I was walking back up the hill to my dorm, passing the Ronald McDonald house, thinking about lunch, when BAM—shot by a sorostitute in a convertible. The white-dressed passenger waved her water gun and giggled as the driver hit the gas. As soon as I got to the dorm, I hopped into my time machine and went back to Walgreens. There I picked up a bottle of grape juice and an army knife along with my meds and cut the top off the juice bottle. This time when the girl shot me, instead of jumping and grimacing, I threw the purple juice all over the leather seats and party clothes. The slags screamed and cried, and this time when I returned to the dorm I picked up my phone to call Jenny. Then I realized how insignificant my experience had been and put the phone down.
An hour later, I was curled up on the couch next to the time machine, two pages into Psychology when Keela came in with her friend, Tonya.
“Hey Sandy, how’s it going?” Keela and Tonya were just like the girls in the convertible and most of the other girls at UT. After football games, they walked around campus picking up beer bottles and condoms, then came back to the dorm to slather their hands with Purell before going to pizza parties provided by Student Government. They went to all the dances and fundraisers. Jenny and I used to do things like that, in high school, before the world changed.
“Do you want to help us make handprint turkeys to raise awareness of child abuse in Knox County?” asked Keela. I glowered at them, remembering the turkeys Jenny and I had decorated with free-range quail feathers for the winter dance our senior year back in Vermont. Keela and Tonya shrugged and set up shop on the table.
The next day, I was walking back from class when I saw a good-looking guy sitting on the porch of a former mansion turned apartment complex. He was sweaty, with curly brown hair and reddish brows. We nodded as I walked by. When I got back to my room, I changed into a silk halter dress, got into my time machine and walked by his house again. The unusually warm fall sun made my skin glow and the dress cling to my curves. This time, I walked up the steps, straight to the guy and said, “Let’s fuck.”
His face burst into a happiness he quickly twisted into a smirk as he led me up the stairway to his apartment. Once we were inside, we rushed to his room, took off our clothes and jumped on his pillow-topped bed. We fucked all afternoon, climaxing frequently and in sync. Our bodies were magnets, finding the right spots at just the right times. After exhausting every position, we lay panting under a ceiling fan. I got dressed. Duke, that was his name, begged me to stay. I laughed and handed him my lace panties as he asked my phone number. He wanted me to be his girlfriend and I kissed him on the forehead and said I’d be around. It was my first collegiate sexual experience.
“Made it to the hothouse,” I said as I walked out into the sunset. That’s what Jenny and I would say to each other after one of us had had sex with a new guy in high school. We would call each other and make orchid and butterfly double entendres. I walked past my phone and into the shower.
When I came out of the bathroom, the time machine was gone.
“Hey, I had something here,” I said.
Keela was stenciling letters on a poster, above a picture of a big-eyed child.
“That empty box?” Keela said, starting an “E” with a flourish. “I didn’t know it was important.”
“Sandy, I’m so sorry. Do you need it for class?” I buried my head in my palms and started to cry.
“Do you want me to get you a new box? I could go to Krogers or the Longbranch.”
I nodded, even though I didn’t want a new box, I wanted my time machine. But mostly I wanted Keela to go away. I was afraid if she didn’t, I would start screaming, maybe even hit her. Instead she continued working on the poster. Panic rose in my chest, so strong I was afraid it would lift me off my feet. I wanted to call Jenny but Margo, her sister, had died last month and any problem I brought her would be trivial. I sat down across from Keela and watched her color the letters orange. I couldn’t tell Jenny my successes either, not without feeling guilty. She didn’t even know about the time machine.
Keela sighed, got up and said, “Fine. I’ll go get you a box.”
I went into her room, leaving the door open so I could hear when she came back. I looked in her closet, too tidy to hide anything the size of the time machine, nothing but shoes under the bed. I had gone back to the closet to look for trap doors when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Keela stood behind me, fists clinched at her side, my time machine next to her foot.
“You need to stay out of my room and stop acting so weird. The box was still on top of the dumpster.”
I took the time machine into my room and sat in it a long time. First, I went back to the beginning of the semester to register for Music Appreciation instead of Intro to Theatre. Music App only requires you to listen in your seat, not embarrass yourself in front of people who don’t care about you. I went back to the first pre-calc test and read problems four through eight carefully and back to biology where I listened in lecture and didn’t snub the awkward boy who turned out to be funny and in the best band on the strip.
