I hate dinner parties. But my estranged wife invited me to attend this one with her. I thought it provided an opportunity to reestablish our relationship, so I readily agreed.

When I rang our apartment's door bell that Friday night, she answered the door with a small, knowing smile on her sweet face and looked better than I had ever seen her. In comparison, I had lost weight, was pale and drawn, my ancient and somewhat crumpled tuxedo, despite my Mum's best ironing efforts, was loose-fitting and hanging off my shoulders. But she looked amazing and was dressed to kill in a new sparkly black dress, cut strikingly low at the top and hitched mouth-wateringly high at the hem, with sheer black stockings and glossy black high heels, which meant she towered a good inch or so above me. Her hair was thick, healthy and shiny, falling onto her bare shoulders and she looked absolutely gorgeous.

She didn't invite me in to what once was our flat, just accepted the bunch of flowers coldly and chucked them on the hall table, rather unceremoniously I thought, before she grabbed her coat to wrap around her shoulders and came out without even offering me a kiss on the cheek.

Damn, that didn't go well. That was not how I planned the start of the evening at all.

You just know the instant that things have gone to shit, or have taken a turn for the worse. Maybe it is down to something you've said or omitted to say. Perhaps you've done something thoughtless or stupid that has ruined the moment. It may be a small thing that has upset or ruined the mood; it could be a large one, a mistake that has life-changing incident written all over it.

Whatever it is, you know instantly, don't you? But however instantly you recognise the error, it is too late, the error is out there, the opportunity to do the right thing, whatever that is, has gone. Life is not like a game, they often come with an 'undo' option, or restart at the last 'save' function.

And those times that you've fucked up, don't you wish there was a rewind button on your life so you could do that awkward sticky bit all over again and make it right the second time around? Or the third or fourth try? Don't you just wish you could rewind to where everything was sweetness and right and start again, this time avoiding the slip or the trip on the redo?

I do. Yeah. All the time. I was one of those guys who regularly cocked my life up, that is, until I met Theresa Buck and finally found I had a singular purpose in life. Living with Terry became my life. Things were fine, we were going from strength to strength.

Then suddenly, everything went wrong, it all turned to shit. I wished I could just click a button, rewind a few moments or an hour, or a day, a year, and do it all over again, but do it right this time. But that was impossible wasn't it?


My invitation was at short notice, just two days earlier, by my estranged wife, Theresa Donaldson, but you almost certainly know her as the celebrated Terry Buck. I'm Bobby Donaldson, by the way, although it is amazing how many times I am addressed as 'Mr Buck'. But I never mind that, ever, it comes with the territory of living with everybody's favourite cerebral crumpet. I just smile happily and get on with it.

At the time I want to tell you about, though, I didn't smile much.

Terry and I had separated two months earlier and we hadn't spoken one word in the meantime, until two evenings before that Friday night. It was completely out of the blue when Terry phoned me at my parents' house to ask me to accompany her, to a dinner party hosted by a faculty colleague.

This turn of events rather threw me, although I had been considering getting back in contact with her for a day or two and her call provided a perfect opportunity. I thought perhaps it a portent of hope for our future.

Our separation had been an informal one, I had stormed out following an argument and we both became intransigent about speaking to one another. Neither had petitioned for legal separation or divorce, however, and I couldn't understand why she hadn't got the ball rolling already if she seriously considered our relationship at an end.

I couldn't afford the luxury of legal proceedings anyway as I had lost my low-paid job as a laboratory assistant five months earlier, hence forcing me back to my parents, home once I stormed out of my own. Besides, despite being too damn stubborn to speak to my wife through any kind of media open to us, I really didn't want a divorce, I still loved the beautiful miserable bitch.

At the time of that dinner party Theresa was 27, while I was 32, and we'd been married just over three years. We lived in the famous university city of Oxford, where we both worked. Academically gifted, I definitely am not, so I didn't attend any of the colleges as a student, but straight from school I had secured a position setting up experiments, cleaning and clearing stuff away afterwards in one of the education and research laboratories of a college, that will remain nameless.

