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Tattooed Mona Lisa

A story

By Dana StewartPublished 21 days ago Updated about 12 hours ago 21 min read
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It’s ironic, really, the amount of time I have to waste. Just watching and waiting for the specific event I want to witness. Out of everything I’ve seen so far in time traveling, the recurring theme is that history gets it wrong. A lot. Shocking revelation, I know. Times, dates, events - it’s close to what you think, yes. But history is never exact. It’s more of an ‘ish'.

I learned everything about time travel from my father. To celebrate my eighth birthday, he took me to Disney World. Sounds completely normal, right? Only my dad used his new invention to take me to Walt Disney World on opening day, October 1, 1971. The remarkable thing is I wasn’t born until 1991. As a child, the significance of this didn’t register. I just thought everyone at Disney wore funny looking clothes.

Time travel has a set of rules that must be abided. One rule is you can’t eliminate a person to alter history, even if it’s for the good of humanity. You can’t murder Hitler and avoid the carnage of WWII altogether. You just can’t. However, a girl can make sure that a certain dictator’s barber stumbles down icy steps and sprains his wrist. That worked out better than I could have hoped. You might have thought that silly little mustache was a choice. Nope. A bad shave on a random Tuesday is all it took for the evil man to be etched in the history books looking like a total douchebag.

It was the least I could do.

I’ve had adventures, seen so many cool things. Of all the places in time I’ve visited, tonight’s escapade is a low-key affair. I’ve turned the clock back to Boston, Massachusetts, which happens to be my hometown and where I currently live in the present day with my fiancé, Ben.

I’ve traveled back to midnight, March 18, 1990, roughly a year and a half before I was even born.

Ben works at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the marketing department. But I’ve read about what happened here my entire life. My father kept a scrapbook, preserved every newspaper clipping about the robbery. The legendary heist, where thirteen works of art was stolen in the wee morning hours. Half a billion dollars of art with works by Vermeer, Manet, Degas, Flinck, and Rembrandt was about to be stolen.

Once these paintings are ripped from the wall tonight, they will never see the light of day again.

I’m hoping to change that.

I hide in the shadows of the alley as I watch the museum from across the street. From this vantage point, I have an unobstructed view of the employee entrance.

I have to admit, it was nothing short of a genius planning the heist. This city has deep Irish roots and is preoccupied with the revelry of last night’s Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations.

I’m not sure what time it is. The robbery begins at 1:24 a.m., so it’s getting close. Another pivotal rule of time travel is that you can’t carry a timepiece on your body. That means no watch, no phone, no device whatsoever that keeps time. Or it’ll screw everything up.

I’m waiting for the two robbers, dressed as police officers, to approach the museum. That’s the ruse they used to get inside. They tell the security guard they are responding to a disturbance call (they weren’t.) Museum security was a joke back then. Inside there were only motion detectors, no closed-circuit video monitoring. The two security guards end up duct-taped, gagged, and handcuffed in the basement for a couple of hours. Fortunately, no one gets killed.

It’s only a heist.

I appreciate fine art like anybody else. Some really good stuff was taken. The museum robbery holds the record for the single largest property theft in the world, dollar wise.

Ben talks about how sad it is to see the empty frames that hang on the walls as placeholders for the stolen masterpieces.

The robbery remains unsolved. It’s an active on-going investigation with the FBI.

Which is why I’m here. There is a ten million dollar reward for any information leading to the safe return of the stolen works. A share of the reward is offered for the return of any single piece.

It’s a poor art lover’s dream. A chance to recover the masterpieces and make some bank. It’s a two-fer.

I’m not an opportunist. I’m not. But if I can ferret out the identity of the robbers, I can track down the artwork in my current time, or at least follow the trail. If I can reap some of the reward money, I could pay for my dream wedding to Ben.

That’s all I want.

I’m doing this for us. For me and Ben. I realize the irony of my purpose. That I’m looking to the past to ensure my future.

A white van creeps along the curb, kills its headlights as it parks.

This is it. The robbery is starting.

A man gets out of the driver’s side of the van wearing a police uniform. Since the van was driving towards me, I get a good look at the driver’s face. For their ploy to work, the thieves couldn’t wear masks. The other fake cop exits the vehicle and stands on his side of the van, his back to me.

The two fake police officers buzz the museum door, exactly as it was reported. A couple of seconds later a museum guard arrives. My heart pounds in my chest as I watch the robbery begin to unfold. The fake police officers and the security guard engage in a short conversation through the glass. As the guard unlocks the museum door, one of the men pushes the guard to the floor as he pulls a roll of duct tape from his back pocket. The other thief waves his police baton in the air.

When I hatched this plan, I wasn’t sure how I’d identify the robbers. I thought I’d start with the escape vehicle. A license plate was a boon, something the investigators didn’t have since there is no street surveillance, either.

My blood runs cold in my veins. I won’t need to run the plates after all. I recognized the driver as soon as I saw his much younger face.

The driver of the van is my future father-in-law.

I can’t believe it. Ben’s dad is a thief. And the louse told Ben he couldn’t pay for our rehearsal dinner! I need to get of here and talk to Ben before I do anything.

I pull my pencil and notepad from my jeans pocket and scribble the present date and location of where I want to go. I place the paper in the PEZ dispenser and push Albert Einstein’s head down, locking the candy dispenser in place. My father had a sense of humor when he designed the time travel device.

As I begin to vaporize into the ethers of time, I close my eyes.

Light pulsates through my closed eyelids and I feel like I’m floating. It’s as though gravity doesn’t exist.

It’s always a quick trip.

