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How Old Is Tomorrow?

by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith

He was a big guy with dark glasses. I recognized him immediately. “You’ve got the wrong house,” I said. “No Sarah Conner lives here... And by my reckoning you’re about thirty years late,” I added.

He took off his leather jacket and used a knife to remove the skin from his arm. My lack of reaction played over his face.

“I know... I know...” I said. “Sky net, war, adamantine claws, you were naked when you came back because clothing doesn’t come through... Look, when you’re done, can you go out the back door? My wife doesn’t like people to walk on the new carpeting.”

Slowly he put his skin back on. Even with his dark glasses on, I could see he looked very puzzled at my lack of being puzzled. “Not Sarah,” he said, “Mary. I was sent back to retrieve Mary.”

I was almost out of the kitchen. I had turned and taken three steps when I stopped. I turned around to face him. My wife’s name was Mary. “Why do you want Mary?” I asked. “There must be ten thousand Marys. You saw the mailbox outside; you know we have a very common last name. Look, if you’re here to terminate my wife, I feel I’ll have to know it’s for a very good cause.”

“Not terminate. I’ve come to take her to the future,” he said.

I pointed down the hall. “It’s the door with the ‘Hello Kitty’ decals,” I said.

“Don’t you want to know why?” he asked.

“Yes. Sure. Certainly. You just caught me off guard. You woke me in the middle of the night and peeled off your skin. Do you want I should make some coffee?” I asked.

Over coffee he filled in some of the details. “We are having trouble making our time machine,” he said. “Our engineers are always ‘almost there’ when they start having doubts. All the wheels spin and all the doors slam shut and the radio works, but when it comes time to turn the key and drive the highway they start having doubts. It’s like they see the big arrow of time and it points them away from success.”

I offered him half a bagel, which he took. “My wife works in a hospital, she’s not an engineer.”

He said, “It’s not engineering that’s the problem.” He was rolling up his sleeve about to show me his robotics again.

I touched his jacket. “I get the point,” I said. He rolled his sleeve back down. I stared into my coffee for a while. “Look, what’s so unique about my wife?”

“Remember earlier when you said she doesn’t like people to walk on her new carpet?”

I nodded.

“When was that carpet installed?” he asked.

“Well let’s see... It must have been... I remember the kids were outside and Tommy was still on his tricycle... he graduated college in ’91... He’s in Seattle now... I’d say the carpet is about 26, maybe 27 years old.”

“Hardly new,” he said.

“Dare you to walk on it,” I said.

As big as he was, I could see he was making a quick calculation to see if he’d brought along enough firepower. He only had two pistols, a shotgun, and five grenades. “It isn’t only that,” he said, avoiding my taunt. “Let’s look at the calendar.” He pointed to the bulletin board near the fridge. “Today is the 23rd of June... Am I correct?”

I had to admit I didn’t know, not because it was close to midnight and we could have been on either side, but because of her habits. We both stared at the calendar. Every number from one to seventeen was crossed off with big X’s. But that didn’t help at all, because the numbers 27 and 28 were also crossed off. The strangest part was the page showed July.

“She has a system,” I said. “We’ve never missed any event that I can remember.”

“Her ability to stifle time. Her ability to think of time as a commodity that can be poured from one container into another, that’s the attitude that will help our engineers develop the hardware needed for me to be here today.”

I started to say “I don’t know...”

The walking computer consulted his data banks. “You recently took a ride in a machine that flies. Do you remember when you arrived at the airport?”

“That’s kind of interesting,” I said. “We were scheduled to fly to Boston, and we were scheduled to take off at five in the morning, so I set the alarm for 3:30 a.m., thinking it would give us plenty of time. After I went to bed, my wife reset the alarm to ring at two-thirty in the morning. She did it because she got a telephone call before she came to bed; the plane would be flying out an hour later than scheduled.”

“Not an hour earlier,” he pointed out, “but later. You left for the airport earlier because the plane would be leaving later...”

“Well... she said that obviously something was wrong, and she said when things are going wrong they often require extra time to straighten themselves out, so to be safe we should get there early. We got to eat breakfast at the airport ’cause they have a Hardee’s.”

“Yes... something else the future has dispensed with,” he said. “Do you remember the conversation you had regarding the parking meter? The one outside the civil courts building?

I stared at him, amazed at how extensively he’d researched these things. “She’s got a lot on her mind,” I said. “She didn’t realize what she was saying. It was very early.”

He said dryly. “It was for two hours wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said. “I put enough in the meter to cover two hours. We both looked at the meter. There was a two followed by a colon and then two zeros. It was for two hours. I’m certain of that. Then I checked my watch and it was almost exactly nine o’clock. When we came back out, there was a ticket on the windshield. I checked my watch. I was mad because there was no way two hours had gone past. I wanted to write down the number of the meter and then send off a letter to complain.”

“But your wife stopped you.” he said.

“Yes.” I said.

“How did she stop you?” he asked.

“She said... because we were inside and doing something boring... she said... that for us, time must have passed more slowly. She said outside... where there was fresh air and traffic and birds singing and people passing by... she said outside time must have passed at its usual, unhindered rate.”

“Did she seem... disingenuous?”

“She meant it,” I said.

“And you had witnesses?”

“Yes, one of our kids was there. My daughter saw everything. She heard the whole thing.”

“Now you understand why I’m here.” he said. “You’ve no objection to my taking your wife to the future, so she can help our engineers? Her knowledge of time. Her utter disregard for convention.”

I said, “I still don’t understand... but I have no objections.”

He walked back to the bedroom area. A couple of minutes later he came back. My wife was standing there dressed and holding a small suitcase. She leaned her head towards the man from the future. “He says I’ll only be gone a couple of years,” she said. “If you need the snow-blower this winter, it’s at the neighbor’s house.”

I remembered that our neighbor had borrowed that item in 1967 and never seemed to mention it in all the years that had passed since then, but she still had hopes it was coming back.

“Keep your boots off the carpet.”

“I promise,” I said.

We went out the back door and then walked to the front yard. The man with the sunglasses got in the stolen car he’d brought with him. The car was covered with bullet holes. She got in on the passenger side.

“We’ll be back,” they said.

As they drove off I was waving... “No hurry,” I said. For the first time in 28 years I entered through the front door. I walked across the carpet. I went straight to the kitchen for an early morning beer and didn’t look at all to see if there was any damage to the fibers behind me.

Copyright © 2009 by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith

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