Reset The Clock

Entry by: safemouse

13th May 2024
The Ferris wheel groaned like a rusty colonoscopy machine, as the inky sky dropped lazy spots of rain on the old coastal amusements. Evangeline, perched precariously on a frayed vinyl seat surveying the greasy drama beneath her. The thumping air had a whiff of cheap sex and shebeenish booziness, the night seemed like it knew something she didn’t.

Her gaze snagged on the flickering neon sign of Madame Zarina's 'Palace of Lost Time', pulsing on a garish wooden shack. It was a place whispered about in token asides that went nowhere; a place scarce visited or understood. The owner, after all, was just another washed-up fortune teller, a Romany woman, perhaps, with hand-to-mouth skin who used to peddle her bad tarot readings on the beach before the local council swept her aside. Now, she was back 7 years later, venturing some kind of time-warping swizz.

“I’m thinking of turning Muslim. I like the clobber,” said a displaced Cockney on the seat in front of Evangeline, to her mate, who was shoving fresh candyfloss into her gob.

“What, like Madame Zarina?” her friend mumbled, gesturing towards the vivid depiction of the fortune teller on the hoarding steeply below, all flowing robes and mystical trinkets. But what grabbed Evangeline, as it might a five year old, were the eyes peeping through a sequinned veil. They seemed to gaze across time itself, and know all of Evangeline’s intimate hopes, as their eyes met.

Possibilities swirled around Zarina, buoyed by tell of her ability to rewrite destinies, bend the gamma ray proof fabric of time. These suggestions, mind you, came from one not-very-popular post on a local online forum and a half-remembered bus conversation Evangeline wasn't even sure she'd ear-wigged correctly. But still. Evangeline, clinging to the wreckage of a life bobbing nowhere in particular, set Madam’s Zarina’s wares in her sights.
Curious though she was, in her mind she was more inclined to call Madam Zarina out for being a fraud than a cosmic life-coach.

And so Evangeline disembarked from the creaking contraption and headed towards the fairground attraction like a woman on a mission. The burlesque entrance was a maw of tattered velvet, draped with strings of fairy lights cheaper than their berth. As she stepped through, a not unwelcome cacophony assaulted her: the raucous heckle of the bazaar, the mournful wail of a gypsy violinist, the hypnotic thrum of a belly dancer's drum- otherwise known as a compact disc player programmed to repeat track 2.

A woman, her skin the colour of a Benidorm busker’s, sat under a dim light. Her eyes, the colour of a gathering storm, held Evangeline captive.

"Yes darling?" Her voice was a gravelly purr, laced with the scent of Silk Cut and the spell was broken.

Evangeline asked, "Um, is this a fortune telling thing?"

Madame Zarina motioned a manicured fingernail towards a cheap sign that read: "Three Questions About Your Time: £5."

Perplexity ran through Evangeline’s face like a swarm of hornets looking for someone to sting. This was a business model that surely had no place in the rough and tumble of a pop-up amusement park.


“Ask me about your life, but make sure all questions are time-related,” Zarina prompted.

“Right. Er…So...The universe is 14 billion years old…” Evangeline began, unsure. “So why me, why now?”

"Time," Zarina purred, "is a Marxist materialist construct. That will pass. In time. But in reality, the universe is infinite and no age at all.”

“Marxist whaaaat?”

“Materialist. A person who believes we our flesh and blood and nothing more. That life is nothing but a walking shit bucket. You are familiar with the mind-body problem, no?”

“Wow. You use quite high-brow words. Did you go to university?” Eva exlaimed.

“I use Chat GPT to help me express myself when I’m selling gigs on Fiverr but what you see now is what you get.”

“Nice.”

Zarina nodded casually and took a puff on a cigarette that had appeared faster than a non-smoker’s frown.

“Anyway, to answer your question-cos I don’t think too much mystical talk is going to be much good with you. Why are you here? Why now? Well, let me tell you,” Madam Zarina said.

Evangeline leaned forward cockily, in spite of a former wish to remain contained.

"You're adrift, darling," Zarina rasped, her voice a glum tremor that hung closely in the shack's rickety frame. "Lost in the Sargasso Sea of unfulfilled potential. But the currents have a way of guiding even the most rudderless vessel."


“They do?” Evangeline, with unrestrained sarcasm, which Madam Zarina ignored. The flowery speech borrowed from artificial intelligence is strong with this one, Evangeline thought.


“You have another question?” Zarina asked.


“I do, oh cosmic one. Why not stick with basic fortune telling? This time thing is confusing the punters.”


Madam Zarina shrugged without moving her shoulders.


“Everyone’s fortune is the same. All readings are about love, death or money. You can only tell people what they want to hear. And the truth is, fortune will not smile on anybody unless it meets them half-way. I wanted to try something different. You’re right, though. Business is bad and I’ve less money to spend on designer shoes.”


A fortune teller who used Chat GPT and spent her ill gotten gains on fancy shoes? This was peak low-rent mystical.


Fortunately, our girl Evangeline had imagined the whole thing, as she was wont to, projecting a future coloured with her own concerns. Obviously a fortune teller is not going to say, ‘Time is a Marxist materialist construct.’ That was some graffiti she saw on a wall and she had no idea what it meant, other than nothing. And there she was, still on her vinyl seat on the big wheel wondering about what that damn Palace of Lost Time was actually about. Was it some kind of hall of mirrors, was it a ghost-train type thing?


