Giving Up Time Travel

Submitted into Contest #233 in response to: Write a story about a character participating in Dry January.... view prompt


Speculative Drama Science Fiction

I promise Alli that I’ll give up time travel for “Dry January,” but she doesn’t think I can do it. She doesn’t exactly give me an ultimatum, but it sure feels like one.

“If I’m giving up milk chocolate, coffee, red wine, and fries, you can ween yourself off of time travel,” Alli says, hands on hips, chin cocked high, and shoulders back, exposing her neck and indicating she is not afraid of a fight.

“Can I start tomorrow?” I plead. After all, we still have two hours before the ball drops. I could still do a lot of damage in that time.

“Starting now,” Alli says. “Starting now.”

Gauntlet thrown. So that’s it. I’m off time travel. At least for a month. My first thought is that this is a resolution I can theoretically break any time I want and escape detection. Let’s say I bare-knuckle it until January 31st, then fall off the wagon. I could travel back and start over. How would she ever know?

“I’ll know if you travel back,” Alli says. “I can tell when you are traveling, Matthew. You have a tell.”

“What is my tell?” I ask.

“Like I’d tell you.”

She could be bluffing. There’d only be one way to find out. I could perform a test and see.

“Don’t even think about performing a test. I’ll know that too,” Alli says. Jeez, get out of my head, lady. Who needs time travel if you can accurately detect lies and perfectly predict the future, the way my wife can?

But, then again, what if she is telling the truth? Then she theoretically knows about all those thousands of times that I’d gone back for a redo. Did she know that my proposal was not spontaneous, but was the result of several dozen live rehearsals? What about our first time in the sac? This raises a lot of questions that I’m not sure I want the answer to.

“I mean, it is sort of a compliment, sometimes…” she says.

“I don’t… ohhh,” I say.

It doesn’t look like we’ll be watching the ball drop after all.

* * *

As I roll over and lay back against the pillow on the headboard, Alli is already up, perched by the nightstand, with her panties pulled up, and back at it.

“I want to try again,” Alli says, over her shoulder, taking her 50-mg Clomid pill, and injecting a cocktail of Fertinex, Repronex, and Luprom into the fatty folds of her abdomen. She pinches and presses down the syringe like a pro, barely wincing as the medicine absorbs into her tummy. She hasn’t even stopped to pee before retrieving the syringe and pills from the kitchen. It is as if, in her mind, sex is so connected with pregnancy that she can no longer separate the two.

The first time we had sex, Alli knelt in the shower with the pull-off shower nozzle for several minutes, thoroughly cleaning herself, afraid that the smallest oversight would lead to pregnancy. And now she is injecting hormones in a desperate bid to outwit nature.

Alli is like a bad oil spill these days. The thick sludge has completely covered the surface so that no light or warmth can penetrate.

“You don’t want to wait?” I ask, saying, “After the third cycle, there’s no more insurance; you know it's twelve grand to give it another go at that point.”

“You think I don’t know that?” she says. Taking out her smartphone, she pulls up the scheduling app for her latest reproductive endocrinologist, Evelyn, the Fertility Doc. She’ll have to go in for a blood test, ultrasound, and a look at her follicles.

“You don’t want to take a shower before you get into all that?” I ask.

“It’s on my mind now,” she says, shooting me a frigid glance. “It’s not like I can go back in time like you—I only get one shot at this,” she says. It’s always on your mind, I think, but that’s one of the comments our therapist told us is off limits. She calls those judgmental comments “jabs.” But I feel like I’ve just gotten smacked by a full-on right cross.

I take it on the chin. She doesn’t know my secret, so it figures she’s always putting all the blame for this on my shoulders. Maybe if she knew, she’d be less stubborn about the whole time travel thing. After all, it is mostly harmless.

“How far are you willing to take this?” I ask, from the bathroom, as I clean myself up.

She shoots me a threatening glance as she walks out of the bedroom to put the syringe back in the tray in the refrigerator.

