May the old become young and young become rich, so both may avoid the deep, dirty ditch.
Marisa thought herself to be walking in a deep, dirty ditch of sorts as she hustled some extra ranch dressing over to table 10. Waiting tables was no picnic, from cooks on the line cracking about her nice ass to the customers failing to reward her extra effort with extra cash. Marisa dreamed of a day when she could make a living at something more civilized.
Because Marisa had a deaf brother, she understood the sign language being spoken at table nine as she delivered the ramekin of dressing to an adjacent table. A guy with thick, grey hair and a neatly trimmed grey beard was telling his dinner companion about how he had cheated on exams.
His hands literally said: “I cheated on the exams.”
The dinner companion, a young, attractive woman, was furious. She sprang from her chair and stormed out. The grey-haired dude didn’t try to stop her. He just hung his head in forlorn misery.
Marisa realized she recognized the man from the college where she attended classes. She didn’t know his name, but thought he taught math or something. She stopped on her way back to the kitchen and whispered to the man, “I know sign language and I saw what you just said.”
The man grabbed at his jacket pocket and pushed hard against it with his index finger, like he was pressing the button on a garage-door opener through the fabric. Suddenly, Marisa felt light-headed and dazed and found herself walking out of the kitchen with a side of that white speckled salad dressing, on her way to table 10, feeling a sense of immediate Déjà vu.
The pretty woman was back in her seat at table nine and as Marisa passed by, the grey-haired man looked right at Marisa. He didn’t say a word and he wasn’t making signs with his hands.
Marisa knew something strange had happened, like she had gone back in time about 30 seconds. She kept an eye on the two dinner guests as they finished their meals. When they got up to leave and the attractive woman stepped into the restroom, Marisa accosted the man.
“How did you do that,” she said in a loud whisper.
“Do what?” the man said.
“You sent me back in time half a minute, but I still remember what you signed to that woman. Is that your wife?”
The man looked around to see if anyone was paying attention and nobody was, so he pulled Marisa in close enough to kiss her.
“I don’t know how you remember it, but please forget it.”
Marisa angrily pulled her arm out of the man’s hand and stepped back out of his personal bubble.
“Well I do remember and I might have to report you,” she said. “You’re a professor at my school.”
“If I show you what I did, will you refrain from reporting me?”
“Meet me on the sixth floor of the library tomorrow at 9 a.m.,” he said. “I will be reading Shakespeare.”
The attractive woman came out of the bathroom and she accompanied the man into the parking lot.
Marisa was an ethical person, or so she considered herself. She was curious about what happened, but she knew the right thing to do would be to report cheating. She tossed her long, black hair over her shoulder as she decided to sleep on the dilemma.
She woke up early, drank some coffee and brushed out her thick mane. She was a little scared about the scheduled meeting at the library. What if Professor Cheat was planning to kill her or something? As she pulled on her blue jeans and a white T-shirt, she decided she better bring some backup.
She sent out a text to her friend, Cole. Part of her hated to invite Cole, because Cole was super sweet on her. He told her how he felt all the time and it drove Marisa crazy, really turned her off. It wasn’t that Cole was unattractive. He was the opposite, by a long way. He wore his black hair military short and looked like Tom Cruise in Top Gun.
The mushy, romantic stuff just wasn’t Marisa’s thing. Cole was a sap and she wanted a tough, mysterious sort. She knew she could depend on Cole, however, and she knew he would text back in a second or two. He always had his phone and was never too busy for Marisa.
“I need your help,” was Marisa’s cryptic text.
There was no answer as Marisa picked up her car keys and exited her apartment. There was still no answer when she got in her 1993 Eclipse and turned the key in the ignition. This was distressing, because Marisa thought she might have to risk texting while she drove, since Cole decided to take more than two minutes to get back to her. What the hell was he doing anyway?
She started driving and her phone dinged. She smiled and reached into the passenger seat to pick up her handheld computer. She waited until she reached a stop light and looked down.
“What r u doing tonite?” the screen read, but it wasn’t from Cole. It was from Frank, this gamer dude with a crooked smile that she had met at a recent party. Where the hell was Cole, Marisa thought as she tossed her phone back into the passenger seat.
Her meeting with the cheating teacher was 10 minutes away and Marisa was five minutes from reaching the library parking lot. She pulled in and could feel her stomach doing flip flops like she was on a first date. She hated how she couldn’t control her nerves.
