Growing up, we enjoyed an interesting variety of tv shows in my household. My Dad was a big lover of classic comedies and shows, which meant plenty of I Love Lucy and Leave It to Beaver. And oh, the sitcoms. Too Close for Comfort, Three’s Company, 227. My mom, on the other hand, introduced us to British television, private investigators (hello, Jessica Fletcher and Colombo), and science fiction. Hours were spent in our tiny living room, discussing intriguing storylines related to various incarnations of Star Trek and/or wondering what would await us on The Twilight Zone. (And wondering if we would have to shut our eyes, being that some of those eps of TTZ were intense. Scaredy-cat here, by the way, and unashamed of it. 🙋🏾♀️) It was all so fascinating.
Needless to say, I love sci-fi. Like, deeply. If it’s time travel or aliens or “exploring strange new worlds” (my fellow Trekkies recognize where that comes from), my interest is quickly captured. Reading it and watching it have always been pastimes. A few years ago, however, I wondered why I wasn’t writing science fiction. A natural question for me; challenging myself as a writer is always exciting. But I realized that a lot of the plot lines that pop up in my head have a sci-fi theme. It seemed a natural progression—if those ideas were coming, they needed to be written.
The Loftiest Thing has a sci-fi short story in the collection. I now plan on writing an entire collection related to the genre. One story you’ll find in that forthcoming new collection is provided for your reading pleasure below. Enjoy.
Being in a time machine is less dramatic than you’d imagine. You stand in a medium-sized metal enclosure, quite similar to an elevator, the doors close, also like an elevator, and you move through the waves of time. Like moving up through floors. Yes: like an elevator. When the doors slowly open, however, you have not arrived in the plush, carpeted hallway that leads to your attorney’s office or for an appointment with your expensive dermatologist. You arrive outside your college dorm room in 1993 at 11:42AM. (Well, not specifically. It all depends on what time a person chooses to go back to. And you chose to visit your 19 year-old self. Someone else may choose to go to April 14, 1865, and convince Abe to avoid Ford’s Theatre. Really up to the person involved.)
You glance behind you at the metal doors that just closed and remember what they told you: the doors will disappear, disintegrate into the atmosphere, and will return when you come back to the exact spot where the machine dropped you off. Something about your DNA being linked to the machine. Science talk. You tuned out at the point. As promised, you watch the metal doors begin to shatter before your eyes, breaking apart in tiny, silver pieces until there is nothing before you. The process leaves you slightly breathless. But you get yourself together. With resolve, you turn around and knock on the dorm room’s door.
Nineteen-year old you (Teen You, officially) opens the door. You are momentarily dazed by familiarity, by a deep recognition. Thick curls in a bun on top of her head; big, brown eyes that communicate almost everything on her mind. Teen You is also thinner, of course, not yet a party to the mythical “eating for two” adage that you enthusiastically believed induring both of your pregnancies. Her baby face, with its unblemished dark brown skin, is not yet burdened by the pesky crow’s feet that appeared one morning and refused to bow before the cavalry of creams prescribed by your expensive dermatologist. She is the image in the mirror you stopped seeing so long ago.
And when she looks at you, her lips parting in a tiny “O” of shock, it’s quite clear that the deep recognition is mutual. No amount of crow’s feet and a thicker waistline could hide that. She doesn’t understand, but she knows.
But you also remember you at that age. A fighter of anything illogical, a doubter of whatever couldn’t be quickly explained. Just the Facts, Ma’am. Where did that woman go? you then wonder. Why did getting older make it easier to just say yes to everything, even the nonsensical? (Although, admittedly, no longer questioning the incongruous led you to an elevator that transported you back to the past.) Nevertheless, it’s hardly surprising when you observe a narrow-eyed frown slowly descend upon Teen You’s demeanor, replacing the shocked recognition. “Can I help you?” she asks you sharply.
You smile at her. “We need to talk.”
“Who are you?” she demands.
“I’m sure you know who I am.” With that, you place your hands on her shoulders and firmly guide her backwards into the dorm room. This moment, touching the woman you once were, is not lost on you. The sensation will linger long after this day. You close the door behind you. “I apologize for pushing you but we don’t have much time.”
She glares at you. “Get out of my room. You have no right to be in here, to put your hands on me.”
You gaze at her with admiration. “You’re so strong. I wish you had stayed that way.”
Momentarily, she cocks her head to the side, visibly intrigued by this statement.
“Anyway, you have Political Science at 12:15 and we need to chat before you go.”
“How—how do you know about my next class?” she questions.
“Since I’m sure you know who I am, it’s no surprise that I know which class you’re about to go to, is it?” Briefly, you peer around the dorm room. Teen You’s side of the room is neat, clean, the complete opposite of the unmade bed and various articles of clothing and things that crowd her roommate’s side of the room. Natasha Abulov was her name; an exchange student from Russia. You remember how excited she was to be in school in the United States, so excited that she was never around to clean her side of the room.
“Excuse me, but what do you want?” Teen You presses, interrupting your thoughts.
You return your attention to her. “Be patient with Natasha,” you tell her. “Several years from now, she’ll become one of your closest confidantes.”
