Excerpt from Time Machine
The night I decided to save Panda. The chances of us meeting at McMurphy’s in Cold Spring, both supposed to be elsewhere. The possibilities of that cool spring evening in a strange mountain village. All the impossibilities. Skinny trees on well-kept lawns and ghostly Victorian houses. How we were both trying to escape something. We shared a toothbrush that night. Spat the foam out of the window I had climbed through to be with him. I felt a bit like a burglar in his parents’ house, but also like a heroine. I was probably both.
Panda told me he liked fiction because it’s the opposite of religion. Fiction pretends to be a lie, even when it’s telling the truth; religion pretends to tell the truth, even when it knows it’s lying.
They made him starve for seven days, the Moonies. An engagement ritual. He was to marry the daughter of family friends from a conservative branch of the church. A quiet, fragile being, Panda said about her, along with the fact that her hair was horse chestnut. Upon their first arranged meeting, he could tell, she fell in love with him instantaneously. They held hands. He ate her out.
Panda asked me what my favorite book was, and I found it hard to decide. His was Time Machine by H.G. Wells, widely credited with introducing the concept of time-travelling vehicles. A scientist and gentleman inventor journeys far into the future, where he sees some of the last living things on a dying Earth, and he goes even further: to a point where one might declare the Earth braindead, to a point where Earth’s family decides to turn off the respirator.
By eating nothing for seven days, by consuming nothing but water, they cleansed themselves from within. Panda and The Chestnut. A commitment to each other, and a commitment to God. Panda did not believe in God, but he believed in his duties as a son. And so, for the first time in his adult life as a virgin, Panda came to feel a craving even stronger than his hunger for sex: actual hunger. He watched the Food Network the way he used to watch porn, ravenously, with ceremony. In his head, he became an alchemist chef, dedicating his days to writing down recipes for excessively decadent dishes. Among his personal favorites was the “Red and Dead Sea Pie”: a pie with a crumbled ginger snap crust, a bottom layer of red velvet cake, a layer of blackberry Jell-O, and finally: gummy bears, floating on the Jell-O like tourists on the Dead Sea.
I asked Panda:
Do you think it’s possible to invent time machines?
I don’t know about inventing them—they already exist.
You think so?
I know so. We just call them memories.
The way his parents looked at him as he was starving: lovingly. All of a sudden. Something to hold on to, he thought on the sixth day, as his body lost the desire to eat completely. He was proud of himself. He was disgusted with himself.
One day I told Panda:
I thought about what you said. About memory being a time machine.
Yeah. I don’t know. You can’t travel into the future with your memory.
Yeah, no, he agreed. No, you can’t do that.
Katrine Øgaard Jensen is a journalist, writer, and translator from the Danish. She recently completed her coursework in Columbia University’s Creative Writing MFA Program where she received a teaching fellowship and served as editor-in-chief of the program’s literary journal, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art. A former editor at Asymptote and Words without Borders, Katrine has served as a judge for the Best Translated Book Awards since 2014. Her writing and translations have appeared in, or are forthcoming in, the Washington Square Review, the Denver Quarterly, the Columbia Journal online, the Quarterly Conversation, Ohio Edit, Words without Borders, Asymptote, and elsewhere.