Time, as they say, is relative.
Of course, there’s the literal sense of this - the theory of relativity itself. E = mc2. Einstein. I’m not an expert, but it’s the concept that there’s a difference in the elapsed time as experienced by two observers. Because of the very nature of time and space, a clock that is moving relative to an observer will tick slower than a clock that at rest in the observer's own frame of reference.
Time literally bends; it shifts.
This is the principle behind a lot of science fiction stories, since it hypothetically allows for rapid time travel into the future. If a clock observed in motion ticks slower than one that is stationary, that clock in motion would just need to be in motion very quickly to cause the difference between the passage of time to become so pronounced that the clock in motion has jumped forward in time. This can also be accomplished by the gravitational pull of a third body, bending the two observers’ perceptions of time.
Of course, there’s a different way that time is relative.
It’s the way that it slows, crawls, and even stops in those moments where you feel your stomach drop out of your body. It’s the way it ceases to march forward in those moments where you look down at your phone outside of a Kroger’s, with your head pounding from the night before, and you see seven words – barely enough to form a sentence – “We need to talk about last night.”
You start to wrack your brain. Scene Missing. Whiskey, that wonderful water of life, having turned its back on you and betrayed you by clouding the moments that followed. What the fuck had happened? Did you use protection? You can’t remember. Your head – your whole world – is spinning at this point.
You must have used a condom, you rationalize. This calms you for a moment. Everything stops spinning. The spiral begins to tighten. Protection…a condom…It’s something that you’d just do. It’s your nature. Sure, you were drunk, but there’s just some things that come 100% naturally to you. It’s the smart thing to do. You’d do the smart thing; you’re not an idiot, after all.
Then again, you remember as you read the seven-word text message again, you got yourself into this mess in the first place. You slept with your ex. Are you so certain that you did the smart thing, after doing such a fucking dumb thing?
You lurch as the spinning returns. You’re going to vomit. You shout at your manager to pull over, and she does. She is, at the very least, a goddamn professional. It’s something that you appreciate more than anything in the world at this moment as you dry-heave on the side of the I-65. You’re not sure where the hangover ends and the anxiety of the moment begins. It takes a moment for you to feel human again.
In the panic of the moment, you forget why you were panicked in the first place. It comes rushing in like the sea, another wave of nausea, regret, and anxiety washing over the sands of your mind. At least now the car’s stopped. At least now you can scramble to the back of the Escalade and open the truck.
You can rifle through your bags, looking for the little box you’ve always kept in your bag, ever since you started making shots in towns where you’d need to stay overnight. The brand may have changed over time, but the contents in that little wooden box – the one you made in shop class when you were in grade 7 – stayed the same.
Three, individually wrapped, condoms.
You ransack your belongings, searching for that box. You’re frantic. You are, all the while, praying to a god you don’t believe in, bargaining for mercy. It’s at this moment when another terrifying thought crosses your mind – what if you can’t find the box at all?
After that latest moment of panic – a second that feels like days in yet another demonstration of the power of relativity – you find it. It’s worn smooth from years of use, and the slap-dash paint job that got you a B- has all but fully chipped away.
You close your eyes, take a deep breath, and pop open the little metal clasp that holds the lid shut. You open the box and barely open your eyes.
Only two. One missing, one used. You breathe, for the first time in what feels like decades. That little box, as it happens, is your salvation. You close the trunk and get into the passenger’s seat again. You’re relieved for a moment. For just a moment, everything is OK. But a moment later, you remember those seven little words, and their implication. The implication that, even if the worst hadn’t, something bad had happened.
We need to talk about last night.
It’s a peculiar thing, language. The phrase “we need to talk” should, on its face, convey little more than a desire to discuss a matter. Maybe, I suppose, it could imply a bit of urgency. If you change the words, though, you mess around with the actual meaning. The subtext, of course, is the actual text. “We need to talk” isn’t “let’s have a frank discussion”. It’s so much more than that. It carries so much more weight.
In fact, you could say that the gravity of the phrase is enough to alter and affect how you perceive and experience time.
Several weeks later, that text sat unanswered in my messages. Cathy, to her credit, had not pursued the matter. Maybe she had recognized that night in Memphis for what it was – a mistake, a bad one, that need not be revisited or analyzed in any way. Maybe she understood that to do so was an exercise in foolishness, if not outright futility. Maybe it was her memory that I was never that good at replying to messages in the first place.
Or maybe she had heard the same news that I had, just hours after Evolution last week.
It was about 6 a.m. and I had only gotten to bed a few hours earlier. Even after all my years of doing this – from the very earliest years of my adulthood up till now, I had still not quite worked out a way to get over jet lag. You go from one time zone to another, week to week. Gain an hour here, lose one there. Gain two, lose three. Eventually, you don’t really have a sense of what time it is, and the idea of eating or working out or sleeping at a “normal” time seems like a distant memory.
Time, as they say, is relative.
You eat when you’re hungry, you work out when you can find a gym that’s open when you’re able to squeeze in a work out. You sleep – or you try to – when you’re tired. An interruption of that ever-precious rest is an unwelcome circumstance.
