How to Escape a Time Loop by Sara Davis

Wake up to the guttural static of your clock radio. One night—you’ve lost track of how many nights ago—there was a power outage, and when the lights came on you reset all your clocks but neglected to set the tuner. Now the alarm clock bursts into a keening whine every morning, sputtering the frequency for a station that doesn’t exist.

Get up. Feed your cat. Open your laptop and shoot off a few emails; you could do this in your sleep. Once again it is a tentative spring morning. Decide to invite your neighbor for a walk. Tell her you think you may be stuck in a time loop. “Girl, me too,” she says. “Is it only Tuesday?” Across the park, a man in a yellow hoodie walks his terrier.

Wake up to the crackling wheeze of your clock radio. Once again it is a fresh spring morning. The orange pixels on the clock face blink TUESDAY. You’ve woken up on Tuesday eight times this week, or so you think. There is nothing special about this Tuesday—it is not a holiday or your birthday, and no one has died that you know of—so if there’s a lesson to be learned, you haven’t. You’ve attempted the following methods to reach Wednesday: repeating everything you did the first Tuesday, in the same way; repeating everything in a different way; repeating everything, but nicer; giving away all your money (this didn’t take long); going as far away from your apartment as you can get (you fell asleep on the train); falling in love (your neighbor did not take this kindly); and now, you simply get on with it. It’s not such a bad day to repeat. There could have been rain.

Wake up to the seething hiss of your clock radio. Notice that wherever and whenever you end the day, you always end up back here: 7:30 a.m., Tuesday, in bed with the cat curled in the crook of your arm. Consider how strange this is. The 24-hour day is a construct: from the perspective of your bed, perched on a planet whirling in space, 7:30 Tuesday does not describe a time but a relationship between celestial bodies. Wonder what would happen if you stayed awake until 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. Text your neighbor and invite her to get coffee this evening; you’re going to need a lot of it.

Wake up to the gasping drone of your clock radio. 7:30 a.m., Tuesday. Consider the bright side. Do you even want to resume the normal flow of time? Your friends and loved ones will never grow old. Your cat will never grow old. You aren’t growing old, at least externally, although your soul might as well have aged a thousand years. How many days has it been? Ten?

Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.

Or don’t wake up. Whatever. Stay in bed forever. Ignore your cat when she mews piteously to be fed—she has an entire bowl of kibble downstairs, same as every morning. Spend a few days, or what passes for days, burrowed under blankets and scrolling on your phone, emerging only to refill the kibble and your water glass. Make online purchases that will never arrive. Watch movies that don’t hold your attention. Google “how to escape a time loop.”

Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, you find an online forum frequented by people who are currently or have previously been stuck in time loops. Mostly the latter: as the moderators explain in a pinned post, threads published within a time loop tend to disappear after a day or so. The moderators go by PhilConnors2 and RedNadia; their names appear frequently throughout numerous threads philosophizing how time gets tangled up and how to loose oneself from its knots. The moderators often have to break up strongly worded disagreements; there is nowhere near consensus.

Spend all the sunlit hours of your one wild and precious day scrolling this forum. Wake up and dive back in, feeling found and excluded at the same time. Many erstwhile loopers repeated the best or the worst day of their lives: a career turning point, a milestone birthday, a wedding, a murder. Those survivors believe wholly in the power of making good choices; they do not have much insight for navigating an ordinary day in an unremarkable life. So make it remarkable, your new time-companions type. Save a failing family business. Take risks. Travel. No money, you protest. No debt, they reply. You’re unsure: any day now, you might wake up tomorrow. Who would feed your cat if you didn’t come back?

A small but vocal subset of the forum extols the pleasures of vice without consequence: wine and dine and crime, indulge in brutal honesty, refuse compromise. Infinite resets, no hangover. You can’t quite countenance this. Newly alerted to the existence of other loopers, you realize it’s possible that the supporting cast of your infinitely repeating Tuesday might reset with you, and remember.

Wake up. Check your phone. Your last post is gone; you haven’t posted it yet. Put your phone away.

It’s an agreeable spring morning; you and your neighbor get iced coffee. “I think I’m stuck in a time loop,” you remark. “Me too, girl,” she says, trying and failing to jab her straw through the lid. You glance away and notice a child reading quietly on a bench. Ask your neighbor, “Is it only Tuesday?” It is, it always is, and yet this Tuesday seems different—or possibly you are? No, the yellow hoodie and his terrier are not in the park. But you’re hopeful: in this arc of infinite Tuesdays, variations are emerging.

Wake up to the warm hum of electromagnetic signals from space. You, too, are buzzing with potential. Decide to live this Tuesday as though it is Wednesday. Decide to live every Tuesday as if it is merely a snarl in the thread that binds you to conventional time. You must be gentle but you cannot let go.

 

Sara Davis (@LiterarySara) is a recovering academic and marketing writer who lives in Philadelphia. Her PhD in American literature is from Temple University. She has recently published flash in Cleaver Magazine, Toho Journal, and CRAFT Literary. She currently blogs about books and climate anxiety at literarysara.net.

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