“Next door, a family of four watches the denouement of Dancing with the Stars. One house to the south, an executive secretary for a semi-criminal real estate development firm arranges next fall’s cruise to Morocco. Across the double expanse of backyards, a market analyst and his pregnant lawyer wife lie in bed with their glowing tablets, playing offshore Texas hold ’em and tagging pictures from a virtual wedding. The house across the street is dark, its owners at an all-night faith-healing vigil in West Virginia.
No one thinks twice about the quiet, older bohemian in the American Craftsman at 806 South Linden. The man is retired, and people take up all kinds of hobbies in retirement. They visit the birthplaces of Civil War generals. They practice the euphonium. They learn tai chi or collect Petoskey stones or photograph rock formations in the shape of human faces.
But Peter Els wants only one thing before he dies: to break free of time and hear the future. He’s never wanted anything else. And late in the evening, in this perversely fine spring, wanting that seems at least as reasonable as wanting anything.
I did what they say I tried to do. Guilty as charged.
On the tape, the hum of deep space. Then a clear alto says: Pimpleia County Emergency Services, Dispatcher Twelve. What is the location of your emergency?
There comes a sound like a ratchet wrapped in a towel. A hard clap breaks into clatter: the phone hitting the floor. After a pause, a tenor, in the upper registers of stress, says: Operator?
Yes. What is the loc— We need some medical help here.
The alto crescendos. What’s the nature of your problem?”