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FICTION / The Other Time Traveler’s Wife / Susan Cornford

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The countdown had already started. I had closed the blinds and put on my foil hat. In a few moments my husband, Greg, would emerge from the closet, where he had cowered for the past twenty-four hours. The door slowly opened and out he came, clad only in his own foil hat, pointing his fingers aloft and mumbling about satellites and flying saucers. I spoke soothingly, took him by the hand and led him to our bed, where we made a month’s worth of love for as long as we were able. After we had finished, I handed him a small, white tablet and a glass of water.

“No, no, Joanne! Not yet! Please, can we try again?”

“Greg, darling, you must keep your promise; just try to remember what’s at stake.”

He swallowed the tablet and re-entered the closet to wait until it took effect.

My husband is a brilliant scientist, but this blessing is balanced by the curse of a terrible mental illness. We have found that medication will keep the paranoia and hallucinations at bay, but it has the side effect of total erectile dysfunction. Unfortunately, nothing else has helped this condition. So, we have made a pact that, once a month, we will trade sanity for the marital relations that are so important for both of us.

The next morning a sane and happy man emerged from the closet, showered, breakfasted and went to unlock the large workshop that is attached to our house. His employees arrived and they began to put the final touches on what has been Greg’s principle scientific project for some time.

The first stage of it was a matter of mathematical calculations that I couldn’t hope to follow. “I tell you, Joanne, time travel has got to be a logical possibility. After all, no lesser persons than Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawkings thought that it was actually feasible. It is just a matter my finding the right equations.” And, following in the footsteps of the two previous great men, he had. But I now suspect it was all the thinking in numbers that set off his illness, no matter what the doctor said about genetics and “abnormal brain activity”.

After his condition had finally gotten under control with the medication and we learned about its sad effect on our sex life, Greg found a new motivation for his work. He woke me up in the middle of one night for what I thought would be another frustrating attempt at love-making and said, “At some time in the future, they will have found a permanent cure for this disease, just like they have for all the other things that people used to suffer from. All I have to do is work out the engineering that puts my mathematics into practice and I will have a time machine that I can use to go into the future and find that cure. Then I can make love to you again the way that I used to.”

I had always known that, if his studies ever evolved into reality, my husband would be his own guinea pig, as so many other scientists before him had been. Greg’s new plan only made this dangerous potential a little more certain than it had been before. My own new strategy was to start timing our monthly exertions to match my cycle of ovulation. Then, if the worst came to the worst and he never came back, I would still have someone to love.

The question I asked Greg most often, as blueprints were drawn up and materials started arriving at the workshop that we’d built, was how he would know “when” to go. There was no way to work out when the discovery of a cure would be made. One day he finally gave me the answer.

“I have had some correspondence from a researcher into my illness who has been fortunate enough to get a perpetual trust set up in order to to study it. We have arranged for an annual report of their findings to be published in the same location until the money runs out, which she estimates will take about 400 years. So, it is a matter of short trips, to check at regular intervals, until I find that they have succeeded.”

Fortunately, we both had inherited money, so we were able to deposit a substantial amount into an account at the bank which had, at that point, been in existence for the longest period. We ensured that Greg could access it at any time in the future and hoped that major devaluation would never occur.

All the preparations were finally complete, except for my hoped-for pregnancy, which had not eventuated. We had said good-bye and agreed that I would stay away from the workshop during all the necessary coming and going, which Greg was thriftily using as test runs for the machine. He was unsure of how much he would be able to fine tune his final arrival back in the present, but he would be aiming for some time within the twenty-four hours after he left.

It was a very long day and it did not help to know that, from his point of view, my beloved spouse might be spending weeks, months or even years in some future time frame. Maybe they would also need to have found a cure for aging! Finally, I gave up on waiting and went to bed, not that I managed to sleep very much.

As light was just starting to be visible from outside the next morning, I heard footsteps approach the bedroom. Sitting up, I switched on the overhead, so I could see whatever it was that I was going to see as clearly as possible.

“It is okay, Joanne,” Greg called out before he appeared. He entered the room and stripped off an alien-looking jumpsuit. He looked older but clearly both in his right mind and ready for marital action. “You are never going to believe this, but it is going to be our great-great-grandchild who will find the cure!”  

Susan Cornford is a retired public servant, living in Perth, Western Australia. She has had pieces published or forthcoming in 50-Word Stories, 365 tomorrows, Akashic Books Fri-SciFi, Antipodean Science Fiction, CarpeArte Journal, Cloudbank, Corner Bar Magazine, Curating Alexandria, Drabblez, Fewer Than 500, Ghost Parachute, Medusa's Laugh, Moonchild Magazine, Speculative 66, Subtle Fiction, Switchblade, The Gambler, The Vignette Review and Theme of Absence.