Francis Norman was a local radio host and human being. The first was a given: One could hear it in the way he spoke and how he hummed along with what was said to him. One could see it in the way his eyes were ever searching for something to comment on and how he took command of any conversation he was a part of. One could see it in the way that, even if his smile fled his face, it lingered in his voice, appeasing and false. The second was widely debated, and even Francis himself wasn’t sure it was true. It was what he had, though, so he made do.
Today, as with every other, he sat on a ledge and looked out into the expanse of the cosmos. His pinstriped suit and fedora draped askance, his well-shined shoes and too-white teeth glinted in the starlight, and his gentle humming of some jaunty tune he’d played on the radio earlier echoed through the otherwise soundless void. He somehow both clashed with the swirling galaxies he sat before and blended in perfectly.
Late last night, he’d scrolled through Wikipedia for hours. His back held the ghost of an ache from curling up under the covers unmoving, reading of exotic tortoises, memorable plagues throughout history, Barbie dolls. Most of these articles went through one ear and out the other—or in his case, through his eyes and back out in the form of small tears when he yawned. One stuck with him, though, and it was this that he pondered as he looked into the abyss.
Einstein’s Theory of Relativity says that space, time, and motion are not individual concepts, but a foamy substance called space-time. It moved as one before him now, swirling, grinning without mouth or eyes at his confusion, his brain’s gentle trickle of sand. What he looked into was not nothing, but the culmination of everything. Francis couldn’t help but wonder if he was part of this everything.
Francis Norman did not sleep. This was one reason why the locals were unsure of his humanity. He sometimes laid in bed, sure, and dreams and visions swirled through his head, but he never broached the boundary of consciousness. Sleeping took too much time, and time was one thing Francis did not often have to spare. He spent his time in a small, cluttered room down at the radio station and spoke to the people throughout the day and into the night. In his free time, he strolled around the town, watched television, or sat at the edge of this everything meeting everything.
Another reason was his past. When people asked him where he was from, who his parents were, if he’d been to the hospital, Francis could not answer. They thought he was being cryptic; he merely did not know. He only knew the radio station, the town, and the edge. He did not need anything else.
The last, most poignant reason was that he did not age. His hair stayed nut-brown and perfectly styled, and his forehead held no wrinkles. His voice was the boom of a younger man, and his hands remained unspotted. Francis figured that time moved fast enough around him—he dealt with time so constantly that perhaps he’d build up an immunity.
Time existed so, so much in the radio station. Reports flooded in, and he talked constantly of the latest tragedy, the latest joy, the latest whatever-the-day-happened-to-bring. Time did not exist here, though. He spent minutes here; he spent hours here. He did not know the difference between the two, nor did he want to. He merely existed, watching the sands of time tick by while his own were smelted into glass, unmoving.
Perhaps that was it. He was like this place, a dream, a wonder of the sky, a glorious mistake. Or perhaps he was merely a phantasm, and nothing, including time, could touch him. Or perhaps there was no explanation to it at all, and he just was.
But every day, calls flooded his telephone. Every day, he picked it up and spoke to a brand-new someone with a brand-new story or a brand-new take on the ever-shifting politics of everywhere. He was not tired—he did not sleep—but on these days, he imagined he could sympathize with those who were. A recent stabbing, a boy’s life saved, a burglary at a jewelry store. Time moved as boys ran as cars hurtled down the street. Time moved as knives slashed as people fell to the floor. Time moved as Earth spun as the universe grew larger and larger and larger.
A loud beep startled him, and he nearly pitched off into the great unknown. His watch; his alarm. It still worked here, he’d learned. As he was notably untethered to time, it was notably dependent on it. It beeped again, as if to say, It’s time to come home.
Francis picked up his suitcase and stood with the ease of either a young man or a timeless one. He turned with one last glance to the endless sky. It was alright; he would not miss it. He would be back tomorrow.