal point. Their energy had transported him here.

Edmund remained puzzled at her behavior.

"I'm sorry, Edmund. It's just such a coincidence. Do you believe words have life - I mean, in themselves? Are they alive like we are?"

"Words are not mere utterance," he said. "I'll have to quote Shakespeare once more. In Hamlet, Gertrude, Hamlet's mother, swears an oath to keep quiet by saying, If words be made of breath, / And breath of life, I have no life to breathe / What thou hast said to me." Words are made of breath. They come from the very life you and I live; they are breath - the very thing that, when it ceases, we are dead. They are alive - not mere sounds but something rooted in life itself and in the life each of us has been given."

Pragmatic as she had been for so many years, Min did not know what to do. She sat there trying to think of a reply. He smiled.

"Sounds like you've been reading Plato," he said. "Plato believed words touch upon the ideal, the real thing that lies beyond the visible and beyond substance and time."

She still could not talk. Finally, she got some words out.

"Danielle and I might be coming to see you perform again."

"I'll be performing three more shows here then will go to Ann Arbor to sign a contract for a performance with the Royal Shakespeare Troupe. They do a play at the University of Michigan every year."

"What are you acting?"

"Romeo and Juliet. I'll get you a ticket. The performance will be in a couple of months."

"Get me a ticket? Why?"

"It's already sold out." He mentioned three famous British actors who would be in the play. "Everyone wants to see them, so the tickets were gone in an hour. But every cast member gets five to distribute as he or she sees fit. I would love to give you one - and to your friend, Danielle, if she wants to attend."

Min hesitated and said, "I don't know if Danielle will be able to go. But I might come by myself."

She realized what she had told him - what her sentence had implied, coded though it might have been.

"I would like that a lot."

They finished their drinks and left the coffee bar.

"When will you and Danielle be at the production of As You Like It?" he asked as they came out into the cold.

She really did not know when Danielle was planning to attend a second performance (if she really even meant to go a second time).

"Tomorrow night, I think."

"I'll look forward to seeing you there."

She smiled at him. He reached over, took her right hand, squeezed it affectionately, and went his way.

She and Danielle went to a second performance of As You Like It two days after she saw Edmund at the coffee bar. It was the last show. The house was packed. Danielle said she had read a glowing review of the production in the local paper and that it had praised Mr. Edmund Paxton for his "superb acting and absolute mastery of original Shakespearian pronunciation." She wondered if squeezing her hand was the prelude to getting to know her. Min chided herself for being foolish. He was an actor and popular. He had a career to make. He worked with actresses who were slender, poised, and beautiful. What would he want with an unextraordinary girl who did math all day and might be older than he was? They found their seats - second row, near center stage. The house lights went down and the play began. Edmund walked out on stage and began (his character had the opening lines).

As I remember, Adam, it was upon this fashion bequeathed me by will but poor a thousand crowns, and, as thou sayest, charged my brother, on his blessing, to breed me well: and there begins my sadness.

After he had finished the lines and the lengthy speech that followed, and just before the other character, Adam, spoke, he glanced out at the audience and, just for a second, met her eyes, giving her a look that radiated for less than a second. He looked at no else but to her. It was unmistakable.

When the first act ended and applause filled the auditorium, Danielle leaned over and said in Min's ear, "He looked at you. I saw it. Don't try to deny it."

She did not argue. Of course, arguing would have been difficult in a theater as the second scene began. Her friend's confirmation of what had happened stopped the storm of denial that her mind would normally have launched to downplay what had taken place. No, she thought. She had seen it. He had meant it. Danielle had confirmed it. She felt her face get hot; also her middle parts. She listened to every line in the remainder of the play even when Edmund was not acting them.

Time came for the mid-play dinner. She looked around for him. He hurried up to her near one of the main doors and gently directed her so she and he were just inside the door and out of the view of the crowd.

"Min, I can't sit with you and Danielle tonight," he said. "I've snagged an impromptu interview and it might get me another job, so listen. Would you like to come to the cast party after the play? I'd love to have you as my guest."

"I" - she sputtered. "Yes. I would love that, Edmund."

Speaking quickly, he said, "Okay, great. I've got to go. If I get finished talking with the producer, I'll come and sit with you. But I need to go."

