Five-Second Button

By Eugen Bacon

sfgenre‘A five-second button,’ said my mother.

‘A what?’ I said.

She pressed a pale blue object into my palm. ‘Your father gave you a dream. Here I go, it’s a button, my gift to you. Call up favours, use them wisely.’

‘But — ’

‘The button is special.

When my mother gave me mine on my nineteenth birthday, I thought I owned the world. Then I learnt to be careful. The goodness it brought… your father… at a time when — ’ Her eyes clouded for a moment.

‘I don’t know, Mamma…’

‘Flow with what happens, when it happens.’

‘Oh, Mamma.’

‘Abella, dear child. You will gain wisdom.’ She pressed the button with her thumb, dug it into my skin, and it vanished.

I stared, astonished. ‘There is no blood — ’

‘Questions, my child. Just your palm there now, harmless as a button. Press it and your future, whole or in part, slows down to five seconds.’

‘But…’

‘Once you push the button, there’s no unpushing. Remember that.’

Three feet away, the rest of the family waltzed, drank fizz and ate shanks of roasted calf.

My younger sister Amy, newly a teenager, always a tease. ‘Why so glum on your birthday?’ she said. ‘It’s a rave, not a funeral.’

‘I am thinking.’

‘About what?’

‘Boys, boys, boys!’ Jeanie, her twin, piped in.

‘Keep that up and see what happens,’ I said.

‘Must be true, so true, Abella likes boys! boys! boys!

‘Oh, shut it.’

The twins dodged my reach as they laughed.

‘Stop that racket, Jeanie, Amy!’ boomed Mamma. ‘Whatever is happening, forget it.’

‘Dr Phil here,’ said my brother Micky, pointing at Jeanie, ‘knows all about boys.’

‘Lennie!’ Mamma, distracted already.

‘Boys! Boys! Boys!’ sang Amy and Jeanie.

And the hullabaloo went on. A food court in the living room. Music like a rock band come to visit. Our family, big enough for a football team in staggered age groups… yet I felt alone.

I thought of my button. Your future, whole or in part, slows down to five seconds. The future seemed a whole lot brighter than loneliness at your own party. I touched my palm and pressed.

 

My head swirled. Time rolled as I lifted across seas and lands.

One second.


Summer was here. La Bonne Nourriture, an eatery sign said. Another road sign indicated I was in a town in the south of France.

My gaze beheld a gentleman’s weather-beaten face. A thousand creases danced on it, and his smile went on forever, warming those wrinkles. The object of his smile caught my eye. A dainty woman in her early fifties. A silvery carpet of short hair framed her head with as much intimacy as her fingers clasped his.

Two seconds.

 

She led him up steps to a raised floor of the outdoor restaurant towards a vacant table. As they passed, I caught the question in her soft, dimpled voice: ‘Where’s Beau, darling?’

What he said didn’t matter, just his voice: husky, reassuring.

Three seconds.

 

I sat by myself at a table for two, drinking a glass of house red on promotion. Peals of laughter rang out somewhere in the distance. Wine flowed like a sea, ruby, gold, and white. It twinkled in polished goblets, sizzled and spat in champagne flutes. Tables away, servers ferried platters of culinary art. Food like wild rice, consommé, duck liver pate, camembert… in intricate flower arrangements. Chef’s chop, slice, whisk, and mix transformed into bouillabaisse, fresh onion soup, Marseilles sabayon, raspberry fool... garnished to perfection.

Four seconds.

 

Laughter… it seemed a million years from my world within the boundaries of one small table. I yearned for a soul mate, someone who got me.

Rustle, a jacket whipping past, then a clatter of cutlery. I wrenched my thoughts to the present, and a face came into focus. The gentleman with the weather-beaten face had now emerged with the flawlessness of youth, with river eyes that ran deep.

‘Pardon,’ he said. ‘It was my fault completely, Madame.’

He retrieved the fork from my feet where the lapels of his coat had brushed it from my plate. He beckoned for new cutlery.

A tinge crept to the corner of my eye. I bit my lip.

Ou la la,’ the young man said. ‘It was not my intention, Madame. I did not mean to upset you.’

His commotion was clumsy. He started for the tablecloth, then a napkin from my lap, abandoned the idea and drew a crumpled handkerchief from his trouser pocket.

Ce n'est rien,’ I said, a tremor in my words. ‘Nothing at all. Rien à voir avec vous.’ How vague it sounded. ‘Choses sur mon esprit,’ I continued in poor French, and figured I’d better translate: ‘Things on my mind.’

‘Not nothing. It make you cry, Madame.’

Je ne ai pas l'intention pour cela.’ From his baffled look, I decided to repeat: ‘It was not my wish to cry.’

