| Family Tempo |

A Way Back

Life seemed full of missteps. If only she could undo them

 

 

Deena surveyed the room tiredly. Clearing the mess felt like wading through a never-ending wave pool in a water park, but not in a fun way. She kicked the kids’ shoes to the side, wondering if she should hide them somewhere so the kids would finally learn. The thought of bending down to pick up the footwear, however, deterred her. It was easier to leave them where they were. Tomorrow. She’d deal with the mess tomorrow.

It was past two in the morning, and the baby was going to wake up for a feeding in the next 15 minutes, but 15 minutes counted. She dozed off, woke up with the baby, fell asleep again, fed the baby again, and then it was morning.

 

“I don’t see why not,” Deena chirped cheerily into the receiver. “We can definitely upgrade your ticket. And, of course, we’ll be glad to honor the voucher. There’s a surcharge, but don’t worry, it’s worth every penny.”

Mr. Ludmir would be proud of her. She’d handled 22 emails and three phone calls, and it wasn’t even 9 a.m. yet.

The fact that her children had gone to school without their hair brushed, and that two lunches had stayed on the counter wouldn’t bother Mr. Ludmir at all, she was sure. The question was, did it bother her?

She tried not to trip over the toys littering the floor as she stumbled into the kitchen for a coffee refill at eleven. The peels from yesterday’s potatoes were still on the counter, and she made a half-hearted attempt to get them into the overflowing garbage can. Stella was coming tomorrow; she’d deal with it.

Was this the work-from-home ideal that everyone admired? For some reason, all the work-from-offices people she knew actually seemed to be functioning. They had systems for the morning and organized plans for the evenings. If they left the beds unmade or the dishes in the sink, at least they had six or seven hours a day when they didn’t see them.

Deena, however, saw the mayhem, and could do nothing about it. When Mr. Ludmir had decided she’d start working from home, he’d acted as if it was a favor. She’d bought it, too, thinking of the loads she’d put in while she waited on hold for different airlines, of the dishes she’d wash while she typed.

Did she think she’d suddenly turn into two people?

If working from the office had been too much, it was the working part, not the office part, that needed to go.

Mr. Ludmir now felt comfortable reaching out to her at all hours, confident that she had access to any and all information he needed within her little home office. Ha! If only he’d know that it was the dining room table that tripled as her laundry station and work surface.

The phone rang again, and she mindlessly wiped the coffee that had sloshed out with a paper, before realizing that she’d used a customer’s reservation printout, and would need to reprint it.

Then it was four, and the frozen French fries she’d put in to bake weren’t ready, and the kids were starving. They noshed on snacks instead of supper, were hungry at eight, and wouldn’t go to bed. All while she handled an email from an irate customer who had stood at the wrong airline’s desk and had missed his flight. Somehow, she got him on the next flight.

By eleven thirty the baby was settled and Yosef was ready to call it a night.

“A few more minutes,” she said. “I just want to make sure that tomorrow’s early check-ins are fine, and I’m coming.”

She missed his knowing sigh, concentrating on the text that appeared on the screen.

Priceline was offering a short-term sale on business-class tickets to the UK. She’d reserve a few; they’d come in handy.

The Excel chart of incoming and outgoing funds wasn’t matching up. Was it a typo, or was there an error in her formula? It had been fine this morning. She stared at the tiny numbers on the screen tiredly, her vision blurring.

She hit Ctrl Z.

Still no good.

Undo again.

She’d redo it soon, correctly. First, she needed to find her error.

Ctrl Z. Undo, undo, undo.

There it was, in cell C6, a plus sign instead of a minus.

Thank goodness.

She put her head in her hands, exhausted. If only her life could be fixed as easily.

The next thing Deena knew, the baby was crying. Her forehead felt funny. She’d fallen asleep over her keyboard, its buttons pressing into her face and hand, and now she just felt strange.

As she stumbled to her feet, she picked up her right hand and stared.

The Control button was clearly reflected in her forefinger — a slight rectangular shapes and the vague outline of the letters C-T-R-L, with the shadow of a Z on her thumb.

She grabbed a baby wipe with her left hand, rubbing her fingers.

Nothing. It was still there.

Weird.

She soothed the baby, wondering what sort of chemicals were in the letters on the keyboard.

“Can you check this out?” Deena asked her neighbor Freidy the next morning, as they waited for the school bus.

“It looks like some letters with a strong ink. I can definitely see a C and an L there, no? Maybe a stamp pad? My kids have one of those self-stampers with their names. Or did you use dye?”