She nodded, looking up at him. He made to leave but then halted, squeezed her hands and, noticing her eyes, bent down, gave her a small, kiss, and hurried off.

Min found Danielle and sat down beside her.

"Where's Edmund?" she asked.

"I saw him. He has to talk with someone about getting a part in a play." Min felt warm and a little disoriented. "He said he might join us if he gets finished in time."

Danielle looked at Min. She leaned in close to her ear.

"Did he kiss you on the forehead or on the lips?"

She gaped and moment. A couple of other playgoers sat down at their table.

"Lips," she said quietly.

Danielle smiled, showing all her even, pretty white teeth, then turned to introduce herself and Min to the couple that had just sat down at their table.

As it turned out, Edmund was able to join them at the table. He sat in an empty chair next to Min. He gave her a discrete touch on the back of her shoulder (she was wearing a dress with a low back).

"How did it go?" she asked.

"It went well," he said. "I think I got the job." He explained to the people around the table what had happened and introduced himself to the couple he had not met yet and another woman who had joined them. The man and wife seemed to know a lot about Elizabethan England and Shakespeare. Somehow they got on the subject of eating with one's hands.

"We did have forks back then," Edmund said.

"Really?" the man in the married couple asked.

"Use of them was not widespread, but they were catching on. A lot of us still ate with our hands, though."

Danielle giggled. When he asked her what was making her laugh she said, "You're saying 'we' like you lived back then or something."

He laughed. "I get into character so much and try so hard to think like a person from that era would think that sometimes I almost do believe I lived back then."

Min had noticed the look on his face when Danielle said what she had said.

They had a chance to talk a little more before he left for curtain call to the second half of the play. After bows, the actors thanked the directors and other personnel involved in the play. Min walked to the edge of the stage and managed to get Edmund's attention.

"I'll have Danielle take me home," she told him. "Give me the address of the party and I'll drive there myself." She smiled. "Alexa will give me directions."

"Good," he said. "I couldn't drive you home anyway because my car's in the shop." He wrote the address down for her on the back of a ticket stub. She thanked him and left with Danielle, who dropped her off at her house. She dug through closet and, after some frustration and cursing, found a dress more like what the women at a cast party would wear - cut to accentuate the curves of her body, sleeves, showing some cleavage, and short. She had bought it to wear to a dance one of her last boyfriends had invited her to and, thankfully, it still fit. Min got in her car, drove to nearby twenty-four hour pharmacy, and bought a packet of condoms. She knew Edmund could not have been in modern times for very long and did not know if he would know about modern means of prevention. She was not certain when condoms had come into use but did not think it was in the 1600s. Her older sister had told her once, "Never do it without having the man wear a condom. If you get pregnant out of wedlock it will ruin your life. If the man refuses to wear one, refuse him." She had never had occasion to apply her sister's rule, but tonight she would insist on a condom even if she had to show him how it worked.

A fleet of expensive cars sat outside the address Edmund had given her. She parked her Toyota Camry amid them, climbed out, and went to the door.

A man she assumed was a security guard asked her who had sent for her. Obviously, her looks told him she was not one of the "beautiful people" more likely to be at a party such as this one.

"I'm Min Yuan; Edmund Paxton invited me."

He checked the list.

"Yes, Miss Yuan. We know you. Please come in." He glanced at the crowd. "I see Mr. Paxton just over there." He pointed.

Edmund stood by a tall, leggy woman with long black hair. She wore lots of jewelry and had on a sequined party dress. Looking at her made Min feel provincial, unsophisticated, and short. Glancing at the crowd, she saw it was populated with women like the one holding a conversation with Edmund. The urge to turn on her heel and leave seized her. But she remembered the kiss; the invitation itself. She made a beeline for Edmund. She smiled happily when he saw her.


When she came up to him, he lifted up her chin just slightly, bent down, and gave her a kiss as a greeting.

"It's so nice you could come. You look lovely."

Compared to the woman he stood next to, Min felt like she was dressed in an outfit bought at the Salvation Army store. But the woman smiled at her.

"This is Caroline Masters," Edmund said. "She directed the play you saw twice."

