Transformation

(This story I wrote for a club competition. The brief for the competition was either romance, science fiction or historical or a combination of two or more. I aimed for all three. Was I successful? You be the judge. I gained third place.)

Transformation.

‘What if you couldn’t return, and you were stranded into that time forever? What then?’

‘This machine is full-proof, guaranteed to be safe,’ Hayden said, stripping off his paint-splattered overalls.

‘This hypothetical machine?’

‘Yeah, imagine the possibilities.’

‘I struggle to live the life I have been given without travelling to another era.’ Laura stretched out on the couch, pulling the soft throw over her body. The late afternoon winter sun seeping through the windows offered no warmth.

‘But, Honey, if you could, wouldn’t you want to change what happened to you?’ Hayden, perched at the end of the couch, persisted. His sharp blue eyes, reflected by the light, glistened.

‘Always the dreamer,’ Laura, tucking a strand of her greying, auburn hair behind her ear, smiled weakly.

‘I’m guessing you’ve had one of your bad days?’ Hayden, cradling her feet, gently massaged them.

‘The pain is bearable, but the new drug leaves me feeling lethargic. I’ve wandered around in circles all day, achieving nothing.’

‘The doctor said to expect this, didn’t he? Don’t lose hope, Love,’ Hayden murmured, increasing pressure to her slender foot.

‘My life is like a pendulum swinging back and forth between pain and relief, energy and weariness, the axis constantly in motion, obeying gravity and forming distorted circles. I have no control,’ her eyes watered.

‘Why a pendulum?’

‘I’ve always held a fascination for pendulums. My dad owned a drawing pendulum. We spent hours creating random mandalas. I loved that pendulum,’ Laura smiled.

‘What happened to it?’

Laura shrugged.

‘I’ve done nothing all day. Now the gallery is badgering me for a theme for the summer exhibition. My mind is completely blank. I haven’t started supper…’

‘What, no supper again, woman?’ Hayden tickled the soles of her feet.

‘Stop! Please, that’s sheer torture!’ Laura giggled. ‘I got out some lamb chops, and there’s still that salad from last night.’

‘I’ll take that as my cue. Mash or fries?’ Hayden rose from the couch.

‘Oh, your lovely, creamy mash, for sure.’

Laura’s wiry husband kissed her forehead and moved to the adjoining kitchen.

Over supper, Hayden paused as he cut into his lamb chop. ‘What time would you choose, Laura?’

‘Are you still on about time travel?’

‘Yeah, imagine if it was possible, but you could only choose one time period or historical event, what would your choice be?’

‘Oh, Hayden, I don’t know, and I care even less. Could I please enjoy my meal, which is simply splendid, by the way, thank you, without any more of your fantasy talk.’

‘Fantasy talk? Consider this. Once, the notion of men orbiting space would have been labelled Fantasy,’ Hayden’s eyes gleamed. ‘Come on, Laura, humour me.’

‘Okay. Space travel doesn’t interest me, so not that. Maybe a really courageous act by a person that led to monumental change. Like the black American woman who instigated the civil rights movement simply by refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, in the fifties.’

‘Rosa Parks.’

‘Yes. To witness Rosa Parks’ brave act and the reaction of the other people on the bus that day, would be awe-inspiring.’

‘And would you be sitting or standing on the bus?’

‘Oh, standing, I imagine. I’d want to see it all.’

Hayden nodded.

‘And your choice?’ Laura asked, resigned to humouring Hayden.

‘Ah, now that’s tricky,’ Hayden poured himself another beer. ‘I’d choose between being aboard Vostok 1 with Yuri Gagarin in 1961, or being present at a V-J day celebration in 1945 like in that iconic photo of the sailor kissing the nurse. Maybe witnessing the death of King Harold in 1066 during the battle of Hastings. I’ve often wondered if an arrow through his eye, really caused his death.’

‘You’re weird, Hayden. You do know that, don’t you?’ Laura laughed.

‘Observing the great Leonardo painting the ceiling of the Cistern Chapel, now that would be breath-taking,’ Hayden threw his arms wide. ‘So much.’

‘Would some everyday, mundane situation be allowed?’

‘Sure.’

Laura gulped the final drops of wine in her glass.

‘I’d like to return to April 9th, 1968.’

‘Huh?’

‘The day before the Wahine sank, the day before my father died.’

