For obvious reasons, since time-travel has yet to be invented as far as
we know, science fiction authors usually attribute it to the future. Yet
there is always the possibility that somewhere, somehow, somewhen, it has
already been put to use. A possibility which Sammy Merwin here considers
in highly intriguing and human terms. Let's go back with Coulter....
by ... Sam Merwin, Jr.
Most men of middle age would welcome
a chance to live their lives a second
time. But Coulter did not.
It wasn't much of a bump.
The shock absorbers of the liquid-smooth
convertible neutralized all
but a tiny percent of the jarring
impact before it could reach the
imported English flannel seat of
pants. But it was sufficient to jolt
him out of his reverie, trebly induced
by a four-course luncheon
with cocktails and liqueur, the
nostalgia of returning to a hometown
unvisited in twenty years and
the fact that he was driving westward
into an afternoon sun.
Coulter grunted mild resentment
at being thus disturbed.
Then, as he quickly, incredulously
scanned the road ahead and the
car whose wheel was gripped by
his gloved hands, he narrowed his
eyes and muttered to himself,
"Wake up! For God's sake snap
out of it!"
The road itself had changed.
From a twin-laned ten-car highway,
carefully graded and landscaped
and clover-leafed, it had
become a single-laned three-car
thoroughfare, paved with tar instead
of concrete and high-crowned
along its center. He
swung the wheel quickly to avoid
running onto a dirt shoulder
hardened with ice.
Its curves were no longer
graded for high-speed cars but
were scarcely tilted at all, when
they didn't slant the wrong way.
Its crossings were blind, level and
unprotected by traffic lights. Neat
unattractive clusters of mass-built
houses interspersed with occasional
clumps of woodland had
been replaced with long stretches
of pine woods, only occasionally
relieved by houses and barns of
obviously antique manufacture.
Some of these looked disturbingly
And the roadside signs—all at
once they were everywhere. Here
a weathered but still-legible little
Burma-Shave series, a wooden
Horlick's contented cow, Socony,
That Good Gulf Gasoline, the
black cat-face bespeaking Catspaw
Rubber Heels. Here were
the coal-black Gold Dust twins,
Kelly Springfield's Lotta Miles
peering through a large rubber
tire, a cocked-hatted boniface advertising
New York's Prince
George Hotel, the sleepy Fisk Tire
boy in his pajamas and carrying a
And then a huge opened book
with a quill pen stuck in an inkwell
alongside. On the right-hand
page it said, United States Tires
Are Good Tires and on the left,
You are 3½ miles from Lincolnville.
In 1778 General O'Hara,
leading a British raiding party inland,
was ambushed on this spot
by Colonel Amos Coulter and his
militia and forced to retreat with
Slowing down because the high-crowned
road was slippery with
sun-melted ice, Coulter noted that
the steering wheel responded
heavily. Then he saw suddenly
that it was smaller than he'd remembered
and made of black
rubber instead of the almond-hued
plastic of his new convertible.
And his light costly fabric
gloves had become black leather,
lined with fur!
A gong rang in his memory. He
had driven this road many times
in years gone by, he had known
all these signs as quasi-landmarks,
he had worn such gloves one
winter. There had been a little
triangular tear in the heel of the
left one, where he had snagged it
on a nail sticking out of the garage
wall. But that had been many
He looked and found the tear
and felt cold sweat bathe his body
under his clothes. And he was
suddenly, mightily, afraid....
He hit another bump and this
time the springs did not take up
the shock. He felt briefly like a
rodeo cowboy riding a bucking
mustang. The car in which he
rode had changed. It was no
longer the sleek convertible of the
mid-1950's. It was his old Pontiac
sedan, the car he had driven for
two years before leaving Lincolnville
behind him twenty years
Nor was he wearing the dark-blue
vicuna topcoat he had reclaimed
an hour before from the
checkroom girl in the restaurant
back in the city. His sleeves now
were of well-worn camel's hair.
He didn't dare pull the rear-view
mirror around so he could see his
face. He said again, fiercely,
"Snap out of it! For God's sake
wake up before you hit something!"
He didn't hit anything. Road,
signs, car, clothing, all stayed the
same. Fields abridged by wooded
low hills fell away on either side
of the road. The snow had been
heavier away from the city and
covered tillage, trees and stone walls
alike with a tracked and
sullen late-winter dark-white
He came to a hill and the
obsolete engine knocked and
panted. Once over the top of the
hill, he thought with a sudden
encouraging flash, he could prove
that whatever was happening to
him was illusion. At its foot on
the other side had lain the Brigham
Farm, a two-century-old
house and barn converted into a
restaurant by a pair of energetic
spinsters. A restaurant where
Coulter and his parents had
habitually dined out on Thursday,
the servants' night off.