My wife Terry, on the other hand, is extremely academically gifted, a genius and acknowledged expert in her chosen field. She is a history professor specialising in the medieval period, fluent in both written and spoken Anglo-Saxon, Middle English and Norman French and had published a number of manuscript translations and articles which had the world of academia buzzing, well, as excited as those dry old sticks ever get, anyway.

We met (I know, you are miles ahead of me), at a dinner party about five years before our separation.

Oxford academic social life seems to exist on dinner parties. I had only just saved the arse, literally, of an absent-minded chemistry professor who had set me instructions to assemble a number of chemicals to measure out for a class demonstration and student exercise that afternoon. I am not a chemical expert but not a complete ignoramus either, and the combination of the basic ingredients set off alarm bells ringing in my head.

In the quadrangle outside I mixed 10% of the quantities specified for each student and heated them to the required temperature and caused an explosion that blew in virtually every window in the block. The intended experiment, times ten to the power of ten, would have wiped Oxford off the atlas. As it was, it completely removed my eyebrows, for good, which my safety glasses and helmet failed to cover.

My reward for discovering the error was the promise of a job for life, which turned out to be a joke by the way, plus an invitation to the professor's home a few days later to an intimate dinner party of eight guests, one of whom was a rather frumpy young post-grad starting her PhD in ancient languages. My first meeting with my future wife.

Terry had lost her mother as a baby and was mainly raised by her grandmother. She had been cursed with excessive puppy fat as a teenager, and wore very loose unfashionable clothing that looked like her grandmother's cast-offs destined for the charity shop. She tied her long, split-ended fair hair in an untidy bun, she bite her fingernails to the quick and wore thick black spectacle frames. She stuttered when she spoke and I think she wished every moment that she would rather be in the library than anywhere else. She knew absolutely nothing about anything other than her specialist subject, which no-one outside her field even remotely understood.

The other guests at the dinner party were a couple of chemists, a biologist, an expert in Tudor musical instruments, another expert on French Romantic Literature, plus their spouses who were well-versed in the underlying gossip of the cloistered world in which we lived, studied or worked. Other than the pair of us, everyone else was in their fifties or sixties. Terry and I were both shy but were sort of thrown together that evening.

The academics recognised her professorial potential, while I saw her as a potential butterfly which had to be coaxed out of her stultifying chrysalis. I asked her out and, after a stunned hesitation, she accepted.

I think at first Terry was bewildered that I was showing any kind of interest in her but she was ill-equipped socially to resist my attentions, which I assure you were always honourable. My elder sister Karen advised her on make-up and hair care, persuading her to have her hair cut, shaped by layers, with added curling and the colour lightened with highlights. Together, we helped her with her diet, to eat properly and take exercise, we walked for miles talking and getting the fresh air she had been deprived of with her excessive library time. I persuaded her to put a preparation on her fingers to stop her biting her nails, while complimenting her at every turn, building up her self-esteem, then gently asked her to try contact lenses. Once she got used to losing the glasses, she actually looked into arranged laser eye surgery herself.

We joined a social club, a sports club, the local gymnasium, ramblers' and runners' groups. We took part in dancing lessons, pub quizzes, went to concerts, plays and films, enlarging her range of conversational subjects. Once we were completely comfortable together and she felt able to trust me completely, I awakened her interest in love-making.

We clicked. We filled our spare time with each other's company and then we fell in love. Before long we became engaged, a couple of years later wr married and set up home in a small apartment close to the different colleges where we worked. I continued working routinely, happily stagnant in the lab, but devoting all my spare time caring for her as she blossomed as a woman, became a respected author and won on her own merits a distinguished professorial chair at an unprecedented young age.

Terry had in the meantime been transformed from the frump she was when we met. Now she was slim, fit, toned and tanned. She wore fashionable clothes which showed off how stunning she really was, that I recognised all along. Her hair was styled and highlighted, healthy, tumbling loosely over her shoulders, her make-up lightly accentuating her natural glowing beauty, her skin healthy and taut. She had become a babe.