‘He drowned, right?’

‘No, he perished from pneumonia, on Eastbourne Beach.’ Hayden clasped Laura’s hand. ‘My dad had swapped shifts on that day with another seaman as a favour. If I could go back in time, I’d choose April 9th, 1968, pretend to be ill, and beg my dad to stay home.’

‘How old were you?’

‘Nine. We celebrated Rory’s eleventh birthday with a picnic at the park the day before that fateful ferry crossing with no inkling of what would befall us. Dad brought us all ice creams from the kiosk – double scoops with chocolate sauce and sprinkles. When I took my first lick, my ice cream fell off the cone, and my brothers laughed and jeered. I burst into tears, and dad gave me his ice cream. My dad was my knight in shining armour. Corny, I know, but that’s how I remember him,’ Laura smiled.

‘You put your feet up, have another wine, and I’ll clear these dishes.’

‘Leave the dishes, Hayden. I fancy an early night, snuggled close to my forever knight in shining armour.’

‘You saucy wench, you.’

‘What prompted this talk of yours about time travel?’ beneath the duvet, Laura rested her head on her husband’s shoulder.

‘I’ve been clearing out old-man Poulson’s place today, for it to be sold.’

‘The elderly recluse who lived in that tumble-down cottage on the hill?’

‘Yep. I had loads of stuff to get rid of.’

‘Like what?’

‘I took a couple of grandfather armchairs, an old radio and a chest of drawers, to Ben Hollows, the furniture restorer.’

‘Aha.’

‘Three Ute loads went straight to the recycling centre, and I dropped ten boxes of books off at the charity shop.’

‘I don’t get how clearing Mr Poulson’s house has caused this fascination with time travel.’

‘By the end of the day, I felt pretty disgruntled. I’m not a removal man or a junk pedlar, though, Ben Hollows was ecstatic with my offerings. He’s promised me a beer or two at the pub. No, I’m a painter.’

‘And a mighty fine one too,’ Laura caressed Hayden’s chest.

‘Anyway, I peeked inside his work-shop, as I passed by. It’s like a mad scientist’s cavern,’

‘How so?’

‘There are wires of various colours and thicknesses looping everywhere. On a bench running the length of the building, Bunsen burners, a gyroscope, at least three microscopes and a radio telescope. Also, an intriguing, oval-shaped box with two dials on the front.’ Hayden grinned.

‘Ah, and the intriguing object is a time machine, and you twiddled the dials, and zoom-zap-bang landed with a thud in New York Square, 1945, your lips plastered to the lips of an unknown nurse. And that’s your explanation for the lipstick on your shirt collar, huh, mister!’

‘Honestly, I’m convinced it’s a time machine.’

Laura sighed. ‘Imagine being Mr Poulson, living alone, dying alone. Did he have any family?’

‘According to Connie at the Four Square, who knows everyone’s business, he has offspring, though they didn’t show for the funeral. It’s them that’s wanting the place sold.’

‘Perhaps we should have made an effort, you know, got to know him.’

‘Hah, I met him once. He was outside his place hacking at a tree with an axe. I stopped to offer help.’

‘And?’

‘He yelled at me, slashed the axe in the air and told me to bugger off. Sour old sod.’

Rolling on his side, his arm around Laura’s torso, Hayden faced his wife. In the dim glow of the bedside light, registering the solemn look on Hayden’s face, Laura stiffened.

‘What is it?’

‘If travel through time is possible, then presumably one could travel to the future as well as to the past.’

‘Oh, now that’s in the realms of creepiness. You’re talking about seeing into the future and I, for one, wouldn’t want to know.’

‘No? Imagine, if you could foresee something bad happening to a loved one, and you have a chance to stop it. Think about it, Laura, you said yourself you’d want to stop your dad from sailing on that fateful day. Surely, this is no different.’

‘But you’d be meddling, you’d be altering history, admittedly history yet unwritten.’ Laura struggled.

‘Precisely, unwritten and if it hasn’t happened, then it’s not history, and you’d be protecting a loved one.’

‘If it was done from a purely altruistic perspective, that would be okay,’ Laura paused. ‘But greedy people would do it for their own monetary gains and egotistical people for their own glory. That’s the danger,’ Laura tugged the hairs on Hayden’s bare chest.

