Short Fiction copyright 2013 by Zoe Zuniga
The year is 1977. I’m 17 years old.
I have been hitching for about six hours from Vermont, through New Hampshire, and back to the coast of Maine. I’m almost back home to pick up my stuff and move to Vermont. My backpack is getting a little heavy.
I am feeling pretty proud of myself for getting all the way back to my town, hitching on my own without any problems. This should be the last ride I have to take to get to the apartment.
A black sedan pulls up, and I hear a voice in my head say DO NOT GET IN THIS CAR. I am about to ignore it; my hand is on the door handle. But a white car pulls up behind the sedan and gives two sharp honks. The white car is sleek and looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. A woman is waving and smiling and gestures for me to get in.
I wave the guy in the sedan away, “Oh, I see my friend!” I mouth to him through the glass, and he looks at me again with a snarl.
Then I run back and get into the waiting white car. The black sedan peels back out onto the highway with a macho roar.
“Hi Rachel,” the woman says. How does she know my name! She looks so familiar like she could be my older sister or a relative.
“Whew! I am glad you did not get in that guy’s car. I would have had to follow that guy and get you out before he did it.”
“Did what? How do you know my name? Have we met?”
“We have definitely met! You heard the voice in your head, and then you were about to ignore it and get in that black car anyway. Am I right?”
“Yeah! I was relieved when you showed up. But how did you know I heard a voice in my head?”
“It told you not to get in that car like a command, right?”
“Yes, it was not a normal thought; it was different somehow. I can’t explain it.” I was checking out the sleek ultra-modern dashboard with a screen and futuristic buttons. “I have never seen anything like this car!” I run my hand over the smooth dash.
“Always listen to the voice in your head from now on when it is that emphatic. That guy was going to rape you.”
“Yeah, he probably was. I knew it somehow. But how did you know? Who are you? Are you a cousin or something? When did we meet?”
She ignored the question. “Your mom is at some conference, right? So, we have plenty of time to talk things through.”
She starts to drive the car expertly guiding it back into traffic.
“You have to guide me back to that hovel where that bitch makes you live. I have forgotten the way.” She says and laughs.
“That “bitch” is my mom, and it isn’t a hovel. Well, it is, but it is all we can afford.”
“Yeah, you’re still loyal to mommy. Defending her honor and all and telling everyone what a great mom she is.” She nods as she drives. “Even after she has dragged you all over the country and had you living in crappy housing all your life and never lifted a finger to help you plan your future. Even after she used you to keep her damn food stamps and welfare payments last summer, made you take that job at the Green Street Center for Retarded Adults, through the program instead of keeping your restaurant job at the beach. You’re loyal even after she dumped all her emotional baggage all over you like vomit from the time you could talk.”
“Wow. Do you know everything about us? Are you close to my mom?”
“You could say that. I knew your mom really well back when I was your age. I would not say we were ever close though in terms of friendship or anything. Let’s say I’m your fairy godmother and I am here to help you have a great life instead of the fucked up one she has planned for you.”
She drives in silence for a few minutes and seems to be remembering the way. “Let’s just pretend I am back from the future to help you and save myself from a crappy life.”
I laugh at the thought. “Like you are the future me come back to save me?” It does almost seem that way.
“God, this car is nice. You drive like a race car driver, all expert, and everything.”
She laughs again. “That’s right, you haven’t learned to drive yet, Jesse the 40-year-old boyfriend will teach you in Vermont, or I can teach you, and you could skip Vermont.
“Ick! What 40-year-old boyfriend?” I say then I remember being kissed by my ex-boss, the gas station owner who has to be at least 40 and I know it is probable.
We are just now driving past that very same gas station where I worked up until recently, and she laughs. “Is that the gas station where we got frostbite our last year in high school?”
I nod dumbfounded.
And then we both say, “That sleazy 40-year-old boss who tried to seduce me!” and we break out laughing together. Holy crap! She truly is me from the future.
“I came to this time and date because I had to make sure I got back here before that rape happened. I wanted to get to you after you have the whole Vermont experience and the wonderful old woman you take care of in her mansion, but most of what happens in Vermont is a waste of time with the wrong people.
