This story is by David Safford and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Stanley Blanc rushed through the waiting room and slammed his palms on the countertop.
“I want my ‘Do Over!’”
A round, spectacled man stared at him and blinked. “Your appointment isn’t for six hours, sir.”
“No,” Stanley said, “this is an emergency. I need it done now!”
The man blinked again and glanced around the room. “I’ll see what I can do,” he said. Standing, he straightened his white lab coat and disappeared through an open door.
Stanley sagged into the countertop. Behind him, someone grumbled, “Asshole.”
Whatever. He didn’t care what these people thought. This was life-or-death. He craned his neck, peering behind the counter. What the hell was taking so long?
The man returned and waved at him. “Come on,” he said, and Stanley hurried after.
The man led him down a network of halls. Doors were ajar and Stanley peered through the cracks. Patients lay on tables, labyrinths of wires encircling their heads like electrons. Dozens of flickering nodes were arrayed over their scalps.
“Okay, Mr. Blanc,” the man said, leading him inside a vacant room. “I’m Dr. Moneta. What’s the emergency?”
“I need my ‘Do Over’ right away,” Stanley said.
“Of course. And the particular event is…?”
“An affair,” Stanley blurted. “I had an affair and my wife is taking the kids and leaving me.”
“I see,” the doctor droned, scribbling. “Do you know the exact event?”
“She’s divorcing me,” Stanley howled.
“No,” Moneta sighed, “the moment when you chose to do it.”
Stanley shook his head. “I don’t know for sure.”
Moneta frowned, scrawling another note on his pad. “Think, Mr. Blanc. When did you first act unfaithfully?”
Stanley shook his head again. “It was a while ago. Bethany and I met at a work conference….”
“The moment,” Moneta cut in.
Stanley closed his eyes.
They’d been on the balcony of the convention center atrium, just outside a gala for the top agents in the region. Everything was golden, the sunset glowing through the windows and blanketing the cavernous room with the shine of Hollywood dreams. Bethany, the woman he would nickname “Carl from Indianapolis” on his phone, was walking toward the elevator, leading him to her hotel room for a drink.
“But just one,” he remembered lying.
And as he was about to follow, his phone rang. It was Sandra.
“I wanted to stay a few more nights,” Stanley murmured, “mostly because I’d just met Bethany. Sandy just went on and on, giving me grief about the whole trip. So I hung up and followed Bethany down an elevator to her hotel room. The rest is…. ”
“Do you remember the time of day?” Moneta interrupted.
“Around eight-thirty at night,” Stanley said.
The doctor nodded. “I’ll see if we can get you started, Mr. Blanc.”
“Thank you!” Stanley exclaimed.
The doctor left, shutting the door behind him, and Stanley released his full weight into the chair.
“Please work,” he whimpered to himself. Memories of their wedding day flickered like photographs before his eyes. Sandy in her strapless gown, looking perfect. Sweat pooling in their clasped hands as they took vows. How during their first dance he had whispered the word ‘Sorry’ in her ear.
“What for?” she had asked.
He’d shrugged. “I guess we’ll both find out.”
Alone in the room, Stanley stood and drew circles on the floor with his feet. “Idiot,” he mumbled to himself. They’d found out alright.
The door clicked and Dr. Moneta entered alongside a toothpick-shaped woman carrying a tray of wires.
“Alright, Mr. Blanc,” Moneta said. “This is Phoebe, and she’ll be assisting with your Hippocampal Temporal Alteration Procedure today.”
“It’s the fancy term for ‘Do Over,’” Phoebe chirped.
“Go ahead and lay down, Mr. Blanc,” Moneta said, taking the tray and dropping it on a table with a startling clatter.
He realized he was trembling, his fingers stinging with cold. “What exactly does this … do?”
“Oh, just a little old-fashioned time travel,” Phoebe sung. She took a set of nodes and pressed them onto Stanley’s forehead. “We zip you right back exactly as you were, give you five minutes for your ‘Do Over,’ and bring you right back!”
“Exactly as I was,” he said. “Does that mean I won’t remember… what I’ve done?”
Phoebe wrinkled her face and shrugged. “Sorta? The cognitive reinstatement isn’t 100%, but it’s close.”
