‘I’ve invented a time machine,’ said Stanley.
The psychiatrist’s office was sterile in a comforting way. Like a pretend room in a furniture store. It celebrated homeliness while denying the realities of it. No stains. No cluttered surfaces. No suggestion that sometimes it’s all just too much and does it really matter if you put away the dishes?
‘I see,’ said the psychiatrist. ‘And did you suffer any traumatic events prior to the invention of this ‘time machine’?’
‘I’m not delusional,’ said Stanley. ‘Look, here’s a photo of me in ancient Egypt. And this is me with Leonardo Da Vinci. After it was taken he tried to steal the camera and we both wound up in an Italian prison. This one is of me at Hitler’s thirteenth birthday. Obviously he couldn’t grow the moustache at that age. I kept going to his birthday parties waiting for him to turn evil but gradually I realised that morality isn’t black and white and people are the accumulation of experiences, not the result of a single defining moment. Plus killing Hitler is such a cliché. I might be a time traveler but I’m not a hack.’
The psychiatrist leafed through the photos. ‘These are very well done. Photoshop?’
‘I’ve never got the hang of photoshop. It’s always seemed very counter intuitive to me. I prefer Microsoft Paint. Anyway, as I was saying. The more of Hitler’s birthday parties I went to, the more I started thinking about my own birthday parties. The time Dad didn’t show up because there was a sale on mattresses. The time Melvin Burrows trampled my presents. The time Mum ran out of cake before I’d had any. All those little moments, the Lego bricks I’m built of. But so many of them are faulty. You make enough mistakes with the foundation and one day you end up with Hitler. Or Adam Sandler. I began to wonder who I would have been if I’d been built properly, no mistakes. And then I thought, ‘I have a time machine.”
Stanley had a sip of tea. ‘Now, I know what you’re thinking. I went back in time to that birthday party and ate so much of that cake that there was none left for my younger self, and learned that you can’t change the past. But you’re wrong, because I’m not a hack. Actually I went back and beat the crap out of Melvin Burrows before he could trample my presents. Then I went to all is birthdays and trampled his presents.’
‘And this… Let’s call it an ‘event,’ has left you troubled by feelings of guilt and shame?’ said the psychiatrist.
‘Not even slightly,’ said Stanley. ‘Melvin was even more of a shit than I remembered. The whole experience was immensely satisfying. But. With my Super Nintendo rescued I spent all my free time as a child playing video games and now I can’t play the violin any more. Meanwhile Melvin Burrows is now so bitter and resentful that he’s become a very successful advertising executive.’
‘So you’re struggling with the discrepancy between your childhood bully’s success and your own failure? You feel that, morally, you’ve earned his success and he hasn’t?’ said the psychiatrist.
‘What? I invented a time machine! I couldn’t be more successful.’
‘Then why are you here?
‘Isn’t it obvious? If I’m going to go back and change the past I need to know which horrible memories ultimately led to my personal development and which simply added to the psychological scar tissue that led to me never having a girlfriend.’
The psychiatrist wrinkled her brow. ‘And what exactly does that have to do with me?’
‘1991. Recess. Neville Bradshaw kicked me in the shin. You’re a psychiatrist, was that good or bad?’
The psychiatrist began to answer, and then stopped. And then answered. ‘If I help you, can I have a go on your time machine?’
‘Okay,’ said Stanley, ‘but you’re not allowed to kill Hitler.’