This was a better present, but it wasn’t enough. I went back further, to high school, where I improved my grades and went to Dartmouth with Jenny, just over the river from home. Me and Jenny got together every day to do Ivy League homework and pick up Margo after school. That’s how I spent September third. That’s how I kept Margo out of the doomed Cabrio.
September fourth was spent shopping for homecoming dresses. After that, things got fuzzy and I had to keep going back and doing it over to make it stick. Once I didn’t go to Dartmouth and didn’t save Margo, but when my mom called with the news, I packed all my stuff and went home to Vermont for good, sleeping in my own bed, holding Jenny’s hand. No crying jags on the quad, no counselors.
I hadn’t heard Keela and Tonia come in, but there they were, bending down, tilting their heads.
“We’re going to a party and we think you should come with us,” Keela said. Tonia rarely speaks, just looks back and forth between Keela and whoever Keela is talking to. She was my friend first, before, when I was a rusher.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because,” Keela’s voice was deliberately slow, like she was counting to ten as she spoke. “You’ve been sitting in that box for three days. You need to get out. We’re worried about you.
“Remember when we drove to Asheville for my birthday and you hired that banjo player to follow us around?” she asked. “You used to be fun. Now you act like I’m your enemy and you haven’t showered or gone to class since I gave you back that box.”
“You don’t know that,” I said, “Unless you’ve been spying on me.” Keela looked at Tonia and Tonia stepped forward, tag-team style.
“If you don’t go, we’ll call QPR.” QPR; Question Persuade Refer is a bunch of busybodies from the counseling center who try to make students feel guilty if they have problem roommates. If your buddy is sad, she will probably kill herself and it will be your fault, according to the program.
Once QPR was mentioned, the fight was lost. I could argue I had the right to spend my free time and even my class time sitting in a box. But I knew how it would seem to QPR volunteers; someone who sits in a weird box might go on a shooting rampage, another fear the counseling center puts into freshmen hearts at orientation.
“Is it a sorostitute party or will normal people be there?” Keela and Tonia both rolled their eyes.
“You know I’m not in a sorority,” Keela said. “I would live in Laurel, if I were.”
I looked at Tonia, who did live in Laurel.
“It’s my boyfriend’s neighbors, nothing Greek.”
While I was in the shower, Tonia violated my privacy by going through my closet and picking out skinny jeans and a shirt with a Cubist face for me to wear. The shirt was from a store, Revolution, in White River Junction that sold clothes from Vermont designers. I had planned to wear it with a black micro-mini, black fedora and brown boots to see the Decemberists with Keela but had ended up going to Margo’s funeral instead.
“You have lots of cute clothes,” Keela said. “You should wear them.” After Margo’s funeral, I had come back to Knoxville and everything was the same, no one in my classes even noticed I had been gone for a week. I had wanted to do something to reflect the missing milestone. The Intro to Theatre girls gravitated towards black and velvet, so typical mourning clothes were out. I bought sweatpants and scrubs, thinking that wearing them without make-up would let everyone know the girl I was had been replaced by a blank slate. The Intro girls noticed and asked if I wanted an order of ashes to go with my sackcloth before bursting into laughter. I stopped going to Theatre after that.
The party was in the Fort, in an old house converted long ago into apartments and then recently converted into smaller apartments. The people seemed alright, standing around in groups, looking at the art work and knick-knacks that covered the walls and shelves. I knew the hostess, Mary, from French class. We said “Hi” and she offered to catch me up on the homework I’d missed.
Keela and Tonia wandered off but kept reappearing whenever I sat down alone. They’d drag me off and introduce me to someone, there’d be small talk, then Keela and Tonia would leave me and the new person to look at each other. One of us, usually me, would say we saw someone we knew and get out of sight. When Jenny and I used to go to parties we would take turns setting each other up for smart exchanges. We were each other’s comedy spotter and everyone marveled at how funny we were together.
I found myself back in Mary’s orbit. She was talking to a familiar-looking girl wearing the same shirt as me. Mary introduced me to the girl, Vonda, then got a phone call and walked outside.
“You shot me,” I said, recognizing Vonda from the convertible.
“With the water gun?” she laughed. “Please don’t have me arrested.” She raised her arms in a half-assed surrender. I started to walk away, to leave the party and go back to the time machine. This time I’d buy battery acid.