He had heard a long while ago
that the Brigham Farm had been
struck by lightning and burned
during August of 1939. If it were
still there ...
He breasted the hill and there
it was, ancient timbers painted a
neat dark red with white door
and window-frames and shutters.
He held his eyes carefully away
from it after the one look, held
them on the road, which was now
paved with a hard-packed layer
He passed an ear-flapped and
baa-baa-coated farmer who sat
atop a pung drawn by a patient
percheron whose nostrils emitted
twin plumes of steam. A pung!
How many times had he and the
other boys of Lincolnville ridden
the runners of such utility sleighs
on hitch-hiked rides through the
by-ways of the lovely surrounding
Coulter maneuvered in his seat
to take a quick look at this relic
from the past—and caught a
glimpse of his face in the mirror
above the windshield. He said
just one word—"Jesus!" Nor was
he blasphemous in saying it.
He thought of Jurgen, of Faust—for
in some miraculous way he
had reclaimed his youth or been
reclaimed by it. The face that
looked back at him was fresh-skinned,
unlined, unweathered by
life. He saw with surprise, from
the detachment of almost two
decades, that he had been better
looking than he remembered.
He looked down, saw that his
body, beneath the camel's hair
coat, was thin. The fat and fatigue
of too many years of rich eating
and drinking, of sedentary work,
of immense nervous pressures,
had been swept away without diet,
without tiresome exercise. He
was young again—and he almost
ran the Pontiac into a ditch at the
side of the road....
If it was a dream, he decided,
it was a dream he was going to
enjoy. He recalled what Shaw
had said about youth being such
a wonderful thing it was a pity to
waste it on children. And he
knew that he, at any rate, was no
child, whatever the body that had
so miraculously been restored to
The unhappy Pontiac cleared
another hilltop and Lincolnville
lay stretched out before Coulter,
naked and exposed, stripped of
its summer foliage. He had forgotten
how dominated it was by
the five church steeples—Unitarian,
Roman Catholic and Swedish Reform.
There was no spire atop
the concrete-and-stucco pillared
building in which the Christian
Scientists held their Sunday readings.
Half-consciously he dug for a
cigar in his breast pocket, looked
with mild surprise on the straight-stemmed
pipe he found there. He
had forgotten that he once smoked
a pipe as completely as he had
forgotten the churchly domination
of his home town.
Even though Lincolnville remained
fixed in his memory as it
had looked twenty years ago—as
it looked now awaiting his belated
return—he was aware of many
anachronisms while tooling the
Pontiac slowly along Clinton
Street. He had become used to
the many outer changes of the
past two decades, was unable
completely to suppress surprise at
not finding them present on his
For one thing there was the
vast amount of overhead wiring.
Coulter had forgotten how its lacework
of insulation and poles took
up space even in a comparatively
small community. He had long
since forgotten the English sparrows,
erstwhile avian pest of
America, that were to vanish so
swiftly with the final abolition of
There were more horses than he
recalled, parked here and there
among the shoppers' automobiles.
And the cars themselves looked
like refugees from a well-aged
television movie, all straight-up-and-down
windshields and unbuilt-in
fenders and wooden
spoked or wire wheels. He suspected
the Pontiac he was driving
would look as odd to him once he
got out and examined it.
A dark-overcoated policeman,
lounging against the front of the
Rexall store at the main intersection,
lifted a mittened hand in
casual salute. Coulter replied in
kind, drove on through the Center,
took the fork past the old
library with the skeleton of its
summer coat of ivy looking bare
and chilly against the sunset
breeze. The bit of sky he could
see through the houses and leafless
trees was grey and yellow
The house was there, just as he
had left it. It was still a good-sized
mansion in comfortable ugly
Tuscan, standing ornate and
towered and turreted behind a
fence of granite posts connected
by long iron pipes that sagged in
the middle as the result of children
walking them on their way to and
from the public schools around
the corner on Sheldon Street.
Coulter turned left and felt the
crunch of ashes under his tires as
he drove across the sidewalk,
through the fence opening, into
the driveway to the open-doored
garage awaiting him. He reminded
himself to be careful of the jutting
nail that had torn his glove.
The concrete floor of the garage
felt cold against the soles of his
shoes. Coulter stamped his feet
as he turned on the heater and
moved toward the door. It stuck—he
had forgotten about that—and
he swore lustily as he exerted
strength he had forgotten ever
possessing to yank it clear of the
snag and across the front of the
He didn't want the Pontiac to
freeze. Not when he had a date
with Eve Lawton.... A date with
Eve Lawton.... He hadn't
thought of Eve in years, except on
those occasional sleepless nights
when he amused himself with
seeking to visualize the women he
had known in a Biblical sense of
Most of them were faceless
units in a faceless and somewhat
undignified parade. But not Eve.
