This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning
Mum bought the story but I didn’t. I could still feel the alternate set of memories, could still see mum dying trapped beside me. Dad took me for a walk, told mum it would make me feel better. She agreed. Once we were well away from the house he crouched down and brought his face close to me.
“Stevie, can you keep a secret?”
I nodded solemnly.
“Good. This has to be a secret. You remember the car crash. No one else does. It didn’t really happen. I used… let’s call it magic. I used magic to change things, to stop the crash happening. You can remember it because you are so special, but you mustn’t tell anyone else. Can you promise me that? That you’ll let mum forget it?”
I nodded again, not really understanding. All I knew was that dad had used magic to save mum and I. Most six year olds worship their dad anyway, now he was like a god in my eyes. That love drove out the darkness I’d felt since the crash, it warmed my heart. Dad took my hand and we continued our walk. I was almost bouncing as we went, I felt so good.
* * *
As I grew older the day the car crash happened, or the day the car crash didn’t happen, became hazy. By the time I reached ten years old it was just a dream or daydream from when I was young. Something I never thought about.
One night I was staying over at my best friend Karl’s. After an evening of snacks, video games and TV we’d finally crashed out asleep. I woke in the middle of the night, eyes snapping open. The world around me seemed to be wobbling and I felt like I was on board a boat in rough seas. I knew that feeling, recognised it. The day of the car crash forced itself back into my mind. My stomach was a tense knot as I waited to see what would happen.
The feeling that the world wobbled around me lasted a few more seconds then everything snapped back into focus. I frantically looked around but nothing seemed to have changed. I was still laying on a mattress beside Karl’s bed. I still had the same memories I’d had before, though there was a strange sensation to them… almost an echo, as if the same memories existed twice.
My heart was still hammering though, my mouth was dry and I was terrified something bad had happened. Or had tried to happen then been put right. What could it be?
It took me a long time to get back to sleep, but I slept well once I did. When I woke the next morning I convinced myself it was just a dream. When I returned home that afternoon and everything seemed normal I stuck the dream away in my mind and didn’t think about it again. Now I know what must have happened, but back then I was in blissful ignorance.
* * *
I’d known mum was having problems for some time, but it came to a head when I was eleven, during the summer holidays. I’d left junior school behind, had the huge adventure of secondary school ahead of me. It should have been a time of wonder and play. It was, to begin with, but other events tainted it.
I came home after spending the afternoon out playing in the lanes and fields nearby. As soon as I walked in the house felt different, wrong somehow. It was too quiet. I’d come in the back door, into the kitchen. Mum wasn’t about but the medicine box was open, boxes of tablets and plasters scattered over the kitchen side. My unease became out and out fear. Something must have happened to mum.
I rushed into the hall, checked all the downstairs rooms. No sign of her. Then I ran upstairs, into my parents bedroom. I found her then, lying on their bed, face pale and breathing ragged. I crossed to her and found a large sheet of paper lying beside her, addressed to dad. Somehow I knew what the paper would say, but I had to read it. It wasn’t long. She said how much she loved dad and I, and apologised for being so weak. She said she couldn’t face going on, couldn’t face the darkness inside. She said that we’d both be better off without her. My heart broke at that point. How could she ever believe that would be true?
There was a phone beside their bed. I grabbed it, meaning to call an ambulance. Instead I found myself dialling dad’s mobile. He answered and I managed to tell him something of what had happened between sobs. Then he spoke, amazingly calmly. I still remember those words to this day.
“Just hang in there, Stevie. Just for a little while. Mum will be fine. I’m going to fix everything.”
Then he hung up. I felt ice down my spine, the words were so similar to those he’d used on the day of the crash. Then the fierce burn of hope warmed my chest. Could he do it? Could he save mum? Make everything right?
I should have doubted, should have convinced myself that such magic wasn’t possible. Yet I didn’t. I waited, hardly breathing, for the feeling to start. When it did, when the room seemed to waver and wobble around me, I grinned fiercely. Dad was going to make everything right.
The world snapped back into focus and I stared around in surprise. I was on the beach and both mum and dad were there. Mum was laughing and smiling as dad tried to catch her nose with his ice cream cone. Tears in my eyes I scrambled up and gave mum the biggest hug. She joked about having done something special, then asked me if something was wrong. I just shook my head.
Finally I let mum go and hugged dad, knowing that everything would always be fine. That whatever it took dad would look after both mum and I. I remember that day so clearly, the sun shining down and the sound of the waves lapping at the beach. In that moment I knew that life would always be good.
* * *
It wasn’t, of course. You can’t just wave a wand, snap your fingers, change a day and cure someone of severe depression. Dad saved mum on that day, turned up unexpectedly and whisked us off for a great day on the beach. A week later he had to do the same, this time we went to see a film and had dinner. Then two days later he had to spend the day with mum. She was quiet and sad the whole day but it meant the incident with the carving knife didn’t happen, for mum at least. I still remembered what she had done to herself.