Deena flexed her fingers; they felt funny. “No, not that I know of. I can’t imagine what it is.”

“Try rubbing alcohol,” Freidy suggested.

“Or show it to a doctor. Maybe it’s internal, like a popped blood vessel,” Mindy piped up.

Deena shrugged. “I’ll see. It’ll probably go away at some point.”

 

Deena was picking up a few toys from the floor in a rare moment of silence, the phone neatly tucked into the crook of her shoulder as she reasoned with a customer service representative who wasn’t in the least interested in the customer, or in service.

“We need you to stand by your company’s policy!” Her voice rose. “You promised a refund, and the customer deserves one.”

“Ma’am, if you scream, you won’t get nowhere.”

Uh-oh. She’d gotten on his wrong side. How was she going to fix this?

Instinctively, she flicked a piece of dust off her still-marked-with-something thumb with her also-marked-with-something forefinger.

Whoosh. She was standing at the entrance of her dining room, the toys she’d just picked up back on the floor. She blinked. What just happened?

“Hello?” she said into the receiver cautiously.

“Yes, Ma’am, ‘ow can I hilp you tooday?”

Wait.

What?

It was like the last five minutes hadn’t happened.

Without thinking, she launched into her request for customer reparation all over again. This time, she knew better than to lose herself. While she spoke, she cautiously bent down to pick up the offending toys again. She carefully placed them in the bin in the corner, almost fearful. Would they move back on their own again?

Thankfully, nothing happened. The customer agent on the other end of the phone agreed to refund the fee and gave her a confirmation number. She hung up, ready to tackle her next email.

For a moment, she paused — what had just happened? — then shook her head. She’d been distracted, annoyed. She must have just imagined picking up the toys.

Later, while she rocked the almost-sleeping baby to sleep, she eyed the clock nervously. It was five to six, and the little ones needed to start baths soon. She groped for the baby’s blanket, but her hands came up empty. Her forefinger and thumb brushed against each other, and suddenly, the creepy sensation crawled up on her again.

A sound of a soft wind passed her ears, and her eyes, shocked, rested on the clock as the baby squirmed in her hands. Ten to six.

How could time possibly go backward? What was happening? Had she not seen the clock a second before? And her baby was fussing like he’d been doing five minutes ago. She’d gotten him settled; how had he gotten unsettled that fast?

Deena felt dizzy. She softly hummed, trying to calm the baby and her own racing heart. The baby was soothed; Deena, less so.

She emerged from the bedroom with a headache.

 

The next afternoon, Deena leaned back on the couch and closed her eyes. It was almost four o’clock, and she needed something to eat. But first, she’d relax for a few seconds.

The next thing she knew, the doorbell was ringing.

The children were home, and it was time to pick the baby up from the babysitter.

She reached for her cell phone, her thumb and forefinger clenched together for a good grip around it, when she heard the whoosh sound again.

This time, she forced her eyes open. Her eyes blurred, and she was back on the couch. The doorbell was ringing.

How had this happened? What was going on?

Deena sighed heavily. She wasn’t planning to answer the door before she figured this out.

Think! she commanded herself. What was triggering these weird onslaughts of backward time? She’d been standing near the counter, reaching for her phone, holding her phone. She looked down warily.

Slowly, a thought seared into her mind.

Ctrl on her forefinger, Z on her thumb.

Ctrl + Z.

Undo.

When she put them together, her life went back to five minutes earlier.

Ohnoooooohnoohno.

This was crazy.

She opened the door on autopilot, gingerly keeping her fingers stretched as far apart as they could go.

She took her phone in her left hand, flinching, but nothing happened.

At least it was only one hand.

Later, much later, after an evening of weird hand flexing to keep her Ctrl and Z fingers apart, Deena decided to test her hypothesis.

She sat down on a chair, eyeing the clock, and intentionally put the two incriminating fingers together.

A breeze passed gently through the room, and Deena was standing near the counter, wiping the surface. Exactly what she’d been doing five minutes before.

Yess!

Noooooo.

What was she going to do?

She stared at her hands. The letters were clearly there, though they looked a little lighter than the first time she’d noticed them. She could undo time. Who knew what else she could do?

She couldn’t fall asleep. Her mind was racing. So many questions. So few answers.

How many minutes back could she go? If she did the motion several times consecutively, would she travel back to yesterday? Last year? Seminary? Elementary school?

How far back did she want to go?

