At the Best Buy on Reserve, I saw my future self in line to buy an Xbox. He had twenty years and fifty pounds on me, and he’d lost his hair. But he was me; I recognized myself, like you can recognize your red Outback in a parking lot full of them. I don’t play video games, hadn’t since middle school, except for the brief period when it was socially acceptable for parties to devolve into rounds of Guitar Hero or Rock Band, the way they now do into YouTube sessions. Why, in my late forties (or thereabouts), had I regressed?
Of course, the purchase could have been for his kid, or kids. But somehow, I didn’t think so. My future self radiated excitement, turning the box over in his hands, reading the fine print. In his shopping cart there were three or four game cases with ominous-looking covers. Battle games, killing games. And well, all right, the strongest clue to this being a personal purchase was his—my—outfit: an oversized (pretty bitchin’) Ride the Lightning t-shirt, shorts that went far past the knees, shiny basketball sneakers. This was not the wardrobe of a man bringing a gift home to his children. My future self would be in a dark room with these purchases in an hour, and he would abandon them only to urinate and pay the pizza man until he had to shower for work on Monday morning. Work doing what? Where did this prophetic vision of myself find employment? It seemed that I’d given up on the teaching and writing life I imagined for myself.
I chided myself for being cruel. What was my present self doing in Best Buy on this sunny Saturday at 1 p.m.? I’d come to buy fancy headphones (because I deserved them?), and now also had on my person the new Drake album, a deeply discounted Tom Petty boxed set, and a nearly free DVD of 50s horror films that had passed into the public domain. And my own outfit wasn’t much worse than his—a pink dress shirt with holes in it, black jeans that were inexplicably a size too big for me, a Red Sox hat covered in grime and dog hair. Let he who is without grave sartorial misjudgment cast the first piece of obsolete technology to hand, I guess.
My future self seemed to be having trouble finalizing his purchase. He had six Best Buy gift cards spread across the little plastic shelf next to the conveyor belt.
“I’m pretty sure there’s something left on most of these,” he said in my voice, though it was lower and rougher with age and cigarettes. I reminded myself of my foolproof plan to quit smoking before I turned thirty.
The young, pixie-cut woman at the register sighed and began hurriedly swiping the cards.
“You’ve got… $4.53 on this one… $3.19 on this one… nothing on this one… nothing on this one… nothing on this one, and… nothing on this one. OK?”
“So how short am I?”
“Well, the cost of your complete purchase minus, like, seven dollars,” she said. “Right?”
“I really thought I had more on those,” he said, and pulled his wallet out of his shorts. It was my cloth Timberland wallet, two decades dirtier.
The sale went through, thank God, and his visible relief—he’d stopped scratching the back of his neck, at least, another habit I apparently hadn’t broken—gave me the endorphin surge I needed to get out of line and put my purchases back where I’d found them. I would illegally download the Drake album, and the other crap would gather dust here, for free, rather than in my moldy apartment. I didn’t need headphones; I was deaf enough to the cries of others without them. These decisions seemed meaningful at the time.
I walked through the store’s sliding automatic door in time to watch my future self back his Ford pickup out of a tight parking spot, leaving a deep black scratch along the length of my Outback. As I ran towards his truck, he turned, caught my eye, and sped out of the lot. I tried to memorize the license plate—VDD… something, but why bother? I’d only be raising my own insurance premiums. Or something. I wasn’t sure how insurance, or the future, worked.
Anyway, because of that, and a longstanding but weakly enforced opposition to corporate enterprise zones, I never went back to that Best Buy. In fact, I didn’t set foot in another one until I moved to Virginia a few years later, whereupon I was surprised to discover that discounted box-sets no longer factored significantly into the store’s business model.
Andrew Martin’s stories have appeared in The Paris Review (the latest in the Winter 2015 issue), and his essays and reviews have been published by The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, andBookforum, among others. He was recently a fiction resident at the UCross Foundation, and he’s currently at work on a novel and a story collection.