Time After Time
You had no idea how tricky it would be to have your own fate laying in your hands. It was only when you remembered the epiphanies that would come of messing around with time that you were glad you ever touched the shiny, brass pocket watch delivered to you in a box, amongst an assortment of other vintage items.
You smiled sadly as you took everything out one by one, the nostalgia hitting you like a tidal wave. Finally, after emptying the box, you left it on the counter and sighed, pulling out a bottle of wine and pouring yourself a generous amount. Amidst the items your grandfather had left you in his will was a dusty photo album. You opened it and began flipping through the yellowed pages, watching him age. You found yourself amazed at his exploits and adventures all over the world: growing up in Paris in the ’20s, spending the duration of the war in London, then returning, for Paris was his home. You saw travels, wedding pictures, children being born, grandchildren, deaths, sadness, and laughter.
You allowed the tears to flow freely down your face as you closed the album and softly pushed it aside. Your cat meowed quietly and pressed his face against your leg before jumping up onto the counter and knocking the box down. You scowled at him for a moment, then, against your better judgement, petted him quickly and knelt down to pick up the box.
You reached towards it with both hands, then pulled back. In the box, contained in a small, unnoticeable compartment, was a glittering, brass pocket watch. Curiously, you picked it up, dusted it off, and tapped it a couple times. It ticked normally. You pulled the crown and everything around you froze. Overcome with shock, you pressed it back into place and normalcy returned. Amazed, you winded it forward, then backward, and impossibly, the world sped up, then rewinded. Your heart nearly stopped as you realized with a start: time was now yours to control.
“Oh my God,” you breathed quietly. You clutched the pocket watch tighter, and your grandfather’s clever comments over the years slowly clicked into place.
You were always a tragic perfectionist, hustling and bustling about at every moment of the day, an anxious tug pulling at your chest. He would always chuckle, telling you that time is yours to waste. “Not all of us live grand, luxurious lives like yours, Grandpa,” you would remind him smilingly.
“You don’t need to live a grand life to change the world.” He would reply wisely. That was when your laughter would crescendo. and he would laugh with you, a knowing glint in his eye. “But,” he continued, “it’s also important to remember that everything happens for a reason. Darling, it’s all predetermined. Call it what you want: fate, destiny. Forces greater than us, greater than you can hardly imagine, have it all planned out. Every second, every glance, touch, moment; it all happens for a reason.”
You would shrug and continue whatever you were worried about at the time, dismissing his words as elderly philosophical realizations, never understanding or believing in their wisdom.
But in that moment, the profound intelligence behind his words was not what you thought about. In that moment, the one with you and your cat and the pocket watch, all you could think was, “I want to see it all.”
So you did.
You traveled to the estate of Napoleon Bonaparte and watched as he wedded his second wife, the beautiful and icy Austrian archduchess, Marie Louise. You danced in gowns of silk and lace, embroidered with diamonds. You frolicked in glittering corners of ballrooms, watching with a beam as couples joined hands for elegant, graceful dances. You smiled, laughed, and enjoyed every moment of the Napoleonic era. Then, with a few turns of your pocket watch and one last glance back, you moved on.
You reached London in time to watch a magician correctly guess the contents of your purse. You clapped and cheered, laughing loudly when he threw one of his flowers to you. You caught it in your gloved hand, blowing him a kiss with the other. You attended elite dinner parties, read first-edition novels, and went to historic conventions. You flirted, grinned, and enjoyed every moment of the Victorian era. Then, with a few turns of your pocket watch and single glance back, you moved on.
Paris was sparkling with lights, dancing, and champagne. It gleamed with the illusion of perfection and true love, but you fell for it headfirst, accepting its charms without question. You danced the Charleston, drank champagne out of shimmering flutes with Josephine Baker, and received a flattering compliment on your dress from Coco Chanel. You partied, drank, and enjoyed every moment of the Roaring ’20s. Then, with a few turns of your pocket watch and single glance back, you moved on.
You had skipped past the Great War, but decided to linger for a moment at the Second, perhaps to compensate for your previous indulgences. You knew that war was gruesome, cruel, and unflinchingly harsh, yet you went into it headstrong and confident, maybe because you already knew the results.
It was far, far, worse than you had anticipated.
Though you knew the war was only one month from ending, you saw dozens of beggars on the streets of London dressed in mere scraps of clothing, pleading for even a penny. The hospitals were overflowing with wounded soldiers and atrocious injuries. You ran around, trying hopelessly to save as many as you could, and held back tears at each death. You knew you were becoming more and more numb as the whole ordeal continued. You sobbed, broke down, and loathed every moment of World War II. When it was finally over and the streets were luminous again, you spared one glance back, then turned your pocket watch forward and left.
You felt a churn in your stomach as you reappeared in your living room. Looking around, you miraculously found it to be in exactly the same condition it had been when you had left, though you had spent at least one month in each era. You exhaled shakily, put the pocket watch on your kitchen counter, and sank into your couch, stroking your wide-eyed cat’s fur to dampen his shock, for he had exclaimed loudly at your return.
You traveled to time periods that historians, nostalgics, and well, any average person would die to visit. You danced at Napoleon Bonaparte’s wedding, applauded magicians in the Victorian era, drank champagne with 20th century icons, and served as a nurse in World War II. You experienced the life you had so desired in half a second, yet, you realized, you felt just as worn as you would have been if you had truly lived it. “Call it what you want,” your grandfather had said, “Fate, destiny. Forces greater than us, greater than you can hardly imagine, have it all planned out. Every second, every glance, every touch, every moment; it all happens for a reason.”
You stood abruptly, startling your cat, who rose with a surprised meow. You walked over to the counter, and as soon as you looked at the brass pocket watch, it all came flooding back. You smiled slightly; your decision was made. You laid your cat on your bed and closed the door on him, then retrieved a hammer out of your toolbox and promptly smashed the pocket watch, feeling satistfaction at its destruction.
You saw how history had been designed, as though woven by a skillful seamstress, everything eventually falling into place. Many times, you had considered staying; you always glanced back at the end, but continued on after a single hesitant look, for something inside of you knew that it was time to move forward. It wasn’t the past or the future that mattered, it was whether or not you made every moment count, whether or not you made your own life seem worthwhile. History happens during every seemingly insignificant moment, every apparently unimportant second that passes by; that is what makes the future.
Technology advances. Time passes. History writes itself. The past always remains in the past.
We remain, each in our own way.