by Brian Baumann
Martin had heard about the waiting room on the playground. His friend Maura was always telling him Bible facts, and church secrets. This was her biggest secret yet. Maybe it was true (?). He had always felt an odd sensation in the confessional. Maybe the existence of a portal to Heaven explained that feeling. After all, it was where your sins were forgiven. He had an important question for God. It was important enough that he couldn’t trust it to any adult. They were always quoting from books Martin had already read. The Bible was great, but it didn’t say anything about time travel. And he needed time travel to work. He needed his sister to stop crying. Well, he needed her to stop crying about the thing that was his fault. So today, he was not going out to recess with the others.
Sometimes, the janitor would be cleaning around the vestibule, but that didn’t bother Martin. The janitor was a kindly man. He waved as Martin entered the church. Martin waved back and headed right into the confessional. At the back he found the trim piece that looked like a dove. He had to stand on his tip-toes to reach it. The dove didn’t turn. Martin had a fierce moment of doubt. What if he couldn’t open the portal? What if he couldn’t fix his mistake? He tried again. Ever so slowly the wooden dove began to turn. The sharp edges hurt his hand.
Halfway around there was a click. Now Martin held his breath, and pushed. The panel swung back into the wall, with only a couple squeaks. He had figured it was a door, based on Maura’s description, and wasn’t sure why she kept calling it a portal. Only the tiniest light was coming through the cross-shaped golden glass in the confessional door, and it was inky dark inside the portal. Martin took a few cautious steps inside, and swung the panel shut.
Too late he thought, “What if the door locks?” He swallowed the lump in his throat. His sister not crying anymore was really important. He heard a sound, and spun toward it. Then everything was bright white.
“Hello young man,” said a strong voice.
Martin had to blink several times before he saw the angel. It was seated behind a brown desk, looking at him.
“Welcome to Heaven. You’re here about time travel?”
“Yes I am,” said Martin.
“We’re very busy, but God will see you soon.”
Martin looked around the empty room. The angel met his gaze as he completed his scan.
“We’re outside of time Martin,” the angel explained. “But believe me, there are zillions of people on the schedule, and we are always open. Would you like a juice box?”
They had Purple Passion Punch, which was Martin’s favorite.
“Does everyone come through the confessional?”
“Not everyone. There are portals all around the world. You just have to look.”
Martin considered this. It would be silly to have only one portal if zillions of people wanted to see God. This juice box was really good! He wondered where other portals might be. How many there were?
“God will see you now,” the angel said as Martin finished his last slurp.
“You don’t look human.”
“I’m not,” God replied. “You’re thinking of my son.”
“Jesus Christ!” Martin exclaimed.
“You’ve heard of him? Nice boy—very kind. But you’re here to ask about something very important?”
Martin swallowed and began in earnest. “The kitten was her birthday present from Mom and Dad. It wasn’t very big yet. She liked to have it play tea party with her dolls, and she let it chew on her favorite teddy.” God was smiling as Martin drew a breath. “I… I thought it was the perfect size for my submarine. It was perfect, but the tape leaked.”
Martin could not go on just yet. The lump in his throat was back. It was a long silence that other adults would have broken.
“It drowned,” Martin finally croaked.
Martin felt strong arms wrap him in a hug. He sobbed. This was not about him though. He had to fix his mistake. He had read about time travel in his Dad’s magazine. It was the perfect answer. Go back and fix his mistake. God knew about mistakes. He had been helping people fix mistakes for the whole Bible. Or at least his parents told him to pray to God when he made a mistake. The Bible made it seem like God punished mistakes.
“That’s the old covenant. The new testament is about love,” Maura had said. “I desire mercy not sacrifice,” she had quoted. She knew more about the Bible than Martin did. She told him so sometimes. He didn’t mind. She had given him hope that God would help him.
So Martin straightened up and said, “I need to time travel.” God remained silent so he continued. “I need to go back in time and stop myself from drowning the kitten. Then my sister will stop crying.” Actually, Martin figured she would never start crying, but he didn’t know the details of time travel.
