“Our next contender is Darby Miles! Darby comes from Clearwater, Florida, and he tragically lost the love of his life in a horrible accident five years ago.”
The audience collectively gasps. The presenter’s teeth gleam under stroboscopic lights, and Darby is almost positive he can see his own reflection on the enamel. His sweaty, disheveled reflection. He knows he looks like a madman, and he doesn’t care. That’s why he finally got the call from the TV station after dozens of failed audition clips he sent over the years: he was positively mad, his story was deemed tragic enough, and those things sell well. Mad sells the best.
Scott Chance, the presenter, writer, and producer of Second Chance (TM), is again looking at him, his teeth still gleaming, but now his eyes are showing signs of irritation.
“I just want my Marie back!” Darby says, remembering his lines. His eyes really water, and Scott Chance holds a box of KLEENEX at him, showing the logo in protruding capital letters to the camera and to millions of homes.
“Thanks to our show, Darby has a second chance with his sweetheart!” Scott Chance exclaims, and there is a round of deafening applause. A woman screams “I love you, Scott”. A feminine man repeats the same sentiment, only louder. Most of the audience screams now, and those who don’t, clap furiously. Darby knows this is live, he was told that they’d go live, and knows that in most American homes people are watching him sweat, they’re watching Scott Chance’s smile, and they’re cursing him because they’re not in the spotlight like he is.
He knows because he’s been one of those home sitters even before Marie died.
“But Mr. Chance, how can that be?” he asks, knowing the answer in advance, by heart. He stops his lips from moving along Scot tChance’s lines, fearing his wrathful stare. We will place you back in the past, Mr. Darby, he thinks along. We will give you your–
“SE-COND-CHANCE! SE-COND-CHANCE!” the audience chants, and on cue, a woman in the front row faints.
“You’ll get your chance to go and make things right with Mary”, Scott Chance says to the camera that doesn’t pick up the flinch in Darby’s face. It’s Marie, he wants to say, but doesn’t. They picked him because he agreed to play by the rules, so he’s not taking chances. Darby almost giggles at the thought, but holds it together. He’s supposed to be sad because tragedy sells. He can’t giggle.
Marie, Marie, he thinks. I am coming, Marie.
She used to scoff at the show. So many pathetic people, she’d comment every time the show was on, and Darby really didn’t like that about her. The show was awesome and it grew to become his guilty pleasure. He’s watched people get equipped with a camera placed in the lenses of their glasses and a microphone in an earring. He’s watched people walk into the Second Chance (TM) Machine, watched them wave, smile, and go POOF. He’s watched their Second Chance play out as if he was really there. Watched them walk into past and make things right with their loved ones. One of the most popular episodes was when Billy Thompson went back to the past and said goodbye to his dying father. It was really emotional. The audience cried. Whole America cried with Billy Thompson. What a time to be alive, he’d say to Marie, and she’d scoff again, not raising her eyes from her books.
Billy Thompson stayed with his father for those fifteen minutes he remained alive–the Second Chance (TM) Machine couldn’t bring you back to present (or future), of course, and his father had been dead for ten years, but Billy Thompson said he was so so so happy to have been given that chance (second chance) to see him one more time. He said it was worth it.
Marie snorted back then. She said something like “Yeah, sure, go back in time and stay where you are, until you go mad and kill yourself. Look it up. It’s happened.”
Darby did look it up, and she was right, of course, but what does it matter? Billy Thompson died a happy man. He got to say goodbye to his dying father instead of partying that night, and if he ended up killing himself a year or so after that, so what? He said it was worth it. Marie was just bitter like that. Used to be bitter, Darby corrected himself.
“We didn’t want to spoil the story, so the audience only knows very little about Mary. Would you like to tell them some more about her, Darby? In your own words, of course.”
What Darby is about to say was also written in advance by a team of expert writers. Nothing is left to chance except the second chance (he giggles to himself), but he nods and smiles and his crooked teeth will make another woman or two call him a poor soul.
“Marie was my childhood sweetheart. From the moment I met her by her locker in middle school, I have been in love with her. We lived together and even watched Second Chances together.”
A collective sigh goes through the audience.
“But one evening I was late home from work... I went to a bar with my coworkers, just a guys’ night... and that was after an argument, you see... and there was a break-in and...”
A woman who fainted is now sobbing. Scott Chance nods almost indiscernibly at the security guy and she’s escorted out. Too much noise.
“She got shot by a burglar”, Darby finishes. Scott Chance shakes his head, the audience does the same. “I just want to go back and come back in time to make things right. I want to tell her how much I loved her. I miss her every day and...”
The spotlight cuts him off and the face of Scott Chance is now on every screen in America.
“Luckily for you, Darby, and for our viewers, we can make that happen. What do you say, folks? What should we do for Darby?”
