I slipped into the chrono-synclastic infundibulum as I walked past the red bookshelf. I started searching for Time Pieces, a short story collection that Craig Cormick and I edited, and that was published by Ginninderra Press in 1999. It was so deep in the infundibulum I could not reach it. But Craig could from across town, and sent my little story ‘7.21 A Standard Day’, from Time Pieces, through the ether. I wanted to check the version I had on Word against the published version.
I’ve been thinking about the Writing from an Equinox I did that arose from my Invitation to Write about Equal and Angles. I have settled on trying to write about an Angleorium with an atrium and its designer. I’m thinking the Angleorium might be speaking to the designer as it is being designed and built. Dear Heavens, it sounds like it might be set in science fiction land, it really does.
‘7.21 A Standard Day’ is the only overtly science fiction story I have written so far. I read classic science fiction in my youth, and especially love the work of Olaf Stapledon and H.G. Wells, and I guess you have worked out I am fond of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing as well. I also studied the Utopian and Dystopian Novel in the early 1980s with Margaret Harris at Sydney University along with a number of alarming, vocal and hairy Marxists and semioticians who turned into professors and art critics, I believe, and there were a heap of other students and writers of many varieties in that wonderful class, including a goddess of children’s literature. I sat there so quietly in so much awe.
I came across Michael Wilding’s Political Fictions there, and took away a portion of knowledge that has affected my life. He pointed out that realism was as much a construct as any other genre, it was just that it was more obvious what was being left in and left out of science fiction, as the world creation, how the world related or did not relate to our lived world, was at the forefront of the writing and reading experience, whereas in realism a bit of a nifty was going on. The reader relates realism to the lived world and forgets about what is being left in and left out. Though my natural impulse is experimental, and I feel most comfortable in fragmented and odd shaped writing, I have taken realism as my experiment and challenge from this observation of Wilding’s. So it is strange to be considering writing a science fiction story.
It was suggested to me by Affrica Taylor (in response to a presentation I was giving about attempting to trouble the opposition of Nature and Culture in realist fiction where I represent pregnant female characters) that Nature was just too seductive and would always win. She suggested that science fiction might be the answer, to help me mess up this opposition. I resist this. (She is probably right, but a failed experiment also has value.) Realism is my experiment for this Nature Culture business, my little petri dish. But I’ve also discovered an Angleorium and I think I have to find out what that might be.
Looking back over past work can really help a writer. ‘I did this before, I can do it again.’ ‘7.21 A Standard Day’ is one of my few comic pieces, it was really enjoyable to write, and I found my favourite male character in my work so far, Julian Minus Moon. It fulfilled a promise to myself as I worked in a basement at the National Film and Sound Archive that one day I would write about the absurdity of the Australian federal public servants’ standard day (at that time) which was 7 hours and 21 minutes. As I was the one checking the work time sheets the absurdity was compounded.
I corresponded with Claus Tondering all those years ago, and I think it was the first time I dared to contact a stranger very far away with an odd question online. As a Time buff, he was happy to discuss the fictional plausibility of the Significant Universal Adjustment, which is the crux of the drama of ‘7.21′, and he asked – ‘Why do public servants in Australia work 7 hours and 21 minutes in a day?’ Good question. I’m chuffed that I picked iris rather than retinal scanning to be the tech of the future, but there are still keyboards in my imagined world. It was written before 9/11 and before the Sydney Olympics. Enjoy!
7.21 A Standard Day
Julian M. Moon Start: 8.30. Finish: 12.30. Start: 1.00. Finish: 4.51. Hours worked: 7.21. Balance: 0
Sick day. Perfection. The only way I can achieve a standard day is to take a sickie. Fine weather for the weekend. Clean house. Cooked dinner.
Julian M. Moon Start: 9.06. Finish: 12.32. Start: 1.04. Finish: 4.13. Hours worked: 6.35. Progressive Balance: -46.
Dirty socks and takeaway. La Nina weeps through the week.
Julian M. Moon Start: 9.52. Finish: 12.08. Start: 2.04. Finish: 4.13. Hours worked: 5.29. Progressive Balance: -2.38
Julian M. Moon Start: 10.43…
My second name is Minus. I’m thinking of making it my first name. Julian Minus Moon to Minus Julian Moon. Has a certain beat to it. I needn’t even write it out
just an elegant line across the page. The magical negative crawling towards zero, or shooting in the other direction, growing fat with increasing numbers, less and less, while growing bigger and bigger. Two negatives make a positive. What alchemy! If I could find my other Minus, I would fill her zero and enter the positive equation. Conquer my Time Record. We could lie in bed on flextime and the shadows of the day would pass over our flesh. Busy old fool, unruly sunne, why dost thou thus, through windows and through curtains, call on us?