She had to know the purpose of that overwrought but rather nicely painted shed down there. She would spend a few quid. Why not? The Ferris wheel curtseyed Evangeline back onto the teenage playground. She wandered through hot-dog scented convection and stuffed toy con artists toward the Palace of Lost Time with a bit of a skip in her step. On the fortune shack a rusty sign proclaimed: "Enter at Your Own Peril."

And in the inner reaches sat a woman, shrouded in darkness. Her face was obscured by a heavy veil of crimson silk, only the glint of obsidian eyes piercing through.

"Welcome, seeker of lost time. What is it you seek?"

Evangeline swallowed, her voice barely a whisper. "I...I don't know. Maybe a glimpse of what could have been? A chance to undo a mistake?"

There was a long silence, punctuated only by the relentless ticking of the clock. Then, the voice.

"Ah, the siren song of what-ifs. Imagine how precious now is. I hate to quote an INXS song, because it makes it sound so feckin’ trivial, but all you’ve got is this moment. What is it you are so afraid to grasp? Isn’t it about time you just started living? Quit the job at the McDonald’s drivethru?”

“How did you know I worked there?”

“And maybe it’s time to let Dave go. That relationship is so 2019.”

“And how did you know...”

“Ah, but this job is all bullshit, isn’t it?” Madam Zarina said with a left -handed flourish or her slender fingers.


“Nah, that’s not it,” said Eva, who was still on her ferris wheel, trying to conjure how things might pan out in the beguiling Palace of Lost Time. “Might just as well, go and see what it’s all about,” she concluded.


And so she hopped off and trod forth with the resignation of one consigned to inevitable disappointment.


In the confines of the shack once again she found a woman seated on a table in the centre of some sort of boudoir with an Eastern feel. Incense, low lights, cushions, curtains, tassels.


“My child. What is it you wish to know?”
“Why is this called the Palace of Lost Time? Is it because I am wasting my time coming here?”

“Is that your question?” Zarina asked with wide-eyed surprise and languid eye lashes.

“No. My question, what I’ve always wanted to know is: does all time exist at once or is the future really some as yet untrodden vista?”

“I’m afraid all that can be exists now.”

“Really? Even 120 men having sex in a line with a hippopotamus in the middle and a giraffe eating jelly?”

“And brushing its teeth. Seriously, is that weirdest thing you can think of, innocent child!”

“Then if such things can be why am I working in McDonald’s?”

“You raise a fair point. I guess time is not to be trucked with. Unless all parties in that line are consenting adults.”

There was something about Madam Zarina’s eyes. They were shining with love. Then she looked down at Aisha’s hand. She was holding Evangeline’s own and putting a ring on her finger.


“I was waiting so long for you to ask,” she said as they sat in their upscale restaurant with a view of the sea in some permissive but not-so-very-far from the Middle East locale. Lesbos, perhaps.


“I have waited for this moment for a hundred lifetimes. I have waited and waited. But now we are here. And I’m never going to let you go,” Aisha Zarina replied.


The eyes. They were making her very sleepy. She was looking into the eyes, the eyes… of the Muslim nurse.


“Evangeline?”

“Yes.”

“You’re awake!”
“So it would seem. Where am I?”
“In hospital.”
“How long have I been here?”

“About 6 weeks. You’ve been in a coma. Wait a moment. There’s a young man who wishes to speak to you.”

The young man was already at her side.

“Evangeline? It’s me, Dave.”

“Where is Aisha?”

“Who’s Aisha?”

“What’s happening? Where am I?”

“It’s okay. You were on a ferris wheel that collapsed.”

“Oh my God. Was anybody hurt?”

“Yes, there were a few injuries, unfortunately. And one person died."

"Who? Please tell me..."

Dave looked at the nurse for guidance and then down at the bedside table.

"Someone called Madam Zarina.”

Evangeline gasped, but Zarina's words were sharp in her ears: "Isn't it about time you just started living?"

"Dave," Evangeline said, her voice stronger now, a newfound resolve settling in. "I need you to leave."

Dave's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Evangeline, I—"

"Please," she interrupted, her gaze unwavering. "Just for now."

He lingered for a moment, his expression a mix of concern and confusion. And loneliness. The nurse busied herself. Finally, with a resigned nod, he turned and left the room.

Evangeline looked at the newspaper on the bedside table. The nurse paused, wondering if it was right to overload her senses but instinctively picked up the newspaper.

"Please. Let me see it for a moment. It's so important."

The nurse held the local newspaper headline in front of her and her eyes slowly wandered across the print capitals until they landed on a picture with a caption: "Fatal Ferris Wheel Accident: Fortune teller identified as victim."

She looked into the eyes of the woman. The eyes. Gazing across time. Deeply into hers. How would she ever find her again? A hot tear ran down her cheek and splashed onto the torn vinyl seat on the ferris wheel. And she looked down on the Palace of Lost Time. This time she had to throw caution to the wind. End all doubts and all fears.


She alighted from the ferris wheel. Taking a deep breath, she pushed aside the velvet curtain and ducked inside. The air hung heavy with incense and the smell of something vaguely floral. A woman, shrouded in darkness except for a cascade of shimmering silver bangles, sat on a pile of plush cushions.

"About time, seeker," the woman's voice purred, smooth as silk. "What is it you yearn to know?"