Plugs

“If I ever tell you I want to get married again,” my friend Rick told me when his divorce finally came through, “I want you to punch me in the face. Hard.”
I laughed.
“I’m not kidding!” he insisted. “Promise me.”
“I’m not going to punch you,” I said.
I figured he’d drop it, but half an hour later, I found myself saying “OK, fine. If you ever try to get engaged again, I’ll punch you.”
*
Nine months later, Rick blew into my kitchen with two oversized bottles of Belgian beer.
“Guess what?” he crowed. “I’m engaged!”
“To who?” I said. “Not Marie, right?”
He popped open the beers on the counter. “Oh, I know she comes off a little cold-blooded right off, but you’ll warm up to her, seriously.”
Obviously I didn’t punch him, but I mentioned a few important facts: Marie was always making Rick do things her way. She’d screwed her uncle over on that loan. She left hot water running. And my dog, who was a great judge of character, hated her.
“And Rick,” I said, “you told me to punch you if you ever said you were getting married again.”
“I meant to somebody like Erika!” He said. “This is completely different.”
*
I hardly saw Rick over the next two months, but one day he called me from the police station.
Assault?” I said when I picked him up. “They took you in for assaulting her?”
“Yeah,” Rick said. “Good thing my cell phone does video. You want to see her scratching herself? It’s actually kind of hot.”
*
Did I mention I time travel? It’s no big thing: it just happens sometimes when I’m asleep. I think it’s usually when my brain gets stuck on something. I go to sleep and wake up maybe a few months or a year earlier.
That’s what happened about a week after the assault incident: I looked over at my calendar clock one morning and noticed it was four months earlier than when I’d gone to bed. So I got up and called my broker. (Well, how do you think I got this huge house and the pool and the cars and everything, an unemployed slacker like me? First the lottery, then investments.)
After that, I went out with some of the same girls I had the last time and got an early start cutting back on my cholesterol. I was just taking my fish oil capsules one afternoon when Rick walked with two oversized bottles of Belgian beer.
I punched him.

She didn’t understand why I had wanted to go to college. She thought I ought to be out there. A special boy like me, finally using his specialness for good. “Don’t be so shy,” she’d hiss, pushing me toward the burning building. “Go save the nuns. Go on!” But I could never do it. Not when everyone was looking at me. Wasn’t that what fire fighters were for?

She figured, once I was 18, once I was a mature adult, I would see that I was put here on earth for a purpose. I wouldn’t hide my light under a bushel any more. Maybe college would just be a phase. She clicked her tongue against her teeth every time she came home and saw me sitting on the couch, when she turned on the news and saw that North Korea still had nuclear weapons, that trains still derailed, that small children everywhere were trapped under various cars.

I said, “What am I supposed to do? There’s no Superhero section in the Classifieds.” And she sighed in that disappointed way and waved her hands around her head. She looked old and tired in her nurse’s uniform. She said, “Haven’t I taught you anything? Haven’t I taught you how to make your own way in the world? To forge your own path? When your father left us, didn’t I take care of everything?”

I had to agree there. She had. And I lifted heavy rocks for her, and took care of the gutters—I didn’t need a ladder, and I wasn’t afraid of falling. I cleaned out the sewage drain, because I could hold my breath indefinitely. My x-ray vision found her missing earring; my superspeed saved her cat. And I washed the dishes after dinner, never breaking a single one. But I think the only reason she didn’t kick me out of the house was because she was afraid I’d kill her with my heat vision.

“I got an A on my midterm,” I said, almost hopefully.

“You’re wasting your gifts,” she said. She took the remote and turned off the television.

“I want to be a marine biologist,” I said quietly.

She pursed her lips. “At least you might save a whale,” she said, and went to her room. I don’t care what anyone says–disappointment is way worse than a super villain.

The young woman at the bus stop told me she was my daughter. She was attractive, Eurasian, had dark brown hair and blue eyes, but only looked to be ten years younger than me, and I told her so. I couldn’t have fathered her at the age of ten, could I?

“Time travel,” she said.

“Oh come on.” Much as I’d fantasized about time travel, especially to correct the mistakes of my youth, deep down I was a nonbeliever. “Einstein said it was impossible, and Mallett has said travel to the past is extremely limited. You can’t go earlier than when the machine is switched on. And I haven’t heard anything about a time machine having been successfully invented today.”

“It happened about two hours ago,” she said. “You always were a skeptic. And you made my life hell, you know.”

The thought of confrontation with a future daughter, which seemed impossible as my wife wasn’t even pregnant yet, twisted my insides a bit. Had I slapped down her dreams? Abused her?

“No, but you disapproved of every decision I ever made. We yelled and fought for most of my childhood. Nothing I did was right in your eyes. I left home at 18, and we’ve hardly spoken since then.”

“So, saying for a second that this is true, why are you here?”

She looked over my shoulder and I turned; the 171 was approaching from down the road. My bus.

“I just wanted to tell you to ease up. Trust your daughter’s decisions. Have some faith in her. Don’t be such a prick.”

I exhaled a quiet laugh to myself. It was impossible, it was stupid. This young woman was off her nut. Best just to ignore her. At least it would make an amusing anecdote later. For a brief moment, I’d been afraid she was going to say that she was here to kill me or something.

The bus was only about ten meters away, brakes already hissing, when I said, “You don’t have to be a man to be a prick, you know. Best of luck to you back at the asylum.”

I felt a hard push from behind and I tumbled into the road as the bus arrived.

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