It carried on like that over the next few months. Starting secondary school was a big thing but I struggled, haunted by things that hadn’t happened… yet to me they had. I learnt a new phrase in English: déjà vu. The strong feeling you had lived through an experience before. But what I was experiencing was the opposite: anti déjà vu. The strong feeling of having lived through an experience that never happened.
I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. Mum was fragile enough without giving a hint of the many times I’d seen her after a suicide attempt. Dad was an emotional wreck, he clearly remembered all those attempts too and had the added worry of constantly tracking mum, always being ready to divert her from hurting herself. If I’d told anyone else they would have thought I was mad.
Looking back, my failure to settle in school must have added to mum’s worries, must have aggravated her condition. A nasty closed circle. The more she worried the more often something happened that needed dad to fix it. The more things he fixed the more disconnected I became, which made mum worry more.
A few months after I started secondary school things came to a head. Dad was exhausted. I don’t know whether fixing things tired him somehow, drained his energy, or if it was just the worry over mum. He was having to rescue her four or five days a week by that point. It was even worse than that sounds, though. Often the first fix just delayed things a bit. He couldn’t spend all his time at home, had to work still, so he couldn’t just stay and watch her. He was often having to try three or four fixes, changing different things each time, before mum survived the day unscathed. Sometimes he had to call in sick, spending the day with mum was the only way to protect her.
On the last day he tried seven times before he admitted defeat. The first three times I was still at school when the world snapped back into place. After that dad kept me at home too, finally realising the impact it was having on me.
He fixed things one more time that day. Not before mum’s suicide attempt, after. He allowed it to happen then called for an ambulance. They rushed her into hospital, pumped her stomach, stabilised her. Dad and I sat by her bed waiting for her to come round. I’d never seen dad look so tired, so utterly hopeless. He looked worse than mum in a lot of ways. I wanted so badly to comfort him, but I couldn’t.
They admitted mum, sectioned her for her own safety. They told dad and I that she would be all right now, that they would look after her. We went home, exhausted. I slept in with dad that night, cuddled up close to him. For him as much as for me. I know we both cried a lot, but we didn’t talk about it. I didn’t have the words and I don’t think he did either.
Things were better the next morning. Dad seemed better. He talked about when mum was feeling better, about how things would get back to normal. He took the day off work and I had the day off school. Dad did a full cooked breakfast — eggs, bacon, sausages, fried bread, baked beans. The works! The sun was shining brightly. Everything seemed bright that morning. After weeks of struggling we now had a way forward as a family.
Over the next few days mum improved a lot, the medication they put her on brought her back to herself. Dad relaxed more and I returned to school, with lots of support from my teachers. Mum stayed at the hospital, seemingly content to take her time to get better.
Nine days after mum was admitted it was the weekend again. Dad arranged to take me camping, spurred on by mum. They decided I needed a break, a chance to do something other than sit at home or at the hospital. Dad worried but mum assured him she was doing OK. The doctors agreed.
Dad and I had a great time. The campsite was near a river so we rented a boat for Saturday afternoon. Dad even let me steer at times while he controlled the engine. That evening we lit a fire and cooked bread and marshmallows over it.
The next day we walked the area, following the river for miles then looping back using a map. We took one wrong turn that took us miles out of our way. When we realised dad raised an eyebrow.
“Shall I fix it?” he asked.
I laughed and said yes. It was great seeing him use the power for something so trivial, for something that didn’t really matter. Using the power for me.
We bought fish and chips on the way home, eating them out of the wrappers in the car before finishing the journey. I was exhausted when we got home, but so happy. Happier than I’d been for months. I helped dad carry our stuff in from the car. I gave him a big hug, just enjoying the feeling of being so relaxed with him.
Then the phone rang. Dad answered. I could tell something was wrong straight away. I was grabbing my coat again even before dad hung up and turned to me, face worried. Mum had been rushed to intensive care. They’d changed her medication Saturday morning and she’d had a bad reaction. We were out the door and heading for the hospital in no time.
By the time we reached mum’s side it was nearly all over. Her body had suffered a massive allergic reaction. The doctors had tried but there was nothing they could do. Her organs were all shutting down. The hospital tried to contact dad on his mobile but the number they had was wrong. They explained that all they could do now was make her comfortable. They didn’t expect her to regain consciousness.
When the doctors and nurses had left us, leaving their condolences hanging in the air, I turned to Dad.
“You can fix it, can’t you? Stop mum taking those tablets?”
“I don’t know, Stevie. It was so long ago. I’ve never tried to change anything that far back. I’m going to try, though.”
Then he closed his eyes. It was the first time I’d seen him when he exerted his power. His face went slack, his mind had clearly gone somewhere else — sometime else I suppose. The now familiar rippling of reality kicked in, then everything snapped into focus again. Nothing had changed.
Dad had tears in his eyes and he looked exhausted. He gritted his teeth, closed his eyes again. This time the wavering lasted longer, I felt more sick than any time he’d used the power before. Then everything snapped into focus. Again, nothing was different.
