Scott Ragland has an MFA in Creative Writing (fiction) from UNC Greensboro in the U.S. Before taking a writing hiatus, he had several stories published, most notably in Writers’ Forum, Beloit Fiction Journal, and The Quarterly. More recently, his work has appeared in The Conium Review, Newfound, Ambit, The Common (online), Fiction International, Cherry Tree, CutBank (online), the minnesota review, Glassworks, and Flash Fiction Magazine, among others. He lives in the U.S. in Carrboro, N.C., with his wife, two dogs, and a cat.
By Scott Ragland
For JJ and HGW, in admiration; for EABR, my wife, in appreciation for the inspiration (and in admiration)
The time machine, too cumbersome to move about, awaited downstairs in the parlor.
“To when, Gretta?” asked Gabriel, who stood at the bedroom window, watching the season’s first snow falling upon Dublin’s streets and rooftops. “We must choose wisely, for I fear Dr. Nebogipfel’s vision may not be entirely replicable by admirers who share his philosophy but not his genius. The diagrams are as intricate as anything from the mind of Leonardo — if only the doctor had remained in this time to guide us.”
“If only,” said Gretta, who sat at her vanity, fashioning a bun atop her pompadour in preparation for the journey. “But alas, this time seems not far enough ahead to suit him.”
“Most concerning are questions of durability,” Gabriel said.
“What you are saying, then, is that your incarnation of the Chronic Argo may not endure more than one passage.”
“Precisely,” Gabriel said.
“Then indeed, we must choose wisely.”
Gabriel turned his gaze to his wife.
“Perhaps we could go forward to learn whether the Union manages to withstand the agitators. Would put my mind at ease to know good sense prevails.”
Gretta stilled her hands.
“I predict bloodshed and have no desire to see my homeland suffer so.”
Gabriel looked down for a moment.
“Of course, we should respect your sensibilities,” he said. “Dare I suggest, then, the age of Elizabeth? We could seek out Shakespeare, himself, in the flesh, and watch the Lord Chamberlain’s Men staging Hamlet at the Globe. Imagine it, the chance to ask the bard how he would answer the question he posed for us all to contemplate for all the centuries hence, in the face of strife and heartbreak: ‘To be or not to be?’”
Gretta said nothing but thought: I know my own answer, as my persistence in this world attests.
Her mind cast back to that early winter night, to Michael standing in her grandmother’s garden beside a leafless tree, shivering in the cold rain for her, dying for her. She imagined asking him in rather than watching him go, imagined him taking warmth by a fire’s flames, the flush of life upon his cheeks. She imagined him singing again. She went to the window and took Gabriel’s hand in hers.
“I prefer to go back to my past to change my present,” she said.
Gabriel returned his gaze outside. The snow fell thick and silent as a shade.
“To Galway,” he said.
Gretta squeezed his hand.
“Such big, dark eyes. Such an expression in them.”