Authors: Debra Garfinkle
No! I stand at the doorway and stare across the street. A seventies Oldsmobile sits in front of an old olive green, s hingle-r oofed house.
I walk outside. Parked in driveways and lining the curbs are cars from the 60’s and 70’s—woody station wagons, purple Pintos, an orange, boxy Volkswagen van full of old bumper stickers like
Pass ERA Now
. A lady across the street is pruning roses. She wears a “1976—America’s Bicentennial” T -s hirt.
No, no, no.
I creep back inside and slam the door closed, as if that will keep the 70’s away.
But t hey’ve already invaded Tyler’s house. My knees feel wobbly and my breaths are shallow. Why was I put here? I w asn’t even alive in 1978. How do I get home? Maybe the same way I got here?
I go upstairs and lie in the empty tub, still dressed in Tyler’s fugly T -s hirt and his mother’s gawdawful skirt. No underwear, though. Even if it’s clean, wearing someone else’s panties is gross. And old lady underwear would be hard to take, after wearing only thongs the last few years.
I close my eyes and wish myself into 2006.
I whisper, “Please, please, please.”
I even pray for the first time in my life. “God, please, I w on’t sleep around so much, and not ever again with someone else’s boyfriend, even if I don’t like the girl. Except if she’s a real bitch, I might. I d on’t thinkYou’d mind that, God. And I won’t cut school—not as often, anyway—or draw any more pictures on the whiteboard of my biology teacher kissing the class lizard.”
I look up to heaven, which hopefully exists above the beige asbestos ceiling, and wait.
“Please, God, I’m scared now.” I press my palms together, the tips of my fingers touching my chin, my elbows sore against the hard edge of the bathtub. I’m a real suppicant, or however you say that word.
I hear something.
My heart pounds under the borrowed T -s hirt. “God, is that You?” I whisper. “Or, like, one of Your angels? Or a ngelsi n-t raining, like Clarence in
It’s a Wonderful Life
, which always makes me cry, I swear to it, God.”
It’s a beautiful voice, singing “You-hoo-hoo light up myyyyy life.”
So there is a God! And I was right. She’s female.
“Thank you, thank you, God. You light up my life too. Can I please go home now, God?”
Someone is singing along. It’s a woman, sounding scratchy and o ff-k ey.
Then a male voice comes on, announcing w e’ve just heard the hot, hot, hot Bee Gees, sparkling Neil Diamond, and sweet Debby Boone, singing her number one song, “You Light Up My Life.”
Gawd. Tyler’s mom must be home, listening to the radio.
“Thanks for nothing, God. Except for ending that stupid song.” I climb out of the bathtub.
Downstairs, another tune plays and Tyler’s mother wails, “ You’d think I could learrrn how to tell you good-bye, ’cause you d on’t bring me flowers aaaaanymooooore.”
I sink back into the tub and stare at the asbestos ceiling. “God,” I whisper. “I think I’m really stuck in the damn seventies. Please get me the hell out of here. And hurry.”
I rush home from
the bus stop to see if the girl is still in my house. Or if the house is still standing.
Mom meets me at the front door before I can dart upstairs. She kisses me on the cheek. She wouldn’t kiss me if she’d just discovered a half-naked girl in my room, or the TV and stereo system missing. Would she?
I can’t help glancing at the stairs. All quiet. Evie’s likely right. The girl’s probably long gone by now. I never even got her name.
“Aren’t you going to say something?” Mom’s standing in front of me with her arms crossed.
Uh-oh. I eye the staircase again, wondering what the girl has done.
“Look at me,” Mom says.
I can do it, but not in the eyes. So I stare at Mom’s nose. I can’t help noticing a strong chemical odor. Did the girl start a fire in here?
“Something’s different,” Mom says.
I gulp, audibly, then try to cover with a throat clear. “Why do you say something’s different?” I’m trying too hard to sound innocent, like those witnesses on
right before they confess their heinous crimes in open court.
“Didn’t you notice? I got a haircut. And a perm.”
She touches the side of her head, which I only now realize has expanded two to three inches due to hair frizz. “Perms are all the rage now. I hope your father likes it.”