And mostly, how could she get rid of this?

By morning, she had googled and searched, and barring some voodoo sites that suggested a karma of some mumbo jumbo, she’d gotten no smarter.

She spent the day in a blur of working-mothering-cleaning-washing-cooking, keeping her right hand awkwardly aloft like a trophy.

Friday, she placed the kugel into the oven, reaching for the broom, the baby gurgling contentedly in his swing. She swept carefully, keeping her hand open, then filled a bucket with water. She lowered the mop into the bucket, swiped it over the floor. A feeling of peace descended over the house.

“Mommy! Mommy!” A stampede was heading straight toward the pail. Deena’s heartbeat accelerated.

“He said that I can’t stand near the Legos, and I—”

With a sudden bang, Eli bumped into the pail, dirty water sloshing all over the freshly washed floors, a trail of Legos and angry hands following behind him.

“Now look what you did!” Deena swiped the mop at the mess. “You know better than to come in here when I’m washing the floor. Now you’re all wet. And no way are you changing before the bath!”

A splotch of red crept up her son’s neck. With downcast eyes and dripping pants, he slunk out of the kitchen.

What have I done? Deena put down the mop. I shouldn’t have.

Wait.

I can undo.

Cautiously, she put her two stained fingers together.

The kugel was in the oven, the house was quiet, the floor unwashed. The mop waited patiently for her to begin using it.

Deena looked intently at her hand. The etching on her fingers seemed somewhat lighter than it had been before. Was it fading with use?

She dipped the stick into the water, taking care to move the pail to the side.

“Mommy! Mommy!” Eli came barging into the kitchen.

“Yes, sweetie?” she said slowly, elation spreading through her. “Be careful not to slip, the floor is wet.”

“I was standing near his Legos…” Deena hardly heard him; her head was hammering.

She could get used to this. A life of no regrets.

If she didn’t like something, she’d undo it, and then do it over.

Her decision was made. She wouldn’t tell anybody.

 

Freidy scooted over to make room on the park bench for Deena.

“I don’t know why nobody thought of it before,” Mindy said.

“What are you talking about?” Deena was curious.

“Not what, who. You know my brother Reuven, the one who’s been in shidduchim for ages.” Freidy’s eyes sparkled. “And Mindy is saying that her daughter has a teacher this year who’s still single. She sounds like she might be perfect.”

“Really? Who?” Deena asked.

“Her name is Raizele Klar,” Mindy answered. “The family’s originally from the West Coast, I think. They have money, too. I think her father’s a builder. My friend was telling me about her at PTA, I could ask for more information if you want.”

“Sounds amazing,” Freidy said, but Deena’s words came out faster.

“Raizele Klar? From the builders? They’re so not your family’s type. They live rich, but it’s not so straight. He had investors, lost their money, never repaid it. A crook, based on what I know.”

“Oh, really?” Both neighbors looked at her with interest.

“I’ve heard a lot about it. One of my cousins bought a house somewhere in Ramat Beit Shemesh, and he was going to build. It ended in a big din Torah.” Deena was in her element now.

“I guess that’s why she’s still single,” Mindy mused thoughtfully.

“Well, definitely not for my brother,” Freidy added.

The conversation moved to the weather, and then the boys’ latest escapades, but Deena felt unsettled. Why had she shared? Was she even allowed to? Why hadn’t she kept her mouth shut?

Wait — she had the tools.

She eyed the light indentation on her fingers, hidden in her lap. Ctrl on the forefinger, Z on her thumb.

Was it muktzeh?

She almost laughed out loud, picturing the rav’s reaction to the sh’eilah. So I have this thing where I put my fingers together, and time goes backward. May I use my fingers on Shabbos?

And anyway, lashon hara was a definite problem; this was just a safeik.

Deena put her forefinger and thumb together, and a blast of air propelled her softly to the path leading up to the park. From afar, she saw Freidy and Mindy chatting, and Freidy scooted over to make room for her on the bench.

She listened to them talk about some Raizele Klar, studiously keeping her mouth shut.

It felt amazing.

 

“How was your night?” Yosef asked her on Tuesday, looking around at the school uniforms neatly laid out for the next day, and the sparkling floor.

“Great. Want some fruit?” She motioned toward the plate of cut watermelon on the counter.

“Yes, thanks.”