Our gazes held. His eyes softened. For a moment, I thought he would say something.

Tell, my heart begged.

His hand still cradled mine.

Five seconds.

 

***

‘Abella? Bella!’ It was Mamma. I was back to the present.

I glanced around. I was home, laying out plates for melon puff and vanilla lush. Three feet away, the rest of the family drank, ate, bustled... When melon puff crusts became bullets that Lennie shot, when it crescendoed into a fight and my thoughts darkened, I pressed the button.


***

This time I was in a room with a man, a naked man who had spring in his eyes. Fine lines on his face, features that brought out his beauty. I touched the back of his neck below the hairline.

‘Silky,’ I said. ‘Soft as Kleenex.’

I kissed the silk.

One second.

 

Dawn through a sway of curtains into a room dimmed with pain, such pain. It shot in splinters from toe to spine, and my insides collapsed.

‘It’s a boy,’ said the midwife.

‘Aviva,’ said the man with spring in his eyes.

Two seconds.

 

He dangled from a tree. I knew at once his name was Fergal. I was sad with the knowledge that he was a man in my future, and that was all I knew.

Should I? Could I? Would I?

In that terrible moment, I wondered whether and how I might lift those dead eyelids to see if the dangler was my man with spring in his eyes…

Three seconds.

 

A funeral, mine. God, I’m dead.

There was Amy, Jeanie, Dad, Lennie, Micky, me… Me! But where was Mamma?

Then I saw her behind a veil, her arms folded across her chest inside a mahogany coffin, her face grey ice. Flowers: wreaths of petunias, daffodils, jasmine. Smells: sodium, ammonium, formaldehyde. Mother no longer bustled and bossed and loved and hollered.

She was gone.

Four seconds.

 

Dad lay in bed, in a room dull with stillness. He gazed at tomb grey clouds out the window. The sky opened and it poured. The minute arm on a wall clock ticked. Purple leaves of a bougainvillea swayed with moisture above the windowsill. When drizzle stopped, and grey lifted from the cloud, a drop of rain glided down the window. Outside, a frog croaked. Then the birds: a rolling tweetie from a singing finch, a sparrow’s twinkling peal…

Kroo! Kroo! soon joined the merry chirp.

By the bedside, I watched Dad.

 

Later, when I came in with a meal tray, he was crouched by the bed, next to the lamp stand. He rocked, sang to himself. His voice was withered.

Suddenly, I felt tired. The space in Dad’s eyes, lacklustre eyes with no curiosity, told me that wherever my father was, I could never reach it.

Five seconds.

***

Tap, tap. I was home. Right here. Now. Away from those dreadful years, that terrible future rolled inside five seconds. What had taken me there? The darkness in my thoughts on the button press? It didn’t matter, I was gone from that godforsaken world. I was back in the present.

‘Got a minute?’ Dad poked his head round the door. ‘What’s this?’

I pressed my wet face to his chest.

After he left, I looked at the dial of my watch. Five hours had passed since my mother pressed that goddamn button into my palm. Five! Was there time to undo that sordid future? In that instant I determined I would set out to find the man of river eyes who had cradled my hand.

Press.

 

As if reading my mind, the button faithfully delivered me to France. And there he was, right there, in the restaurant where wine flowed like a sea. He sat two tables away opposite the woman with a honey voice and the man with a thousand wrinkles.

I sat at a table.

A girl with big lashes, big shorts and braces in her teeth took my order of veal and house red. I looked at the older man’s shoulder, its honesty and straightness. The younger man, the one of river eyes, had the same honesty and straightness in his shoulder. He was watching me. When I caught his glance again, the puckering of a smile told me we had already met. I had arrived to the future a moment after he clattered my cutlery and cradled my hand.

How could I change this future now?

When I looked up, the older man and the woman, and the man with river eyes… they were gone. I signaled for the bill.

The girl bobbed over, a curious look on her face. She placed before me a saucer with a folded note.

‘Your bill, Madame,’ she said. ‘It has been paid.’

I opened his note, and read his lines:

This feeling of déjà vu — roaches, doves, or wolves? Perhaps two quails in the wild, soaring to the moon. Beau.

And a telephone number.

 

Call up favours, use them wisely, Mamma had said. That night in a motel, I called up Dad’s birthday gift. The dream he gave me for my birthday:

 

I was in the garden, chasing rain with Dad. Water pelted against our faces as we laughed and splashed about with bare feet. Dad lifted me to his shoulder and swirled me around. A little boy about my age, two or three years old, waved from the distance. ‘Come,’ I called out. Wind carried my words above the rain, chased by a stroke of lightning. The boy smiled. He spread fingers through his hair, pushed water from it. He ran towards us just as darkness swallowed him.