I remember sitting in the waiting room when the handsome Doctor with the white shock of hair and the blue scrubs strolled in. You ideally want five viable eggs, but Alli only had one. Undeterred, Alli had insisted that we go forward. In her world, there were no stops and starts, there was only one direction, onward.

I had been thumbing through a pamphlet called, “A Partner’s Guide to Pregnancy,” reading about the necessity of all the support a partner needs throughout this difficult process, especially with all the hope of the initial but still precarious months of a pregnancy that takes.

Since the extraction, a few days before, Alli’s egg, fertilized by my sperm, should have formed a proper embryo and divided into cells ready to be implanted back into her body. We walked in hopeful but could both tell right away from the doctor’s stern greeting that somewhere, in a petri dish in the back of the lab, Alli’s egg wasn’t viable. The embryology experiment had failed.

Alli had gasped and whimpered, in a sound that fell somewhere between shock and grief. As if she had not allowed herself to even consider the possibility that the news would be bad.

“What is wrong with me,” she cried out as I put my arm around her and let her cry in the nook of my shoulder. This was the worst of it. She blamed herself and the guilt of the situation suffocated her.

At times I don’t know if she is even breathing at all.

* * *

As I lay down and wait for Alli to come back and show me some affection, I know I’ll be waiting for a month of Sundays before that happens.

From morning to night, for Alli, it’s babies, babies, babies. Every doctor’s office is an OB-GYN. There’s a daycare on every corner. Baby strollers are the sole means of pedestrian transportation. Every bookshop is a children’s bookshop. Every invitation is to a household teaming with children. Every waking moment is a reminder that the whole world is full of babies, and she can’t have one.

The thing about time travel that I always found interesting is that physicists and storytellers always focus on going back in time. The answer is always back there. Changing the past. The present always seems too hard and permanent to work with.

We automatically think the past is more malleable. Soft clay that can be molded. We overestimate our power, even armed with perfect knowledge, to turn the course of events. To form things into the shape and design we think will change everything. And yet, we totally ignore and neglect the power we have in the here and now.

It is a horrifying thought once it hits you. What good is going back if you can’t return again? That’s where the plot of “Back to the Future” turned out to be ingenious. Getting back where you came from is the real trick. For some of us, there’s no way back.

It’s not the great adventure of reaching some far-off place but getting back home that is the real adventure. Our boredom and meddling will lead us all so far astray, that in the end we all just want to get back to safety, comfort, and security.

The first time I traveled back in time, I only intended to go back sixty seconds. Turns out I made a mistake in the calculations and went back a full month.

The second my consciousness landed back in my one-month-ago body, I panicked. “Shit,” I had said, looking at the iPhone. And Allison had flinched at my sudden outburst.

“What’s wrong, babe?” she’d said.

“Nothing. Oh, nothing,” I’d said.

“You’re a terrible liar,” she’d concluded.

It was at that moment that I realized I needed an out and didn’t have one. I had thought I was pretty cool for coming up with a way to travel through time. A veritable genius. Eat your heart out, Newton! Nice try, but no cigar, Einstein! Eat my dust, Elon! Only to feel like the world’s biggest idiot the next second. What was I going to do?

It had been a terrible month. I couldn’t possibly live through it again. It was the month of tears. The month that Alli learned that her hormones were out of whack and a natural pregnancy was about as probable as winning the lottery.

You don’t know your wife, really know her, until she turns to you with a tablespoon full of Rocky Road Ice Cream and says, “I hope the embryo sticks.” But it isn’t a moment you want to live through twice. Trust me.

Without a choice, I had to live through it all over again, all the grizzly bits included. And it was the most miserable month of my life. Twice more I lived through that month before I worked out the kinks.

And twice more since.

* * *

These days, we have a pigeon net on our balcony and an electric alarm to tell me if Alli has ventured outside.

Alli and I had made a “no fighting” pact. It was the therapist's idea. Either one of us could call out the safe word, “Balloons.” That would put an end to whatever tantrum was unfolding. With Alli, it was usually an episode of profound self-loathing. It got so bad after the first round, I almost had to have her committed.