“What if I’m still unfaithful?” he said. “What happens then?”
Moneta plugged some wires into the nodes. “Nothing,” he said.
A loud hum buzzed in Stanley’s ears and his vision began to blur. He felt Dr. Moneta’s meaty fingers grasping his arm and he saw the sparkle of a syringe.
“Just relax,” Moneta said.
He felt a sharp prick.
The roar of a distant ocean grew in his ears. Phoebe’s singing disappeared beneath the waves.
Awake. Upright. All was aglow, yellow like fallen leaves under a distant sunset.
He stood at the edge of the third floor balcony. Glancing behind him, the gala surged on in a sea of laughter and booze. He turned and gazed down the walkway.
She was tall and angular, her hair cut to bounce just above the shoulders, her dress cut to reveal the flesh of her back. He sprung to follow without hesitation.
His pocket erupted in vibrations from his phone. Sandy.
“Damn it,” he mumbled.
He stared as Bethany walked. The way she glided as if through water, angelic and perfect.
He swung the phone to his ear. “What?”
Sandy’s voice crackled: “Where are you?”
He watched as Bethany paused to look over her shoulder. Her dark eyes found him, and she smiled.
“Stan,” he heard his wife say, “Can you come home tonight?”
He shook his head. “No, honey. I’m sorry.”
“Doesn’t it end tomorrow?”
He grit his teeth. Bethany was pressing the elevator call button. He quickened his pace.
“They added more seminars. Really important stuff, hon’.”
The elevator doors opened. Bethany stepped inside and waved at him, as if to say, Want me to hold it?
“Okay,” Sandy said, obviously frustrated. “Well, I love you.”
His eyes still pasted onto Bethany’s body, Stanley opened his mouth to respond, to throw a canned ‘Love you too’ back. But no sound came out. A dull drum was beating in his belly and he reached for the railing to balance himself.
Then he knew.
He stared at Bethany, bending double. His knees hit the carpet. He gaped at her and gasped.
Then he saw it. All of it. Every twisted bedsheet and text message and second glance to be sure Sandy didn’t know.
The cognitive reinstatement isn’t 100%, but it’s close.
He smashed his eyelids together and shook his head, dizzy. His lips quivered. “I… I….” he stammered, wincing at each vision.
He closed his eyes again, and Bethany lay before him, exposed and vulnerable. Was this memory, or foreknowledge?
He held the phone, hand trembling.
“Sandy,” he said, his lips shaking even more, “I… I….”
He swallowed. “I’m going to have an affair.”
Bethany was holding the elevator door, watching him, her face smooth as glass.
“What did you say?”
“I’m going to cheat on you,” he said.
“What do you mean you’re going to?”
He tucked his head between his arms and curled fetal on the ground. “I just know,” he whispered. “I haven’t done it yet. But I will.”
He jerked as a sob crackled through the phone.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”
“Why the hell are you telling me this?” she cried.
He huddled there, nearly sobbing, searching for the answer. Why tell her? Why reveal his wretched hand like this?
He swallowed and took a breath. “I’m telling you,” he said, “so that maybe I won’t do it.”
He peered up toward the elevator doors and wiped his eyes. Bethany was gone. The doors were closed. The golden rays had vanished, and now the sinking sun was shimmering like white violet in a twilight breeze. It was a sight he had never seen before.
Stanley Blanc pushed himself to his wobbly feet. He could hear his wife crying now, her sobs unrestrained and awful.
He stared at the elevator doors and tried to remember what had been so important. He could feel there were memories there, but when he tried to seize them and take them unto himself, they vanished like photographs set aflame, hissing into toxic gas and goo.
Stanley Blanc blinked and scratched his thinning hairline.
“Sandy,” he said. “I’m coming home.”
“I’m coming home. Right now.”
He hung up and began to walk toward the parking garage. His vision was blurring, his head beginning to ache with the sudden onslaught of a life he hadn’t had the chance to remember yet. He was walking, but felt as if he might be floating along on his back, as if in the gentle surf. He craned his head up to the ceiling, toward the growing, beckoning brilliance, and smiled.