***

 The next day, I lifted the receiver.

‘I knew you would call,’ he said.

‘You don’t know my name.’

‘But you will tell me.’

‘Abella.’

‘It mean breath in French.’

We dined at La Bonne Nourriture. His smile caused my heart to flutter, pounding harder every third beat.

We dined the following night and the next. The harmony in our togetherness, in our friendship, in our desire… it was more than chance. Was this a parallel universe?

Suddenly I had to know. I wanted to see our future — was it a wedding, kids, Beau and me growing old and stupid together? I slipped my hands under the table and pressed the button.

 

My head swirled. Time rolled ahead: one second. Five minutes. Ten. Three hours. Thursday night. And time stopped — not a lifetime or years ahead, just two nights away…

 

I opened my eyes in the future. We were at the restaurant.

‘The haunting in your eyes,’ he said in the glow of dimmed restaurant light. ‘It comes and goes.’

I reached for his hand.

One second.

 

‘Even me,’ he said. ‘Sometimes I was haunting.’

‘What are you saying?’

‘My mother, she go with my baby sister. Poof!

‘Where did they go?’

Ma cherie, I was a boy,’ he replied. ‘My father, he tell me they die.’

‘Do you remember the funeral?’

‘He protect me. My father.’

I squeezed his hand. ‘You sad boy.’

‘My father, he marry, no more sad.’

I thought of the woman with silvery hair and the honey in her voice as she eased a forelock from his face with the intimacy of a mother’s touch.

‘She loves you,’ I said. ‘Very much.’

‘She has enough love for two.’ He held me in a searching gaze. ‘For three, yes?’

Two seconds.

 

Outside the restaurant, he kissed my throat.

‘I like when you smile,’ he whispered to my hair. ‘The light in your eyes.’

A clap of thunder sliced the air. Sheets of rain fell upon us, cold, hard rain. Droplets filled the space between us and the car. We ran holding hands then shivered a few minutes as the car heater kicked off.

Three seconds.

 

Beau ran his fingers through his hair, pushing water from it. ‘I have a picture,’ he said.

‘Of what?’

‘My mother, my sister.’

He pulled a box from the glovebox and took off its lid. He unwrapped a black and white photo from soft tissue. I looked at the sweetly posed mother and child, and my heart fluttered. I put my face in my hands.

Mon dieu, what is this?’

‘The woman in the picture, she’s your mother?’

‘Yes — ’

‘She’s my mother, too!’ I hiccupped in his chest.

Four seconds.

 

The boy in the dream... Fate had found us. The light in his father’s smile, the magnetism that drew me at a restaurant the first time I saw him, his was a countenance immortalised by a dream. Dad was not my real father.

My grief fed into a great and sudden anger.

Five seconds.

 ***

 Beau squeezed my hand across the table, smiling at me.

‘Abella?’

The present! God. I’m back in the present. His present.

My distant eyes hauled from the future. Softness of dimmed lights and a flickering lamp touched Beau’s face. I looked at him and saw him anew. Beau. How could Beau, this Beau, be my father’s son? What did father know when he gave me a dream? What did mother know when she gave me the button for my birthday?

‘Something you don’t like ma cherie? On my face?’

‘Oh Beau, I’m sorry.’

‘So deep you travel. What is this faraway place?’

‘There’s no such place.’

Outside, he drew me to his arms. I nestled into his embrace.

‘I like when you smile,’ he whispered to my hair.

‘Come,’ I tugged his arm.’

Beau could never know. At any rate, he would never know. Not from me, he wouldn’t.

‘Come on,’ I said.

‘To where?’

‘Doesn’t matter.’ Briefly, I wondered about my other world, the one of bustle with Amy, Jeanie, Dad, Lennie, Micky and Mamma. I shook the thought, caring for the moment, now was now, later I would ponder the rest. And a future that had changed.

I steered Beau away from his car and its glovebox. Rain came down like a monsoon. We ran.

‘There,’ I pointed. Tepid water raced down my lips. ‘See those lights? It’s a motel.’

And our feet splashed in the rain.

Away, away…

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About The Author

Eugen M. Bacon

eugenbaconThe artist sometimes known as Eugen Bacon is a non-android, full-blooded creature with two Masters Degrees and a Doctorate in Computing and Writing respectively. The said qualifications do not endear this artist to editors any more than other artists. With much grovelling, repeat submissions, threats and sometimes fierceness, the artist has managed to secure publications in literary, scholarly and speculative fiction journals or magazines worldwide. Her creative articles were nominated for the 2017 Aurealis Convenors Award For Excellence.