Marisa parked the car and turned the black key into the off position. Silence filled the cockpit as the engine ceased to hum. She waited for the text and it still didn’t come. She was compelled to find out what the time-travel mystery was, so she started walking toward the front door of the library.
When she reached the front door, the phone finally buzzed and this time it was from Cole.
“Anything you need,” it said.
Marisa’s heart swelled a little and her nerves subsided.
“Please hurry to the library,” she texted back.
Her phone said the time was 8:56 a.m. She figured the old professor would wait until a few minutes after nine. His career was in the balance, after all, so Marisa took her time walking toward the elevator.
When her phone clock clicked over to 9:03, she could see Cole running across the parking lot at a full sprint. Seven minutes was pretty good time. He was huffing and puffing after he blasted through the front door and bolted to Marisa like an obedient dog.
“Are you ok,” he exhaled.
“Yes, thanks for coming. I don’t have time to explain, but I need you to be my backup, to watch me from a distance and make sure nothing weird happens.”
The sweat glistened on Cole’s ebony crew cut and he nodded without hesitation.
“I’m meeting a creepy guy on the sixth floor, so if he tries anything crazy, feel free to jump in and save me,” Marisa said.
Cole didn’t even change his expression or question why Marisa was meeting a “creepy guy.”
“I’ll go up the stairs, so I don’t look like I’m with you,” Cole said as he stormed off.
By the time Marisa rode the elevator to the sixth floor and exited into the sea of books, Cole was already there, planted in a far corner and pretending to read a dictionary. Marisa couldn’t help but think he looked kinda cute. Then she saw the professor at the other end, pretending to read Shakespeare.
She walked toward the professor and she could see his eyes dart up from the book. He saw her, for sure, but he didn’t stop reading until she got all the way into the corner.
“Thank you for not reporting me before hearing me out,” he said. “You might think I’m crazy after you hear what I have to say, but please believe I am a good man who means no harm to anyone.”
Marisa could see he wasn’t done talking, so she didn’t interrupt.
“I am a math professor who likes to dabble with inventions in my spare time,” he went on. “Recently I stumbled onto something incredible that provides time travel, but only in super small increments. I call it a life processor.”
Marisa’s face indicated she wanted further explanation.
“It’s a device that will allow you to edit your life the same way you can edit a document on a computer. You can basically hit a backspace button and redo whatever you want. So far, that’s all I have figured out is the backspace button, but I am working on other features.”
He pulled the device out of his pocket. It was shaped like an egg and was bright red. At the narrow tip of the egg there was a blue circular button.
“So, you pressed that button last night and shot us all back in time?” Marisa said.
“Yes, it only effects people within a small space. You were within that space when I hit the button. You weren’t supposed to be able to remember what happened. Obviously, I haven’t worked out all the kinks yet.”
“I still don’t think this is worth keeping my silence.”
“What if I made you your own life processor? Would that be sufficient payment?”
Marisa pondered the offer.
“Think of what you could do with it,” he said. “Every time you make a simple mistake, you could erase it, like a typo.”
The idea did sound appealing to Marisa, like the kind of thing that could lead her out of the dirty-ditch restaurant and into something more fun and lucrative.
Marisa’s mind raced through dozens of scenarios in which a life processor would come in handy. She could have used it when she met that dorky gamer at the party; just erase him from her life and goodbye annoying texts. She could use it in job interviews every time she made a slip of the tongue. She imagined a world filled with perpetual mulligans and knew in her gut that it was plain wrong.
Life would become a tangled mess in which she would lose track of reality, perhaps become so reckless in her professional and social worlds that she wouldn’t know when to quit pressing the little blue button. She decided she must destroy the egg held by Professor Cheat.
“Can I have that one?” Marisa asked, hoping to get Professor Cheat to reveal he had no spare to replace it.
“No, this is my only one, but I can make one for you in a…”
Before he could finish giving his expected delivery date, Marisa snatched the red egg from his hands and dashed down the Victorian literature isle. Professor Cheat scrambled after her, turning heads of the few studiers in the room. Cole sprang into action, rushing to Marisa’s aid.
As she ran along toward the business section, Marisa rolled the egg around in her hand. It felt plastic and firm, like it would take more than her grip pressure to break the evil device. She could hear Professor Cheat’s footsteps gaining on her and felt the eyes of innocent spectators.
