“What. Is. This?” Julie asked as she stepped into the garage, her suitcase dropping to the cement next to her.
Barry peered around his machine, confused as to why she was there. He glanced at the bag and remembered: Julie and her husband were visiting for the week with their son, Elijah. If he still had the flexibility, Barry would have kicked himself for forgetting. “Hey. Are you early?”
She stepped up to the machine, running her hand along its hard edges. The crow’s feet extending from the corners of her eyes deepened with her furrowed brow. “No. I told you we were landing at 12:30. I thought maybe you’d want to pick us up from the airport.”
“Oh. You know I don’t like to drive, anymore. Reflexes aren’t what they used to be.” Barry stepped out from behind the machine, setting down the torque wrench he was using to tighten the final bolts. He unconsciously rubbed his liver-spotted hands together.
“Looks like you’ve been busy. That’s why, right?” Julie asked, more than a little concern in her voice. Barry nodded. He certainly had been busy. The machine had consumed his thoughts for the weeks he’d been building it. “Are you going to explain this to me, or do I have to guess?”
“Where are Sam and Elijah?” he asked, peeking his head from the garage door into the connected house.
“Elijah was cranky from travel so Sam’s laying him down for a nap.”
“Oh. Ok.” Barry took a seat at his workbench and looked for a long time at Julie, deciding how best to explain what he’d built. “What’s the last moment you remember with your mother?”
She didn’t even have to think about it. “Holding her hand as she passed.”
“Ok, what’s the last good moment you remember having with her? In person.”
“That was a good moment.”
“Sorry. Last normal moment, maybe.”
This, Julie had to consider. “Two Christmases ago. We were washing dishes after dinner, just the two of us, and she talked about how proud she was of me. Told me stories about what it was like watching me grow up. Said she sees a lot of me in Elijah.”
“How did you feel in that moment? Do you remember?”
“I was content, I guess. Thought it was weird she was so nostalgic, but that’s what the holidays do to people. And, I guess, she knew she was losing her memories. Probably wanted to reflect before she couldn’t, anymore.” Julie sighed, trying to appreciate the beauty of remembering but only finding the pain of it. “To be honest I was distracted, thinking about the plane ride home. I was nervous because Sam and Elijah are both so anxious about flying. I’m sorry, Dad, but I’m not sure what any of this has to do with—” she gestured to the machine in the middle of the garage.
“It’s a time machine,” Barry stated.
Julie laughed. “A time machine?” Barry nodded. “What for? To go back in time and prevent Mom from getting Alzheimer’s?”
“C’mon, Julie. Don’t be mean. I know there isn’t anything I can do to prevent what happened. That’s not what it’s for.”
Julie leaned against the workbench to be closer to Barry. “I’m not trying to be mean. I just… well, I don’t understand.”
“If you could go back to relive last Christmas, but instead of thinking about the flight and Sam and Elijah you understood that those were the last moments you’d have with Mom when she was clear, would you do it?”
“When you get to be my age you start to think back on things. Remember all those last moments you didn’t know would be the last ones. The last time I got to play poker with all the guys, before we went our separate ways. The last time I spoke to my brother, before his addiction. And the last time I got to hold your mother before she lost herself. This is a way for me to do that.”
“To change things? Dad…”
He waved the suggestion away. “No. Nothing like that. What’s to change? If I changed even the smallest thing I might not be here now, with you, and with Sam and Elijah just upstairs. Despite the disappointments and heartbreak, I’d never risk being where I am now, with you. I just want to go back to live in those other moments for a little longer. To appreciate them a little bit more. We don’t know when our last moments with anyone might be, so how can we fully appreciate them?”
Julie placed her hand on Barry’s shoulder. “It’s a good idea, Dad. A great one.” Barry took her hand in his own. “But before you go, can you live in the moment with us for a little while?”
Barry smiled. “There isn’t anything I want more.”
Together, they left the machine in the garage and went upstairs to say hello to Sam and Elijah.
For insight into the writing of the story, check out this blog post.