I remember that afternoon like it was yesterday. It was seventy-five years ago, and my parents had bought a new refrigerator and they gave me the big box that it arrived in. Nancy from next door had come over to watch what the delivery men were doing, and once she saw my box she asked if she could play too. Sure, I said, and we took it to the basement along with some crayons, tape, scissors, that kind of stuff.
With me being eight and all of two years older than Nancy, I was in charge as always. So of course we “decided” to build a time machine like I wanted instead of a princess’ castle like she wanted. We spent the whole afternoon cutting, coloring, tying, and taping. Oh what fun I had!
When we finally finished, it was obvious that only one of us could fit inside at a time, so we would have to take turns using it. Nancy wanted to go first but of course since I was in charge I chose me. What was the point of being in charge if it didn’t mean I always got my way, right?
Well, a funny thing happened as I sat in the time machine waiting to get sent back to see the dinosaurs. Through the porthole I could see tears on Nancy’s cheeks even though she wasn’t making crying noises. At first I thought that she was being silly but then I remembered how her shoulders always slumped a little when I told her we were going to do what I wanted, never mind what she wanted. And as I thought about it, I realized that it was that way a lot. OK, all the time. So I decided to try something different for once. Just to see.
I came back out and Nancy asked what the dinosaurs looked like. I told her that I didn’t know – that the time machine didn’t work. I made a big play at fine tuning the dials and told Nancy to try it now.
“Really,” she asked, beaming the biggest smile I’d ever seen on her. “I get to go first?!”
“Yeah,” I said. “And don’t forget to yell loud at the dinosaurs so they leave you alone.”
Nancy climbed into the time machine and for the next several minutes all I heard was giggling and shouting at dinosaurs to keep back. It was a lesson that, looking back on now, I’m surprised my eight year-old self could grasp – that giving someone else their way could make me happier than getting my own way. From that day onward I always let Nancy pick our games and I always let her go first.
We were married the month after Nancy finished high school and a different time machine took over as first years and then decades sped past. Nancy always made me promise that when the time came she could go first. I promised, even though I knew that I could never bear to be without her. And last week I kept that promise, which is why I’m down in the basement now with a big box, crayons, string, the works. I need to build another time machine so I can see my Nancy again, and oh lord, I really need this one to work.
The prompt that inspired this piece of flash fiction can be found here.