Except Dad. His eyes were bloodshot, his breathing ragged. He looked haggard. He gritted his teeth again, closed his eyes. I grabbed his hand, shouted at him.
“No Dad! No! Please! You’re going to hurt yourself. Don’t you leave me too!”
He opened his eyes again. The look he gave me was so hollow.
“But I have to fix this,” he whispered, lacking the strength to talk any louder. “I have to save her!”
“Dad… you can’t. It’s too far. You can’t do it. Please, I need you. I can’t lose you and mum.”
His eyes focused on me properly then and the tears started to fall. In a moment we were clinging to each other, sobbing. That’s the moment I realised it was for real. Mum was going this time and there would be no coming back. It didn’t quite feel real. After all the times I’d seen her hurt herself, even seen her die, just to have things put right by dad. Not this time, though. Less than an hour later she slipped away.
* * *
The next month or so was hell. That’s all I’m going to say, all I can say. I’d lost my mum. That time doesn’t matter in my story, and at the same time it matters more to me than anything else. Far too much to share. All that needs to be said is dad and I got through it.
Not that everything was roses after a month, but the worst was past. A new routine was establishing itself. Dad returned to work and I was back in school full time. We coped.
Well, I say we coped. More like we lurched from one day to the next. Dad had never been that organised at the best of times. Now he was having to look after a near teenager on his own as well as holding down a full time job. I can’t count the number of times mini disasters struck. I found I had no clean uniform, we were out of milk, I had no money for lunch or an important permission slip for a trip was days overdue and I was going to miss out. All right, the last two were partly down to me as well. The school was pretty tolerant of things given what had happened but they had to draw the line eventually.
So I went to school in jeans, or hungry, or missed lunch or missed trips, right? Well, no. A quick shout to dad, or a call to his mobile, and reality would shiver around me. I’d have clean clothes, food, dinner money or a signed slip. Everyone complemented both dad and I on how well we picked up our lives after mum died. They tended to get upset when the two of us started laughing at that, not understanding how far from the truth they were.
So life settled into a routine, albeit a very strange one. I admit to dabbling with the power, trying to copy what dad did. It didn’t come though. Either I didn’t have the power, despite my awareness of when dad used it, or it wasn’t developed yet.
Regardless, life was all right. We were coping. Right up till the day dad died.
* * *
It was such a simple thing. I hadn’t got my permission slip for a school trip. I realised as my tutor started collecting them in and grabbed out my mobile to call dad, ignoring her stormy look. Calling from class was not allowed, but it didn’t matter. When dad fixed things so he’d signed the slip I wouldn’t need to make the call.
Sure enough the world wobbled around me then snapped back into focus, and I had the signed permission slip in my hand ready to hand in. No different than any other day. For an hour anyway. I was in science by then, and the head appeared at the door. He called me out and broke the news to me. Dad had been involved in an accident on the way to work. A car coming the other way had taken the corner too fast, losing control and smashing into dad’s car. Dad had been killed instantly.
I fell apart. Not just because dad was dead, but because it was my fault. When I’d phoned him about the permission slip he’d been at work, safe. The extra time to sort the slip out had changed his journey to work. Probably not by very much, but enough. Instead of being past the bend he was right on it as the idiot came flying the other way.
I remember tears, numbness, fear and then a huge anger. I was so angry at the world, at what had happened. Suddenly something snapped inside me, I felt myself floating free of my body. Lines seemed to flow backwards from me, from the head, from everyone. I followed my line back, traced my day back. I couldn’t get far, only to breakfast, but it was enough. When dad signed the permission slip I grabbed him, held on desperately. Sobbing my heart out.
I made him late for work, and I was late for school. I got a detention for that, and a second one for laughing and smiling when it was given. Dad was really late for work, he got held up by an accident. Some idiot took a corner too fast and smashed his car up — somehow getting away with only a broken arm and bruises. Thankfully no one else was involved.
I got a text from dad while I was in science. I sneaked a look. It just said thanks.
That night dad and I talked, a lot. Like me, he could remember the alternate timeline. He remembered seeing the other car flying towards him and the start of the impact but no more. Thankfully he didn’t remember being dead, though he guessed that he had been before I mentioned it.
After that I found I could use the power at will, reaching back through time, but I didn’t want to. Dad too had been badly shaken up by the experience. We talked for a long time and agreed that the power wasn’t to be used except for emergencies. Times when one of us was in danger or got hurt. No more tweaking our lives for convenience.
We’ve stuck to it, too. I’m seventeen now and I’ve only used it twice. Dad has used it once, to save a work colleague from a nasty accident with a welding torch. We only use it for important things now.
Well, that’s my story. Thank you for listening, though of course that’s what I’m paying you for. It’s true… talking really does help. I feel much better now.
I have to apologise though, because I won’t be paying you. In fact none of this will ever have happened. Like I said, I only use the power for truly important things now… and keeping what dad and I can do secret is one of those.
Relax. You won’t feel, or remember, a thing. I promise.