Reprise

Can we prevent regret?

“Love is just a chemical in the brains of animals that compels them to breed.” The handsome man leans back in his chair and triumphantly takes a sip of his beer as the lights in this dingy bar flicker on and off.

The quiet bar is filled with the sounds of the upper floor vibrating, as well as the song “Sweet Caroline,” a relic of classical music from the late 20th century. All of the tables are filled with working class men. However, there is one table in the back corner of the bar that sticks out like a sore thumb. There are three men in collared shirts and ties, their lab coats hanging on their chairs as they drink their drinks.

“Life is short, and there’s no point wasting time. The best way to live your life is to have a few drinks every now and then and find a pretty girl, have a nice night, and move on. That’s how Albert Einstein lived, our work is in line with his, why shouldn’t our social lives? Am I right, Chris?”

Christopher gives him an angry glare, “I’m a happily married man, Michael.”

“Who says that we can’t learn from your mistakes?” Michael gives Christopher a cocky smile, and Christopher’s angry glare melts into friendly laughter.

The third man at the table is a couple of feet away from his friends, but he may as well be in another galaxy.

Michael follows his mentally absent friend’s eyes to see a beautiful blonde woman approaching a seat at the bar. “Ooh, good eye, Robert.”

Robert jumps in his seat. “What? Sorry, I was just in… another time.” The other two laugh at this like it’s some kind of inside joke.

“Shut up, Robbie. And don’t tell me that you didn’t see that girl at the bar.” Michael points at her.

“Uh, no I didn’t, err, at least not my conscious mind, but she is extremely attractive.” The classical music comes to an abrupt stop as the machine breaks down, which is typical for such ancient machinery such as record players. This silence makes Robert’s statement louder than he had intended. Along with Michael’s pointed finger, the girl at the bar is let in on the conversation being had about her.

Time stops. Robert realizes where he is and quickly looks away, “OH NO! EYE CONTACT!” he quickly gulps down his drink.

“Be careful about how fast you drink, could be dangerous.” The beautiful woman takes the empty fourth chair at the table.

Michael and Christopher give a slightly nervous smile to this situation, meanwhile, Robert is shaking like an 11 on the Richter scale. “It is alright that I sit here?” The beautiful woman takes a sip of her drink as she asks this obviously rhetorical question.

“It’s just a cola. I don’t like alcohol. Not a moral thing, just, don’t like the taste.” Robert says as he places the glass down. “I need to use the restroom, excuse me.” Robert would’ve thrown the chair across the room if he wasn’t weak in the knees. He sprints to the bathroom, which is hard to do with the previously mentioned knees, and washes his face.

The bathroom door creaks open as Michael slips into the room. “Robbie, you all good?”

“Yeah, Mike, I’ll be good.” Robert looks at his eyes in the mirror and convinces himself that he’s a good liar, as well as someone whom is good at talking to people.

“Hey man, you need to live a little. Get your mind off of work; have a little bit of fun with that gorgeous blonde girl who sat right next to you.”

“The empty seat just happened to be next to me, she’s probably into you.”

“I’ve met plenty of girls in bars; I think it’s your turn, man. Get yourself a real drink, have a fun night, back to work tomorrow. It’ll do you some good to let your other head think for once.” Michael laughs at his own joke while Robert stares at his sweaty face in the mirror.

“Get out.” Robert speaks with a very serious tone. 

Michael shifts, “No way man, you’re coming to that table, and…”

Robert looks Michael right in the eyes with fiery intensity, “Order me the most alcoholic drink there is, I’m going to take a piss.” Michael laughs the happiest laugh that Robert has heard in a very long time.

Moments later, Robert awkwardly stumbles out of the bathroom and back to the table, where the mystery woman is having a lovely conversation with his associates.

Robert takes his seat and holds the glass filled with alcohol in his hands tightly, his hands causing the glass to shake so intensely that drops fly out and become steam on the cold table below.

“So, your friends have told me that you guys are working on a fancy science project… I’d love to hear about it.” The beautiful woman puts her hand on Robert’s left arm.

