by Leonard Bishop
My career and life are ruined and I am in a desperate search–all because of the short story I could not write. The plot was too complicated, the characters were too complex, the meaning too deep for me to understand. It was titled Return to Yesterday.
In an obscure house in Brooklyn, there is a strange ticket agency. It accommodates people who want to return to yesterday. An undistinguished clerk appraises the case histories of the people who want to use his service. They sit in an unadorned office waiting to be summoned. If he believes their motives are justified, he issues the ticket
A once world-famous actress, also known for her drinking and temper tantrums, has just destroyed her last opportunity to regain fame and stature. Yesterday, at the final rehearsal of the dramatic play guaranteed to be a smash hit, she had committed the cardinal theatrical sin. The producer, and also financial backer of the play, had been critical of her drunken condition. She became abusive, then libeled the producer’s parentage. He dismissed her from the cast–promising that she would never work again.
She wants to return to yesterday to change it. She vows to never drink again, never again lose her temper. She is given the ticket.
She is on stage for the second act. She begins flubbing her lines. The other players complained that her egocentric antics are hurting their performances. The director becomes demanding. She remains calm. During the last act she becomes desperate for drink, but controls herself. The producers standing in the wings, silently threatens her by embracing her ever-present understudy. She endures, she copes. The curtain descends and she is overjoyed. The future is assured. She has shattered the power of her negative destiny.
As she walks to her dressing room, she trips over a bucket of water left by an elderly charwoman. The actor screams, goes berserk. She begins tearing the elderly woman’s clothes and beating her head. People rush to them, pulling them apart. The once-famous actress is carried away as a madwoman. She is replaced by her understudy.
Mr. Wilson, a stout, balding man enters the ticket dispenser’s office. Yesterday he was called into the high-rise offices of the bank where he is employed. The president states that through a secret audit of Mr. Wilson’s accounts, he has been discovered to be an embezzler. If he does not return the money, he will be prosecuted. Because the audit was secret, Mr. Wilson charges at the president and, just as he pushes him out the window, a secretary enters the office and screams,” You pushed him! Murderer!” Mr. Wilson runs to escape.
Mr. Wilson wants to return to yesterday so he can repay what he is embezzled and not be a killer hunted by the police. He is given the ticket.
Mr. Wilson is called into the president’s office and is told about the secret audit. He is accused of embezzlement.” You have brought disgrace to our noble institution. I despise the likes of you.” Mr. Wilson swears he will pay back the money. The president is still furious. He swings his arms to punch Mr. Wilson who ducks the blow. The president stumbles and falls to the window. As Mr. Wilson reaches to grab him from falling and save him, the secretary comes in and screams,” You pushed him! Murderer!” Mr. Wilson runs; still a criminal.
A 27-year-old man enters the ticket dispenser’s office. He is attractive, well-groomed, but seriously troubled. Yesterday he had married his childhood sweetheart. A young woman he deeply loves. She has always loved him. His only character failing is a lunatic jealousy. Last night after carrying her into the bedroom and readying themselves for love, she unfastened a slender gold chain from about her throat. He asked,” Where did you get it?” She smiled,” A wedding gift, from Steve, your best friend.” He accused her of betrayal , infidelity. She pleaded with him to believe her innocence. He damned her as a disgusting wanton.” I won’t touch your vile body and I’ll have our marriage annulled!” He rushes from the honeymoon suite.
He wants to return to the wedding night of yesterday; he wants another chance. The ticket dispenser gives him the ticket, and shrugs.
They are again in the hotel room, undressing. They are timid, but not ashamed. He sees her remove the gold chain. Tensely, he asks,” Where did you get it?” She smiles.” A wedding gift, from Steve, your best friend.” He begins shouting at her, slandering her as a vicious whore. She begs him to believe she is innocent, and loves him. She falls to her knees, moaning, ” I have always loved you.” He curses her and charges out. She crumbles to the floor sobbing. Minutes passed.
Slowly, the door opens. The young man eases into the room and goes to her. He caresses her hair, embraces her, whispering,” I love you.” They kiss tenderly, adoringly. He laughs,” The only power in life that is stronger than destiny, is true love.”
And because I could not write this short story, I smashed the dishes. I heaved my typewriter through the window, I shrieked out names of the neighbors, I terrified my son Luke, I threatened my wife with mayhem if she mocked me–and I am now heartbroken with regret and in a desperate search of the man who issues tickets to yesterday.
(first published Sunday, January 13, 1985 the Manhattan Mercury
© Leonard Bishop 1985