Min's spirit revived. Maybe Caroline Masters was not his girlfriend. Min then noticed she wore a wedding ring. The woman greeted her, touching her arm.

"So nice to meet you, Min. Edmund told me you're a scientist."

Min smiled. "Well, I guess I am. I work at the physics lab in town. I do calculations and operate a cyclotron on occasion. I have a degree in physics."

"I would say those things most certainly qualify you as a scientist. And I'm impressed. Talk of physics and sub-atomic particles sounds like the occult to me."

Min laughed. "Actually, it's very cut-and-dried and by the numbers - literally. Shakespeare is much more exciting."

"I would agree to that, I think," Masters replied. "I love when I can direct a Shakespeare play. Do you have a favorite play - a favorite speech?"

Min pressed her lips together as she concentrated. Then she decided to reveal the quotation she loved the most; which was not one she thought would impress the woman and Edmund.

"My favorite speech is not a common one."

"All the better," Edmund said. "Let's hear it."

Min recited the obscure speech from Hamlet:

Some say that ever against that season
Wherein our Savior's birth is celebrated
The bird of dawning singeth all night long.
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallowed and so gracious is the time.

Her auditors were quiet, silenced by the beauty of the words she spoke.

"I just love the language," she said. "I love the magic of it and the ancient beliefs." She decided to go on. "I think it's cool that Marcellus says this to Horatio, who scoffed at the idea of seeing a ghost and is the consummate rationalist. Horatio replies, So I have heard and do in part believe it. Even he has to concede belief."

Min wondered if she had just made a fool of herself by proposing to interpret Shakespeare for two people who knew his work thoroughly and intimately. But Masters applauded quietly.

"Wonderful," she said. "That's one of my favorite speeches as well. Yes: a minor speech done by a minor character yet so beautifully written it leaves you enraptured. I got to recite those lines once. Long ago I played a soldier in Hamlet - we did it in modern dress and put it in modern setting with female characters added. I wore combat fatigues and a patrol cap. My character name was 'Marcella.'"

Edmund and Min laughed.

I'll leave you two together," Masters said. "Edmund, fabulous job tonight. Min, it was so nice to meet you."

She went her way. Edmund came over and took Min's hands.

"I'm glad you were able to be here tonight."

He leaned down and gave her a more substantial kiss. She did not resist or pull away. She thought public kissing odd but remembered she stood among actors, artists, creative types. They lived by a different script and a different set of protocols than the people with whom she worked every day.

"Some wine?" Edmund asked.


They walked to the wine bar and got glasses of Melton. High quality, Min thought as she sipped it. She felt dowdy amid all the splendidly dressed, beautiful women there. They're all tall and blonde, she thought - though after a while she noticed a couple of Asian and a smattering of African-American women. Their clothing was obviously fancier and more expensive than what she wore: flashier, skirts much shorter than hers and better bodies to fill them out.

"A penny for your thoughts," he said.

She had been staring at the crowd. She smiled at herself.

"I feel like a country girl in homespun outfit standing amid royalty dressed in elegant silk gowns - like Cinderella when everything began to revert to what it was before at midnight."

"You outshine them all," he said.

"You're very kind. But enough of me. You said your talk with the producer earlier tonight got you an acting job. What? And where?"

"It's King Lear and over in Lansing. I get to play Edgar."

"That's a great role. Really, it's more than one role: You play Edgar himself, Edgar pretending to be a madman, pretending to be a local who rescues Gloucester after his 'suicide,' and then as heavily-accented peasant when Osric shows up. Then back to his real self."

He laughed. "You seem to know the play very well."

"I've seen it a lot: Several times on stage - once at Stratford, Ontario, with Christopher Plummer as the lead; at least three other times on stage; and I've got the DVD of Shakespeare in Central Park with James Earl Jones as Lear."

"I'm impressed."

Min looked around her. Sensing, she thought, that the crowd of beautiful people might overwhelm her, Edmund suggested they go to the buffet. They filled plates and sat down. She had gotten a fork. She noticed Edmund did not pick up utensils. He ate with is hands.

As she watched him she remembered a line from That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis when one of the characters commented on the manners of Merlin the Magician, who has been awakened from an enchanted sleep and finds himself in the middle of the Twentieth Century. When he dines, the character noted that though he ate with his hands he ate elegantly. Min remembered the character saying, It wasn't a case of having no manners but of having different ones. As she watched Edmund she understood fully what Lewis's character had meant.