Deena told him about the new grocery store, and the way the baby had started tracking her movements with his eyes. She didn’t tell him that she’d used her undo fingers four times. Once when she’d found herself reading on the couch instead of folding laundry, knowing she lacked the self-control to stop. Once when she’d been dropping off to nap while feeding the baby. Again when she’d yelled at the kids in the bath, and a fourth time when she’d gone back to her computer work instead of starting to clean the kitchen. She also didn’t mention that the imprint was definitely fading. What he didn’t know couldn’t hurt him.

The results, she knew, were visible.

 

Standing in the narrow grocery aisle on Thursday, she greeted acquaintances, then noticed Freidy.

“I called you before!” Deena told Freidy. “You’re out for a while?”

“Yes, don’t ask, long story. I went to that kids store, Mini Princess, and the saleslady was so difficult. I wanted to try—”

Deena’s antennas went up. Was this going to be a lashon hara/bashing session? She hoped not. She wasn’t in the mood of using her undo powers again so soon.

She resolved to take matters into her own hands.

“Umm, is this lashon hara? ’Cuz I’m on my machsom l’fi hour…” she white-lied.

“Oh, wow. Yes, I guess it could be. Good thing you remembered. I’ll tell you a different time,” Freidy promised.

Or not, Deena thought.

She headed home, and put up soup while spooning farfel and chicken into mouths around the table.

“Stop kicking—” she started, losing her composure, but she caught herself, switching over to a more pleasant, “please?”

It was funny, this new sensation of pre-empting a situation.

She used it again when her son interrupted her phone conversation with a customer, neatly locking herself into her room instead of delivering the glare he did or didn’t deserve.

“There are no flights available for tomorrow, I’m sorry,” Deena explained to the customer, “but if you want, we can do early the next morning.

“Yes, I’m checking again. And I’ll keep checking, keep you on standby. Sure.”

A timer rang. It was the chicken.

She was tempted to ignore it, to check one more time if she could please this customer.

But then she’d waste an undo. She looked down at her fingers. Definitely getting lighter. What did that mean?

She said goodbye and headed into the kitchen, removing the chicken and preparing a cup of coffee in the process.

Maybe working from home wasn’t so bad, after all.

She changed the baby’s diaper, then perused the Excel sheet of expenses. So far, everything matched. Things were looking up.

When Mr. Ludmir called later that night, Deena wished she wouldn’t have to answer. It was after working hours, and she was tired. Still, her sense of duty compelled her to press TALK.

“Yes, I took care of the tickets to Amsterdam,” she reassured him. “I know it’s a fussy customer, I’ve realized.” There was only a hint of sarcasm in that.

“A new program that includes a two-day stop in China? From Amsterdam? Tomorrow?” She stopped straining the soup to listen closely.

When Yosef came home a couple of minutes later, he found Deena leaning over the monitor on the dining room table.

“Working?”

“Don’t ask,” she kvetched. “This is impossible. Mr. Ludmir is impossible. He thinks I can arrange a ridiculous change to a ticket at the last minute. I get nothing for it; he’s raking it in. It’s so unfair. I should get commission. I am sooo burned-out from being his slave. I should just go out on my own.”

Yosef raised his eyebrows. He’d never heard her complain like this before; come to think of it, she’d been exceptionally content lately.

He reached for the phone that had fallen onto the floor, then stared at the screen, brows furrowed.

“Are you holding for anyone?” he asked, motioning toward the phone.

“What? The phone’s still on? No. No. Mr. Ludmir? Hello?!”

Mr. Ludmir’s voice sounded funny. “Yes? I think we need to talk.”

Deena panicked. Her heart pounded, her face paled, and she stared at Yosef as tears welled in her eyes.

Wait, she had this. She could handle this. She could undo.

She put her thumb and forefinger together.

Nothing.

Her hands felt funny. She tried again. Nothing. She looked down at her fingers. They were completely clean. No shadow, no ink.

She brought her thumb and forefinger together, again, desperately, tremulously. Yosef watched her closely, stupefied.

Nothing.

It had gone as quietly as it had come.

Deena swallowed, fingers reaching for the OFF button, then paused. Yes, it had been an eventful week. But life was about doing, creating, messing up and fixing mistakes, not undoing.

She reached for the phone and settled the baby in her arms.

“Yes, Mr. Ludmir. I’m sorry you just overheard that conversation. It was unprofessional and unfair and I apologize. I appreciate the opportunities you’ve given me and the experience and knowledge I’ve gained working for you. That said, I agree, it’s time we have a conversation about my current salary, and the amount of work I do….”

In her lap, her baby’s first smile spread over his face.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 726)

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