Our housekeeper, Marisol, who came once every two weeks, found her pacing by the balcony in a bathrobe, walking in and out of the balcony, looking over the ledge of our thirteen-story apartment in such a frenzy that Marisol thought she was going to jump. Alli swears to this day she was just having hot flashes. Whatever was happening, I know that Marisol would have never called the police if that’s all it was. I also know she would never actually do it, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t need serious help.

“I’m sorry. Sorry. So sorry, Mr. Matt,” she kept saying when I was called home. I knew that Alli would never let us keep her now even though she’d been with us for over a decade. I kept paying Marisol without Alli’s knowledge but lied to her and said that Alli needed the outlet of doing the cleaning and such to help with the anxiety for the time being. Marisol didn’t call me out on the lie and tried to turn the money down, but I kept sending it anyway. Marisol may have saved the one thing that meant the most to me—and she did it knowing it would cause her harm—brave, selfless—I am so grateful—I’ll pay her until the day I die.

Initially, Alli had been focused on the numbers. And the numbers were cruel. I’ve learned that you are better off not knowing the odds. But Alli had to know. She obsessively researched everything.

Women are born with one million, maybe even two million eggs. A lifetime supply. By the age of thirty-two, it is down to just about 1/10th of that, perhaps 100,000. Still plenty. At that point, the egg quality starts going downhill fast. At age thirty-seven, there are only about 25,000 eggs left, and falling rapidly, the body holding tight to the remaining supply, jealously guarding its treasure. Less and less of them are suitable for giving life. The odds dwindling month after month. For most women, they scarcely have 1,000 eggs left by the time they turn fifty.

At thirty-six, Alli would be a “geriatric pregnancy.” She hated that term. Numbers. Contingencies beyond her control. It was maddening to her. It was just how she was. She was always fifteen minutes early. In her book, fourteen minutes early was a minute late. She needed a sufficient Rotten Tomatoes rating to commit the time to watching a Netflix movie. She needed to plan out and calendar a full three months of training or she wouldn’t even pay the money to sign up for a 5K. Planner. Control freak. Tyrant. And she said I was the nerd for inventing time travel. The pot calling the kettle black, if you ask me.

The hormonal changes are part of it. Depression, anxiety, jealousy, irritability, and grief all eventually lead to isolation. And isolation makes it all worse. Alli’s therapist convinced her to take up yoga for stress relief. It helped a little, and she got very fit in the process. Let’s be honest. She got hot. But now she paced and religiously blended smoothies. Her OCD activities were crowding out the sulking. She had become a perpetual motion machine. Now she cared for her body with the urgency and nuance of a professional athlete.

“You are more than just a walking womb,” I told her one day. It didn’t go over. I continuously repeated, “I love you just the same whether we get pregnant or not.” No reaction. I tried, “You are the most beautiful courageous IVF warrior on the planet.” Squinted eyes and a raised left lip. I felt helpless to offer any lifebuoy that would help my drowning wife stay afloat.

Once we forgot the numbers, the whole process took on more of a vestige of sanity. After all, this was nature’s miracle, not nature’s math problem. And people had been having babies since, literally, the dawn of time. It had always been a concern and a mystery.

All you have to do is look at the number of fertility gods to know that reproductive endocrinology wasn’t something that we just discovered along the way. It’s built into our DNA to understand and overcome our natural limitations—to beat the odds and bring more life into the world.

I certainly beat the odds to make it through that month, and the similar months that followed, as one disappointment followed another.

* * *

I am slipping. I know. Don’t judge me.

It’s January 28th. Just three days until the month-long challenge is over. And I haven’t gone off the wagon once.

But after going to St. Mary’s this morning for a quick mass, I decided to indulge.

Alli will absolutely kill me if she finds out. But I’m going for it anyway. Wednesday will be ten days from the implantation of the embryo. Our “sticky embryo.” And I just have to indulge before we get the results.

Alli has been doing downward dog, warrior, bridge, and bow—and enough vinyasa series to drive a hot-blooded man insane. She has been imbibing progesterone, downing smoothies, jogging, and driving me nuts like it is her full-time job. And I have tried to be supportive. But I’m nervous too. A lot is at stake. For me, I’m more concerned about Alli than having a family. I don’t want to lose her.