I let out a big breath, as if I haven’t exhaled since I got off the bus. I might not have, actually. Dad won’t like Mom’s perm. Then again, Dad doesn’t like much of anything. Then again again, Dad probably won’t even notice Mom’s hair. I hope for her sake the chemical stench dissipates soon.
“So what do you think of my new ’do?”
“It looks good, Mom. I’m going to put my books upstairs now.”
“Wait,” Mom says just as I reach the stairs.
“Did you get up in the middle of the night?”
Erase that prior
“A midnight snack or something?”
I look her in the nose again and slowly nod.
“Because I just bought a package of Oreos yesterday, and they’re already half gone. You ate those, I take it?”
I keep nodding. “Sorry. I won’t do it again.”
I make a break for it and race up the stairs.
Yes! She’s still here. Still beautiful. And in my room. On my very bed. In clothes which cling to her. And she’s still braless. Oh, yes! I hold my hand against the door frame to steady myself.
“You didn’t come home early like you promised.”
“I didn’t . . .” Now I’m looking
in the nose. Wow, even her nose is sexy. It’s little and smooth, with a cute upswing at the tip of it. “I didn’t promise, actually. Not exactly.”
“I need help getting home.”
“Did you try sitting in the bathtub again?”
“Yeah. It didn’t work.”
“Um . . . ” I clear my throat. “What’s your name?”
“Shay. Dumb name, huh?”
“Not at all. Just somewhat rare.” I say it to myself.
Shay, Shay, Shay.
My heart is about to burst out of my chest. If she married me, she’d be Shay Gray. Not good. “Tyler’s a rare name too,” I say.
“Not in the twenty-first century. At my school alone, there are two Tylers playing varsity football this year, and another Tyler is the team mascot.”
Twenty-first century? Son of a gun. She really believes she’s from the future.
I walk over to her, unsteady in my own room, and sit beside her on my bed. “Shay, my mom said you ate a bunch of Oreos today.”
She bites her lip. “You told your mother?”
“No. My mom just said half the package was gone.”
“Oh,” she murmurs. “It wasn’t even Double Stuf.”
“Double Stuf Oreos.”
“The Oreo of the future?” This whole fantasy is ridiculous. “I’m going to have to tell my parents soon. I mean, if you keep staying here.”
“They won’t believe it. No one will believe it.” Her dark eyes seem frightened under lashes like heavy black veils. “You probably don’t even believe it.”
I look away. I don’t believe it.
“What if I prove I’m from the future?”
“Okay, I was reading the newspaper today.”
I can’t help arching my eyebrows. She doesn’t seem the newspaper-reading type.
“Only to help me figure things out. It’s not like I’m a nerd. So I read that Jimmy Carter is president now. I know he barely lasts one period, or term, or whatever.” She scrunches her sexy nose. “Because of, I think, the gas crisis and the hostages in Iran. Or Iraq. No, Iran.”
“I took Modern American History last year. I even got a B minus in the class. So when the gas crisis hits, and the hostage thingie, you’ll know I’m from the future.”
“If you’re from the future, why don’t you warn the potential hostages?”
“Right.” She shakes her head. “I’m sure they’ll believe me as much as you do. Like I can even remember their names. Anyway, I don’t think any of them die from it. I’m not sure. It’s not like I got an A in the class.”
“So when does all this actually happen?”
She sighs. “I don’t know. Oh, and I have something else. I read in the paper about this new Italian pope.”
“I think he’s the guy that dies.”
“Everyone dies. Even popes.”
“Don’t be a smart-ass. This guy only lasts, like, a month. They elected this Polish guy. Or appointed him, or whatever they do with that white smoke. And
just died. I mean, he died, like, in 2004 or 2005, which is my past, your future.”
“Never mind. Just believe me. Please.” She puts her hand on my thigh.
Suddenly it’s summertime in the sweltering swamp known as Tylertown. How could a human hand increase the temperature of my leg by twenty degrees? A question for my physics teacher. Though I doubt he has the answer. I doubt any guy has the answer.
“You can keep staying with me,” I say to the bedspread.
She removes her hand. I start breathing again.
“I can’t hide in your room forever,” she says. “You’ll have to tell your parents.”
“They’ll kill me.”
“So what’s your plan to keep me here?”
I don’t have a plan. Or an inkling of a plan. What would Einstein do? Better yet, what would a ladies’ man do? What would John Travolta do? Whatever it took to keep a beautiful girl next to him on his bed.