She was now confident dealing with people, her knowledge of the world around her much more broadly based; she developed a wickedly cute sense of humour and fun, and had everyone eating out of her hand. Of course she had done well career wise, and she was still ambitious, while my only ambition was to make her happy and look after all the household details which, quite frankly, were beneath her soaring intellect.

I was delighted with what she had achieved while we were together and loved our courtship of two years plus the first two years of our marriage. Then it seemed everything changed. It was as if she had suddenly outgrown me. I was the same individual, where my work was of secondary importance to me. Terry was my whole life, I did everything from managing the finances, insurances, organising our lives, while she concentrated on her life's work, the furtherance of mankind's knowledge of our history and enthusing her students.

But despite my striving to hold our family of two together, gradually within a matter of months, we went from making love at every opportunity, down to barely a session a week, and even then it was a single token quickie and over as swiftly as she could make possible.

With government grants for education being reduced, Colleges are always looking to cut costs and a couple of months after things were becoming lukewarm in our marriage I unexpectedly became a victim of the economic downturn and joined millions of other untrained and unskilled workers on the dole. The job-security assurances of the absent-minded professor were worthless, he could barely remember to clean his teeth in the mornings. It was frustrating, sending off a dozen job applications every day, going down the job centre and getting absolutely nowhere. I became depressed, without Terry actively helping me cope.

It was a damaging time for our relationship and Terry and I rowed. We had never had any arguments before. Lovemaking dropped off to once in a while, then stopped altogether. We had a final row, with both saying things that should remain unsaid between a couple. My beautiful butterfly declared I had become a pathetic parasite hanging onto her soaring wings, that I meant less than nothing to her any more and so I stormed out, vowing never to return.

That brings us back to me thinking about the rewind button, giving a chance to unsay the never-should-have-been-said, or the unfortunate action, to undo the final straw.

One of my favourite films is Groundhog Day, where the hero is forced to replay a single day in his life over and over again until he gets it right. He appears to control events but he is really not in control at all. He just relives that same seemingly pointless day, able to change events as the day unfolds but the outcome is always the same and he finds himself back to square one, alone. Until, one day, everything works out perfectly for both him and the heroine and his life finally proceeds onto a new path, as it should have in the perfect world.

The film producers had a great idea but their theory of the science of time line practicalities is imperfect. Time is immutable, but the Groundhog Day hero lived each day regardless of how many times he went back and started again. If he relived ten thousand of those days he should have aged twenty-seven years or more, even though everyone else remained the same, because each time he started that day he was continuing his own timeline, while the others were only experiencing one day in his timeline before their lives carried on in theirs.

You see, time can be made up of an infinite number of timelines. Every decision is a variable, splitting your timeline into the direction you have decided to go, but leaving the possibility that the old timeline also continues following the path you decided not to take.

In theory, you cannot change time itself, you can only change the timeline you are currently on. You may be able to switch to a different position on a timeline to achieve a more favourable outcome but the time you spend is your time used up. The passage of time irrefutable, you can mess with the order in which you use time but time eventually messes you up. So, if you have twenty minutes of your precious time spare to use up, then I'll go back to the beginning of my story.

Well, I did manage to find that rewind button. I found out, quite by accident, that I could rewind life backwards to a point just before a painful incident and alter my actions and change the course of my history for the better.

Hard to believe, huh? Think about the possibilities though! Wouldn't it be great if you could rewind your life, just a little bit? I bet if you try hard enough, you might even find that you can do it just like I could too.

However, there is one caveat when it comes to playing with time. I did it and then I found I still couldn't quite change things enough. I found out the hard way that while I thought I could change events, I really couldn't affect the outcome in the long run. A sorry tale, huh? Still got those twenty minutes? I'll tell you everything then, but before we start just remember that I warned you that you'll never get those twenty minutes back.

I told you I could rewind time and I did. I did it more that once but I won't ever do it again, the risks are too great. You might be able to do so yourself, I know there are others out there who can, but if you find you can do it, heed my warning, you really, really shouldn't.