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nuke conflux 2017 200Ion Newcombe is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia’s longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998, and conceived back around November 2007. He has been a zealous reader and occasional writer of SF since his childhood in the 1960s, and even sold a few stories here and there back in the '90s.

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mark web 200Mark Webb's midlife crisis came in the form of attempting to write speculative fiction at a very slow pace. His wife maintains this is a good outcome considering the more expensive and cliched alternatives. Evidence of Mark's attempts to procrastinate in his writing, including general musings and reviews of books he has been reading, can be found at www.markwebb.name.

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Coming In Issue 244

Darkstar
by Ishmael A. Soledad

Fairies At The Bottom Of The Garden
by Louise Burch

Hollywood Product
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Jerry Cornelius (The English Assassin)
by Roger Ley

Miscalculations
by Imogen Cassidy

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AntiSF's Narration Team

 

pixie willo 100Pixie is a voice actor, cabaret performer & slam poet From the Blue Mountains in NSW.

She enjoys writing short fiction, plays for radio and stage as well as her own brand of weird poetry.

She hosts the 'Off-Beet Poetry Slam' held bi-monthly in Katoomba,

And is a theatre reviewer for 2SER FM in Sydney.

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david whitaker 200David Whitaker is originally from the UK though has travelled around a bit and now resides in India. He has a degree in Journalism, however decided that as he’s always preferred making things up it should ultimately become a resource rather than a profession.

His stories, covering everything from sci-fi to philosophy, have been published across the globe and links to each can be found at <wordsbydavid.com>

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lauriebell 2 200Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was that girl you found with her nose always buried in a book. She has been writing ever since she was a little girl and first picked up a pen. From books to short stories, radio plays to snippets of ideas and reading them aloud to anyone who will listen.

She is the author of The Butterfly Stone (available now).

You can read more of her work on her blog Look for her on Facebook <www.facebook.com/WriterLaurieBell/> or Twitter: <@LaurienotLori>

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timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

In addition to short stories at AntipodeanSF and NewMyths.com, his SF novel is available internationally in print and ebook formats. "Avians" draws on his love of alternative aviation to tell the tale of a girl who runs away from home to join a cadre of glider pilots on a world without metal or fossil fuels.

On Twitter, he is @timothygwyn, and his blogs are at <timothygwyn.com>.

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marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

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garry dean narratorGarry Dean lives on the Mid Coast of New South Wales Australia, and has been a fan of SF for most of his natural life. Being vision impaired, he makes good use of voice recognition and text to speech in order to write. Many of his stories have appeared in AntipodeanSF over the years, and his love of all things audio led him to join the narration team in 2017.

You can read examples of Garry's fiction on his website <https://garrydean.wordpress.com>

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mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his enjoyment of rainbows, colourful flames on romantic log fires, and rings around the moon. He has previously been published in Stupefying Stories Showcase, Everyday Fiction, Escape Pod, Perihelion and also on AntipodeanSF where he is part of the narration team.

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carolyn eccles 100

Carolyn's work spans devising, performance, theatre-in-education and a collaborative visual art practice.

She tours children's works to schools nationally with School Performance Tours, is a member of the Bathurst physical theatre ensemble Lingua Franca and one half of darkroom — a visual arts practice with videographer Sean O'Keeffe.

(Photo by Jeremy Belinfante) 

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SF News

SF News

Roger Ley's story in this issue "Pilgrimage"  has gained an Honourable Mention in the Writers of the Future competition.

Congratulations Roger!

 

Upcoming Aussie Cons

Oztrek 14 Adelaide — Saturday Oct 6, Brisbane — Sunday Oct 7, Melbourne — Saturday Oct 13, Sydney — Sunday Oct 14. Guests John Billingsley & Sara Mitich. <http://www.firstcontactconventions.com.au/oztrek14.html>.

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Nullus Anxietas VII: The Australian Discworld Convention — will be held in Melbourne on April 12-14, 2019, and is themed on Going Postal. More information: <https://ausdwcon.org/>.

Continuum 15 Other Worlds (Natcon 58): Continuum 15 is the Australian National SF Convention, to be held in Melbourne on June 7–10. More information and memberships <https://continuum.org.au>. AntipodeanSF will be at Continuum 15 and celebrating Issue 250 of AntiSF!

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antipod-show-50The AntipodeanSF Radio Show delivers audio from the pages of this magazine.

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SF Quote

There’s no real objection to escapism, in the right places… We all want to escape occasionally. But science fiction is often very far from escapism, in fact you might say that science fiction is escape into reality… It’s a fiction which does concern itself with real issues: the origin of man; our future. In fact I can’t think of any form of literature which is more concerned with real issues, reality.

Arthur C. Clarke