Teen You raises her eyebrows at you in disbelief. Chuckling softly at her expression, you now lead her toward the pristine bed and sit her down next to you. “Look, there’s no real preamble to this—”
“Did I become a lawyer?”
You hold your breath.
“It’s what I—what we wanted more than anything,” she says carefully. “Did it happen?”
This would be harder than you thought.
“I’ve been working so hard, loading up on my classes,” Teen You continued. “I just really hope that it ended up—”
“In this Political Science class, your professor will be very late. Sitting next to you will be William Lyons, a junior you’ve seen here and there, but never paid attention to. He’ll say hi and ask if you want to ditch class for some coffee. At first, you’ll say no. Time will continue to pass by. Other students will start leaving. You’ll glance at the clock. He’ll invite you again. Reluctantly, you’ll say yes and you’ll leave class with him.” You pause, caught up in the memory. “Three months after today, Billy will ask you to marry him. He’ll say, ‘You’re 19 and I’m 20. We’re not kids. We love each other. I have a trust fund. What are we waiting for?’ You’ll hesitate. You won’t be sure. He will repeat that he loves you more than anything or anyone in the world. Reluctantly, you’ll say yes. A few days later, you’ll elope.”
Those big eyes of hers grow wider and wider.
“School becomes a foregone conclusion after you get pregnant, which happens pretty soon after you’re married.”
“I have a baby?” she whispers.
“You have two. A boy and a girl. Langston and Angela. And they’re not babies anymore. They’re 22 and 21.” You smile, envisioning your children, these two souls that have prevented you from losing the few marbles you have left.
She begins to nibble on her pinkie nail, a nervous habit that never went away.
“Needless to say, no, you didn’t become a lawyer. You stayed home and took care of your children and your home. You supported your husband while he continued to go to school. He graduated at the top of his class.” This is when you are reminded of why you are here, why you paid an obscene amount of money to some kids who weren’t much older than your son for the chance to travel back in time. You grab Teen You’s hands, which now tremble violently. “Listen to me, Pamela. Listen to me. Don’t leave that class with Billy.”
Tears suddenly appear in her wide, brown eyes. For a moment, your own eyes moisten, but you push away those rising emotions, determined to stay the course.
“Do not go with him,” you say. “Stay in the class. Tell him some other time. But do not leave with him. Do you understand me?”
“But—but if I don’t go, what happens to Langston and Angela?” she asks breathlessly.
You didn’t expect that question. But becoming a mother was something you’d always wanted, wasn’t it? “Langston and Angela won’t go anywhere,” you tell her firmly.
“But their father—”
You imagine him now, this man you both love and despise, this man who has betrayed you in the worst way. The two of you have become shadows in your home, living miles apart in the same space. You must fix it, you must come back together, and that is why you are here today. Just a few weeks ago, you recognized that everything began when you left that class with him. Things happened too fast; you fell too fast.
Squeezing her hands gently, you smile reassuringly at her. “We were meant to be, Billy and me. He will pursue me, undoubtedly. And somewhere along the way, I will fall in love with him completely and without hesitation. But we need time, Pamela. Make him wait. We need more time.”
They had explained it all with their science talk, those boys with the metal doors, after you had begged them to help you. You didn’t tune out that part. You’re not changing much from the past, they told you, so the present, time itself, will eventually acclimate. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, ma’am. You’re just changing the scene, but the puzzle pieces, your life, will stay the same.
“Our relationship needs to happen differently, when we’re older and wiser. We made so many mistakes, Pamela. We blamed each other for so many things. If you stay in that class, it will happen another time. Langston and Angela will still come, I promise you that.”
She gazes at you for some time, tears spilling down her face, her wide eyes filled with surprise, confusion, and an array of other emotions. She is thinking, deliberating. Finally, Teen You nods.
You pull her into your arms, embracing her tightly. Later, much later, you will dream of this moment, when you held yourself in your arms like a child.
“Time for class,” you say softly. You stand her up and gently wipe her tears. You then pick up her backpack, hanging on the bedpost, and hand it to her. “Maybe the law career will come one day, maybe it won’t. We just need to save our family.”
Nodding again, she takes the bag and walks toward the door. Before leaving, she turns around and glances at you. “This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me,” she declares.
“Wait until childbirth,” you reply, smiling.
Her eyes widen again before she disappears around the corner.
With a deep breath, you look around the room again before walking out. Back in the hallway, you stand at the precise spot where you “landed.” Almost immediately, those tiny, silver pieces that fragmented into the atmosphere appear before your eyes, shimmering as they re-form. The process ends with the return of the two metal doors that brought you to this place in time. They stand before you, sturdy, as if they had always been there. It was impressive, to say the least. The doors open and you step inside.
As the “elevator” moves through time, you find your eyes growing heavy. Yes, you recall what the boys also told you: coming back would render you quite fatigued, almost unbearably so. They weren’t wrong.
As your legs give way and you descend toward the ground, you unexpectedly feel the stirrings of an emotion you haven’t experienced in a long time, something far more powerful than your overwhelming fatigue.
The End. (An original work by This Square Peg.)