I first realised I could do it about two months after I left my wife. At the time I was drunk and violently sick on a new cream-coloured carpet at my parents' chalet bungalow ... and the whole degrading passage happened in the presence of those said parents.

I mean, this was projectile vomiting of the worst kind, from a man so drunk that I wasn't even able to put a hand to my mouth in time or make any attempt to run to the toilet.

Of course both my parents were entirely disgusted with me. I had been hitting the bottle ever since I had moved back in with them and had just cleaned them out of every bottle of liquor they had. I think that last bottle was 'off'. That's my excuse and I stuck with it for an hour or so.

Not only did my parents refuse to accept any conversation with me or an apology, they actually gave me 24 hours' notice to leave their lovely home for good. My own parents had allied themselves to my estranged wife and were prepared to wash their hands of me!

I had a shower and changed, sobered up quite a bit and was back sitting on the sofa in the lounge, feeling extremely sorry for myself. Dad wasn't speaking to me at all and Mum, god bless her cotton socks, had cleaned up the mess as best she could and opened all the windows, but it still smelled horrible in there.

They were in the kitchen talking in hushed voices, no doubt about me, while I sat in my own stink, fiddling with the remote to find something on daytime television to occupy the time. Out on the streets without a job, I'd have to live in a cardboard box with definitely no cable. There was nothing on live TV, so I clicked on a familiar stored movie and played it for a while after fast forwarding through the preamble to the action scenes.

And the thought just hit me, what if I could press a rewind button on my life and go back to just before I was sick and make sure this time I ran out and made it to the loo in time? What about if I went back even further and didn't drink that last bottle of whatever rubbish liquor it was that was left in Dad's now empty drinks cabinet? It was just a thought. We all have them. I was at the lowest point in my thirty-two years of existence and I just thought, bugger, why can't something good like that happen and rescue me from a mess of my own making?

I noticed the movie on the TV running backwards first of all, and assumed I must've pressed the rewind button on the remote in error before dropping it somewhere. I searched around for it, but stopped what I was doing in shock.

My Mum walked into the room backwards carrying her mop and bucket. Dad walked in backwards too. Their speech sounded foreign. That was weird. The mop and bucket were then carried away backwards full of clean water and the pair of them walked in backwards again and sat down with a sudden plonk, which they never do on their decent furniture. Then they quietly watched the telly, showing the start of the grand prix race we watched earlier in the afternoon. Meanwhile I just sat there watching them. I found and pressed the remote control device for play, and everything, telly and life, started moving forward again. I had that deja vu feeling as my parents spoke the same comments on the grand prix race as they had two hours or so before. It was all so strange that I was speechless for a while just listening to them rabbit on as if nothing had happened.

And for them, nothing happened.

For a start they were still speaking to me, no mention of packing my bags and there was no stink of vomit or disinfectant in the room. Even more amazing, I was not as drunk as I was back then an hour or two earlier, in fact I felt great as though a load was lifted off my shoulders and I didn't need the drink any more. I was in the fresh clothes that I had changed into after showering. Somehow, and I had more than a suspicion that I had some control over it, a part of my actual existence had rewound and corrected a momentary lapse I had made, without anyone being any the wiser. It was as if my embarrassing sickness episode had never happened. I needed to sleep on this, get my head around it and try again in the morning.

Mum and Dad normally go off to work in the morning, and I had got up, shaved and showered and joined them for breakfast for five minutes or so before they left together at a quarter to nine. Neither of them had said anything about yesterday's events. I checked the recycle bin, there was no empty bottle of booze; there it was, back in the drinks cabinet, unopened. I emptied it into the sink, it smelled foul; it wasn't off, it was me, I was off the demon drink. I had definitely drunk it the previous day but by the time I had wound my life back to before I was affected by it, my body had virtually recovered from its effects. That was strange, but it indicated to me that my body and my memory was not wound back like everyone and everything else.

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bySpencerfiction© 9 comments/ 14322 views/ 9 favorites

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