A kid runs up to Darby in the dark and hands him the glasses and the earring, then moves away. The spotlight is back on Darby as he’s putting the glasses with camera lenses on his face, and the earring on his left ear.
“Thank you, Mr. Chance”, Darby says. “I don’t want to live without Marie. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I need to make things right.”
“Of course, Darby! You’ll get your Mary again, and everything is going to be alright because you’ve got your Second Chance!”
A girl walks to the stage carrying a box. She opens the box to the camera and towards the end table in front of Darby and Scott Chance. The gun is laid on a velvet cushion. Darby slowly picks it up.
“Make things right.” He nods at Scott Chance and at the audience. And to millions of Americans cheering him on in their homes.
The camera follows Darby as he gets off the high chair (slightly shorter than Scott Chance’s, of course) and wobbles across the stage to the Second Chance (TM) Machine. He waves shyly at the audience that is just a blur for him behind the glasses and under that light. He glances at the screen that shows his belly hanging over his belt, his loose tie, and his uncombed hair. He slightly flattens the cowlick on one side, making sure he doesn’t touch the microphone.
There’s a flash, and the audience fades. The chants fade too.
He closes his eyes involuntarily, but happily.
Here I come, Marie, he thinks.
Darby opened the door to the home he will have lost after failing to make payments on time on his one income. That didn’t matter, of course. What mattered was the familiarity of everything around him. He was home, at last. Back to Marie. He inhaled deeply: the smell of lavender detergent, the smell of cooking with spices he never learned the names of, the smell of worn leather couches. He will have come home in two hours–at least that was what happened five years ago. For all anyone knew, he was still in the bar with his coworkers. With his second chance, though, he was also home now, he made it home after work directly, and Marie was in their room down the hall. He looked around for the audience (as instructed by Second Chance (TM) Team: some leftovers from that morning still on the dining room table, some stupid documentary running on the TV, an overturned chair by the couch. She didn’t clean up after coming home from work either.
He walked briskly towards the bedroom but just before he grabbed the doorknob, the door flung open. In the doorframe, Marie yelped in surprise. In one hand she held her purse. In the other, there was a duffel bag. Her makeup was haphazard. She didn’t fix that either. A bruise showed on her left cheek. Uncovered.
“Darby! What are you doing home?”
“I-I-I had to see you.” Darby stammered. She backed away.
“I told you to leave me alone. I told you to fucking get out and leave me alone so I can pack and fucking leave, you piece of shit.”
“Marie... I came back for you. I got my Second Chance.”
“Are you serious? Are you still on about that stupid show? What are you wearing? What’s wrong with you? What are those glasses... are you filming me? Are you off your goddamn mind?”
Darby closed his eyes for a second. When she moved towards him, he raised his arm.
“Are you fucking serious, Darby? Put that gun down. Put it down or I swear I’ll call the police.”
“Listen, Marie, just listen. I know I fucked up. But I have another chance to make it right. Let me make things right. You died on this day because I wasn’t home. Let me make things right. Today I’ll save you and we’ll call it even, okay? I didn’t mean to hit you. I’m sorry. I love you. I...”
She tried to move past him, so he had to point the gun at her. He was sure the audience would agree with him. Scott Chance would.
“Put the fucking gun down, you abusive piece of shit!” she screamed. She made another step towards Darby.
He didn’t mean to shoot, but she did call him abusive, and she didn’t listen to him. The gun really went off on its own. The front of her shirt charred; a red flower blossomed on her stomach. Her mouth turned into a surprised O. Her eyes went wide. She tried to yell again, and he wasn’t sure if she’d scream too loud–the neighbors might hear–so he shot again, this time in her face. She fell on the floor with a thud. No scream though.
“Marie... I didn’t mean to. I swear. I just wanted to talk to you. I’m sorry. Marie?”
He fumbled with the gun. Tried to grab at her, but of course she wasn’t standing anymore. Darby kneeled next to her, put the gun next to him. Fumbled in his pockets. Cue cards, where were the cue cards?
Finally, he found one, but his arms trembled too much to read. He improvised.
“I-I-I’m sorry Marie. I love you, you know? I just wanted to make things right but you had to leave, didn’t you, you stupid bitch? I just wanted to watch the show in peace and you had to comment. Billy Thompson got his dad back but you were so mean. Of course I had to slap you. I am sorry, though. Okay? I am sorry. I’ll see if I can get another chance, okay? I’m sure I can. This was a small mistake, okay? Just a mistake. Marie? Talk to me.”
He steadied his hands. Finally, he could read his cue cards.
“I am sorry, Marie. Please, give me a second chance. I can do better. I love you. I love you so much. Just give me a second chance.”
Darby touched her unmoving head, slightly too soft under his fingers, and wet with blood. Still, he thought the audience might like it. Scott Chance might like that too. Tragedy sells.
But hey... Tragic romance also sells. He’d just have to wait another five years, that’s all.
And he’ll make things right that time.