“The loss of oxygen, however temporary, however minimal in the grand scheme of things, is taking its toll.” Dr. Chen spoke in low tones, but she knew I was listening.
“What was the length of this episode?” Dad asked. Present-day Dad. Distant Dad. Emotionless Dad.
I turned toward the window then and tuned them out. This episode had been long. The loop had been long, and I knew it.
They knew it too, I think. My body was having a harder time coming out of it. I could tell. My breath was still uneven in my chest, and I had been awake and back here for over an hour. My double vision had stopped, but still I knew that it was getting worse.
When I was younger, when I was little, I barely noticed the physical effects of looping. It was just my brain, my thoughts, left with all these odd little questions about the other places, the other people, my other lives.
Back then, I thought I was normal. I thought the loops were normal. Daydreams.
But I started to put the pieces together when I was about six:
“Her eyes flutter when she sleeps, Jonathan. We need to talk about this.” Mom’s lips were pressed together, and she had that fist at her hip, her elbow cocked out in that funny way, the way that always told me she meant business.
“REM,” Dad quipped. “Particularly vivid dreams.” He didn’t look up from his newspaper.
“Seems more than that,” Mom answered, watching me carefully as I drew with crayons at the kitchen counter. “And the stories she tells.”
Uh-oh, I remember thinking to myself. I knew they were not dreams. Mom knew this too, I think. Part of me wanted to run and hide under the butterfly bedspread in my room, but the other part of me, the part that was on the cusp of grasping that something different, something important, was being addressed or at least circled, wanted to stay. Even then, I guess I was hungry for answers.
“Tell him how I knew about your old doggie, Mom.”
“Jonathan,” Mom said sternly. Dad looked up from his newspaper then.
“Tell me, Emery,” Dad said. “What are you dreaming?”
“He only has three legs, and he has one black spot on his eye. He likes to play in the water. On the beach.” I looked at Mom. She nodded, urging me to go on. “He goes under the water and stays for a second. You get afraid, Mom, like he’s drowning. But then he pops up.”
It was silent for a moment while my parents traded looks, and then Dad said, “I’m sure you told her about these memories, Veronica. She’s seen the pictures.”
Mom shook her head. “Emery, tell him about how Bailey lost his leg.”
“Well, he got his leg caught in a squirrel trap in the woods. It had metal teeth.” I made a big chomping sound, my teeth meeting with a click.
“I thought it was just a car accident,” Dad said.
“So did I. That’s what they told me,” Mom said, eyeing Dad hard. “But I just asked my mother about it earlier. Emery’s right. Bailey gnawed himself out of the trap. Limped home. My parents concocted the whole story because they thought the truth was too violent.”
“Maybe your mom told her,” Dad offered. But Mom just looked at him, shook her head.
Dad studied me, like he was seeing me for the first time. And I knew, even at age six, that something important was going on. That I was different somehow.
I think I scared Mom back then.
I remembered how her eyes had narrowed at me when I had been about to tell my grandmother, Nan, about the loops. From then on, I just instinctively knew it was all a secret. That had been when I was about seven, right before Mom died, before it was just Dad and me against the world.
Then, a few years later, I was fairly certain I had my episodes figured out. I chose my words very carefully, and I explained to Dad that I was jumping the space-time continuum. And I think I finally scared Dad too.
I listened to the beeps on the monitors and let my eyes unfocus in the low-lit room, all the glowing numbers and blips fading into a blurry cloud of blues and greens. I bit down on what was left of my thumbnail and closed my eyes, swallowing hard. I turned back toward Dad and Dr. Chen. I took a deep breath and summoned my courage.
“You know it’s a loop, right?” I said. “Tell me you’re considering it.”
“Emery, of course—” Dad began, running his hand nervously through his thinning hair, his eyes avoiding mine. The gesture angered me. He was brushing me off.
“You’re going to go bald,” I said, wanting to hurt him. Something.
“In the future. Someday. I saw it.” I hated how childish I sounded.
“Don’t sweetheart me.” I tried to sound stern, but I was tired, and my voice was uneven, shaky.
Dr. Chen surprised me then, pulling up a chair and sitting next to my bed. “Emery, of course we are considering it. It’s just that we have to consider all the options in front of us. It’s not that we don’t believe you.” She was younger than some of the others. And she looked at me a little more like I was a person and not just a lab chimp.
Excerpted from Flutter by Gina Linko Copyright © 2012 by Gina Linko. Excerpted by permission of Ember, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.