While Alli is on the mat, I retreat to my work den so I can get everything ready. I turn on the console and the giant screen flickers to life. I look at the uploaded files and make some selections for what I’ll need ready come Wednesday. I do some readings and check the AI algorithm, feeding the raw data in, and running the necessary prompts, so that the computer can fine-tune the calculations over the next few days. We are all set, I think, and then I sneak out like a kid on Christmas Eve who made off with Santa’s cookies.

* * *

On Wednesday afternoon, I set the table with the good China and the long candles, in their gold candleholders. I open the China cabinet, where I stow some little gifts, in case of good news. And then I hide the chilled Gin in an ice bucket, with two martini glasses, and some pre-cut lemon twirls, in case of bad news.

I check the pot roast, the asparagus, and the roasted potatoes, and leave everything on buffet tins, over sternos, to keep warm, while I rush off.

Alli has meticulously planned every minute of the afternoon, and I am going to do my best not to let her down—except for the time travel.

* * *

Stepping into my study, I tell the computer, “Run April 8, 2012.”

A series of whirs and clicks proceeds. The time travel algorithm is underway. I place on my virtual reality goggles and wait for the countdown, “3, 2, 1…”

And then I am back to my wedding day, dancing with Alli, looking into her face, radiant in the spring sun, teeth gleaming, eyes bright and serene. I hold her tight. I feel the folds of her dress, the smooth shoulders, the silky arms. And I give her a long passionate kiss.

A half-hour passes quickly. I pull off the goggles, and power down the AI simulation, quickly shuffling out to meet Alli in the dining room.

She is standing there holding the pregnancy test in her hands. I look into her eyes. The same ones from our wedding day, and I break down in tears.

“You couldn’t wait one more lousy day,” she says, grinning. She knows. She always knows. She knows everything.

Then she says, “We are pregnant.”

January 15, 2024 02:36

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00:40 Feb 03, 2024

A very multifaceted story and as I'm into time travel (I mean as in the topic) had to read this one. Shows you can weave anything you like into a prompt theme. I read the comments hoping to clear up things I thought puzzling. I'm so happy for the couple that they had a happy ending. After so much commitment to torture. It is clear that this couple are very comfortable together. A good relationship is not about never disagreeing. It's about supporting each other through all the ups and downs. Trusting each other so much that you can be yourse...


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Robin Owens
20:25 Jan 26, 2024

Really enjoyed this read! The agony of not being in control. I loved: "And yet, we totally ignore and neglect the power we have in the here and now."


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Elli Price
05:29 Jan 26, 2024

A really interesting twist on the Dry January theme. Makes me think about how passions and projects can twist into vices if we let ourselves become obsessed with them. Well done.


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Kerriann Murray
01:29 Jan 25, 2024

Loved this. ❤️ I loved the whole hook of him giving up time travel the way others give up drinking or chocolate! I liked the way you gave background to the issue of infertility and the reference to infertility gods too.


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19:50 Jan 20, 2024

Jonathan, this was a very beautiful story. I've had several friends go through this process, and I think you capture it so very well. It's clear that both Alli and the MC love each other, and their relationship makes the story more pointed. I liked the reveal of the AI augmented VR at the end, it was an interesting little surprise! Well done!


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Rebecca Detti
17:42 Jan 20, 2024

Loved this Jonathan. I can really visualise them both and the really raw conversations/ experiences they are having. Love that you don’t spare anything in your writing and really feel for the couple. The road to parenthood is quite a journey. ! Look forward to reading more.


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Anne Wilkins
22:39 Jan 19, 2024

Fab story. Loved the detail you added about the eggs and the numbers decreasing and how you described the wife through the husband's eyes. Loved the concept of time travel being added as well, which gave it a really unique take.


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Christy Morgan
01:08 Jan 19, 2024

Another great read, Jonathan! You employ such unique storylines and relatable characters. I wish my imagination were as active! My fave line: Alli is like a bad oil spill these days. The thick sludge has completely covered the surface so that no light or warmth can penetrate.