‘Okay, but what if you, Laura Davis, travelled to the future, say, fifty years, and a cure for your condition was available. You’d want that chance, wouldn’t you?’

Laura bolted upright and flung back the duvet. ‘That’s a monstrous thing to say, Hayden, and cruel and totally insensitive.’

‘What? Why?’

‘Do you imagine I want this illness eating away at my insides, sucking the life out of me? That I enjoy the constant needle-pricks and waiting for test results, and popping endless pills and trying different treatments? That I want to inhabit this broken body, that I wear my condition like a cloak of martyrdom?’

‘Whoa, whoa, Laura, no, not at all. You’ve taken it the wrong way. It kills me to watch you suffering.’ Hayden clasped his shaking wife from behind. She brusquely shook him off.

‘I can’t live on dreams, Hayden. Fact, my father died when I was nine. Fact, this condition will continue to worsen and eventually, I may die from it. Hypothesising on voyaging through time will not change those facts.’

Laura rolled away from her husband. Neither Hayden nor Laura had a restful sleep, and in the morning, both avoided mention of the row.

Hayden cleared the work-shop at old man Poulson’s place, taking the majority of the items to the recycling centre. The radio telescope, he gave to Ben Hollows. That evening, he presented the gyroscope to Laura.

‘A peace offering,’ he kissed her gently on the lips. ‘Forgiven?’

‘Forgiven. It’s a beautiful object, isn’t it?’ Laura placed it on a wooden stool beside the French doors.

Secretly, he stashed the intriguing oval box in his own shed, next to Laura’s studio.

The next day, a tantalising smell of lamb roast greeted Hayden as he entered the house.

‘Hmm, something smells great,’ he encircled Laura in his paint-splattered arms. ‘I’m guessing you’ve had a better day.’

‘A brilliant day, an absolutely magical day. Not only have I cooked supper, a rarity, but I have a theme for my installation. Take a look at these.’ Laura thrust her sketch-pad at her husband. He glanced at the sketches, a puzzled frown etched his forehead.

‘They’re sketches of gyroscopes?’

‘Exactly! This morning I caught a glint of light bouncing off the gyroscope. And boom! It hit me, I found my theme. I’ll create an analogy of my life. Circles within circles, all connected, and controlled by the axis. Do you want to know the best part?’

‘Aha.’

‘I’ll make a pendulum, like the one my dad had, a working, drawing pendulum. It fits cos pendulums and gyroscopes are both controlled by gravity. And visitors to the exhibition can have a crack at creating their own work of art. What do you think?’

‘Sounds amazing, Love. Inspirational.’ Hayden fetched a beer from the fridge.

‘Do you mean that? You’re not just humouring me?’

‘No, I really mean it and looking at you, it’s like seeing a complete transformation. I feel like I have my wife back, my adorable, quirky Laura.’

‘But, don’t you see, you caused it by giving me the gyroscope, the best medicine I could wish for.’

Returning home, Hayden noticed the lights on in Laura’s studio. He entered the studio,‘You still at it?’

Laura raised her head. ‘Oh goodness, you’re home already? What time is it?’

‘Gone six.’

‘I’ve been so engrossed, I haven’t stopped all day. Want to take a look?’ Laura spread her arms.

Hayden stepped closer to the work-bench. His fingers traced the inter-twinning shapes within the five gyroscopes.

He turned to Laura. ‘It’s brilliant, Laura! I can see your concept. These four with broken, twisted and buckled loops and the final one; perfect circles.’

Laura grinned. ‘Yep, now I only have to figure-out the pendulum. This project is the best medicine, I feel so energised.’

‘Promise me, you won’t wear yourself out, Love. There’s still time ‘till the exhibition.’

Night after night, Hayden disappeared to his shed.

‘What are you doing out there?’

‘It’s a secret, a surprise for your birthday.’

‘Please don’t become a grumpy, reclusive mad scientist like Old Man Poulson.’

‘No chance,’ Hayden laughed.

Hayden painstakingly deciphered the sheets of crumpled scribblings attached to the back of the box. He often referred to his old physics textbook from his university days. The box became his obsession, taking it apart, adjusting cogs, tightening chains, rearranging wires, and liberally oiling the mechanisms. Once back together, Hayden twirled the dials, made further adjustments, and felt gratified when one of the dials clicked or clunked. Confident he was nearly finished, he persevered.