The unrecorded break. I flush. Air freshener ejaculates lavender rain. Please be considerate and change the toilet roll if you happen to use the last sheet. I leave one sheet. Hal wuz here 2001. I wuz too. After scrubbing my nails, I whip the battery out of the smoke detector and light up a fag.
The new woman has taken my last work station. God she was quick. Go for a crap and the new girl takes your seat. The only station left is right in the middle. She’s facing the window, doing tai chi. She won’t last.
I rest my hands (they must be absolutely covered in faeces bacteria) on the keyboard and let the bacteria migrate between the keys. The disinfectant wipe doesn’t get in there. Come to think of it, everyone’s faeces bacteria must be everywhere. I gaze at the infected open plan. The system recognises my touch. It’s slow today. I log on. Management never considered bacteria in the office design. I email the Occupational Health and Safety rep about it again.
I switch to my draft brief to the Minister; now where was I up to? How do I convince him?
Implications of the Significant Universal Adjustment (SUA)
Time zones were a response to transport innovations of the 19th and 20th centuries. They introduced a standard system of time over the whole globe. But the world has changed.
The EEC’s (European Economic Community’s) proposal that all nations follow their lead in abolishing time zones has great merit. With ever increasing international travel, and some international commuting becoming common for business at every level and sector, complex time adjustment is a growing cost to the economy.
On a more philosophical level, the coordination of time measurement has been one of the final stages of humanity freeing themselves from nature. It is our greatest construct, along with poetry and music. It is an achievement akin to space travel and western medicine.
Her voice pauses at my desk. It is the old woman from Personnel. Her chin rests on my divider. Her eyes flutter over my screen. She has a birthday card for me to sign. I sign it ‘Minus.’ Her step falters as she reads my new signature. No-one celebrates my birthday. 29th February. A catch-up day. My whole life a catch-up life. I’m only eight years old. With the body of a thirty two year old. Ha! This is a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. Tarantara!
I have few phone calls to make. I’m worried about the time. I’d better check up.
Natural time (the traditional time of night and day, sleep and wake) and business time coexist across the world, All nations could adopt Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the 24 hour clock. After one generation people would find no problem with the working day starting at 0900, or 1100, or 2000, or 2100, depending where you were in the world. Midday would no longer necessarily be linked to 1200, and would be 2300 midday on the east coast of Australia. Meetings that require physical presence, and corporeal conferences, could be scheduled on business time, late in some people’s day, early in others.
The risk is that, at the time of adjustment, every nation would have to synchronise. The computer systems that make our world coherent would be vulnerable during that moment to industrial espionage, or terrorists like the New Luddites.
The new woman is trying to make an impression. She is cleaning everyone’s monitor with patchouli-scented antistatic spray. She can’t stop moving, gliding around the office. She wipes my screen, the sweet sweat of her underarm next to my face. She could almost be naked. She wears no watch.
I make a few more phone calls. I’m still worried about the time. Something is wrong.
The SUA should logically have been made at the turn of the century, but because of fears about the Millennium Bug, the United Nations decreed the adjustment should take place early in the 21st century.
It transpires that the Millennium Bug (aka Y2K) had only a minimal impact. An air crash in Nicaragua, social security payment deviations in the United Kingdom, a minor fall in the value of Microsoft shares, and rash of Millenium Bug Anxiety (MBA) claims, are the only verified occurrences related to the Millennium Bug. Failures in timing equipment at the Sydney Olympics cannot be attributed to the Millennium Bug, though they have been in the popular imagination. Neither can the failure be attributed to the New Luddites, who claimed responsibility for them. ASIO (The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) denies their grandiose claims, and the ability of the amateur organisations to significantly infiltrate government bodies, The Richardson Enquiry (2002) found the timing equipment failure was due to a sequence of human errors.
The little guy carrying a flag runs onto the screen again. The message under his feet screams. STOP PHONING THE TIME! THE TIME ON YOUR COMPUTER IS CORRECT. YOUR QUOTA OF 1900 CALLS HAS EXPIRED. ENTER YOUR PASSWORD TO ACKNOWLEDGE MESSAGE. I pick up the receiver again. ‘After the first beep it will be…’
It’s two seconds out. The government departments are not synchronised. It has always been my suspicion. I glance at the shadows on the buildings.