“Time travel is possible,” said God. “But you won’t be able to stop your sister from crying.”
It was hopeless then. Martin sighed. Then he got mad. “Why not? You are God. Anything is possible with you!”
“Yes, Martin,” God said. “Anything is possible, but I also obey the rules.”
That made no sense to Martin. Didn’t God make the rules?
God must have sensed his confusion. “Come with me, Martin.”
They entered a theater and took front row seats. On the screen, Martin watched himself carrying the kitten and his cardboard submarine down to the pond. As the onscreen Martin set the submarine down on the grass, but was still holding the kitten, the screen froze.
“Let’s go,” God said, taking Martin’s hand. They stepped over the edge of the screen, and into the past.
“You won’t be able to see me, but I’ll be right here,” God said. “Are you ready?”
Martin took a deep breath and nodded. Life unfroze. “Hold it right there!” Martin barked at himself.
“Don’t put that kitten in the submarine. It will drown, and then your sister will cry forever!”
“Who are you?”
“I’m from the future,” he said in his best grownup voice.
They stared at each other for a tense second.
“Why will it drown?”
“The tape will leak, and you won’t be able to see it underwater. When you pull the submarine back up the kitten will be dead.”
Actually, the kitten would be squirming, mouthing silent cries with its lungs full of water. It would stop moving in his hands. Too late he would try holding it by the tail, and watch the water drain out of the little mouth and nose. But it would be dead. He couldn’t say that part.
“I’ll fix the tape.”
He shook his head. “Your sister will cry forever, and it will be all your fault.”
That made him sad. “It’s not right to kill things.”
He shook his head. “No, it’s not.”
He (both) stared at the ground for a bit.
“It’s a cool submarine,” future Martin said.
“Thanks,” said past Martin, as he set the kitten on the ground. It scampered off to chase bugs.
“You could float it empty,” future Martin said.
“Maybe I’ll make it a spaceship instead,” past Martin said, looking at the former cardboard submarine. At this moment life froze again.
“Well done,” God said.
Martin smiled as they stepped out of the screen, and back into the theater. He sat down in a chair again, but the screen was gray. “Where’s the movie?” he asked.
“You don’t get to watch someone else’s story, Martin.”
“But, I saved the kitten! I want to watch my sister being happy instead of crying,” Martin wailed.
“Come with me,” God said taking Martin’s hand again.
Back in the office, God tried to explain. It sounded like grownup talk, but without the lecture.
“Martin, the future is created with every choice you make. Today, you were able to help yourself make a different future. But, you can’t unmake the future you’ve already made.”
That kind of made Martin’s head hurt.
“The kitten is saved now,” God continued. “But, that is not your future, nor your story.”
“But I want my sister to stop crying!” Martin pleaded.
“You can still help your sister stop crying. You did one good thing today. Ready to do another one?”
If he could at least help his sister stop crying, that was something. Martin nodded.
“Tell your sister that you are sorry,” God said. “Tell her as many times as it takes for her to stop crying. When she is ready to let you, give her as many hugs as you can.”
Martin was scared his sister would be angry.
“She may yell at you, or try to hit you. She just needs help carrying the pain inside her. You are strong. I saw how strong and brave you are today. Help her carry the pain inside.”
Martin was still not convinced.
“When you tell her you are sorry, I will be there,” said God. “And I will help you both carry the pain.”
“Why can’t you take the pain away right now?”
God sighed. “You create the future with every choice you make. I cannot create it for you, but I will help you with whatever future you choose.”
“Like today in the theatre,” Martin said.
Now it was Martin’s turn to sigh.
The janitor hadn’t made much progress when Martin stepped out of the confessional.
“Confessions aren’t until this afternoon,” the janitor said as Martin shut the door.
Martin shrugged. He’d already talked to God once today. He’d get some work done here before going to Heaven again. And, he was going to look for other portals.
Brian Baumann grew up rurally in the Pacific Northwest—the oldest of eleven children. He writes in an attempt to maintain sanity. It mostly works. He is an advocate for mental health and preventing veteran suicide.