She wasn't pretty—not in the
sense of the doll-faced creatures
that adorned the movie magazines
or even the healthy maidens with
whom he occasionally rollicked
since coming home from college.
Eve had a sensitivity of feature
that was a sounding board for her
emotions. Coulter paused against
the garage door and thought about
her. With the knowledge of
twenty years he knew now that
what Eve had, or had had twenty
years ago, was the basis of beauty,
the inner intangible which stamps
a woman a woman above other
What in hell has happened to
me, is happening to me? Coulter
felt the chill of the evening wind
stab deep into his bones. Then
he looked down at his vanished
embonpoint and patted with his
gloves the flat hardness that had
replaced it. It was all right with
him as long as he didn't wake up
too soon—before his date with
Coulter walked around the
house and in through the front
with its extra winter doorway.
There was the big square sapphire-blue
carpet with the worn
spot at the foot of the stairs. There
was the antique cherry card table
which, to his definite knowledge,
should be standing in the front
hall of his own house in Scarborough,
more than two hundred
miles and twenty years away.
His mother appeared in the
door of the library, edged with
light from the cannel-coal fire in
the grate behind her. She said,
"Oh, there you are, Banny. I'm
glad you're back in time for ...
Heaven's sake, Banny! What's all
Coulter felt himself grow hot
with embarrassment. He and his
mother had never been much
given to outward show of affection.
Yet, knowing she would be
dead within the year, he had been
unable to resist the urge to embrace
her. He was going to have
to watch his step. He said, fumbling
a little, "I don't know,
mother. I guess I just felt like it,
"Well—all right." She was
mollified, patted the blue-white
hair above delicately handsome
features to make certain no strand
had been disarranged. Then, "Did
you remember to stop at MacAuliffe's
and pick up my lighter?"
Feeling lost, Coulter felt in the
pockets of his polo coat. To his
relief he found a small package in
one of them, pulled it out. It was
wrapped with the city jeweler's
tartan paper and he handed it to
his mother. She said, "Thanks—I've
missed it this last week."
He had forgotten his mother
was a smoker. Coulter took off
his coat and hat and hung them
up, trying to remember details of
a life he had long since allowed to
blur into soft focus. She had
taken up the habit about a year
after his father died of a ruptured
appendix while on a hunting trip
down in the Maine woods.
He noticed the skis and ski-boots
and ski-poles standing at attention
in the back of the closet,
wondered if he could still execute
a decent Christie. Then, emerging,
he said, "Just us for dinner
"Just us," she said, regarding
him with a faint frown from over
a fresh-lit cigarette.
"Good!" he said. "How about
"Banny," said his mother with
patient sternness, "you know as
well as I that you're the family
liquor-provider since your father
died. I'm not going to deal with
bootleggers. And there's nothing
but a little vermouth in the
"Snooping again," he said,
carefully unsmiling. Good God, it
was still Prohibition! Memory
stabbed at him, bringing what had
so recently emerged from past
into present clearly into focus,
technicolored focus. "I've got a
little surprise upstairs in my
He found himself taking the
stairs two at a time without effort.
Shaw had definitely been right, he
decided when he discovered the
exertion had not winded him in
the slightest. He went into the
big room overlooking the front
lawn, now covered with much-trodden
snow, that he had fallen
heir to after his father died.
Karen, the Swedish-born second
maid, was opening the bed. He
had completely forgotten Karen,
had to battle against staring at
her. She was a perfect incipient
human brood-mare—lush not-yet-fat
figure, broad pelvis, meaningless
pretty-enough face. Now what
the devil had been his relations
Since he couldn't remember, he
decided they must have been innocuous.
He said, "Hi, Karen,
broken up any new homes lately?"
She said, "Oh—you, Mr. Coulter!"
She giggled and fled, stumbling
over the threshold in her
Coulter looked after her, his
eyebrows high. Well, he thought,
here was something he had evidently
missed entirely. Karen's
crush was painfully apparent,
viewed from a vantage of two decades
of added experience. Or
perhaps he had been smarter than
The gallon of home-made gin
was stuck behind the textbook-filled
carton on the back floor of
his closet, where somehow he had
known it must be. It was between
a third and half full of colorless
liquid. He uncorked it, sniffed and
shuddered. Prohibition was going
to take a bit of getting used to
after two decades of Repeal.