How could she get him to talk about time travel? How could she get him to give out the full details of the story of which she had been a part? She decided she would wait and not mention his lapse into the past when he used hands instead of silverware. He cleaned his fingers with a wet wipe and smiled at her.

"Would you like to dance, Min?"

In all her plotting and scheming she had not even thought of dance. She even blushed, though she hoped he did not notice. Her insides fluttered. Hard to be objective, she thought, when he keeps making me love him.

They danced until both of them were tired out. She leaned against his shoulder. He held her gently. A pause in the music came. Caroline waved at them and then walked up.

"Do you need me to drive you home?" she asked.

Min wondered a moment and then realized he would not know how to drive.

Edmund seemed embarrassed. Caroline smiled went off to talk to someone.

"I just can't get the knack of driving on the left," he said.

She nodded, remembering that earlier he had said his car was in the shop and recalling the old adage that no one had a good enough memory to be a successful liar. But this would make things work. She could take him to her place.

The party broke up. Edmund said good-night to scores of people (many of them women Min fancied prettier than she). They walked out into the cold. It had begun to snow. Small flakes fell straight to the ground.

"Let's go to my place for a little while," Min said.

"I'd like that," he said.

They spoke little as she drove. The snow fell. On a late winter night the streets were deserted. Edmund looked out the window, seemingly fascinated with all he saw. She went the mile to her house, pulled into the garage, and welcomed him inside. She made tea. After pouring it she told him she was going to change clothes.

"This party dress is uncomfortable," she explained.

She hurried to her bedroom and changed into a blouse and skirt.

She and Edmund talked. They sat close. Talk became kissing and, eventually, kissing went beyond the small expressions of liking he had bestowed on her up to now. Min knew she had to act. She had to do what she had decided to do now or she would never do so. With a speed and adroitness that surprised her she unbuttoned her blouse, reached back, and undid her bra.

"Touch me," she said.

When he put his hands on her breasts, waves of heat went through her body. He kissed her. Soon her blouse and the unhooked bra had been completely discarded. She felt herself get wet. She wanted to say, "Let's go to the bedroom," but the only word she got out was "bedroom." As they went through the door, she unzipped and dropped her skirt. She slipped off her knickers as she slid between the sheets. (She had taken off her hose when she changed out of the party dress.)

"Will it hurt?" she had asked her older sister during one of their conversations on "life."

Her sister had replied that it could but didn't for most women and, she added, it had not hurt her the first time. Ever the researcher, Min had gone online. The articles she found said only about thirty per cent of women felt pain their initial sexual encounter and only fifteen per cent bled. She twisted her hair as he undressed. Then he climbed into bed with her and took her in his arms.

She felt pressure, a bit of resistance, and a small sting when her membrane collapsed. She made a noise. He touched her shoulder.

"Are you all right?"

She nodded. "Yes. Go on."

He pushed into her. She tensed and then relaxed. When she relaxed she felt herself luxuriate, fluid flowing, warming and lubricating her. Edmund held her as she gasped and moaned. She didn't want to act like a virgin on her first night but then smiled as she thought, I am a virgin on my first night, damn it. Fully relaxed and remembering what her sister had told her and she had heard friends say, she began to move her bottom around, (trying to make circles but not succeeding very well); it became easier when she hooked her ankles over his legs. Her pleasure spiked. She tried to think of what else she had been taught by those she had learned from but out of nowhere she felt a tightening at the base of her spine. Her body stiffened then released in spasm of pleasure and delight.

After it passed Min felt too weak - too sated - to do much of anything other than moan, hang on, and enjoy Edmund's lovemaking. She felt the force and velocity of pleasure. She clung to him, gasping, and, to her astonishment, cursing with words she had blushed to hear others say. He made furious love to her. They finished a madness of shouting, groaning, and flailing. Then they lay quiet. After a moment, he rolled off her.

When she rolled on her side to put her arms around him (amazed at how hot her body felt - and his) her hands brushed him. She felt something, let her finger probe, and realized she was feeling his manhood - but it seemed to be encased in something that felt plasticine.