“I say you skip it because it isn’t all that great. When you get back to Vermont in my version of our life, you tell your friend, born-again-Christian-Kim about the rape. Then you mention that you should have just asked to borrow money for the bus from her so you could come back here and close your checking account and get that 300 bucks out that you saved up. But then you realize she would never have loaned you the money.
“When you tell your stupid 30-year-old boyfriend, Richard Duda about the rape he asks if the guy paid you since you were not brutally beaten. He had a friend who was brutally raped. He does not think you were raped. He dumps you a few months later because you are underage and he is bored with you.
“Kim and her hubby, Arron turn on you. They become hardcore born-again Christians and see you as the antichrist.”
“You know about Kim and Aaron and my boyfriend, Richard…” I gasp. “How did you manage it. That all sounds pretty plausible. You really are from the future.”
“It’s this car and this cell phone combination. I made them into a time machine. Something about the combination of them together and this app I built allows me to come back and rescue myself/you.
“Our stupid mother has you so brainwashed, and you have so little self-worth because of it that you are with a series of stupid guys like Richard, and all these guys who do not value you. They use you and throw you away because you are young and pretty and naive.
“There are one or two good guys over the years, but they have no values in common with you. No shared interests or common goals, so life with them is nothing but frustration. I am hoping I can save you from a lot of trauma and heartache like a good mother would try to do.
“But you must have done something right! Look at this car. You must be rich, right?” I say.
No, I am working day and night, and I owe 20-grand on this car! I have no savings, and I have been doing shitty low pay jobs that I hate. I have had two careers that I hated so much I had to become a fucking Uber driver. I got this car through a program for drivers. It is kind of like a limo service.”
“$20 grand! How will you ever pay it off? Turn left here and up the hill then down the alley on the right.
“Relax, with inflation it is more like 5-grand, in your time-period.”
“still… 5-grand seems like a lot of money,” I say in awe.
We arrive at the house, and she gets out and looks up at the peeling paint on the tenement building in this back alley. “God, it looks just as awful as I remember!” I get a better look at her. She must be in her fifties. A lot fatter than I am now but the same build and similar manner. It is so odd to see myself from the back and the side.
“Weird isn’t it, I mean, seeing yourself?” She comments, turning to look at me. She smiles, and I see that she is still me and still very pretty.
She helps me pack, looking through my things with me. Tells me what to leave behind and what to take. She tells me to take all the drawings and paintings I have done.
“You should go to art school. Apply to Mass. College of Art in Boston and get the scholarship money. You can study dance at night, and I will teach you to salsa dance. You will love it.
“But go into industrial design, not illustration. That way, you will be in demand and not be frustrated about finding work and making money. I will teach you to paint too. Or you can apply to schools in California, and we can go there. You can live in Berkeley if you like. I think you could get into California College of the Arts and get scholarships and also loans. I know we got loans for Mass Art. From there you could move to RISDI and get an excellent education instead of a mediocre one.
“I will teach you to budget. I will show you how to invest and which stocks to buy. I certainly know which companies to invest in.
“If you want to you can go for a master’s in architecture or car design, did you know they make huge clay versions of the cars first?
“If we do this right, this version of me will gradually disappear, and a new thinner, healthier, less suicidal version of me will appear instead. We will know we have changed our destiny when I start to look healthier.
“Once we correct the timeline, I will disappear altogether, and we will have one continuous life again.” She explains. It makes sense to me. I have read enough sci-fi to get her gist.
“This is going to be so much fun!” I say. “I can’t quite believe it, but it has to be true because you are here! And you know so much about me. I always wanted someone who would take an interest in me and help me get started in life!
“Let’s go right to Boston and get some work. Then you can start art school at the less expensive school for a year and get a free semester at RISDI.” I will help you save money to move back to California if you decide you would like to transfer to a school there.”
We Load up her huge trunk with my stuff and drop the rest at goodwill. Then we go to the bank and get my money out and start the trip to Boston. I am excited. I will Send Kim a note and say my Aunt is taking me to apply for art schools instead of staying in Vermont.
For once in my life, the anxiety about my future is gone. I am happier than I have been since I was a preteen before everything got so real. She gives me a big smile, and we both know it is finally going to be all right!