Some things just stick with you. Like, there’s a TV show I used to watch called Quantum Leap. The main character, Sam, travels through time to solve problems and avert disasters in the past, before they happen. He lands inside people’s bodies and has control over them. Then he has to figure out what to do next – where is he, who is he and what’s the crisis he’s going to have to solve? That moment, just after jumping into a body, that has always stayed with me. Sometimes I’ll be just driving my car aimlessly, and I’ll think, I wonder what Sam would think if he jumped into my body now. Or, if I’m singing on a stage, what would he do now? Would he be able to carry on?
Thirty years I’ve been thinking about this damn Sam.
Here I am, even now, I’m thinking about him. I’m sitting in bed, it’s late, and the curtains are blowing around in the breeze. I don’t want to get out of bed to close the window. Jimmy is here, I don’t want to wake him up. He’s messed up my tidy bedroom. His clothes run in a line from the doorway to the bed – jeans, socks, t-shirt, undies. Snakeskin, I call him. The way he sheds his clothes like that.
He is naked, but all I can see is the side of his face, an arm and a shoulder. The arm is wrapped around my waist, holding me tight. His body is a magnet. I can’t pull myself away. His shoulders have these lines of muscle leading down to his biceps. I adore them. When he is on top of me I want to bite his shoulders, lick his skin. He always smells so good.
He asked me to marry him tonight. I think it was a mistake. He was trying to apologise, but he went too far. If Sam jumped into my body now, he’d feel the side of his head throbbing and notice that one eye doesn’t open properly. There’s going to be a dark purple bruise by morning. It will match the bruise on my ribcage. What would Sam think? He’d see our photo on the wall. He’d figure it out. He’s smart.
I don’t know how I got here.
It’s like how your whole life you can say ‘I’d never shake a baby’ but then when you are faced with a screaming child who just won’t stop, and that feeing takes over your fingers and moves up your wrists and your arms and before you know it you start to squeeze her so hard that you hand her to your mother and run away and scream in the bathroom.
Or it’s like the frog in a pot, the water getting warmer and warmer. And then you are cooked.
Jimmy is my fiancé and he is lying next to me and I will leave him in the morning. I’m a frog, almost cooked right through, and I’m going to get one webbed foot up over the edge of the pot and haul myself out.
I’m going to get on a plane. I hear Hawaii is nice.
Anywhere but here.
Our arguments are like calluses. Over and over again, the same spot. Rough patches turning into dead, hard skin. I’m covered in so many calluses, it almost like a shell.
Then, sometimes, it will all be okay. It will be perfect. He will be leaning over me, with those beautiful shoulders, he will be licking my stomach and telling me I’m beautiful. He will ask for forgiveness and I will grant it and we will be soft and tender enough to melt away some of that hardness. What’s left behind are the scars that remind us of what we stood up for. Those can stay.
Tomorrow I will:
Get a job
Go to my mothers
Go to the beach and slip into the water and swim out into the distance and keep swimming until I reach the horizon.
He has a way with words. That’s my problem. I bet Sam wouldn’t be so easily swayed. Jimmy takes words that are poison, and coats them in honey. Words that can knock my feet out from under me, but pretend to carry me up to the moon.
Yesterday I lay there all night, alone. I lay there and didn’t sleep and he never came home. I thought he’d had a heart attack, or had been shot by a terrorist. I thought of ringing the hospital. I imagined the blood running down his arms, the screaming sirens. I thought of what I would say when the police turned up. When he crawled into bed at five o’clock I was just happy to see him alive.
Tomorrow I will leave him.
Tomorrow he will lie there and wonder, ‘when is she coming home?’ Let him stew. Tomorrow let his anger roar into this empty house, with no-one but himself to punish.
I will sell this house right from under him, and move to Beijing. The new owners will have to deal with him. Will have to feed the lion in the bedroom, throw him some meat. Or maybe open the window and hope he crawls out in the night, sniffs out some other mate.
Except I know what he will do. He will shed his angry skin and come crying to my mother’s door. The baby will call out ‘Papa!’ and he will cry some more and so will I. Then he will cover me in sugar kisses, words like lemon drops. He will run that sweet tongue up my neck and all the ice inside my heart will turn to water, turn into a flood of warm tears that will carry us home.
I can see it all.
In that TV show, Sam has a sidekick called Al. I forgot about Al for years. Al smokes cigars and cracks jokes. Al gives Sam hints, like: this guy, whose body you’re in, he’s going to change the course of history, but he needs to get this job, or, you need to stop him getting on that train. Something important. All the bodies Sam jumps into, all the people, they are important and there is a whole life in front of them. They have a purpose, they are going to make something big happen. They are going to change the world. There’s a third character too – Ziggy, the computer. The source of all the knowledge. See, that’s what I need. Where’s my Ziggy? I want the answers. I want to peer into the future. When I try, I see Jimmy and me, surrounded by children, smiling and clean. Then our masks start to fade and the smiling children melt away and under Jimmy’s mask there is some kind of god-awful demon. I have grey hair and a chain around my ankle and my smile hasn’t budged.
What would Sam do now?