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Uncle Spot
11:49 Jan 18, 2024

Loved it! Your writing is so clean and readable and your descriptions of Alli's reactions are beautiful. You are certainly a talented writer, not to mention a very good storyteller. Also, thanks for reading my piece on the Polar Night prompt - Killing Writers' Block. JR


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Michelle Oliver
10:18 Jan 18, 2024

The anxiety the trauma of multiple failed attempts to conceive. It is all painfully here. Marisol is such a beautiful character, and I love that that your narrator recognises her value enough to keep paying her. The time travel here needed a second read through for me to grasp it. The reason that he ‘needs’ to travel didn’t seem very clear, only that he could. Therefore the dry January didn’t seem to be a hard struggle for him to complete. Was it an addiction? Thanks for sharing and as usual, you pose some very interesting insights into the...


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Eagle Vision
08:13 Jan 17, 2024

Great story, dude. Can I interact with you more on social media?


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Rose Lind
01:45 Jan 17, 2024

I can see how much your writer confidence has enhanced since your first draft novel. Excellent story. I like the resolution of remembering the glimmer. Going fwd in time, or precog, is a sure-fire way to see if your manifestation has weight.


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Ferris Shaw
23:06 Jan 16, 2024

I don't understand this story. What does the time travel have to do with the pregnancy drama? Is he really time traveling, or is he just doing a virtual simulation? Did he live through his entire marriage again in the last few lines of the story?


Jonathan Page
23:16 Jan 16, 2024

Ferris, he's not really time traveling, they are just calling it "time travel," but he is actually using virtual reality simulations of the past enhanced by AI so he can experience those times again like as in a dream. He lived through a part of his wedding day before the final scene.


Ferris Shaw
23:41 Jan 16, 2024

Huh? I don't understand. If he's not really time-traveling, but using AI-enhanced VR, how could he live through an entire month "in the past?" He would need to be hooked up to the machine the whole time. And even if there's an answer to that, why did he "not have a choice" about going through that terrible month? He could just take off the goggles. And how could he live-practice his marriage proposal over and over again before doing it for real? The machine is only imitating what he already did for real. And why does he think (n...


Jonathan Page
01:41 Jan 17, 2024

Well, I know the answers. But I guess if it isn't at least discernible from the story, then it needs some work on that front. I really didn't want to write a "time travel" story but to use "time travel" as a metaphor for how you can't change the past or really escape your present struggles. As for the machine, I was thinking the most likely kind of time travel would be an ability to relive the past in a virtual setting. In that world, you can go backward or forward. You can change the past, or project and live through a virtual future scena...


Ferris Shaw
08:35 Jan 17, 2024

Ah, so he would spend a very small amount of real-world time to relive some arbitrarily large amount of VR time? Interesting. And so long as his wife didn't see him with the goggles on, he thinks she won't be able to figure it out later. (Of course, she might open the door during that hour, but that could be a risk he's willing to run.) It occurs to me that this could be a great element to explore what it would do to a marriage when a man can basically cheat on his wife (or a wife on her husband) with a VR version of that same wife-or-hu...


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Mary Bendickson
20:12 Jan 15, 2024

So backyards is the way to go forward?


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Ty Warmbrodt
07:14 Jan 15, 2024

Well thought out story. I thought the time traveler was preventing the pregnancies at first, but turned out to be a sweet story. Very imaginative and well written.


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Alexis Araneta
05:20 Jan 15, 2024

Absolutely love this one. What a creative response to the prompt. Whilst I was reading, I actually thought that the main character did not want children and kept time travelling to prevent an embryo from implanting or something. Also, I laughed at the "Fourteen minutes early is one minute late" comment because that is very much me. Hahaha !


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Trudy Jas
04:26 Jan 15, 2024

Aw. Thats s sweet. The agony, the hyper focus, the willing of something you can't control (which is extra hard for any OCD/ selfdoubter.) The helplessness of the partner/bystander. Again, a great story. But you're gonna have to explain time travel one day. Sounds neat.


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