She realized it was a condom.

A shock of fear went through her. She had bought a pack of them and - remembering Ruth's warning - had meant to require him to wear one even if he did not know what it was. The wave of desire that had crushed her had erased the caution from her mind and she had forgotten to tell him to put one on. She squeezed against him to make certain she was not mistaken.

"A condom," he said. "You don't mind, do you?"

"No," she answered. "In fact, I wanted you to wear one but got too excited to say anything." Then she smiled and settled against him. They lay there, sated, in the silence of a snowy winter night. Once more she marveled at how hot both of them were. Then he spoke.

"Are you the sorceress who brought me out of my time and here to the future?"

His question startled her but did not make her afraid; not even anxious. She contemplated a moment then spoke.

"I'm not a sorceress. Yes, I brought you here, but I was not trying to. How long have you been here?"

"Three years."

She felt surprised but then remember that conventional ideas of time's direction and duration did not apply in the fluid continuum of eternity with its anomalies, worm holes, negative gravity, and dark energy.

"I used a machine. I was not planning for the machine to pull you into this time."

"Your machines," he said, "amazed me when I first came here. I was helping my brother at his farm in Shropshire. I had come back from London to visit him. After four years establishing myself as an actor, it was good to see him and his family. As I dug I was thinking of the lines from Macbeth: Out, out brief candle. Then, in an instant, I found myself standing on a road. An eighteen-wheeler was one the first things I beheld in this 'brave new world.' Of course, I thought I had gone mad."

"What did you do?"

"It was cold. I started walking, following the road. Someone stopped and asked if I wanted a ride. I could hardly understand what he said, but I had the sense to say 'yes.' He let me in and headed for Lansing. For some reason I entered this time in a place near there.

"The driver saw I had trouble understanding him and asked if I was Irish. I said yes. He spoke a little more slowly and simply after that. You know how much our English tongue has changed. But English is English and by listening closely I could understand him well enough. You can imagine how terrifying it was for someone from the year 1620 to be suddenly transported to 2016 and traveling in a motorcar at seventy miles per hour. I had to use all my will not to make water right then and there. But I held on. He asked me if I had a house. I said I didn't. I know enough about the culture now to understand that he thought I was homeless; he probably thought that from the way I smelled. We didn't bathe as frequently as you do now. He said he would drop me off at a rescue mission.

"I had no idea what a rescue mission was but he let me out of the car in front of one. He gave me $10.00. I had heard of paper money but had never seen any. I had the sense to hide it in my clothing."

"Clothing?" Min asked. "Didn't people think you were oddly dressed?"

"Fortunately, I wasn't wearing doublet and hose like I would have been if I were acting a play. Since I had been helping my brother at his farm, I had on trousers, a smock, and boots.

"At any rate, my ride dropped me off in the downtown. I saw a line of people, mostly men, and joined it. I was acting oddly, gaping at everything, understanding nothing. I saw a stream of vehicles with no animals to pull them; huge buildings as far as I could see. I even saw airplanes. I thought at first they were huge birds.

"Landing there, I see now, was fortunate - or providential. The people who operated the place thought I was not in my proper mind - many of the men in the rescue mission were in that condition. They taught me how to take a shower, how to care for my teeth; they gave me clothing and food. Because I did have my faculties about me, I was able to adapt - though I was shocked to learn that I lived, now, in the year of our Lord 2016. I had jumped over 360 years. But I knew I was not mad and that I had no choice but to make the best of what had happened to me."

"I'm sorry for what I did."

"You told me it was not intentional. I believe you."

"You do?"

"You're a woman of principle and goodness."

She blew air out of her mouth to indicate humorous exasperation.

"Women of principle don't commit - what was the word you used in your day and time?"

"Fornication? Yes, you yielded up your maidenhead. But you knew you wanted to be my bride and knew I wanted the same but was too shy to woo you. Now our course is set."

She started.

"You mean you want to marry me?"

"Of course I do. I must. You opened to me. It would be a dastardly deed if I refused to wed you. It was not my intention to despoil you of your virginity. But I did not think I could ever win your hand. You invited me to be your husband and I accepted your offer."

Her sister had never advised her about a situation like this. Her heart softened.