Marisa knew she had nowhere to run, so she pressed the blue button and found herself standing back at the Shakespeare book, with Professor Cheat finishing up his diatribe about his invention. He didn’t seem to know they had gone back in time and he was holding the egg in plain view just as he had before she pressed the blue button.
Marisa got an idea. She asked politely if she could look at the life processor and the professor acquiesced. Once she held it firmly, she screamed:
“Get your hands off me, you pervert.”
A horrified look spread across the professor’s face as all eyes turned his way and Cole barged onto the scene in a fighting stance. The professor backed away from Cole with his hands in the air.
“I didn’t touch her,” he said.
Cole cornered the professor against a wall and Marisa went running for the elevator. She easily made her escape and casually walked out of the library and into the parking lot with the life processor in her hand.
About the time she was reaching her Eclipse, Cole was letting the professor go and making a brisk exit as well. The professor pulled out his phone and made a call.
“We have a code A,” the professor said into his phone. “You know what to do.”
The professor’s wife was on the other end of the phone call and she stood motionless at first, stirred with mixed emotions. The “A” in code A stood for “Abort.” She would have to drive nearly three miles from work to her home, rush to the basement and flip a switch that would cause the life processor to cease working forever.
This was a great relief to the professor’s wife, because she had spent many a worry-filled night contemplating all the trouble her husband could get in with his invention. She also contemplated all the money they could make if he ever perfected it, patented it and found a way to sell it to Apple or Microsoft for mass distribution.
The professor always knew the temptation to use the life processor for personal gain would be strong, so he rigged a central power source in his basement from which the life processor got its energy. He also rigged a one-way power switch that would allow him to shut the power off for good and kill any life processors he had created. He could always start all over in making a new life processor with a new power source.
The professor’s wife cruised home in her black Dodge SUV, becoming more relieved with each passing minute. She realized she wanted to keep her humdrum life of driving to work and back each day. She didn’t want fame and fortune to enter their lives, along with massive ethical responsibility for all those abusers of the life processor.
Back at the library, Marisa’s car rolled out of the parking lot. She knew she needed to destroy the little red egg sitting in her passenger seat, but she also liked how easily she was able to use it in the library to make a bad plan into a good plan. Her first instincts to grab and run were pointless and stupid, but her second plan to use Cole was effective.
Just then, Marisa saw Cole running along the sidewalk and waving her down. She pulled over and let him get in. He saw the red egg sitting in the passenger seat. Not knowing what it was, he picked it up and set it in an empty cup holder before depositing his posterior into the seat and shutting the door.
“That was sort of intense,” Cole said. “Are you ok?”
“I’m fine,” Marisa said.
Something about her tone didn’t register right with Cole. The look on the professor’s face had seemed genuine in the library when he claimed not to have touched Marisa.
“Did he really touch you or did you just scream to use me for a getaway?” Cole asked.
Marisa was impressed that Cole was so intuitive, but then suddenly felt bad that she had used him so.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I manipulated you, but I had no choice. It’s a long story you wouldn’t believe.”
Cole reached down and picked up the red egg.
“Was it something to do with this?” he said.
He looked the life processor over, eventually getting to the blue button.
“Don’t push that,” Marisa said.
“We’ll go back in time.”
“Ha, yeah right,” Cole said. “Come on, what is really going on?”
Marisa pulled the car over to the side of the quiet street and parked under the shade of some massive oak trees. She turned and looked at Cole and felt a strange feeling of attraction for him. The way he had come to her rescue was kind of a turn on. She took the life processor out of Cole’s hand. She felt the overwhelming urge to kiss him with the passion of a love-starved wife welcoming her man back from war. She knew a kiss like that would send her emotions into a danger zone, so she poised her thumb over the blue button and leaned in close.
As Marisa’s kiss progressed to full embrace, the professor’s wife was walking down the steps to the basement of her house, where she found the power switch and flipped it without hesitation.
Marisa pulled out of the embrace with Cole, her heart fluttering, and she pressed the red button. Nothing happened, nothing changed. Marisa and Cole still sat in her car under the shade of the tall oak tree and her heart continued to flutter as adrenaline coursed through her. Marisa pressed the red button one more time and when nothing happened she asked Cole a simple question.
“Do you think you could smash this thing on that sidewalk out there?”
“If it means I can take you out on a date tonight, I will,” Cole said.
Marisa imagined a date with Cole would be classically romantic, almost sappy as he went all out to be the perfect gentleman. She just handed the life processor to him and smiled.
Thanks for reading.