“Hello, Martin. Can I join you?”
“Sure, sit right down.”
“Well, Joan, how long has it been since we had a drink together? Fifty years?”
A waitress came over and took her drink order.
Martin hoisted his mug of beer.
“My wife is a fifth-generation Texas Baptist, so she never drinks. But she knows I’ll have a beer occasionally.”
He put the mug down and looked at his old girlfriend. “She’s sleeping in, it was a late night. I didn’t want to disturb her.”
“It looks like you certainly found the right girl,” Joan said. “I could tell from the way you looked at each other all night during the reunion.”
“Yeah, it took a while. I didn’t get married until I was 40, but it was worth the wait. I suppose you found the right guy, too.”
“I did, we had 45 wonderful years together. He passed away last year,” Joan said.
“I’m sorry. Do you have a family?”
“Three children, four grandchildren,” she said with a smile.
“Paula and I couldn’t have children.”
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“Oh, it’s just as well,” Martin said. “I probably would have made a terrible father, I spend so much time writing.” He looked thoughtful.
Joan looked at him, and gasped.
He looked up. “What is it?”
“Oh, my God, sitting here up close, listening to you… It was you!”
“It was me, what?”
“It was you, the man who came up to me on the Boston Common! It was you!”
“The Boston Common? The outdoor art exhibit? That was our last date. You dumped me like a ton of bricks after that.”
“Because of what the old man said, about you. But it was you! I recognize you now! I haven’t seen you in years, but it was you! Still, you looked even older than you do now.”
“You’re making no sense!”
“Remember when you went to the concession stand to get some hot dogs and drinks?”
“Yes, it took forever, the line was very long. When I finally got back, you had a bad attitude, had it for the rest of the day. Then you dumped me.” He winced. “I never did figure out what went wrong that day. And you never told me.”
“While I was sitting on the bench, a very old man came up to me — he walked with two canes. He sat down right next to me and said, “Hi, Joan.’”
“Who was he?”
“He said he had some important advice. He said he was related to you — I assumed because of his age he was a grand-uncle or something. He knew stuff about you only a relative would know.”
“He said you really didn’t love me, you were only deeply in lust with me, that you were just a horny teenager and wanted to get me in bed and bang my brains out,” she said. “He said if I was smart I’d throw you over, that you weren’t mature enough to have a real relationship.”
Joan stared him in the eye. “You look like you think I’m crazy.”
“No, I’m amazed at what I pulled off,” he said. “Did he mention a soybean field?”
“Ahh!” she gasped.
“Thought so. It’s a joke I heard after I moved to Texas,” he said. “About the differences between what teenage boys and girls want in a relationship. The girl wants to be pampered and made to feel special and cuddled and listened to — and the boy is just looking at her, thinking “I just want to plow you like a soybean field.’”
Joan stared at him. “So it was you? But you were older, even older than now.”
“At my last check-up, the doctor said my heart is in great condition, my one problem is diabetes, and the neuropathy is slowly spreading in my legs. Which is why when I’m older I will probably need to use a cane — or two. But otherwise my health is fine for a man of 68, and I may live a long time yet — maybe long enough that in the future I can hitch a ride in a time machine,” he said. “It all comes full circle; if you hadn’t dumped me, I wouldn’t have accepted the admission from UT and moved to Texas — which is where I met Paula in 1995.”
“UT is where I joined the science fiction club.” He smiled, thinly. “I have geeky chums right now who are working on time travel. In the future, if — I guess now I should say, when — it happens, going back to 1965 and telling you to dump my ass sounds exactly like something I would do. In retrospect, we weren’t all that compatible.”
He raised his mug and took a gulp. “Years after I moved to Texas, one day I heard that joke about soybeans, and I realized that’s why you were smart to dump me, because it was true about me — I had no good intentions, I just wanted to bang you until you started singing opera. I needed a lot of maturing. That’s why I wasn’t a decent prospect for marriage until I was middle-aged. Paula was the first gal who thought I would be worth the trouble.”
He rested the mug on the tabletop. “Now with all these years under my belt, I believe your story.
He chuckled. “Back own my stab.”
“What’s that mean?” Joan asked.
“That’s ‘stab my own back’, backwards,” he said. “Which is what I did. I’m sure our marriage would have been terrible. Instead, we both have been happy, just not with each other.”
He pushed a twenty-dollar bill across the table.
“A happy ending, courtesy of my future self. This is for our drinks and a tip. I gotta go. Paula is probably up by now.”
Joan looked amazed. “It’s too crazy to believe!”
Martin smiled as he got up. “That’s why it’s called science fiction.”
A life-long science fiction reader, Lou Antonelli turned his hand to writing fiction in middle age; his first story was published in 2003 when he was 46. Since then he has had 81 short stories published in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia, in venues such as Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jim Baen’s Universe, Dark Recesses, Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD), and Daily Science Fiction, among others. His story “Great White Ship”, originally published in Daily Science Fiction, was a 2013 finalist for the Sidewise Award for alternate history.