by H.D. Grogan
He changed the past every time he went back.
Everyone always said not to, but he couldn’t help himself. Sometimes he argued with her decision to leave, other times he swore at her as she stormed out the door. Sometimes she wore a white blouse, but the next time he went back it looked blue. He thought even the walls of their bedroom changed color sometimes, but he never fully noticed them, couldn’t even see them anymore by the time the door slammed.
The past changed each time, but it didn’t change the present. She was gone, and he was angry. He was more than angry—he was furious at the things she had said, and the things he hadn’t said. When he went back, he would interrupt her, say all the things he had thought of too late. He didn’t give her time to say all the things that had hurt him; that wasn’t why he was there.
Eventually he ran out of things to say. The first time was hazy in his mind now. He remembered staying silent, words heavy on his tongue as she packed her things. Her scent of roses—or was it jasmine?—lingered in the room after she was gone. Days passed before he began to sort out all the things he could have said or done to change the way things went.
So he went back, over and over. None of it ever changed the present, though. She was still gone, and he was confused. He was silent again, when he went back, listening to all she had said to him. But the words were different now—or were they? He hadn’t remembered the pain in her eyes, just the angry press of her lips. But was it anger? Or was she holding something else in?
Curious, he started going further back. It was harder, of course; he couldn’t stay as long, and the experience was hazier. But some things were clearer now–the long silences, the tension in her voice, the way she didn’t smile anymore. How had he missed that before? Or was this another change he had made?
He pulled out her photo once, in between visits, and realized even more things had changed, things he hadn’t even noticed. When had she gotten new glasses? Had her hair always had that wave by her temple? She’d always said—including that day—that he didn’t really see her. Had he?
Was he truly seeing her now, all these times he went back? He often wished there was a reset button, so he could see things again the way they had actually happened, but there was no going back to that. The scientists confirmed it: every recall of a memory changed it, they said. The brain didn’t store home movies that could be watched over and over; no, it reconstructed events each time, leaving the mental images changed. He could only go back to see her again, and to notice how each time he felt a little different, as the anger faded into sadness.
But it didn’t change the present. She was still gone, and he still missed her.