I awoke with a start, my body full of the tingling relief that comes
with the end of a nightmare. But I knew it hadn’t been a dream, and the
metal band encircling my head proved it. I quickly sat up, heart
pounding, and looked around apprehensively. The room was my own. The bed
was my own.
The time before me was my own.
I leapt to my feet and dashed to the bookshelf, gingerly removing an
old, leather-bound copy of Great Expectations. “They’re still here!” I
cried, running a hand across the spines of my most treasured works. “I’m
here, and they’re here, and they haven’t been sold on eBay!” And they
never would be. I had the chance to make things right.
Returning the book, I fumbled to remove the metal band from around my
head. Dressing as quickly as I could, I hurried from the bedroom. I
stopped short at the sight of the half-eaten cashew chicken, still
sitting on the coffee table where I had left when the trouble began.
Without thinking I glanced towards the door, remembering my surprise at
seeing Jacob’s face through the peep hole – Jacob, my once dear friend
and partner, who had left the executive ranks to become a research
engineer. He’d been as good as dead to me all the years since, until he
and his engineering interns had walked through my door.
He’d brought three interns with him: the girl, petit and blonde, looking
more like a child than a graduate student; the large red-headed boy
wearing the green plaid shirt – I had to look twice to make sure he
wasn’t carrying an ax; and the third boy, with the unruly black hair,
heavy eye makeup and long, dark trench coat. He came in last, wheeling
the machine ahead of him.
Jacob’s time machine.
I turned and saw it next to the La-Z-Boy, the bright silver streaked
with soot; a faint smell of ozone lingering around it. I reached out and
gently touched the ruined control panel on top, running my fingers along
the now melted and buckled plastic, still warm to the touch.
“You don’t actually travel through time,” the girl had told me as she
connected a bundle of wires to the band on my head. “But every action on
this world creates ripples in time and space, and this machine gathers
and condenses them.” Then, one by one, each of Jacob’s assistants took a
turn focusing the machine, guiding me through the events of my life.
How long had it actually taken? I had no idea. I felt suddenly faint at
the memory of what I had seen, and flopped into my easy chair, landing
clumsily on my television remote.
The boxy old set across the room flashed to life, and Crazy Marty
shouted out above the peal of church bells, extolling the virtues of his
After Christmas Home Theater Sale. After Christmas? Had I missed it, then?
I turned off the television, sprang to my feet, and ran to the window.
Walking along the street below, I spied a young boy in his Sunday
clothes dawdling on the sidewalk as his family hurried ahead. I’d have
opened the window and called to him, had the window been the opening
kind and I not been twenty stories up.
Instead, I reached into my pocket, grabbed my cell phone, and dialed my
“What’s today?” I asked, as soon as he answered.
“Eh?” he replied.
“Today, today – what day is it?”
“Today? Why, Christmas Day.”
“It’s Christmas Day!” I said to myself, holding the phone to my chest.
“I haven’t missed it, then. The interns have done it all in one night.”
Returning the phone to my ear, I asked, “Do you know Crazy Marty’s Home
Theater Systems, a block from my apartment, on the corner?”
“Of course,” replied the concierge.
“Wonderful. Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize TV – not the LCD,
but the giant plasma one?”
“What? The one with the screen as tall as me?”
“Yes! That’s the one,” I said.
There was a brief pause, followed by a soft clicking sound. “Their
online store says it’s still in stock.”
“Excellent!” I said. “Go and buy it.”
“Shut up!” exclaimed the concierge.
“No, no,” I said. “I mean it. Go and buy it, and tell them to deliver
it. I’ll send you the address. There’s a hefty bonus in it for you if
it’s there within the hour.”
I hung up the phone and laughed, imagining the look on my assistant
Bob’s face as the delivery men arrived with that hulking screen. Ty
Pennington never played a better joke, I thought.
Moving quickly to my computer, I sent an email to the concierge with
Bob’s home address. I was about to stand, when the memory of a discarded
email forced its way into my consciousness.
Opening the Deleted Mail folder, I was filled with sudden regret at the
sight of an unopened email from a member of my board, requesting a small
donation for his charitable trust. Without a moment’s hesitation, I
opened the message, clicked the online donation link, and in less than a
minute was ready to send a substantial sum via PayPal.
“This includes a great many back payments,” I wrote in the comment box
before clicking “Submit.”.
The room filled with a deafening silence as I shut down my computer, and
I was overcome with the urge – completely foreign to me – to leave my
lonesome home and seek out the company of friends.
“Why, of course,” I said to myself, taking my phone in hand. “I’ll go
visit Fred and his wife.” I began to dial my nephew’s number, but
cancelled before all of the digits were in. It simply wouldn’t do to
call ahead – a surprise would be much more fun.
I giggled as I instead rang for a driver and car. The poor dispatcher
apologized profusely as she told me there would be a thirty-minute wait
on account of it being Christmas. Though I’m sure she expected a furious
tirade, I simply thanked her, told her not to worry, and wished her a
The dispatcher’s speechless response brought on a return of my giggles.
It was all I could do to stifle them in time for one more joke.
I dialed the number of my assistant, and the phone rang but once before
a trembling voice answered.
“What do you mean by staying home today?” I asked in the gruffest voice
I could manage.
“I’m very sorry, sir,” came the reply. “I…”
“I’m not going to stand this sort of thing any longer,” I roared. “And
therefore, I’m going to raise your pay grade, effective immediately.” I
paused for effect, and then continued. “Which, of course, makes you
eligible for the executive benefits plan. Now you can ditch that crummy
HMO and take your kid to a real doctor. Merry Christmas, Bob.”
I disconnected the call before he had a chance to reply, and laughed
with a mirth I hadn’t felt in years. Light of heart, I gathered my coat
and hat and prepared to meet the car downstairs. I was just reaching for
the door when my cell phone chimed. Someone had sent me a text message.
Curious, I stopped and took the phone from my pocket. The message was
from Bob. I read it, and then read it again. It wasn’t from Bob after
all. It was from his child. A tear escaped my eye, and I felt as though
my heart would burst as I read the message over and over: “God bless us,
— With the deepest of gratitude to Charles Dickens