“Can’t. Secret project.” Robert speaks like he’s never had a conversation with a human woman before. The more that he thinks about it, he’s not sure if he actually has, at least not one that he’s related to. The lovely woman perks up, “That sounds exciting! Please, I won’t tell a soul.”

Robert swallows the glass of liquid courage in practically one gulp. He can feel his pupils dilating, his hand steadying, as well as the rest of his body. He looks at the beautiful woman, who starts to glow. He looks at his friends, as they stare back at him with excitement. His shoulders, as well as his mind, are completely relaxed. His anxiety turns to calmness and he feels prepared to woo this girl with beautiful, articulate conversation that shall stimulate her mind as well as her heart.

“WE’RE BUILDING A FUCKING TIME MACHINE!!” Robert explodes with laughter and charisma as the rest of the bar looks back at him with annoyance.

“A TIME MACHINE?” The woman turns away to look at Michael and Christopher for rationality, “Your friend here only had one drink.” The beautiful woman laughs at the absurdity of Robert’s statement.

“It’s a damn powerful drink, hell, I could only handle about one.” Michael smiles at Robert falling over in his chair. “But this guy’s never had a drink in his whole damn life.”

“Michael is certainly the partier out of the three of us. If you were a college student within twenty miles of this place between 2125 and 2133, odds are that you slept with him, or made out with him on the couch at a party. Really the most likely is that the latter lead to the former.” Christopher said. The woman stares at Christopher, contemplating what he just said, and then looks at Michael for a minute, and then shifts her attention back to Christopher.

“For real?” 

Christopher nods his head. 

“I didn’t expect physicists to be such party animals.” She said.

“Well, Robert certainly isn’t…” Robert laughs and falls over in his chair again. “…I used to be until I settled down with the Wife.”

“So, a smarty pants can work a lab and return home to the woman he loves? That must be the most exciting party of all.” The woman glances at Robert, whom is glancing back, though with less love and more lust in his eyes… and his pants.

“It’s not an easy task, but it’s all worth it when I get to be with her.” Christopher smiles as he thinks about his wife. The woman gives an audible “Awww.”

Robert flops himself onto the table, “This is boring! I want to talk about science! GUYS! We’re inventing a time machine! We’re going to revolutionize the world, the universe even! We’re like Neil Armstrong walking on the moon for the first time. Human beings changing the fabric of space time.”

“Shouldn’t you be worried about potential risks with changing time, such as paradoxes?” The three scientists stare at the woman with curiosity, and as any good scientist knows, curiosity comes with excitement.

“We talk like big shots, but we’re currently just making blue prints for future blue prints,” Christopher said. 

Robert shoves his finger in front of Christopher’s mouth. “SHE DOESN’T HAVE TO KNOW THAT! We’re big shots, don’t listen to him. Paradoxes could be a worrisome subject, but we’re not sure exactly how time works for right now, you see, if the multiverse theory is correct than the idea of paradoxes is moot, however, if it is one timeline then there are concerns for the future, as well as the past, but for right now we’re focused on mapping out the planet’s relative location throughout history. You see, our machine is more focused on traveling through time, not as much on space. The machine is meant to read the coordinates of where it currently is and to travel to those coordinates in whatever time we go to, but the concern is that…”

“The planet revolves around the sun, so therefore if you were to leave in summer and arrive in winter, you would be on the other side of the sun, where Earth would no longer be, err, rather would not be yet. So you’re making sure that location remains relevant to the Earth’s location in space.” She interjected.

“PRECISELY! You’re much smarter than you look, lady.”

 The woman scolds Robert, “What are you implying?” 

Robert takes a moment to realize what he said. “One could not assume intelligence could be comparable to your beauty, and yet you prove that it not only can be, but is!”

“Very smooth, Robbie.” 

Robert splits his attention, “Much obliged, Mikey.”

“Well, don’t forget to measure for how the galaxy spins as well as the expanding universe itself.” The three scientists’ gazes are transfixed onto the woman.

“How did I not think of that? Forget the other side of the sun; we could’ve ended up halfway across the universe!” Robert viciously shakes the woman’s hand. “Thank you! You just potentially saved the lives of many test monkeys.”