Half an hour later he sipped his
rather dire martini and listened to
his mother talk. Not to the words
especially, for she was one of
those nearly-extinct well-bred
women, brought up in the horsehair
amenities of the late Victorian
era, who could talk charmingly
and vivaciously and at considerable
length without saying anything.
It was pleasant merely to
sit and sip and let the words flow
She looked remarkably well, he
thought, for a woman who was
to die within a year of galloping
cancer. She seemed to have recovered
entirely from the emotional
aftermath of his father's
death. So much so that he found
himself wondering how deeply
she had loved the man with whom
she had spent some thirty-eight
years of her life.
She was slim and quick and
sure in her movements and her
figure, of which she was inordinately
proud, resembled that of a
girl rather than the body of a
woman nibbling late middle-age.
Slowly he realized she had stopped
talking, had asked him a question
and was awaiting his answer. He
smiled apologetically and said,
"Sorry, mother, I must have been
"You're tired, lamb." No one
had called him that in twenty
years. "And no wonder, with all
that running around for Mr.
Simms on the newspaper."
Mr. Simms—that would be
Patrick "Paddy" Simms, his managing
editor, the old-school city-room
tyrant who had taught him
his job so well that he had gone
on to make a successful career of
public relations and the organization
of facts into words—at rates
far more imposing than those paid
a junior reporter during the Great
In his swell of memories Coulter
almost lost his mother's question
a second time, barely managed
to catch its meaning. He
sipped his drink and said, "I
agree, mother, the burning of the
books in Germany is a threat to
freedom. But I don't think you'll
have to worry about Adolph Hitler
She misread his meaning, of
course, frowned charmingly and
said, "I do hope you're right,
Banny. Nellie Maynard had a
few of us for tea this afternoon
and Margot Henson, she's tremendously
chic and her husband
knows all those big men in the
New Deal in Washington—not
that he agrees with them, thank
goodness—well, she says the big
men in the State Department are
really worried about Hitler. They
think he may try to make Germany
strong enough to start
"It could happen, of course,"
Coulter told her. He had forgotten
his mother's trick of stressing
one syllable of a word. Funny,
Connie, his wife—if she was still
his wife after whatever had happened—had
the same trick. With
an upper-class Manhattan dry
soda-cracker drawl added.
He wondered if he were going
to have to live through it all again—the
NRA, the Roosevelt boomlet,
the Recession, the string of
Hitler triumphs in Europe, the
war, Pearl Harbor and all that
followed—Truman, the Cold War,
Korea, McCarthy ...
Seated across from her at the
gleaming Sheraton dining table,
which should by rights be in his
own dining room in Scarborough
overlooking the majestic Hudson,
he wondered how he could put his
foreknowledge to use. There was
the market, of course. And he
could recall the upset football win
of Yale over Princeton in 1934,
the Notre Dame last-minute
triumph over Ohio State a year
later, most of the World Series
winners. On the Derby winners
he was lost....
When the meal was over and
they were returning to the library
with its snug insulating bookshelves
and warm cannel-coal fire,
his mother said, "Banny, it's been
so nice having this talk with you.
We haven't had many lately. I
wish you'd stay home tonight with
me. You really do look tired, you
"Sorry, mother," he replied.
"I've got a date."
"With the Lawton girl, I suppose,"
she said without affection.
Then, accepting a cigarette and
holding it before lighting it, "I do
wish you wouldn't see quite so
much of her. I'll admit she's a perfectly
nice girl, of course. But she
is strange and people are beginning
to talk. I hope you're not
going to be foolish about her."
"Don't worry," Coulter replied.
Since when, he wondered, had
wanting a girl as he wanted Eve
Lawton been foolish. He added,
"What's wrong with Eve anyway?"
His mother lit a cigarette.
"Lamb, it's not that there's anything
really wrong with Eve. As
a matter of fact I believe her
family is quite distinguished—good
old Lincolnville stock."
"I'm aware of that," he replied
drily. "I believe her great,
great, great grandfather was a
brigadier while mine was only a
colonel in the Revolution."
His mother dismissed the
distant past with a gesture. "But
the Lawtons haven't managed to
keep up," she stated. "Think of
your schooling, dear—you've had
the very best. While Eve ..."
With a shrug.
"Went to grammar and high-school
right here in Lincolnville,"
Coulter finished for her. "Mother,
Eve has more brains and character
than any of the debs I know."
Then, collecting himself, "But
don't worry, mother—I'm not
going to let it upset my life."
"I'm very glad to hear it," Mrs.
Coulter said simply. "Remember,
Banny, you and your Eve are a
world apart. Besides, we're going
to take a trip abroad this summer.
There's so much I want us
to see together. It would be a
shame to ..." She let it hang.