Massive resources by governments and private enterprise worldwide were put into deflecting the Millennium Bug, into checking systems and into public education. The risks associated with the SUA now face scepticism due to the relatively easy transition into the new century and the non-event of the Millennium Bug.
And someone in the office has a perfect Time Record. It keeps flashing across the wall. A perfect standard day they actually work. 7.21. 7.21. 7.21. Day after symmetrical day, showing up my jagged daily equations and those of the rest of the office.
I can’t help myself. A stolen surf, leaping down the lines, jumping from my bookmarks into the world. I visit the Royal Observatory. Greenwich. My virtual home. Time here becomes space.
The little guy with the flag comes running out. He’s screaming again. YOUR ACCESS TO THE INTERNET IS BEING TERMINATED. SEE DEPARTMENTAL POLICY ‘ETHICAL USES OF GOVERNMENT PROPERTY,2.2.’ ENTER PASSWORD TO ACKNOWLEDGE MESSAGE.
I need to finish the SUA recommendations. I need the CEO to support staffing for the SUA project. But I can’t work under these conditions
Julian M. Moon Start 8.17
Today is one of my favourite days of the year. I wait. Everyone will be at least an hour late. The cretins. Daylight Saving gets them every time. The clocks turn back, and they always forget. Or they turn their clock in the wrong direction. Not me. I’m early.
The lift opens. It’s the new woman. She stares at me before she clocks in. Never in my nine years in the public service has anyone arrived on time the day after daylight saving. She shifts her gaze to the Autobundy and it reads her iris. Her perfect timing flashes across the Time Record above her head. She is the one.
Minette. M. Young Start 8.30
‘What‘s your problem?’ She whispers as she sets up next to me, her hands resting on the keyboard, waiting for recognition.
All the stations are free except mine. Sweat on her upper lip. She has been hurrying.
‘How do you do it? You’ve no watch, no phone. No timepiece of any sort. You can’t see the screen. ’
‘You mean the time thing?’
She contemplates the Time Record, hers and mine together. Perfection and imperfection.
‘I’d better stop doing that. It’s a bit conspicuous. You see my body is like a clock. I just know what time it is. To the second. I’m not so accurate below that…’ she leans towards me, ‘unless I’m very, very drunk.’
She touches my arm.
‘And I don’t wear watches or any sort of timepiece, my electromagnetic field buggers them up. I don’t need them anyway. Doesn’t mean I’m always on time though, just when I think about it. I’ve been thinking about Daylight Saving.’
Her breasts rise steadily up and down. She is regaining her breath.
‘It’s genetic, my whole family is like that. But we don’t let the genome project people anywhere near us, so keep it quiet. We don’t believe in that sort of thing.’
The pattern of her iris has imprinted itself on my soul.
‘What are you working on, Julian?’
I want to bathe in her electromagnetic field. I send her the SUA draft.
Julian M. Moon Start: 8.30. Finish: 12.30. Start: 1.00. Finish: 4.51. Hours worked: 7.21. Balance
Minette M. Young Start: 8.30. Finish: 12.30. Start: 1.00. Finish: 4.51. Hours worked: 7.21. Balance
My stop watch is on the bed head. I time her orgasms. It’s harder to time the multiple ones. They roll into and over each other, and just as I think she’s finished, she locks her legs around me and she starts again. Is she faking? I set the watch back to zero for another try. She reaches back and touches its face. Its hands speed up, and then stop. She pushes against me. Another one is coming.
She grabs my hair, pulling her ear to my mouth. She whispers, ‘Time that is not moved by little fidget wheels is not my Time.’ The words travel into me. I feel a jolt, a release akin to the crunch of the chiropractor’s correction.
At last we lie still, the shadows of the day passing over our flesh. At last I dare to ask, ‘What is your second name?’ She holds her hands over her mouth and speaks through them. ‘It’s silly. Minette Moment.’
She takes her hands away, laughing, gauging my reaction. ‘My family all have names like that. Because of the time thing. Moment and Meridian. My aunt’s second name is Second. That’s the worst. It’s sort of a family joke.’
I kiss her navel, her toes. I bite under her arm.
‘You think my time thing is something special, don’t you? But really it’s meaningless.’
I trace her spine. Stroke her hair.
‘I want to work on something important again. I loved the Olympic Committee. But now the Games are over I have to get stuck into something else. I’ve applied to work on the SUA too.’ I hold her nipple beneath my tongue and listen to the murmur of her heart.
Interesting. Never really thought about it. I thought the standard working day is 7.36 hours but maybe that is in the private sector.