prompt: give, title: if at first in misc. flash fiction

  • May 1, 2024, 10:13 p.m.
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  • Public

“So,” he asked gently, holding her hand in his right hand and an engagement-ring box in his left, “what do you say?” She stared blankly, clearly in shock. He couldn’t tell if it was good shock or bad shock, however. In all the times he’d known her, he could never tell that difference. “John,” she finally exhaled, “what would you want me to say here?”

“Well,” he smiled, “you could say it’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever heard, that’d be good. Or, say you would not believe this technology exists, if I didn’t just prove it with a test ride.” His smile weakened, his eyes glistened. “More than anything else, I hope you will say yes this time.”

“This time…” She lingered on his wrist and then her wrist, at those blinking devices that looked like tacky oversized smart-watches. “This time, John? How many mes have you asked this?” He glanced down, averting his eyes. He didn’t want to feel shame but still did, just that little bit. He felt a little less ashamed each time, but a reflex of decency remained. “Seventeen,” he mumbled, closely regarding his shoelaces, “you’re the seventeenth you.”

“Doesn’t that make a girl feel special.” To say John didn’t appreciate her sarcasm would be as if calling the Pacific a drainage ditch. “Well, it well should!” he was trying to not sound angry and failing. “I have crossed oceans of time to be with you again.” “But that’s the thing,” she crooked her neck to try and make eye contact, “For me? It wasn’t again. This was the first time you and I were together. These,” she raised a wrist, “things allowed you to keep trying over and over again with different versions of me. I’m just another toss of the quantum dice, until you get the me that works best for you.” She laughed bitterly. “Maybe a me who hasn’t seen Bram Stoker’s Dracula and thinks that Oceans of Time line is original.”

“Jesus Christ!” he blurted, “You’re just like the last two!” “Of course they were, I am, whatever, they were both me!” “No, they weren’t. There has to be at least one version of you who will give me…” “The chance to live a lie for an eighteenth time? Good luck with that, John,” she softened, “or good luck meeting someone new, not bending all laws of physics searching for the version of me with low enough self-esteem to think this isn’t just all creepy as hell. Because that’s what this is,” she admonished, as he disappeared with a flash, “creepy as hell.”

She looked down at her wrist. She still had her own working device. She thought about Steven, the guy who played guitar in that Dave Matthews cover band and cheated on her thirteen times. Maybe she could locate a world where he was still detached and aloof but less disloyal than the one she’d known. Maybe he’d be different. Maybe she’d be different than John. Or maybe not.

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