I close my eyes so I can think with my brain. “I could tell my folks you have nowhere else to go.”
“They’ll buy that?”
“My mom’s kind of a pushover. And my dad’s hardly ever here, anyway.”
I don’t mean to sound so sad. She clutches my arm. A pity grip. Still, I’ll take it.
“We’ll tell them my parents are horrible, that they, like, beat me or something,” she says.
I open my eyes. “Do they?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve never even met my dad.” She frowns. “And I doubt my mom will even realize I’m missing yet. If she does, I’m not sure she’ll care.”
Wow. How could a mom not care? “Well, my mom cares. For one thing, she’ll want to make sure you’re not a runaway. So we’ll have to pretend to call your parents and get permission.”
I shake my head. “She’ll want to talk to them herself.”
What would Travolta do? “Maybe someone could disguise his voice and pretend to be one of your parents.”
Whoa, Tyler. This is getting out of control. Not only will you be lying to Mom, but you’ll be bringing in a third party to lie. Is one girl worth messing up your life?
“I love it!” She squeezes my arm again. “You’re so smart.”
This girl is worth it. “I’ll ask my best friend Evie to pretend to be your mother.”
“So you’re going to let me stay here with your rentals and everything?”
“Rental units. It’s modern slang for
. Modern for 2006.”
What am I getting myself into? Lying to Mom and Dad so this crazy girl can tell time-travel stories and put her hands all over me? “You can stay as long as you want.”
“I never thought I ’d
be shopping at a thrift store. Gross,” I say.
Tyler grimaces. “A simple ‘Thank you for driving me’ will do.”
We’re in a wood-p aneled station wagon, which reeks from the s trawberry-s cented air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror. I’m wearing a sweater from Tyler’s sister’s room, with Ms. Gray’s ugly skirt and socks and sensibly awful flat shoes. And, probably to Tyler’s utter joy, no bra. According to the DJ, Barry Manilow, Donna Summer, and The Commodores play on the radio and t hey’re all totally bitchin’. While he drives, Tyler shrugs his shoulders in rhythm to the music. H e’d stop bopping around if he knew the girl next to him stole his money. Under my lapbelt there’sforty-s ix dollars in my pocket. I had to take it, right?
I bite my lip and stare out the car window. It’s as smoggy now as in 2006. We pass familiar streets—Roscoe, Canoga, Sherman Way. Tyler’s house seems close to mine. Not counting the t wenty-e ight-y ear time difference.
He parks and we get out of the car.
The customers in the thrift store are dressed worse than I even imagined. “Are they holding auditions here for a fashion makeover show?” I whisper.
“At least I won’t see anyone I know. Except maybe, like, my mom or my teachers when they were teens. That would be bizarre.” I head to a rack of clothes and touch one of the blouses. “Eww.” I wipe my fingers on my skirt, really Tyler’s mom’s skirt.
“What’s wrong?” Tyler asks.
“I just touched polyester for the first time in my life.
Whoever put me back in time should have packed me a suit “ case”.
On the bright side, or at least not totally horrible side, 1978 thrift store prices buy me a lot for $46—shirts, pants, awful shoes, and even a few days’ worth of 25-cent-per-p iece lingerie, if you could call thrift shop stuff
Every time I go near the bras and panties, Tyler’s face flushes and he has to look away. “Check this out, Tyler.” I hold up a bra just to watch his face get redder. “This will have to be washed at least three times before I ever wear it.”
He looks away again.
“Will you show me how to use a washing machine? That was always our housekeeper’s job.”
“You d on’t know how to do laundry? Even I know how, and I’m a guy.”
“Why should I when w e’re paying Mariel to do that? She tried to show me how to do laundry once. She said it was for my own good. It’s not like I want to live with Mom and her forever, so I get Mariel’s stab at teaching me Independent Living 101.”
“If you have a housekeeper at home, what are you doing at my house?” he asks.
“Like I planned this whole time-travel thing. I hope Mariel d idn’t freak when I disappeared. Even if Momhasn’t noticed I’m gone, Mariel would.” My eyes moisten. I sniff in big so I w on’t blubber. “I bet Mariel even misses me a little.”