Coulter looked at his mother,
remembering hard. He had been
able to stymie that trip on the
excuse that he'd almost certainly
lose his job and that new jobs
were too hard to get in a depression
era. He thought that his
surviving parent was, beneath her
well-mannered surface, a shallow,
domineering, snobbish empress.
Granted his new vista of vision,
he realized for the first time how
she had dominated both his father
He thought, I hate this woman.
No, not hate, just loathe.
He glanced at the watch on his
wrist, a Waltham he had long
since lost or broken or given away—he
couldn't recall which. He
said, "All the same, mother, a
date's a date. I'm a little late
now. Don't wait up for me."
"I shan't," she replied, looking
after him with a frown of pale
concern as he headed for the hall
It took a few minutes to get
the Pontiac warmed up but once
out of the driveway Coulter knew
the way to Eve Lawton's house as
if he had been there last night, not
two decades earlier. The small
cold winter moon cast its frigid
light over an intimate little group
of apple tapioca clouds and made
the snow-clad fields a dark grey
beneath the black evergreens that
backed the fields beside the road.
As he slowed to a stop in front
of the old white-frame house with
its graceful utilitarian lines of
roof and gable, he found himself
wondering whether this were the
dream or the other—the twenty
years that had found him an orphan.
That had given him enough
inherited money to strike out for
himself in New York. That had
seen him win success as a highly-paid
publicist. That had seen
him married to wealthy Connie
Marlin and a way of life as far
from that of Lincolnville as he
himself now was from Scarborough
Eve opened the door before he
reached it. She was as willowy
and alive as he remembered her,
and a great deal more vital and
beautiful. She put up her face
to be kissed as soon as he was
inside and his arms went around
her soft angora sweater and he
wondered a little at what he had
so cavalierly dismissed and left
She said, "You're late, Banning.
I thought you'd forgotten."
He kept one arm around her as
they walked into the living room
with its blazing fire. He said,
"Sorry. Mother wanted to talk."
"Is she terribly worried about
me?" Eve asked. Her face, in inquiry,
was like a half-opened rose.
Coulter hesitated, then replied,
"I think so, darling. She was
afraid your stock had gone to
seed. I had to remind her that
your great, great, great grandfather
The odd, in her case beautiful,
blankness of fear smoothed Eve's
forehead. She said, her voice low,
her eyes not meeting his, "Yesterday
you'd never have noticed what
she was thinking."
"Yesterday?" He forced her to
look at him. "Yesterday I was
another man—a whole twenty-four
hours younger." He added
the last hastily, so as not to rouse
suspicion. Eve, he both knew at
once and remembered, was highly
sensitive, intuitively brilliant.
"I know," she said simply, and
for the second time since the
amazing transformation of the
afternoon he felt the tight grip of
terror. Watching her as she
turned from him and began to
stoke the fire, he wondered just
what she did know.
The album rested on the table
against the back of the sofa in
front of the fireplace. It was a
tome, with imitation medieval
brass clasps and hinges. He
opened it carelessly, seeking reassurance
in idle action.
He flipped the pages idly, in
bunches. There was Eve, a lacy
little moppet, held in the arms of
her drunkard farming father. A
sort of local mad-Edison whose
inventions never worked or, if
they did, were promptly stolen
from him by more profit-minded
promoters. Her brother Jim,
sturdy, cowlicked, squinting into
the sun, stood at his father's knee.
He wondered what had happened
to Jim but didn't dare ask. Presumably
he should know since
Jim shared the house with his sister
and an ancient housekeeper,
doubtless long since asleep.
He flipped more pages, came
to a snapshot of Eve in a bathing
suit at Lake Tahoe. Bill
High School football hero of five
years before, had an arm around
Eve's slim, wool-covered waist.
Two-piece suits and bikinis were
still a long way in the future. He
said, "What's become of Bill?"
She said, "Don't you remember?
He was killed in that auto
crash coming home from the city
last year." There was an odd
questing flatness in her voice.
Coulter remembered the incident
now, of course. There had
been a girl in the car, who had
been disfigured for life. Plastic
surgery, like bikinis, still lay well
ahead. He and Eve had begun
going together right after that
Something about Eve's tone,
some urgency, disturbed him. He
looked at her quickly. She was
standing by the fireplace, watching
him, watching him as if he were
doing something important. The
fright within him renewed itself.
Quickly he turned back to the
album, flipped further pages.
He was close to the end of the
album. What he saw was a newspaper
clipping, a clipping showing
himself and Harvey MacIlwaine
of Consolidated Motors shaking
hands at a banquet table. The
headline above the picture read,
AUTHOR AND AUTO MAGNATE
Above the headline was the
date: January 16, 1947.