"You're a charming man."

"You are a beautiful woman. And one like I've envisioned. Remember the song Thomas Campion wrote: 'I care not for these ladies / Who must be wooed and won.' As an actor, I encounter a veritable mob of beautiful women who must be wooed and won - as you have probably noticed. But what does a man want?"

"What?" she asked.

"A woman who is true and who can love."

Her modernism cued her to make a sarcastic remark. But when she opened her mouth to do so she stopped. She saw the sarcasm, the cynicism, the cruelly pragmatic tenor of the modern world in contrast to older times - the times modern people thought were silly, pretentious, and juvenile in their flowery approach to love - as being crass and cruel. People in Edmund's day believed in the "lady sweet and kind," pure and innocent, like Juliet, Rosalind, Desdemona, Cordelia, and... yes, she thought, like Silvia. She remembered singing "Who Is Sylvia" in college choir:

Who is Silvia, what is she
that all our swains commend her?
Holy, fair and wise is she -
the heavens such grade did lend her
that she might adored be.

The massive cynicism of our age that would sneer at such a description - that would scoff at the idea of virtue, goodness, and wisdom - dissolved in her mind and heart. Edmund thought of her in this very way. She could not dismiss what he had said to her - what he had said about her character and about her soul. She would not gainsay it.

She did not remember falling asleep and was startled waking up next to a man after she had slept alone for so many years. But when she opened her eyes he smiled. They started to kiss. She put her lips to his ear.

"Fuck me," she whispered.

He obliged. They had both slept late and had to be at work and at rehearsal. After much kissing, embracing, and many words affirming their love, Edmund left for Lansing. He had hired a driver to take him there. Min determined to teach him to drive. They parted. She left for the physics laboratory and, once at her desk, began a project, immersing herself in equations.

Marta saw her just before lunch.

"How did the date go?" she asked. Min had told her she was going on a date.

"It went very well," she said. "Edmund is traveling to Lansing today to start rehearsals for a new play. I'm going to meet him there tonight."

Marta let a sly smile come to her lips. "Sounds like you had a good time. Anything exciting or unusual happen?"

Min gave her a smile. "Wouldn't you like to know?" she answered.

When she and Edmund went to the hotel where he was staying she asked when he had learned about condoms.

"Was it when you were in the rescue mission? Did one of the other men staying there tell you about them?"

"Sweet, you underestimate us - I mean the people of my time. We had them and used them - though they are not as nice as the ones today. We had to tie them on with a ribbon."

She wondered how many times he had used one. It was unrealistic to think she had been his first. Actors were proverbially immoral. She remembered Ophelia in Hamlet singing her mad-song, Quoth she, Before you tumbled me, you promised me to wed. She was undoubtedly not the first woman he had tumbled.

"Some of the men at the rescue mission gave me a little tutoring on the subject," he said, bringing her out of her revery. He paused and added, "Of course, I am under obligation now to marry you. But do not think of 'obligation' as indicating something odious. It is the sweetest obligation ever laid on me."

"I liked it being laid on me too," she said.

They both laughed. At least I'm learning to use some bawdy Elizabethan double-entendres she thought. Shakespeare would have approved.

She spent the night with him, got up early, and drove to work. At lunch break she used her work computer to look up Elizabethan terms for prostitutes: wenches, bawds, queens. Did Edmund think of her as such? On the one hand, actors were not considered to be the most morally astute figures by their fellow Elizabethans. No doubt he fit the stereotype. But then again, she reasoned, she had been a virgin and he recognized as much and acted according to what was consider moral and proper in his day. Because he had taken her "maidenhead" he had obligation to her. That societal belief had worked to her advantage.

Things fell out quickly. Edmund's career took off. He played in Ann Arbor, at theaters in the Midwest, and then began to get offers to perform in major cities and was able to snag small parts in films. Min wondered if his ascension to the world of celebrity would give him more exciting prospects and she would be left alone. But he continued to talk about marriage. She resisted a bit because he kept emphasizing his obligation to her. She had not told anyone she had lost of her virginity. She was not pregnant. She would have rested easier if he had said he loved her or wanted her as a wife. But he spoke of how she had opened to him (a phrase he liked to use). He spoke of it as if things went by contract. She, as a virgin, had given her body to him; he was expected, due to this, to marry her.