I say all this to illustrate that, at 6 a.m. on this particular morning, the fact that I was able to answer the phone in my hotel room with anything approaching a normal salutation is perhaps the greatest miracle that this world has ever seen.
“I’m sorry to wake you,” came the reply to my grunted greeting. I was not prepared for the voice on the other end of the line.
After all, I had not spoken to my brother since…well, since Toronto.
“I’m afraid I’m calling with some bad news,” said Ian, his voice solemn. “Uncle Jack…”
I sat up in bed, coming to a bit more. “What,” I said, “those fucking vultures at the clinic want more money from me?”
My Uncle Jack had been, for the last several months, rehabbing injuries sustained whilst fighting Shane Donovan on my behalf. In an effort to do the right thing, I had been paying for all of his treatments, out of pocket, to a private clinic that was not covered by the Canadian Medicare plan. This place, Nova Medical, was supposed to be the absolute best, and promised that once they were done, Jack’s knees would be like they were at the top of his career, let alone be in good shape for a man in his late 50s.
Unfortunately, Nova Medical was much more interested in being involved in farming, it seemed. They had found a cash cow, and were very interested in milking it. What was supposed to be a two-month stay had been extended to almost six, with the therapists citing “complications”, all of which seemed to carry a steadily increasing price tag.
“No, Jarvis,” said Ian, his voice weary. He sounded like he had been up all night; I could practically hear him loosening his tie. “In fact, Jack was discharged from Nova Medical last night…his treatment was deemed a complete success, and he was free to go home.”
I sat, a moment, in silence. “What’s the problem, then?” I said, flicking a lamp on. I wasn’t getting back to sleep at this point.
“Aunt Penelope went to go pick him up last night,” he said.
Penelope, Jack’s long-suffering wife, had stuck by my uncle throughout his good years and his bad. I never quite understood how you could have a relationship – a marriage – while on the road as a wrestler. Our lives don’t match up with those who don’t live our weird gypsy lives. After all, a clock that is moving relative to an observer will tick slower than a clock that at rest in the observer's own frame of reference.
“Jack wanted to drive home, Jarvis. He hadn’t been behind the wheel in so long. Penelope let him…and on the way back to Bedford, it seemed that Jack took a stroke. The car crashed into the Basin.”
Ian was quiet a moment. He was searching for something to say, it seemed. “And?” I said, spurring him onward.
“Jack’s at the Queen Elizabeth in the ICU. He’s in critical condition. And Penelope…she, uh…well, she died, Jarvis.”
There were details about the visitation, and the ceremony…how soon we’d have to meet with the lawyers, and where that should happen. To be honest, all of that was a blur to me. It’s another funny thing about time – the way it can pass without you realizing.
“Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion!”
The morning that Ian had woken me, I went to Cathy’s room to find her already awake and working on getting me a charter flight back to Halifax. I didn’t even have to tell her what to do. It was already done.
“Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion.”
There was something about a Catholic church that always skeeved me out, you know? Maybe it was a mixture of the pomp and circumstance, the incense and the communion wine, that just made me uneasy. Of course, the Padre’s insistence on quoting from the Old Testament didn’t help.
“Now therefore, what have I here, saith the Lord, that my people are taken away for nought?”
Penelope always wanted an open casket – a weird, archaic practice, as far as I’m concerned – but the damage from the crash had rendered this an impossible task.
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!”
I couldn’t help but think as I sat there that her waterlogged corpse was underneath the cover of her coffin, bloated and warped.
“The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”
I sat, uncomfortably, next to Ian. The parish was full - Penelope had been a very active member of the congregation - but my brother and I were the only attendees who were of the family. Tears were being shed all over the place, but I couldn’t help but think that the one person who may have benefitted most from this ritual the most was in a hospital bed with a tube down his throat.
“Isiah, chapter 52, verses one through ten,” said the priest, a young man, not much older than me. “The word of the Lord.”
“Thanks be to God,” replied the congregation, with the exclusion of myself.
“Into your hands, O Lord, we humbly entrust our sister Penelope. In this life you embraced her with your tender love. Deliver her now from every evil and bid her enter eternal rest.”
A hearty amen echoed through the ornate building, ushering forward the organist to begin to play as pallbearers moved on towards the casket.
The church had emptied a while later, but I was still sitting in the front-row pew where I had sat during the ceremony. There was, I had to admit, something to the quiet of the sanctuary in that moment. I was lost in my thoughts, and frankly didn’t want to be found.
“How did you find the Mass, Jarvis?” came a voice from behind me. I didn’t turn to look, recognizing the speaker by the voice – the same voice that had performed the last rites for Penelope and performed the Mass that I had just attended.
“I don’t know that I’m a good barometer of success,” I replied, as the priest’s footsteps echoed throughout the empty sanctum.
“I disagree,” he said, approaching me and gesturing for me to move over. I instinctively obeyed, sliding down the pew to allow him a place to sit. “I like to know how I do with all my audience, regardless of their attentiveness.”