With hard-forced deliberation,
because every nerve in his body
was singing its song of fear like
a banjo string, Coulter closed the
album. The honeymoon, if that
was the right term for it, was over.
He knew now which was the
dream, which the reality.
He said, "All of this is your doing,
Eve." It was not a question.
She said quietly, "That's right,
Banning, it's my doing." She
looked at him with a cool detachment
that added to his bewilderment—and
to his fright.
He said, "Why, Eve? Why have
you done this?"
She said, "Banning, do you
know what a Jane Austen villain
He shook his head. "Hardly
my pitch, is it?"
"Hardly." There was a trace
of sadness in her voice. Then,
"A Jane Austen villain is an attractive,
male who rides through life roughshod,
interested only in himself,
completely unaware of his effect
on those unlucky souls whose existences
become entangled in his."
"And I am a Jane Austen villain?"
He was puzzled, disturbed
that anyone—Eve or anyone—should
think of him as a villain.
Mentally he began to search for
kindnesses, for unselfishnesses.
He found generosities, yes, but
these, he supposed with sudden
dreadful clarity, had been little
more than balm to his ego.
"You are perhaps a classic example,
Banning," she told him.
Her face, in shadow, was exquisitely
beautiful. "When you left
Lincolnville twenty years ago,
without seeing me, without letting
me see you, you destroyed me."
"Good God!" Coulter exclaimed.
"But how? I know it
was rude, but I did mean to come
back. And when things moved
differently it seemed better to keep
a clean break clean." He hesitated,
added, "I'm sorry."
"Sorry that you destroyed me?"
Her tone was acid-etched.
"Dammit, do you want me
down on my knees?" he countered.
"How the devil did my
leaving destroy you?" Anger,
prodded by fear, was warming
"I was sensitive—aware of the
collapse of my family, of my own
shortcomings, of my lack of opportunity,"
she said, staring with
immense grey eyes at the wall
behind him. "I was just beginning
to feel I could be somebody, could
mean something to someone I—liked—when
you dropped me and
never looked back.
"I took a job at the bank. For
twenty years I've sat in a cage,
counting out money and putting
little legends in bank-books. I've
felt myself drying up day by day,
week by week, year by year.
When I've sought love I've merely
defiled myself. You taught me
passion, Banning, then destroyed
my capacity to enjoy it with anyone
but you. You destroyed me
and never even knew it."
"You could have gone out into
the world," he said with a trace
of contempt. "Other girls have."
"Other girls are not me," Eve
replied steadily. "Other girls don't
give themselves to a man as completely
as I gave myself to you."
"What can I do now?" Coulter
asked, running a hand through
his newly crew-cut hair. Recalling
Eve at dinner, seeing her in
the doorway, holding her briefly
in his arms—he had almost decided
that in this new life she was
the partner he would carry with
Now, however, he was afraid
of her. It was Eve who had, in
some strange way, brought him
back twenty years for purposes
she had yet to divulge. One thing
he knew, logically and intuitively—he
could never endure life
with anyone of whom he was
She was no longer looking at
the wall—she was looking directly
at him and with curious intensity.
She said, "Do you have to ask?"
She was testing him, of course.
Sensitive, brilliant, she might be—yet
she was a fool not to have
judged the effect of his fear of
her. He walked around the table,
took hold of her shoulders, turned
her to face him, said, "What has
this particular evening to do with
"Everything!" she said, her
eyes suddenly ablaze. "Everything,
Banning! Can't you understand?"
He released her, lit himself a
cigarette, seeking the calmness
he knew he must have to keep his
thinking clear. He said, "Perhaps
I understand why—a little. But
how, Eve, how?"
She got up and walked across
the wide hearth, kicked a fallen
log back into place. Its glowing
red scales burst into yellow flame.
She turned and said, "Remember
my father's last work? His efforts
to discover the secrets of Time?"
"I remember he threw away
what should have been your inheritance
on a flock of crackpot
ideas," he told her.
"This wasn't a crackpot idea,"
she said, eyeing him as if he were
another log for the fire. "His basic
premise that Time is all-existent
was sound. Time is past, present
"I might have argued that with
you—before today," he replied.
"It was like everything else he
tried." She made an odd little
gesture of helplessness. "He went
at it wrong-end-to, of course. Not
until after he died and Jim got
back from M.I.T. did we get to
work on it. I was merely the
helper who held the tools for Jim.
And when we completed it he
lacked the courage to try it out."
There was the acid of contempt
in her voice at her brother's
"I don't blame him," said Coulter.
"After all ..." He changed
the subject, asked, "Where is
"He was killed at Iwo Jima,"
she told him.