Before too much longer, Christopher had to say his goodbyes so that he may return to his wife at home. Michael became stuck in the background on his computer as Robert and the strange woman talked for hours. Until, at last, the time had come for Michael to leave as well.

“This has been a fun night, but we have much work to be done in the morning, so I must ask: Robert, will I be escorting you home, or shall this lovely lady?”

This question sobered Robert up more than any amount of coffee or sleep could have. This was the moment that tonight was building up to.

Robert was frozen in time. He looked at the faces of his best friend as well as the potential love of his life, or at least the loveliest one night fling he could’ve asked for.

Both of their eyes, as well as his own heart, told Robert to go home with the woman and not go to work the next day. His gaze was transfixed upon the woman, their bodies close together, and their lips becoming closer as well.

He could let his animal instincts take over, if only just this once and he could go back to the lab again later. A time machine can wait, there’s literally all the time in the world! Tonight is only for now. Who knew where the future would take him anyway? What if this woman could be his true destiny? There was no way of knowing. If only he had a damn time machine!

Those were all the things that Robert wasn’t allowing himself to think as he felt the cool breeze against his face as he walked down the street with his best friend.

“Biggest fuck up of your life, man.” Michael’s words sent colder chills through Robert’s body than the breeze had. With each step, Robert felt colder and colder until he could hardly walk at all. With each breath, it became harder to breathe. Robert’s left brain told him that his work was more important than tonight, soon enough he could have all the time in the world, but his right brain silently screamed that tonight was all that mattered.

For the first time in his life, Robert wasn’t sure if his decision was the one he wanted to make.

***

The aged professor took an upsetting sip of his bitter drink as he sat with a smile on his face in the chair near the door of the previously abandoned building, across from his student assistant. An ancient machine playing ancient music for the two.

“Who knew that a vinyl disk could hold such beauty within it?” The professor’s old eyes were closed, but his young ears heard every single beat of the instrumental poetry.

“What is this one called again?” Asked his young assistant.

“This masterpiece of musical poetry is called ‘In My Life’ by the artists known simply as ‘the Beatles.’” 

The assistant looked at him with curiosity, “How can such a fantastic group of men name themselves after a dung-covered bug?”

“It’s a mystery lost in time.” The professor smiles at his assistant. 

“As if anyone but you could sarcastically say such a sentence.” The assistant used her fingers to comb her flowing blonde hair behind her ear as she spoke.

“One of these men, his name was John Winston Lennon, was in academy as a child and his teachers asked him ‘John, what would you like to be when you grow up?’ One could expect him to say ‘The greatest musician who ever lived.’ And he would’ve been fairly correct, but no, he said something else… he told them, I want to be happy.”

“Wise words from a poet.” The assistant smiled at her professor.

“His professor didn’t think so. They insisted that he didn’t understand the question, though he insisted that they didn’t understand life. And it makes me wonder if I should have pursued art instead of science.” 

The young woman gasped, “But there isn’t a man in the rest of time and space as smart as you are. You’re the man who did the impossible! The thing that has been imagined, without any real possibility, for centuries!”

“But what good has it done for me?” The old man interjected with regret. “I may have found the way to travel through time, but what good is it if I can’t stop it?” 

The professor’s gaze was lost in his ancient, calloused hands. “Shit, I didn’t even leave a legacy behind me.”

“How can you say that?” He looks at the innocence and love in the girl’s eyes.

“My dear, not everyone admires me the way that you do. Do you remember the name of the first man who walked upon the moon?”

“Of course, Neil Armstrong… Is that going to be on our next exam?”

The professor laughs, a feeling he hasn’t felt with another person aside from her in a very long time. “It’s been over two hundred years, and yet many remember that man’s name. But who remembers the names of the men who made that rocket launch from Earth and then land without exploding? I can’t even recall all of them. That’s all that I am… A name that very few will forget and most will never even hear. Leaving one or two people who will remember.”

“I will remember, and that’s what matters. And I will remember you not only for your impeccable achievements but how you are a lovely person.”

“And I am unbelievably grateful for that. You have been a blessing for me, and you have brought a new song into my heart, my sweet Caroline.” Hot tears form inside the eyes of Caroline. “But… Too much of my life was a waste for myself. I wanted to be a revolutionary scientist as a child… What I never ended up being was what I should have wanted to be… to be happy. Not until I met you. But, I’m just an old man with regrets, and you have your whole life ahead of you.”