As he tinkered, Hayden recalled the care-free summer of 1980, the year he’d dropped out of university, much to the dismay of his parents. 1980, the summer he’d met Laura while fruit picking in the Hawkes Bay. Most pickers lived in the cabin’s provided and cooked in the communal kitchen. Hayden remained aloof, eating and sleeping in his converted Volkswagen van, the long-board strapped to the roof.

During the long, hot, strenuous days, the relaxed camaraderie between the pickers helped to pass the time, helped to gradually thaw Hayden.

‘Hayden, join us for supper tonight. We’re cooking a huge stir-fry, just throwing in whatever anyone has,’ Laura, the petite, lively brunette, clutched his elbow on leaving the packing shed.

Hayden’s friendship with Laura grew, and at the end of the season, she happily drove off with him in his van.

For the following three years, Hayden and Laura lived in the van, surfing the East Coast beaches and finding short-term employment on their travels. Every summer, they’d return to the Hawkes Bay to pick fruit. In the third season, Laura caught a virus. Unable to shake the infection, she was plagued with bouts of fatigue, agonising migraines, and severe muscle and joint aches. After numerous doctor visits and tests, Laura finally got the diagnosis.

As Laura peeked through the window of Hayden’s shed, the oval box on the bench caught her eye.

Curious, she stepped inside and approached the contraption. The top dial, labelled date, had numbers around the edge while the second dial, marked location, had letters. Each dial had a shiny red button in the middle.

‘Too simple, this couldn’t possibly work,’ she smiled to herself.

Her fingers twiddled with the date dial. 1-9-6-8. The dial clicked and clunked with each turn. Laura pressed the red button.

‘You shouldn’t be doing this,’ her inner voice warned as her hand moved to the location dial.

Her hand shook as her fingers spelt-out the location.

‘Step away from the machine, before it’s too late.’ the voice warned.

‘Press the red button, go on, I dare you,’ a new, strident voice taunted.

As she pressed the red button, the box emitted a low hum and vibrated. Laura clasped the object tightly.

On hearing Hayden’s Ute in the driveway, Laura rushed from the house and flung herself at her husband as he opened the vehicle door. ‘My genius husband!’ she threw her arms around his neck.

‘What?’

‘The machine, your secret, it works. How could I have ever doubted the possibility of time travel and to think my genius husband…’

‘You’ve been into my shed?’ Hayden untangled himself from her hold, held her at arm’s length, and looked at her sternly. ‘You’ve tampered with the machine?’

‘Sorry. I couldn’t resist.’

Hayden stomped inside. Laura followed. ‘You had no right to touch it, Laura.’

‘No, it works. I fiddled with the dials and transported back to that day, the day of the picnic. Oh, Hayden, I saw my dad goofing around with my brothers and me, playing hide-and-seek, kicking the football, swinging on branches doing an impersonation of a gorilla. Mum under the tree reading. My nine-year-old self in my best dress with the wide sailor collar and the ice cream splattered on the ground and the picnic lunch…’

‘What do you mean, you saw your nine-year-old self?’

‘I observed this happy family scene, as a sixty-one-year-old woman, from under an elm tree, unable to move. When I tried to approach, an invisible shield prevented me.’

Hayden flopped onto the couch, scratched his head. ‘Bother! I thought I’d cracked it. The machine is flawed.’

‘No, it’s not flawed, it’s …’ Laura stammered.

‘The machine will transport you to your desired place and time, only to observe, not participate. You can’t influence what happens, like, you couldn’t be nine-year-old you and talk to your dad. I’ll need to make further adjustments.’

‘I disagree. The machine is perfect.’

‘How so?’

‘If a traveller could travel to the past and influence what happened, that would cause a domino effect, change history. Imagine the fall-out, the chaos.’

Hayden nodded.

‘Better still, when journeying to the future, travellers can only observe. They cannot be advantaged egotistically or monetarily. An advantage, not a fault.’

‘I wanted the machine to be perfect.’

‘You have invented the perfect machine.’

‘Correction, old man Poulson invented the machine, I just tinkered.’

‘And your tinkering has produced a perfect machine. I got to observe that special day at the park, see my funny, loving dad.’

Laura, eyes shining bright, smiled at her husband, ‘My life is harmonious, and I am at peace. My circle is complete.’

2 thoughts on “Transformation”

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