"What's to keep him from
walking in here tonight—or to
keep you from walking in on
us?" he asked.
"Jim's in Cambridge, studying
for exams," she replied. "As for
my meeting myself, it's impossible.
It's hard to explain but in coming
back here I became reintegrated
with the past me. Just as
you are both a present and a past
you. You must have noticed a
certain duplication of memories,
an overlapping? I have."
"I've noticed," he said. "But
why only we two?"
"I'll show you," she said.
"Come." She led him down
rough wooden cellar stairs to a
basement, unfastened with pale
and dexterous fingers a padlocked
wooden door behind the big old-fashioned
furnace with its up-curving
stovepipe arms, under
which he had to stoop to avoid
bumping his head.
The sharp sting of dead furnace-ashes
was in his nostrils as
he looked at the strange device.
The strange cage-like device, the
strange jerry-built apparatus
was centered in a bizarre instrument panel
that seemed to hang
from nothing at all. He said, eyeing
a bucket-seat for the operator,
"It looks like Red Barber's cat-bird
"And we're sitting in it, just
you and I, darling," she replied.
"Just you and I out of all the
people who ever lived. Think of
what we can do with our lives
now, the mistakes we can avoid!"
"I'm thinking of them," said
Coulter. Then, after a brief pause,
"But how in hell did you manage
to get me into the act?"
She stepped inside the odd
cage, plucked things from a cup-like
receptacle that hung from the
instrument panel, showed them to
him. There were a lock of hair,
a scarf, what looked like fingernail
parings. At his bewilderment
her face lighted briefly with the
shadow of a smile.
She said, "These are you, darling.
Oh, you still don't understand!
Lacking the person or
thing to be sent back in Time,
something that is part of the
person or thing will work. It keys
directly to individual patterns."
"And you've kept those things—those
pieces of me—in there
all this time?" He shuddered.
"It looks like voodoo to me."
She put back the mementos,
stepped out of the cage, put her
arms fiercely around him. "Banning,
darling, after you left me
I did try voodoo. I wanted you
to suffer as I suffered. But then,
when the Time machine was finished
and Jim was afraid to use
it, I put the things in it—and
waited. It's been a long wait."
"How did it reach me while
I was still miles away?" he asked.
"Jim always said its working
radius was about five miles," she
said. "When you drove within
range, it took over.... But let's
go back upstairs, darling—we
have our lives to plan."
To change the subject Coulter
said, when they emerged from the
basement, "You must have had a
time picking the right moment for
this little reunion—or was it hit
"The machine is completely
accurate," she said firmly. She
stood there, the firelight making
a halo of her dark hair. There
was urgency in her, an expectation
that the remark would mean
something to him. It didn't.
Finally she burst out with,
"Banning, are you really so forgetful?
Don't you remember what
tonight was ... don't you?"
Coulter did some hasty mental
kangaroo-hopping. He knew it
was important to Eve and, because
of the incredible thing she had
accomplished, he felt a new wave
of fright. From some recess of
his memory he got a flash—Jim
was in Cambridge, the housekeeper
asleep in the rear ell of the
old farmhouse, he and Eve were
He drew her gently close to him
and kissed her soft waiting lips as
he had kissed them twenty years
before, felt the quiver of her slim
body against him as he had felt
it twenty years before. He should
have known—Eve had selected
for their reunion the anniversary
of the first time they had truly
given themselves to each other.
He said, "Of course I remember,
darling. If I'm a little slow
on the uptake it's because I've had
a lot of things happen to me all
"The old Banning Coulter
would never have understood,"
she said, giving him a quick hug
before standing clear of him. Her
eyes were shining like star sapphires.
"Banning, you've grown
"People do," he said drily.
There was an odd sort of tension
between them as they stood there,
knowing what was to happen between
them. Eve took a deep
unsteady breath and the rise and
fall of her angora sweater made
his arms itch to pull her close.
She said, before he could translate
desire into action, "Oh, I've
been so wrong about so many
things, darling. But I was so
right to bring you back. Think
of what we're going to be able to
do, you and I together, now that
we have this second chance. We'll
know just what's going to happen.
We'll be rich and free and lord
it over ordinary mortals. I'll have
furs and you'll have yachts and
"I'm a lousy sailor," said Coulter.
"No, I don't want a yacht."
"Nonsense, we'll have a yacht
and cruise wherever we want to
go. Think of how easy it will be
for us to make money." Her eyes
were shining more brightly still.
"No more standing in a teller's
cage for me. No more feeling the
life-sap dry up inside me, handling
thousands of dollars a day and
none of it mine."