But the more she reflected on the era from which he had come, the more she was comforted. In his time expectations were different. There were codes and rules. A worthy man followed them.

After making him wait months, she said yes, she would marry him. When she thought about her delay in answering, Min was ironically amused. For all the years she had longed to be a bride, when the proposal came at last she had waffled in indecision.

He rejoiced. A dozen roses arrived at the office the next day. Marta cried. The men who worked there expressed amazement to the degree that Min began to be annoyed by their pronouncements. After she had shown off the engagement ring Edmund had given her a few days after the roses came, Marta said, "Oh, by the way, there's some interesting data on those words we sent up to Deep Probe 6. It did go retrograde - it went back in time."

"Really," Min said, a little uneasy. "Is there any way to tell how far into the past it went?"

"It read out at 3.8, which probably would be four-hundred years or so. But something happened that's even more odd."

Min felt cold.


The recorded time-line registered a bi-directional variation. It regressed but also advanced - if only slightly." Marta smiled. "Sounds like one of Einstein's theoretical wormholes. They're supposedly like a funnel. I guess the part that opens to the past is a lot bigger than the one that opens to the future - like the top of funnel is always bigger than the spout."


Marta shrugged. "Who knows? No one has ever proved Einstein was right; we don't know for certain if anything like he and Rosen came up with really exists."

Min knew.

She began to worry. If a time anomaly had brought Edmund to her, might it just as easily carry him away? Could it transport him even further into the future? Take him back to the past?

She and Edmund made arrangements to be married. The legal matters were complicated. He had no documents and, technically, was in the United States illegally. He gave the emigration officials a fanciful story. Since both agents had seen him in films and TV, they stretched rules to admit him. Once registered, he and Min were able to get a marriage license.

They were getting married at a small church that was a conservative split-off from the Episcopal Church and, as such, felt more like the kind of churches Edmund was used to. Ruth told her sister she should consider converting. Min really had no religion (her family had practiced what she called "village religion" but had more or less abandoned it when they came to the United States). She entered catechism class and was baptized three weeks before their wedding date. It was on a Sunday afternoon, right after service that she was caught up in the opposite of the anomaly that had brought her and Edmund together.

Min found herself at a round table in a brightly lit room. All around them she saw tables seating lovely women and handsome men, some of whom she recognized from TV or film. But also, besides Edmund (who wore a tuxedo), sat two boys and two girls. They looked like Edmund and like her. They were biracial. She realized with shock that they were her children - their children.

"Mother, I'm hot," one of the girls complained to her. Min guessed her age at eight or nine.

"Sweetie, it will be over soon and we'll all go home. Be patient."

The girl rolled her eyes and began to talking to her sister.

Four children, Min thought. She had been thinking, two at the most.

Edmund looked nervous. She took his hands. He gave her a smile.

"I once saw a documentary about the Academy Awards," he said. "The journalist in the clip I'm thinking of was interviewing David Niven. Niven said, 'As I waited for my name to be called, I felt like I was going to run up there take the award whether they called me or not.' I might do the same."

Min squeezed his hand.

"It will be fine."

A starlet whose name Min did not know opened the envelope and said, "The award for Best Supporting Actor goes to... Edmund Paxton."

He jumped out of his chair, bent down to give Min a quick kiss, and hurried to get his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Min gazed at the children. She smiled. Her mother - who had been gone many years - had told her to have several children so in the uncertainties of the future their family would continue on. That was a rather silly fear, Min thought, since Ruth had given birth to five children and some of them were married and had children of their own. She whispered a prayer to thank the spirit of her mother and to assure her that her family would go on for many generations.

With that thought, she found herself back in the office at the Physics Building. Marta stood at the work desk and fed a stack of reports into the automatic stapler.


  1. I've heard that China prohibited time travel movies. Probably not important.

  2. Congratulations, David, on a very effective blending of sci-fi with the venerable love story. I was smitten with Min and charmed by Edmond, the two protagonists. You also showed a fluency in Shakespeare, which is not to be discounted. Very good all the way around. Excellent title, too.

  3. I really loved the concept on this one - high concept physics melds with in-depth Shakespeare - nice work!