“Yo! What’s up?”
It was a pertinent question, currently much on my mind. I couldn’t feel my legs and all I knew for certain was that ‘up’ was not the direction in which I was facing.
“Would you be so kind as to give me a hand?” I asked.
“No probs, Mr. Finchley.”
A strong, though clumsy, hand grasped my left arm and pulled with the delicacy of a bull-rhinoceros in a singles bar. I swore colourfully and the hand relaxed its grip so that I plummeted back to the floor. Though the impact made me wince, I was now able to see my would-be assistant: Peter, a pupil of mine, one who made the failings of adolescence into an art-form. More worryingly, he was flickering.
“Peter, can you see my legs?”
“Only, like, sometimes…” He stared incredulously at my lower half then took out his phone to film my discomfort for upload to Facebook later. I should have been angry, but with Peter now averaging less than half the ordinary commitment to tangible existence, I was willing to make some allowance.
“Peter, on my desk, is there a photograph of my wife and me holidaying in Burgundy?”
“Phwoar! That bikini is criminal.” He picked up the photo to inspect more closely. “And you must be…” he looked puzzled “…who’s the rich looking geezer she’s kissing? Is he the guy who owns the yacht? Are you swingers, sir?”
It was moot whether the suggestion that my beloved Mavis was having an affair or the equally preposterous idea that she would do so in a bikini was more concerning. Twenty years into a dull marriage, I could still count the number of times I had seen her naked. Our annual trip to Burgundy was for cycling, most definitely not for swinging.
Peter’s flickering was getting more dramatic and, with each flash, he became smaller, more elegant, cleaner, more… feminine. His ill-fitting trousers morphed into an immaculate skirt and his hawkish nose receded to an appealing button.
The new nose was familiar. It brought back the guilt of my only dalliance in more than two decades; she was a widow, still in the early stages of grieving, and I, God help me, wilfully mistook her cry for help as a cry for sex. She was Peter’s mother and it was only now that I realised who Peter’s father might be.
Then the door opened.
“Caroline? Come along now.” The voice was Peter’s mother, but she looked happier than I had ever seen her and she was with a man, a man I hadn’t seen in years, a man who had moved away only weeks after Peter’s mother announced her pregnancy.
He was the man who would have helped her through her grief if I hadn’t.
“On my way, Mummy!” The flickering jelly mixture that was Peter and, increasingly, Caroline solidified into what was unquestionably a girl. She skipped happily toward the door and kissed the man lovingly on the cheek. “Hello, Daddy! I was just fetching my homework!”
The door closed and I despaired as I listened to the happy family leaving. I looked up at the laptop on my desk and wondered whether I could reverse the programme. It was hopeless, of course. My arms had gone the way of my legs and now even the unusual USB accessory had begun to flicker, just as Peter had done.
Maybe Mavis had been right, maybe I should have left teaching and gone into programming. It seemed like I had a talent for it. After all, I had managed to make the USB Timeline Editor eradicate everything that was wrong with the past.
Smiling grimly at my one success in life, I vanished into the ether.
Gaius Coffey‘s story “Alone, Not Lonely” was shortlisted for the 2010 Fish Publications One-page Story competition. His story “Terry and the Eye” was Every Day Fiction’s most-read story in March, 2010. He lives in Dublin with his wife, two cats and a baby daughter; the latter being as much an inspiration to write as an impediment to writing, resulting, on balance, in bafflement.