She stepped to him, gripped
him tightly, her fingernails making
themselves felt even through
the heavy material of his jacket.
She kissed him fiercely and said
in a throaty whisper, "Darling,
I'm going upstairs. Come up in
ten minutes—and be young again
She left him standing alone in
front of the fire....
Coulter filled his pipe and lit
it. His mother had said we
when she talked of her plans, as if
her son were merely an object to
be moved about at her whim.
Pick up my lighter at MacAuliffe's
... going to take a trip abroad
this summer ... not going to be
foolish about her.... He could see
the phrases as vividly as if
they were written on a video
And then he saw another set
of phrases—different in content,
yet strangely alike in meaning.
Nonsense, we'll have a yacht ...
lord it over ordinary mortals ...
a long wait. He thought of the
voodoo and the fingernail parings,
of the savage materialism of the
woman who was even now preparing
herself to receive him upstairs,
who was planning to relive
his life with him in her
He thought of his wife, foolish
perhaps, but true to him and
never domineering. He thought
of the Scarborough house and the
good friends he had there, hundreds
of miles and twenty years
away. He wondered if he could
go back if he got beyond the five-mile
radius of the strange machine
in the basement.
He looked down with regret
at his slim young body, so unexpectedly
of the heavier, older less vibrant
body that lay waiting for him five
miles away. Then swiftly, silently,
he tiptoed into the hall, donned
coat and hat and gloves, slipped
through the front door and bolted
for the Pontiac.
He drove like a madman over
the icy roads through the dark.
Somehow he sensed he would
have to get beyond the reach of
the machine before Eve grew impatient
and came downstairs and
found him gone. She might, in
her anger, send him back to some
other Time—or perhaps the machine
worked both ways. He
didn't know. He could only flee
in fear ... and hope....
At times, in the years that had
passed since his abrupt breaking-off
of his romance with Eve Lawton,
he had wondered a little
about why he had dropped her
so quickly, just when his mother's
death seemed to open the path
for their marriage.
Now he knew that youthful instinct
had served him better than
he knew. Somehow, beneath the
charm and wit and beauty of
the girl, he had sensed the domineering
woman. Perhaps a lifetime
with his mother had made
him extra-aware of Eve's desire
to dominate without its reaching
his conscious mind.
But to have exchanged the velvet
glove of his mother for the
velvet glove of Eve would have
meant a lifetime of bondage. He
would never have been his own
He could feel cold sweat bathe
his body once more as he sped
past the Brigham Farm. According
to his wristwatch just eight
and a quarter minutes had
elapsed since Eve had left him
and gone upstairs. He felt a sudden
urge to turn around and go
back to her—he knew she would
forgive his attempt to run away.
After all, he couldn't even guess
at what would happen when he
reached the outer limit of the
machine's influence. Would he
be in 1934 or 1954—or irretrievably
lost in some timeless nowhere
He thought again of what Eve
had said about yachts and world
traveling and wondered how she
could hope to do so if the radius
of influence was only five miles.
Eve might be passionate, headstrong
and neurotic, but she was
not a fool. If she had planned
travel on a world of two decades
past she must have found a way
of making his and her stay in that
past permanent, without trammels.
If she had altered the machine ...
But she wouldn't have until
he was caught in her trap when,
inevitably, he returned to look at
the scenes of his childhood. He
tried to recall what she had done,
what gestures she had made, when
she demonstrated the machine. As
nearly as he could remember, all
Eve had done was to pluck out
his nail parings, the bit of hair
and scarf, then return them to
Voodoo.... She was close to
mad. Or perhaps he was mad
himself. He wiped his streaming
forehead with a sleeve, barely
avoided overturning as he rounded
a curve flanked by signboards....
He felt a bump....
And suddenly he was in the
big convertible again, guiding it
over to one of the parking lanes
at the side of the magnificent two-laned
highway. He looked down
at his sleek dark vicuna coat, visualized
the rise of plump stomach
beneath it, reached in his breast
pocket for a panatella.
He noticed the tremble in his
hand. No, no cigars now, he
thought. Not with the old pump
acting up like this. Too much
excitement. He reached for the
little box of nitroglycerin tablets
in his watch-pocket, got it out,
took one, waited.
Maybe his life wasn't perfect,
maybe there wasn't much of it
left to live—but what there was
was his, not his mother's, not
Eve's. The unsteadiness in his
chest was fading. He turned on
the ignition, drove slowly back
through the housing developments,
the neon signs and clover-leaf
turns and graded crossings
toward the city....
When he got back to the hotel
he would call Connie in Scarborough.
It would be heavenly,
the sound of her high, silly little
This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe May 1954. Extensive
research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed.