the short story project


Paul LeBrun

The Alteration

Standing tall in front of the mirror while the tailor hemmed the pants of his well-worn suit, Oscar seemed to recall the old man, ‘You look exactly like the guy who fixed my suit when I was twelve.’

‘I am,’ said the tailor.

‘That’s not possible, he was your age thirty years ago, he’d be dead by now,’ said Oscar, dismissing the idea while arranging his jacket collar slightly.

Taking a pin from his mouth, the tailor asked, “Tell me, if you could go back to when you were twelve and change the way your life turned out, would you?”  

“Don’t be ridiculous old man, what kind of question is that?  And no, I like my life just fine.  What makes you think I don’t like my life?”  Oscar was getting annoyed.

‘I thought you wanted to be a lawyer like your dad and prosecute criminals, not grow up to be one,’ said the tailor smirking.  

‘All right that’s enough.  I don’t know what you think you know about me, but you’re getting way to personal.  Finish up what you’re doing already, I need to go,’ Oscar demanded impatiently.  He was beginning to regret the decision to alter his old suit rather than buying a new one.   


As he looked around the tailor’s old shop, it seemed familiar.  A small shop with a large wooden table in the middle, covered with a variety of fine-looking materials of various colors.  Wooden spindles stuck out from the walls supporting bobbins of different colored threads.  The framed mirror was three-sided offering left and right views of himself.  There was an antique sewing machine on a small wooden desk sitting in one corner.  The low wattage light bulbs illuminated the shop with a yellowish glow.  There was an organization about the place that spoke of longstanding ritual work habits.  It was obviously old, but how is it he never noticed this place before?


‘How does this hem look?’, asked the tailor tugging on Oscar’s pant leg. When Oscar looked down at his feet, the tailor was gone.  He heard a gasp and looked up.  There in the mirror was a boy, maybe twelve years old.  He immediately recognized the image as himself, thirty years ago.  The boy had the same startled look as Oscar.


‘Who are you?  What is this?  Go away!’ pleaded the boy.  Oscar said nothing, just stood there in disbelief.  He turned his head side to side looking for the tailor, then turned back to the mirror.  


‘My name is Oscar, what is yours,’ he said to boy.  The boy screamed for the tailor and tried to run away but his feet seemed glued to the floor.  Oscar noticed the boy struggling and tried to move his feet as well but couldn’t.  They both remained frozen, staring at one another.  Oscar immediately became aware that the boy was standing in the exact same tailor shop as he was.  He was obviously being fitted for a suit as well.  Finally, the boy spoke.


‘My name is Oscar, what do you want with me, why are you in my mirror, how come I can’t move my feet?’

‘I don’t know.  I’m just as confused as you are, although I think I’m beginning to understand.  I know who you are.  You’re me, thirty years ago.  I’m you, thirty years from now.’

‘I don’t think so mister, you’re fat and bald.  You look like a loser, I’m not going to look like that.  Get lost, I’m going to scream,’ said the boy.  


They both stood there looking around the shop for the tailor trying to move their feet without success.  Oscar remembered now what the tailor had asked him; if he could go back to when he was twelve if he would change his life?  He began to believe that this was a chance to change the course of his life.  But how?  What could he possibly tell this boy that would make him take a different path, make better decisions?  Oscar tried to remember some keys things when he was twelve.  


‘Okay, I don’t think we have much time.  I’m going to assume you’re twelve and it’s the summer of seventy-six.  A couple of months ago you and Gary stole baseball gloves from Pete’s Sporting Goods.  You guys have been stealing cigarettes and smoking behind the mall.  You’ve been stealing money from your moms’ purse.  Your hiding place is the heating duct in your bedroom.  The cut on your leg is from hoping that barb wired fence running away from the security guard at the construction site, not from falling off your bike like you told mom and dad.  Need more?’


The boy stared at Oscar, squinting slightly, and asked, ‘Which girl do I like at school?’


Oscar immediately replied, ‘Marsha Jennings, no-one knows that and they never will because you’re too chicken to approach her.  Okay, enough, now listen.’


Having convinced the boy with this intimate knowledge, he began to explain the future, the things that were going to happen, things that will land him in jail, like breaking and entering, larceny, and finally prison for fraud.  He went on quickly about three failed marriages, bankruptcy, unemployment, stealing for survival.  


The boy felt ill, turned pale and asked, ‘What about now, what’s your life like now?’


As Oscar described a life living alone in a tenement house, taking the bus to work the night shift on an assembly line, and still having to steal food and clothing, he sank into despair.  Looking at the young boy in the mirror he couldn’t believe he ruined his life the way he did.  There it was, his whole life ahead of him and he’s just going to waste it.  Why had he gone down this bad road?  His parents were good people, his dad was a fine lawyer, his mother a nurse.  He had every opportunity to get a good education.  Why didn’t he want that?  Was it boredom?  And what about his friend Gary, his partner in crime?  Who leads whom?  Suddenly Oscar had more questions than he could answer.  If there was a chance to change the course of his life, he wanted it.


Oscar looked helplessly at the boy and added, ‘Unless you really want to end up as this person before you, you’ll have to make completely different decisions.  You’ll have to make education a priority, not stealing, not smoking, not vandalizing or doing what-ever you want in the moment.  You’ll have to think about others, help others. You’ll have to think about your future.  Ha! Your future, I’m your future.  ‘Is this what you want?’


As he said this, Oscar felt a tug on the hem of his pant leg.  Looking down, the tailor was back.  He glanced up quickly and it was himself in the mirror again, the boy was gone.  He asked the tailor, ‘Well, what was the point of all that then?’


The tailor explained, ‘The point is that you’re a good person who, at a very young age, decided to be a bad person.  Why no-one knows.  The problem is that your choices had a negative effect on the lives of good people who wanted to be good people.  Your choices had a ripple effect that caused incredible hardship and early death for many poor souls.  You had no way of knowing that, it wasn’t taught to you, you thought it was your life to do with as you please.  But it’s not really, it belongs to those who are part of your life.  Sometimes corrections are called for in the universe, that’s where I come in, to make alterations.  Of course, I don’t decide which suits get altered, that’s above my pay grade.  So, this change wasn’t for your benefit, it was for those you hurt.  Can you understand?’


Oscar continued to stare at the old man and said, ‘I think so, but nothing has changed, I’m the same person, what’s been altered, as you call it?’


‘Everything,’ said the tailor, ‘the experience your younger self just had was very profound and rather traumatic.  It produced the results we hoped for.  It stopped you in your tracks, scared you so much that you stopped stealing, started paying close attention to your schooling.  You became a better person and eventually the prosecutor you dreamed of before turning sour.  And you’ll be pleased to know Gary went on to a successful career as an engineer, instead of dying from an overdose at thirty-two.  I could go on and on of course, but we’re out of time.  You won’t have a memory of this, but you will always remember meeting your older self when you were twelve.’


Oscar looked back in the mirror and said, ‘But I look and feel the same.’


The tailor stood up, dusted Oscar’s back with a soft brush and said, ‘Turn and face me,’ then dusted the front of his jacket and pants, and said, ‘Now, turn back and face the mirror please.’


Looking at himself in the mirror Oscar stood tall, straightened his tie somewhat and said, ‘Fine job as usual Harry, thanks.  I’d better hurry though, I have a hearing in two hours.’  


‘You’re very welcome Oscar, it’s always good to see you looking so sharp.  Better hurry, don’t want to keep the judge waiting,’ smiled Harry.


‘Tell me something Harry, how is it that I’ve aged thirty years and you don’t look a day older?’


‘I don’t know Oscar, just lucky I guess.’

















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