I breathed through my nose, laughing a bit. “Well,” I began. “It’s been a minute since I was last in a Catholic church, but isn’t there supposed to be something about ashes to ashes…?”
“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground,” he replied, reciting the words flatly, dully, from memory without a care for inflection, “for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” He shook his head. “You know, no matter what you try to do in this job, all people want to hear is the hits.”
We sat in silence a moment. “It’s really more a burial rites thing,” he said after a moment. “Speaking of which, aren’t you going to go to the grave site?”
I shook my head. “No…that isn’t really for me.”
The padre smiled warmly. “You are a man who likes to carve his own path, aren’t you Jarvis? Yet you do your best to do what you feel is right.” I didn’t reply, which gave him the incorrect impression that he ought to continue. “That is, of course, a commendable goal, but how do you know that you’re on the right path?”
I chuckled to myself. “Does that sell ever work for you, father…?”
He laughed as well. “Charles. And no, not really…but you can’t blame me for trying.”
“Nothing ventured, I suppose,” I replied, non-committedly.
“Exactly,” Father Charles replied. “Which is why I was wondering if you might like to take part in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.”
“The what?” I said, cocking an eyebrow.
“Confession, Jarvis.” He seemed to read my expression. “You’re not being asked to buy anything, Jarvis. I just think that it might help you. Also, I think your aunt would’ve liked to know that you confessed.”
I sighed deeply. “I don’t think so, Father.”
“Fine,” he said. “Why don’t we just do it here. No need for the ceremonial sacrament. Just a man who is well known for how well he speaks, talking to a man whose job it is often to listen.”
I rubbed my eyes. “You know,” I said, eventually. “It’s a weird thing, moral truths. You’ve got your Bible, Father, and that’s great for you…but even that, you have to admit, has its contradictions. Hell, think about that verse you read - it speaks of how the uncircumcised and the unclean won’t be able to enter the holy city…yet you don’t really care about that, do you Father?”
He half-shrugged, and started to speak, but I cut him off. “See, it’s the thing about morality. It’s really hard to define. It’s really hard to root yourself to something because, end of the day, it’s a shifting, moving target. What’s right on one day may not be on the next.”
“Take, for example, my brother. He is still so unbelievably pissed at me. He’s harbouring nothing but anger for what I did to him. He still, to this day, sees my firing him as an injustice, a wrong…but really, Father…what I did was try to learn from the story of Cain and Abel. I tried my damnedest to be my brother’s keeper, because when I allowed my family to act on my behalf, it eventually led to my Uncle being in the ICU, and to the death of my aunt.”
“And honestly, Father, does that not sound like justice? Ian doesn’t think so. He may be angry at me, and may feel that I’ve abandoned him, but has he been in danger since I hired Elizabeth? Has Harley Hodge threatened his wellbeing? No.”
“Do you honestly believe that?” asked Father Charles. “Do you think that Harley Hodge would be a threat to your family?”
“Seriously?” I replied. “Harley Hodge is nothing more than a jealous old man. He looks upon what I have accomplished in my career and he envies it, Father. Given the chance, he’d do whatever he could – whatever it would take – to acquire it. My business is a zero-sum game, Father. One man’s success is another’s failure. Hodge would, given the chance, do unto me before I had the chance to do unto him.”
“See, the narrative… They want to make this about legend status. About whose legend is bigger in the wrestling game. As if it’s a fucking competition. As if it’s actually a fucking discussion. It isn’t. I accomplished more before my 25th birthday than that mid-life-crisis-having asshole has in his entire, pathetic, coke-fueled life. It’s simple – this match is about his ego versus mine.”
“And the simple fact of it is, you’re only as good as your last win in this industry. You’re only as strong as your last victory. You’re only as talented as your last accolade, Father. And Harley Hodge…he doesn’t have a lot to hang his hat on, other than the fact that he thinks, deep in his heart of hearts, that he can beat me. He thinks that he has what it takes to take me to hell and back inside of a steel cell and be the one left standing at the end of it.”
“Thing of it is, Father…he doesn’t. Hodge thinks that he’s isolated me, and that’s enough. Simple fact is, he’s put me in an environment that works very well for me. He’s put me in a place where the only rule is cruelty. He’s put me in an environment where it’s just me and him, without considering that he’s also put himself in that same environment.”
“Like I said, Father…it’s a zero-sum game, and you’re only as good as you are on any given night. I intend to be very, very good at Hellbound. Because, Father, I am East Coast Excellence. I am Jarvis King. I have worked my entire career, my entire life, against people who thought that they were better than the best. And one, after another, after another…they’ve all bowed down to the King.”
I stood up, and Father Charles shook his head in disbelief. “Well,” he said, “I do hope you find peace, Jarvis.”
I laughed a bit, my back to the padre. “That sounds a lot like rest, Father…I thought you, of all people would know that there ain’t no rest for the wicked.”
We need to talk about last night.
Cathy Daniels (UNREAD)
I’m sorry about Penelope.
We still need to talk.