Up the concrete steps from the sea-level parking lot behind the building to the swimming pool area, he was now standing next to the moon-glassy water; the obvious became apparent: the night sky, all that loneliness. He was carrying groceries, plastic bags weighing down his arms. There was no other excuse to come out of his apartment again.
Rather than going in and taking the elevator, he would walk around the pool and up the fire escape stairs, only three flights and a view out to the sea. After dinner and some reading to ease the guilt of watching a Netflix cop series episode, he would turn off the light on the night table and put a pillow over his ear to muffle the a/c buzzing, the world of noise.
But now he was standing next to the pool, just not moving. He looked up as far as his eyes could reach, not much into anything, he knew. He was missing millions of stars, blocked by city lights. They were there, millions, zillions of them; he had once put his eye to a telescope at the Miami Planetarium, the free night for all to see beyond. He felt the need to live forever under that window to the universe; an evergreen evening would be his lifetime, incomprehensible to daytime people, those whose days begin with news and traffic reports. Trying again to reach as far as he could into that boundless space, he wondered how different his life would be living perpetually under that sky, with the night stopped on its track right then, as if the big flying wheels of the clock of all clocks had come to a halt, stuck in one of the grooves. What if time were always not moving, not changing, and still be time? An illusion, yes, like no other. Who would think about going to work at 8:24 pm? Our preoccupation with staying home and watching TV because tomorrow is Thursday, still two days away from the weekend, would be replaced by a new sense of forever evening, by a state of mind that comes after coming home and leaving the office behind, one Irish single-malt whiskey drink later; eight twenty-four pm was made for getting ready to go out dancing, to the movies, to dinner; how would it be living with that everlasting feeling that it was still early, feeling he always had time left to go back and do what he wanted to do and never did, spend a year bum-traveling in Europe, move to a country with a lot of mountains and street folk dancing, write books populated by characters no longer living under the illusion of life after death, no longer living as if they had lost the right to eternity, no longer pretending to be magnanimous in their acceptance of ghostly decay, no longer masquerading to be free from death when they were not, and yet living without acceptance but without despair. That seemingly halted sky that he was now trying to look into could achieve what revolutions have failed to achieve, "Who told you that life is a lot of travail in exchange for some fleeting pleasure: 25 years sleeping, 8 years watching TV, 10 hours ejaculating, having orgasms, all in an average 75-year life span. The evening is still young, and will remain so forever, and you, no-longer-young man, the clock has been stopped for you too." The new world would become one with the evening sky, not night, never night. Instead of worshipping the sun as primitives did, we would have no sun, the master of time; as long as it was always 8:24 pm, living and dying would no longer be demarcation points. Yes, living under this ever-young evening sky would be so different.
He then noticed something disquieting above; the sky had taken a different look, become agitated. Was he imagining it or his sight had reached farther than first impressions? The evening sky now appeared convulsive, whirling steam clouds reminding him of old locomotives as they pulled out of the stations, their big puffs erasing all those passengers waiting by the tracks; all that commotion in the sky felt like an old film, all happening behind the screen, posing no threat. He then realized that from the beginning of the beginning the sky must have been more than a perennial landscape, more than a chart for weather forecasting and sailing, before city lights and tower buildings blocked that window to the universe, parceled out for offices and condo views, before the sky became an expressway for planes, and air conditioning and electronic screens kept people inside their sealed rooms; true to the language of time, to the language of death, that night sky he was looking at must have meant hope even from the most beginning of time, even to the most primitive, hope of a secured dwelling, not brutal as their untamed nature, free from predators and even the need for prey, free from seeing a child, your child, burning in fever without recourse, because how could it have been otherwise, how could it be that one day that father, that mother would get up there, there, like the highest flying eagle, sailing in space, and find nothing, not their child, not even feathers or sandals left behind, how could it be that there was no rest in peace, and the mountain peaks pointed to a sky devoid of heavens.
He again tried to imagine what would happen if time stopped but with then and there remaining, another illusion, he knew, but not of heaven and hell. He could see all the people in his apartment building, all those neighbors who hardly said hello, after a while they would start coming out to the balconies, having noticed the passing of time that didn't pass, their TV sitcoms getting nowhere, the channels never breaking for commercials; they would stand out in their T-shirts, shorts, jeans, even bathrobes, clothes they hurriedly put on to step outside and see what was going on (an eclipse or something?); they would file down to the swimming pool area, walking by him as they always do, pretending not to see each other, and down the steps to the parking lot facing the sea; he could see them just milling around, trying to find reassurance but unable to ask the obvious for fear of asking the absurd ("Has time stopped?”); some of them would walk around holding portable radios to their ears, listening to the news, but would find nothing there, the same broadcasts reporting endless events, Jews and Muslims forever scurrying in and out of mountains of rubble in the Middle East, the God-loving terrorists blowing the same people over and over again, the same cars crashing in the local news, the same fires flaming, the same dead lying dead, the same children starving in Sudan, and yet nothing happening again, not even as a replay, and so the National Geographic specials on public television would continue roaming all over Africa, except inanimate matter, objects, like electric generators would indeed age and eventually die, cars, planes, transistors run their lifetime, and all lights would eventually go out, and timeless we, but not our objects, would find ourselves in our true nature in the universe of life, not the universe of things, we would find ourselves as shipwreck survivors and those stars and that full moon up there would be the only source, unless somehow there would be an alternative, not found, not looked for, and so discovered, perhaps a light inside us that was there and we never knew, just as we don't notice the stars because of all the city lights.
Having indulged in all this fantasy, he then heard his Western mind. It started to take presence, to discern that not everybody would be trapped by the stoppage of the now as we know it; scientists, those in the vanguard, always live beyond our temporal bondage and so they would be left out of the time freeze that was not; they would be the only ones able to look at trapped humans from the outside, as lab mice on a treadmill seemingly getting nowhere; they would feel compelled, as they always do, to solve this challenge to spacetime mathematical models, and unlock the non-future, but we would not be able to see the scientists on the other side of that black mirror that appeared as the evening sky; the scientists would be there, behind, watching with big eyes as from behind a magnifying glass, studying the puzzling dislocation; they would labor with the same sense of mission scientists have always shown at least since Galileo, until they could set free the flying wheels of the clock of all clocks; it would be a matter of time, of equational spacetime for them, before they would free them out, and the evening would lurch on; yes, people living and dying again, the young starting all over again, making the same mistakes and indulging in the same illusions, and the inanimate would be animated, and as a post-world war recovery, new leased cars, city buses, bullet trains, they all would be put back on roads, planes back in sky at all times, and in offices, living rooms, bedrooms, movie-screen TVs, desktops, laptops, tablets, I-pods, MP3 players, smartphones, in pockets, in ears, on wrists. We would be back to normal.
The grocery bags were pulling down really hard now. He wondered if he could make it to the third floor, walk up the concrete stairs with a view to the sea, instead of going in and taking the elevator. It would do him good, the exercise, sitting in the office all day, in the car driving, in his bed reading.
Without much puffing, he made it to the third floor, and then did his acrobatics opening the fireproof door while holding on to the grocery bags. He held it open with his leg, just enough to breathe in the night air and take a last peek at the sky. All the illusion of turbulence was gone, hardly any cloud or star left, the city lights had come back on.
Pushing open the metal door, he stepped in and faced the hallway perspective: doors and ceiling light fixtures receding to the end, to the Exit light hardly visible at the end, the other fireproof door. Almost 9 pm by now; so many things to do. The door behind clanked shut. His destination on Earth: Apartment 308, past the elevator.