The Past Is A Foreign Country

He was sitting, staring into space, not outwardly troubled, seeming like any other man in the middle of a day of cares. But it was him, certainly, the spitting image of the picture, the very same. Thirty years old, the oldest he would ever get. She approached quietly, ignoring the unfamiliar surroundings, the strange clothing styles, the sounds from passing automobiles — actual petroleum-powered automobiles — until her fingers came to rest on the cast iron end of the bench.

“Don’t do it,” She blurted, artlessly, and then winced before the man could even turn and react.

“What?” He asked, as if he hadn’t quite heard, before continuing after it had registered, “Don’t do what?” He looked at his sandwich as if wondering if she’d seen something wrong with it.

She sat on the bench next to him, careful not to disturb the detritus of his almost-complete sack lunch. “Sorry. I’m Etheline.”

“Etheline was my mother’s name. We almost named our daughter that. Funny.”

“I know. She won’t shut up about it, in fact.” She forgot herself for a moment, caught up in a memory. “I used to complain about my name all the time and she would go on about how it was almost hers but her mother wouldn’t let…”

He was looking at her with confused eyes. He hadn’t started glancing around for a security guard yet, which was a good sign; or maybe it was a side-effect of the problem at hand.

“Sorry again.”

“That’s okay. I’m just not sure I follow you…”

She’d rehearsed it. There was no reason to abandon a plan of words carefully chosen, but now, sitting here next to him, it all escaped her. “How are you feeling?”

He shrugged. “Fine today, I guess.”

Fine today. “But you haven’t been fine?”

He paused. “Did someone from HR send you to find me? Are you a counselor?”

“Nothing like that. But I did come to talk to you.”

“You said ‘don’t do it.’ What is it you think I’m going to do?”

“You tell me.”

Now he was glancing around, shifting his weight, arranging his feet so that he could get up at any time. “Listen—”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to freak out.” She leaned in, not close enough to make him more uncomfortable, but enough so that she could lower her voice. “People have noticed you’re having a hard time. Jeannie has noticed. She didn’t… she hasn’t said anything because she didn’t want to embarrass you. She regrets that now. So much. You should talk to her.”

A security guard passed, an honest-to-gosh firearm in his belt, but Gramps didn’t flag him down. After a minute, he said, “She’ll think I’m weak.”

“She won’t.”

“But how do you know?”

“I could prove it to you. How I know, I mean. But then you’d never be able to convince yourself I was just some socially awkward lady from HR.”

He nodded, slowly, and then gathered up his trash and walked away.

24 comments:

  1. This is what I love about science fiction, the speculation on what could happen if we could go back to the past and fix things. You've painted a wonderful picture here. It got me thinking: I wonder if my father and I would have become friends if I were able to go into the past and meet him when he was younger, before my sisters and I came along. My father was a very stoic man, though not an unkind one. Still, it caused us to lock horns because I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve. I find myself wondering if he was always that way.

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  2. Lovely lovely use of time travel, not overstated and beautifully executed.

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    1. Thank you so much. :-) "Not overstated" is the kind of compliment I live for. :-))

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  3. This tugged at my heart strings - so sad, so beautifully put. LM x

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  4. I felt like the first paragraph didn't flow together well, but once you got into the conversation and the heart of the piece, it really came together. There's so much shared in this moment in time - what was and is and will be. And what could be. Thanks for linking up with Write on Edge!

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    1. Yeah, the first para bugs me a bit as well. I think probably part of the issue is that I had to go back and add 'info' to it when I was done. I may massage it.

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  5. Oh, the messiness of time traveling! I appreciated her dedication to her mission, in spite of forgetting her planned speech. I enjoyed her bumbling and rambling much more!

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  6. Really smooth writing in this one. I like the way it flowed. The dialog and their thoughts moved the story along perfectly. A very enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

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  7. This piece is so well written. I love that I can read work like this, gain insight, and grow as a writer. Your dialog is so fluid and natural! Well done!

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  8. How very interesting though it would be scary in reality to be able to go back in time!Liked the way she reached out to him and the small details which made the end so credible:-)

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  9. It's not entirely clear, but I'm guessing this is his future granddaughter going to try and change things? I like the notice of 'petroleum fueled vehicles'... makes it clearer that she's from his future, if not a future he's in. very intriguing story, because, of course, if your mother's father doesn't die at age 30 the next go around, then who goes back in time to convince him not to go? And if no-one does, then does he still die, and then his daughter grows up... ah cyclical. i love time travel stories :)

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    1. She does call him 'Gramps' at that point, so it should be clear by the time you finish the story. :-) The 'who goes back to convince him not to go next time' is the paradox:

      In this case there doesn't have to be a next time... the 'edit' stands and the universe proceeds apace. Something doesn't have to happen in the future to make something have happened in the past. Causality FTW. :-)

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  10. This is a clever story. You wrote it very well with just the right amount of hints. I love the idea of of time travel and using it to provide guidance when it was needed. The dialogue was also paced well and easy to follow. Thanks for sharing this story:~)

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  11. I find the story even more interesting after reading the comments. Some of what readers took away from the story wasn't my interpretation. I love that your story has some many different interpretations. It's a wonderfully written piece. I could hear the characters voices in my head and the dialogue flowed well.

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    1. Thank you very much for reading and commenting! :-)

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  12. Bravo, well done. The scene felt rough to me, though. I know there's a word limit here, but I would like to see some darkness. Something despondent in Gramps's reactions. The conversation was a little too normal. If/when you revisit this piece, you may want to keep track of your -ly adverbs. The -ly adverbs tell instead of show what's going on.
    Other than that, this piece is an excellent response to the prompts, and I love the concept you devised. Again, well done!

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    1. I actually don't subscribe to the current fashion of slavishly (see?) eschewing adverbs. Especially in flashfiction where every word counts. They can just as easily allow you to avoid wasting verbiage on mind-numbing description. 'Artlessly' is a perfect example above. It conveys what needs to be conveyed, and with one word, where avoiding it would have required the use of numerous words and bring the conversation to a halt.

      I agree about Gramps' mood not being conveyed enough. If I had 1000 words they would have had a much longer conversation...

      Thanks for reading and commenting! :-)

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