Charlie Jones could be one helluva fire-breather. We'll never know for sure. When most folks looked at him straight on, all they saw was a glimpse of something vast and watery, momentarily compressed into the shape and size of clown made from his father's enchiladas and his mother's latkes.
If Jones liked you, he'd more than likely let you do most of the talking. He’d sit back listening and fiddling around with his pipe. Occasionally Charlie would check for burn holes on his shirt while you went on about any old thing. He'd end up by winking at the dogs setting next to him before smiling wanly and shaking your hand gently.
And if he didn't like you, he would interrupt constantly and make grand and obscure literary allusions designed to imply disdain for the supposed rottenness of the entire species of hairless apes of which he was a reluctant member. On such occasions, he was operating under the assumption that we were all charlatans, payasos and schmendriks rolled up into a garbage scow that was way to big to be floated down the Rio Grande without some significant damage being done to the surrounding natural environment.
That was Charlie's power with silence and with words. It was some gift.
So, it wasn't any sort of surprise when one of his associates discovered the dude had altered history by leaving some events dangling in a story he had recently posted.
The fellow who discovered the temporal anomaly just happened to be a luminescent, transdimensional plasma being. His name was unpronounceable. He reckoned that if Jones left things in his tale the way they were, the result would be a global nuclear conflagration in the year 2137.
The disaster would be caused by miscommunication about replacement refrigerator compressor trade between the Republic of Texas and the Confederation of Coastal Chicanos – which, by the way, would one day span the distance from the east bank of the Rio Grande clear on over to the Pacific Ocean.
Charlie got the news by telephone while he was listening to some chamber music by Johannes Brahms and reading the Surgeon General's warning on a pack of low tar cigarettes.
“Godammit,” he told his parallel universe-jumping pal, “I can't say what really went down because Burque is tiny, sabes? It might cause some discomfort. Even if I change the names around and all that jazz,” he gravely intoned—as the wind rattled around the wires and the connection so that there was a sort of electrical crackle coming through the headset—“people will know.”
“You don't want to cause a war,” hissed the entity on the other side of the trunk, so why don’t you just finish the story.”
Enticed and compelled in a manner that may one day be cinematically depicted by a medium shot of the planet Jupiter and its inner moons floating grandly in space, Jones transmitted the following addendum, known here, for archival purposes, as Jones Goes to College, Part Two:
One Saturday afternoon, a couple of weeks after Thanksgiving and when December had just begun to creep into New Mexico upon flat clouds, when the short days seemed to be pulled down low, Zelda showed up at Harvard House.
She was sitting in a rickety Ford pickup truck with a bent-up hood and smoky exhaust. The damned thing was being driven by a chap by the name of Leon. In between the two sat Ruth.
“Come on,” Zelda whispered to Jones, “come on up to the Jemez with us, we are going to Spence Hot Springs.” They drove north and Leon was drunk. The gals laughed a lot. Charlie wondered if there was anything better on the radio than the tape they were listening to, which was something by a band named after a faraway continent.
The four of them got to the mountains and stumbled around in the dark for about an hour. They only had one flashlight. Charlie finally located the springs by using a lensmatic compass with a radium dial and a map he had picked up at the gas station in San Ysidro.
It was cold and raining small ice crystals that night but they gingerly undressed anyway. Navigating to the edge of the pool, each entered it with great fragility and unconscious circumspection.
For thirty minutes none of the bathers spoke or looked up into the night sky or at each other—except for Leon. He was boracho. He kept taking liver-blistering hits from a bottle of Canadian Club and winking at the other three. Charlie knew it was time to go when Leon yacked all over his own pile of clothes while trying to retrieve a frajo from his jean jacket.
On the way back they heard Led Zeppelin III playing on 94 Rock. It was amazing what you could hear at four in the morning, Jones mused as the city of Albuquerque floated into view.
For a little while after that, Charlie hung out with Zelda. That mostly meant she'd come by Harvard House where they would make out frantically while Jones’ roommates painted abstract pictures or read National Lampoon in the living room.
But they never really bonded. Charlie realized that something was wrong after he took Zelda to see Dune at the Hiland Theater. Zelda refused to take her gloves off during the show and squirmed uncomfortably in her seat when the Guild Navigators were on screen.
On New Year's Eve, Zelda and Jones went to a party. She was late; he went through a sixer of Mickey's Big Mouth Malt Liquor in the meantime. Both of those humans were very far away from each other by the time they met up and so they mostly lost track of one another at the party. On the way home, Charlie yacked all over Zelda and passed out in the passenger seat of her new car.
That would have been that, but Charlie wanted the last word, just like the narrator told you at the beginning of all of this.
It was January and snowing like hell. Jones borrowed a car to drive up to the Heights where Zelda was staying. On the way he picked up a day-old bouquet of flowers at Allsups. As he was turning into her driveway, Charlie wrecked the car, a green Ford station wagon that had previously been used to haul around golf course equipment somewhere in Maryland. She came down to look at the wreck but acted like she didn't know Jones at all. She wondered aloud who he was and why he had chosen her house.
Charlie was sober. The auto had insurance. The cops let him go. Jones retreated silently, gracefully back to the student ghetto and waited for the spring semester to begin.
The next summer, Charlie heard that Leon had been crippled in a motorcycle accident, that Zelda was living two streets away with a serial womanizer and drunk, that Ruth had gone off to Sarah Lawrence to study anthropology. And all he'd done since was write and study, taking occasional breaks to stare at the sunlight coming through the front window in between times.
Some 152 years later, near the spot where Jones pondered the significance of meta-fiction in American literature, a great war was narrowly averted.