It used to be different, but I suppose that all old men say that. That back in the day the air was cleaner, or the sun was brighter, or that the grass was greener. That’s how they remember it, so that’s how it must have been. I don’t. I remember it as it was – dark and grimy and radiant, all of it, from the sewers to the sky. And that’s how it was.
I was a reporter, when I was young and largely stupid. I was good at what I did – I got truth and I took it to the papers and then they took it to the people. It didn't matter, really, where it came from or why it was true. All that mattered was the ink on the page, and the dollars in the newsstand. They didn't ever question it – the way I always knew where to be and what to see, just who and what and when and how things would play out. I didn't either, for a long time. It just sort of came to me, like out of a dream. And I know that sounds stupid – people tell that same old story all the time, about visions and prophecies coming in their dreams. I knew a lady once who dreamed she was on a boat that sunk, and the next day she looked in the paper and a boat had sunk off shore. It didn't matter that she lived on the coast and boats sank every week – she had been on that boat, in her dream. It was never like that, for me, though. When I slept, I slept. The only dreams I ever got came when I was wide awake.
I was there when the jetliner went down over San Bernardino in ’67. A lot of people wouldn't know it, but the spot where it crashed was actually really popular with the local kids. It had been thirty years before that, too, when I was a kid standing out in the fields and playing ball with a rock because that was what we had. I can remember exactly, explicitly, sitting on the train on my way out of the city, staring out at the clouds, and thinking back to playing ball in those fields. I remember looking up at the sky, in my not-quite a dream, and seeing a great big metal beast of a thing with its wings all aflame coming down out of the sky slow and gentle, like it wanted to steal home plate, hoping the pitcher might be lazy enough for it.
I went out to that field the next day, on a whim, and not four hours later I had the story of the year.
At first I thought it was some lucky coincidence, or that I had seen something and remembered it somehow. But then it happened again, with a train that got derailed over in Colusa County. And then again, when the market dipped out in June that year and half of everybody I knew was thinking about buying barrels for leggings. I had sold a month earlier, of course, but that was just a given. When the story came around, I was ready.
It went on that way for a long time. Things would happen, and then before that I would know about it. I felt like one of those spacemen, in the books, where they go back in time and they've got every little bit of every little thing that’ll happen all figured out. I felt like a god. Funny how that worked out.
It started up some time in '83, around August. I was working freelance out of Chicago, mostly covering local color and all that. A man can only take so much disaster before he loses his top, and the world can only produce so much of it. After a while, though, it seemed like most every one of my sources was drying up. You can only do so many pieces of pork and steel before sales start to drop. All I needed was a big piece – something to really blow everyone away, to show ‘em how good a true story I could tell. And then I got it. The next day, I got exactly what I wanted. I dreamed, that afternoon as I sat at my writing desk, about standing knee deep in hog guts, watching as flames licked across huge vats of grease and lard. I could even hear it, a squealing noise that wasn't quite right, somewhere behind the flames. It sounded like a pig with a lung infection that didn't want to be slaughtered. The next day I broke the story on the fire at what had been one of the biggest slaughterhouses in the state. Sixty-three people died in that fire, and the story sold like hot sausage at a carnival. They said in the papers that couldn't find what had caused the fire, but I figured it out, after a while.
I was terrified, for a long time, after that. I didn't want to believe it, the way things were. The way truth and me were bound up together. I was afraid to think, afraid to even sit down for half a second to clear my head. But after enough time, you start to get more scared of not knowing than of knowing - it was killing me, squeezing me up like a broken spring. So I started to stretch it out. Little things at first – just a change or two, to where I left my keys, or how much my bill came out to. It wasn't hard, really. All I had to do was remember what was going to happen, and then it would, or else I wouldn't have been able to remember it. And after enough time, living like that, choosing what would happen, life was good. I was happy. Got a wife, couple kids, steady work, a nice car and a house with a picket fence. Everything was great, because I could always remember how great it was going to be.
I've lived like that for thirty-four years now. Always knowing what was coming up next, and everything I had left behind me. I'd like to keep on living like that, I really would.
I think I forgot her name sometime around last Thursday. I’m not sure. I’m not even sure what the name was that I forgot. I know it’s not the one she has now – that’s just the one I remembered her having afterwards, when I realized I hadn't the first time around. I wouldn't name my daughter Olivia - not 30 years ago, when Mary had her. Nobody named their kid that then. And even if they did, I sure as hell wouldn't have. I know I didn't. But I did, because that’s how I remember it, now.
I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m old now. Everybody grew up knowing some senile old man. When I was younger, I probably would have been alright with being that old man – those types of men tend to tell good stories, regardless of if they’re true. Now though, now I’m not sure what that would mean. I know what the truth is today, but what about five years from now? What will I remember then? I’m not sure I could take any more fires, or any more squealing. Or any more names changing, for that matter.
I think I might be best off heading for greener pastures.