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art by M.S. Corley

Note to Self

Hans Hergot can be found on the web at hanshergot.com.
"Do you recognize me?"
Thomas glanced at the man who bumped into him. The cheap bottle of wine bought to celebrate his promotion nearly slipped out of its brown paper bag. Thomas juggled it and looked again. The man standing in front of him had unmistakable bright blue hair.
"You look like the clown from my sixth birthday party?"
"And?"
"The limo driver from prom."
"Bingo."
"You haven't changed a bit," said Thomas.
"No, I haven't, and I'll tell you why. Please don't interrupt. I want to assure you that I am serious. After I finish speaking, please try not to say anything stupid or cliché. This includes every possible one word or one syllable response. Are we clear?"
"Yes."
"I am from the future. You won a contest, in the future, to send a message to your younger self."
"If that's true, tell me whether the Capitols win tonight."
"Very original." The man rolled his eyes so sharply that his head and neck were caught in the movement. "Per the contest rules, I made three appearances at critical junctures in your life. That's the only assurance you get."
"Why not give me the message back then?"
"The message was to be delivered tonight. One message. Six words. Here it is."
"Why six?"
"Here it is." The blue-haired man handed Thomas a thin envelope.
When Thomas looked up again, the man was stepping into a cab.
"Are you heading toward Georgetown?" Thomas called after him. He still had so many questions.
"We're not going the same direction. Trust me." The cab turned right on F Street and disappeared from view.
Thomas walked past the entrance to the subway. His legs steered automatically while his mind wandered. His hand rubbed at the tousled brown hair at the base of his neck.
Why now? Why not when he could have bought stock in Apple? Why not when he was broke, sitting on the floor, crying into the mattress he called a bed?
If he had gotten this letter then, would he be here now?
No way.
Why now? Maybe save someone he loves. Stop a robbery. An investment so he could afford an operation for their daughter? Lucinda had so many ear infections. Maybe the note was meant to prepare him for the worst. Their insurance sucked. Even with the promotion they were still going to have a hard time making ends meet.
On the threshold of his apartment, Thomas opened the message. He slipped a crisp, white card out of the envelope.
The handwriting was definitely his.
Thomas sat at the kitchen table staring at a blank white card. He rubbed at the tousled gray hair at the base of his neck. Having won the contest, he still didn't know what to write. His wife, Deidre, had long since given up offering suggestions and had gone to bed.
Thomas set down the pen and let his hand roam over the rough wood. There were the marks where Lucinda had traced delicate flowers in permanent ink. His wife's efforts to remove the decorations only drew more attention to them. Her frantic scrubbing had removed more varnish than ink, leaving a light halo around each petal. They were asleep, his wife--and Lucinda, grown up yet still sharing a room with her two younger siblings. Thomas looked over his shoulder and down the hall as if he could see through the walls and into the children's room where all three lay curled up together on a queen-sized bed, drawing slow breaths so hard to see but so intently looked for by every parent.
As his gaze returned to the paper he noticed, as always, the dent in the sink where he had drunkenly tried to smash a wine bottle in a frenzy of celebration after getting a raise. Deidre was always after him to fix it, which he had no intention of doing. Thomas smiled. Leaning his chair back on two legs, he ran his finger around the contours of the metal crater.
All of this, all the nothing they had, and the everything. What did he want to change? Be rich? But if they were rich, would they have celebrated his raise on that nine-dollar bottle of Chilean wine or conceived Mark later that night?
On the other hand, here they were living paycheck to paycheck. Unable to afford lessons for his kids, not giving each other birthday presents, ordering pizza a major financial decision, never going on vacation and pretending not to mind.
He could give himself the lottery numbers from last week, but if he was so concerned about changing the past, could he be so cavalier about the future?
They were making it. Hell, in a world where poverty and death were as normal as nightfall, they were in the top percent. His wife's small home economies scattered the kitchen counters: a bag of home-ground flour, mason jars of cream ready to be turned into butter, a crock of sourdough starter by the oven. They were making it.
Back in the day, things hadn't been so easy, running from one emergency to another. He really could have used a little something to keep him going.
Looking back at the card, Thomas tapped the pen on his lower lip. He had only six words and only till midnight to write them.
Thomas read the note again for the hundredth time that night. Six words from the future--to change his life. Everything he needed to know. And what had he written?
"Everything's going to be all right."
"Bob Marley could have told you that," Deidre said as she curled against him in bed. Her leg rested intimately on his. Her arm lay across his chest.
Everything's going to be all right. Thomas relaxed. "He did. But I never listened."
"Listen to me, then." Her nose nuzzled his neck.
"What's that?"
"Fix the sink tomorrow, okay?"
"I'll get right on it."
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 4th, 2013


"Note to Self" is dedicated to James Altucher--a great writer--whose stories have gotten me through some hard times. Thanks.

- Hans Hergot

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