Now vs Then
Flashbacks in narrative may be a necessary device to retain the attention of a reader.
Harold crept to the edge on hands and knees, slabs of shale cracking and shifting beneath him. He had to look, he had to know. The closer he got the more he could see; the base of the cliff, strewn with boulders and scree, came within view; the corner of a pink jacket, the sole of a boot — the new ones she’d bought just last month. “Oh god! Oh my god, Mary, no, no…”
They’d decided that this Thanksgiving, rather than gorge themselves as Westerners did, the holiday becoming a celebration of gluttony rather than a ritual of thanks, they would travel somewhere. Travel and hike a few of the peaks they’d hiked years ago during their courtship.
Harold lay on his belly, his arms spread wide while sobs wracked his body. He’d warned her not to stray too close. He could tell that what looked flat and inviting, like a table perched upon a mountaintop, was probably unstable. “Step away, please, Mary. Yes, the view is incredible.”
That morning, with daypacks and a thermos of steaming coffee, they’d set off from the trailhead, up through the pines and fir, and within an hour had hit the switchbacks. Mary kept count, “Fourteen, Fifteen…” as we zigzagged our way up the trail that rose a thousand feet in a mile.
Harold edged a little closer, just a inch, or two. She couldn’t have survived such a fall.
He thought back on their thirty years together. They’d had no children, and Ricky, their poodle, had died the year before. I could follow her. I will follow her.
He stood then, carefully, Why be careful? He gazed out over the hazy blue mountains, rolling like waves. The sky a piercing blue with a pair of clouds, puffs atop the highest peaks, looked down on him. He stared at the body of his wife; he could see her fully now, her pink jacket, her grey braid, khaki pockets stuffed with energy bars. He leaned into the wind blowing in his face and urged himself over.
As he fell, as gravity grabbed ahold of him and his mind whirled in the fall, he forgot all about why he was falling; the terror reached up and seized him by the throat. In the last half second before his bone crushing impact, his eyes focused on Mary’s twisted body. In the last quarter second he remembered why he had jumped. And just before his own body crumpled into the jagged rocks Mary lifted her head and smiled.
In this piece we time travel back multiple times to enrich the current events of the story.
The human mind, in and of itself, time travels. We think about now, what we’re doing, what we need to do, and what we did. What happened yesterday, last year. What may happen tomorrow or next week. We skip around in time within our minds.
A story that is purely linear in temporal treatment may feel dull to us. A story told 1,2,3… does not enjoin our own tendency to jump around in time. A story that, like the above, dances on the face of the clock, on the calendar, keeps our minds — the time focused creatures that we are — engaged.