Caroline puts her hand on the professor’s weak knee. “You’ve had plenty of joy in your life, Professor. Isn’t that why you’ve owned this place? You’ve told me hundreds of stories that took place here.”

The old man’s eyes remember details, if only a few, as he looks across the walls of the room. Tables all around the floor, bar stools upside down on the counter top, a wall of glasses and bottles in the center of it all.

“My two dearest friends in the world, they went on to leave lives beyond my own. All I have to remember them by is this old bar. You know, we spent almost every night here after we worked hard in our laboratory.”

“Not many people get to own the place where their happiest memories were formed.” Somehow these words cheered the old man up, Caroline was always good at getting the best out of people, and the only one who could get the best from him.

Sweet words sing themselves off of the professor’s chapped lips, “All these places have their moments, with lovers and friends I still can’t recall. Some are dead and some are living, in my life, I love them all.”

“Those were the lyrics from the song we just listened to?”

“Correct. That’s my absolute favorite song. It’s the last song I ever need to hear in my life. But sometimes I fear, that my life never truly started.” The old man sheds a dry tear.

Caroline can’t think of a word to say, not this time. She stands up from her rickety chair and walks over to her professor, giving him a gentle but firm hug.

This loving embrace brings the music back to the old man’s lips, “But of all these friends and lovers, there is no one compares with you.” 

The old man cries into her shoulder. “I remember… there was a night in this very bar. The first doubt I ever had to the life that I would lead. I wish so badly now that I would have done something different. Just to be happy. I can’t even recall her face, but I remember how she made me feel.” He lets go of Caroline, “No one has made me feel that way since, except for you, my dear.”

She sadly sits back down in her chair. The old man leans forward, “Do you know what is in the storage space above this bar?”

“I would assume many cobwebs.” Caroline forces a smile through her tears.

“Yes, there are, but what those webs are attached to is the very first thing I ever did right. A device that could possibly give me another opportunity to do something right.”

“Only if there truly is one timeline. You never did get to learn if time is one changeable line, or if there are infinite versions of history.” Caroline’s words fill the old man up with hope as well as dread.

“I feel too alone to be among infinite differing versions of myself. But for now, in this moment, my only fear is that time cannot be changed.”

“You mean a time loop?”

“Precisely… You always were a smart girl, Caroline. For as long as I’ve known you. Your intelligence can only be matched by your beauty.”

Caroline feels the wrinkles on the man’s face, “I feel the same way about you, Professor.”

“I’m not sure beauty ever touched my skin, Caroline. And if it did, it’s long gone now… But I suppose that love is not a choice, my sweet girl. Merely to act upon it, is. I’ve loved you since I first saw you. But, this isn’t healthy for you.”

Caroline looks into the old man’s eyes, growing younger as he stares into hers. “No, I love you too; you’re the greatest man I’ve ever met. Please do not leave me.”

“Time is taking me away from you, and you from me.”

“Time is relative, it can be changed, I just know it can!” Caroline runs across the room, swings open the dusty door and runs up the steps to find a machine covered in cobwebs. She flips switches and pulls levers.

The professor breathes softly. His spoken words slowly turning into song, “Sweet Caroline…”

The iron door swings open and closed in one fluid motion.

“Good times never seemed so good…”

The old room fills with electricity as the lights flicker on and off, the upstairs of the bar vibrating.

“I’d be inclined… to believe they never would…” The old man’s song fades until his breath is lost in time.

Caroline walks down the steps to see a younger world, she steps over to the bar, where a bartender now stands. She orders a drink and listens to the classical music that calls her name like an old friend. She looks to the back of the room to see a handsome man pointing at her, and his nervous friend lost in her eyes.

Time stops.

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Kyle Hendrix
Kyle Hendrix

I'm just a kid who likes Art.  People fascinate me, and Art is people, Art is what we have inside of us expressed into a way that others can see it.  If you feel something, that is Art, and you get a connection with the person who made it.

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Reprise
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