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Miller Time

Story by Jeremy Packert Burke (Read author interview) December 18, 2017

Collage by SmokeLong Quarterly

Although they had done their best to keep their kids away from it, hiding keycodes behind MasterLocks and RSA encryption, setting up security cameras and complex webs of alert systems, inevitably all teens and tweens used their parents’ time machines to buy beer. This concerned the parents far more than any paradoxes, any slippage in timelines—that one day nine years from now they might go to a pub with some of their friends and discover their sons and daughters, age twelve, pounding High Life at the bar. What would they say? This little person who has since grown outside of their control, whom they caught with their fingers inside Monica Devereaux the night of senior prom; whom they caught smudged with soot, arms scratched from sneaking in and out of abandoned buildings, trudging home with heavy feet and giggling softly just as dawn broke; who had, in their sophomore year of college, written a eulogy for their sister that made these parents sob; this child belligerent and frothing and clueless of the tribulations to come. How could these parents turn back to their younger selves, to when they were accountants, lawyers, when they were married to other men and women. They felt that they were breaking rules. How could they scold these children? Which homes would they send them to, which rooms?

A single bar, depending on the size of the town, might have three or four or five versions of these children, all eyeing each other warily, maybe comparing notes, maps of abandoned buildings, learning if Timothy Holloway did, in fact, have a crush on them or if they were imagining it. The parents would take aside the barman, try to reason with him, say “Look,” and attempt the sternness of face, the iciness of voice, that they used when their children broke expensive vases playing frisbee indoors, when they shaved the dog, when they stole cookies from jars. But they had lost the knack, and the barman shrugged. “Birth certificate says twenty-one.” And the parents knew that, should they try to force the issue, these tiny drunken monsters would not hesitate to turn on them, these people no longer their parents. Their parents were in the past; these people were old, were haggard, divorced, hungry, lonely. Their parents were titans, were something to be feared. There would be hell to pay when they got home, but here—this present, this future—meant nothing to them. They swallowed High Life like sunlight on the last day of summer vacation.

And so the parents, out of an excess of conflict, retreated, beat a path for home without even saying goodbye to one another. They called their brothers and ex-wives, their therapists, they sat and listened to the dial-tone of their nostalgic landline princess phones until it sounded like an angelic choir. They called their adult children, off at college, or fighting in wars their younger selves had thought would be over by now, or building houses; and they fought to keep their voices crackless when they said “Just wanted to see how you’re doing,” and felt some small relief at the sighs of exasperation on the other end, the familiarity, the sameness. They held graduation photos close to their chests as they slept.

The children, when they were at last cut off at the bar, stumbled out into the night in a hiccoughing, burbling ring, hands joined, several eras side by side like a chart of evolution or of growth and decay. They marveled at how bright the stars seemed, how the sky seemed to pull them into its brilliant blackness, how expansive the world felt as it turned beneath them, how limitless this thing called the future.

About the Author

Jeremy Packert Burke is an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. He has previously had work in The Adroit Journal, Day One, and the Nashville Review, among other places.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Eight of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Eight

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