“Hey wait,” Vonda called out. “I didn’t mean to offend you. We didn’t hurt anyone.” I stopped and listened with my arms crossed. The girl looked around then moved in closer.
“Tonia’s the only person here I know. But you came in with her so you’re cool, right?” She ran out of words and just looked at me, trying to find something in my face that would tell her what she should say next. I wanted to say something mean and witty, but couldn’t think of anything without Jenny. I looked at our shirt, feeling like Vonda had gone to my hometown and pissed on everything special. The sparse, straight lines of the silk-screened image juxtaposed against my round features and curly hair in what I used to think had been an interesting way. Now the face on the shirt looked like an homage to Vonda’s angular cheekbones and nose. I turned and walked away.
Around midnight, Duke came in. He spoke to a couple of guys by the door then stood alone, looking around. I waited for his eyes to rest on me. When they didn’t, I walked up to him, smiling.
“Duke! How are you?” I said, a little drunk.
“What, I’m Jeremy. Hi.” His face was flushed in the warm room, eyes bleary as he looked me over.
“Sandy,” I said, shaking his hand.
Duke and I sat and talked for a bit. He was an economics major from Kentucky; I’m a library science major from Vermont. Apart from our crazy good sexual encounter, all we had in common was the street we lived on so we talked about the homeless man who went around with a mangy seeing-eye dog, saying he would accept nothing less than ten dollars. Duke started glancing behind me.
“I have a time machine,” I said.
“A time machine,” I laughed and stared at my drink. “I drew an oryx on a box and said this magic spell I learned in a dream and now when I sit in the box,” I looked in Duke’s eyes, “I go back in time.” I felt my face growing red but couldn’t stop talking. “An oryx is an African antelope the Egyptians used to worship. They’re real, not made up or extinct. You don’t have to worship unicorns to go back in time.” It was like running down a hill, once you start, nothing, not even the site of an oncoming car can stop you.
“I don’t usually go way back, not more than a few minutes. That way I can walk home afterwards. It’s in my bedroom.”
Duke smiled, “Well now, maybe I should check it out.”
On the way back to my dorm, Duke was talking about physics or something; I was too cold and unsettled to listen. I wanted to run ahead and jump in the time machine then go back to the party and talk about something else. Maybe read a newspaper or watch TV for ideas. Maybe go back to the first of the semester for just a minute and try out for Vagina Monologues or go way back in time and learn to snowboard or get arrested, something conversation worthy.
“Ta daa,” I said, waving my arm into the bedroom, hoping he would look at it then go away. Duke laughed in a low way and pushed me onto the bed. He kissed my neck and pushed off his shoes. I exhaled, glad that we were back where we’d left off. Duke ran his hands down my back and squeezed my butt.
I leaned into him, expecting to become the confident sex goddess I had been our first time but my limbs seemed to be made of wood. Our kisses were trial runs to figure out where our noses should go. I felt like a shower singer freezing on stage.
“What’s the matter,” Duke asked as I pulled back. I glanced at the box but couldn’t bring myself to jump in.
“I changed my mind. I’m sorry,” I said.
“Why don’t you just lie back,” Duke said. “Try to relax.”
“I’d rather you just leave,” I said, tired of this guy, Jeremy, and his lackluster sex appeal.
“It’s two o’clock. Where the fuck am I supposed to go?”
“Home? Back to the party? I don’t care.”
“I only came back with you because it was late and I didn’t feel like working a better hook-up,” Jeremy said. I yawned. Jeremy stood up and stomped on the time machine. “This is stupid,” he said then left. I picked up the box and tried to care about its destruction.
Keela walked in.
“Oh no, your box,” she said.
I tried to laugh, but choked instead. I was in a new world, one that was always spinning forward and never pausing, even for a second.
“Jeremy’s an asshole,” Keela said. She picked up a brush from my dresser and started brushing my hair. I could feel the earth moving away from Margo and the me that had existed with her.
“Is it too late to call Jenny?” I asked.
“Way too late,” Keela said. “But I’ll stay up with you.”
Bio: I am an English undergraduate at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga whose work has won UTC’s Ken Smith award as well as an Author’s and Artist’s scholarship. I have also been published in UTC’s literary magazine, The Sequoyah Review.