When my feet are heavy again, I’m home, at the destination I wrote on the paper, at the front door of the apartment I share with Ben. Another rule of time travel is you can’t cross thresholds. I don’t understand how that one works, but that’s the way it is.

He’s left the TV on in the living room.

I flip on the light switch, he’s sound asleep on the couch, hugging a throw pillow to his chest.

“Hey, Ben, wake up,” I whisper as I rub his shoulder.

He moans as he rolls his neck.

“Abby,” his eyes flutter open. “Hey babe. Are you hungry? There’s cold pizza in the fridge.” His voice is groggy.

I shake my head.

“No baby, I’m not hungry. Listen, I need to tell you about my time trip. Something happened.”

~

“You have got to be kidding me!” Ben is wide awake now.

“I know. I couldn’t believe it when I saw him.”

Ben rubs his forehead, his eyes squeezed closed.

“This is exactly what I was talking about. You have got to stop using that stupid device!”

This is not the reaction I expected.

“Ben, that’s absurd. I have the precious gift of time travel at my fingertips. Why would I stop using it?”

“You take everything too far, Abby. Last year you got a smallpox vaccine. The CDC calls every month to check on you.”

“Had you preferred I visit Elizabethan London without it?”

He doesn’t answer.

“What should we do?”

“About what?’ Ben asks.

“Your father is an art thief. We can’t let this go.”

Ben sighs. “He’s already got away with it. What do you propose we do? Turn him in?”

“Yes. No. I don’t know. He shouldn’t get away with it.”

Ben scoots close beside me on the couch and takes my hand in his.

“I love you, Abby. And I want to marry you more than anything in the world. You know that. You’re mad because you think Dad doesn’t like you so he won’t ante up to help pay for the wedding.”

"No, that’s not –"

Ben leans in and kisses my lips. One of those sweet supple kisses that takes my breath and makes me lose my train of thought.

I pull away, but nuzzle my forehead to his.

“I don’t even want a big wedding. Let’s just go to City Hall,” he whispers.

“Ben, that’s not it. Well, that’s not all of it. Your father stole nearly a billion dollars of art. Don’t you want to know why?”

Ben throws his hands in the air.

“Not really. It’s not like we can ask him about it either.”

I tilt my head to the side, considering that option.

Ben stands, knocking pillows to the floor. “Absolutely not. Think about the can of worms that question will open. You’d have to tell my father you can travel through time. He’ll think you’re crazy, Abby.”

“I could show him,” I offer.

Ben waves his hands frantically.

“Enough. Drop it. I’m going to bed,” he says as he stomps toward the bedroom.

I can’t let this go. I just can’t. It’s not right.

But I have a plan.

I write the museum address and 3/17/1990, the day before the robbery on a piece of paper and stuff it in the Albert Einstein PEZ dispenser.

~

I’ve never done a back to back trip like this before, so it’s not totally unexpected that on my return I’d be delivered to the bus station around the corner from our apartment.

Ben must already know what I’ve done. He’s locked the apartment door. I fish my housekey from my pocket. It’s a rough fit, I have to wiggle the key back and forth to try to get it in the lock.

“Who’s out there?” An unfamiliar voice yells from the other side of the door.

I check the apartment number. I’m in the right place. It’s our apartment, 201C.

The door opens abruptly, I jerk my arm back, key in hand.

A strange man stands there, shoulders hunched, clutching a baseball bat.

“Who are you?” he asks.

I feel lightheaded. Who is this guy? Where is Ben?

“Um, I live here,” I say, as I try to lean around to see what the apartment looks like. The man steps to the side, blocking my view.

The stranger’s jaw goes slack.

“Lady, I’ve lived here since 2014. You’ve got the wrong place,” he says as he slams the door in my face.

This doesn’t make any sense. I should still live here. We should still live here.

Wait. Ben signed the lease.

Just Ben.

Oh my God. What have I done?

I don’t even have my cell phone to check to see what happened.

I knock on the apartment door. It opens immediately.

“Now what?”

“I am so sorry to intrude, but do you have a computer I can use? Please. It’s an emergency.”

The stranger living in my apartment stares at me, deciding if I’m a threat.

“I won’t get any rest until you leave anyway. Laptop, on the desk,” he points the baseball bat in that direction.

I smile at the man, thankful he’s letting me use his computer.

“Is this gonna take long?”

I launch Google and type in Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist in the search bar.

“I should only be a few minutes. I really appreciate it,” I say as the search results load.

Oh God. It’s worse than I imagined.

The Museum director found the 'anonymous' note I left in his office and had an extra security guard on duty, just in case. That guard was not detained like the other two. Instead, the extra guard hid and alerted the real Police. The robbery still happened, but only the seascape by Rembrandt was taken. One of the robbers was gunned down as they tried to flee. Nathaniel Murphy, Ben’s father, was shot and killed. He bleeds out in the street. The other robber escaped in a white van.

Ben and I are the same age. His father was killed at the museum that night, well before Ben is born.

This is what Ben means when he says I need to quit using that stupid device.

I stand as I close the laptop and thank the stranger living in my apartment.

He slams the door behind me.

I don’t know how to fix this. I’ve altered history, and there’s a domino effect. If I travel back and try to take the note I left to alert the Museum director, what happens if I run into myself?

This is my worst nightmare. There’s a time loop in place, and I’m not sure where I need to dissect it.

I’ve broken the most important rule there is. I've created a Paradox.

There’s one chance to fix things. But I need some advice first and only one person will have the answers I need.

It’s a risky move. Something I have thought about doing over the years, but I was too afraid to try it. I have no other option now. If I can’t change the history again, back to the way it was, I’ll lose Ben forever.

I take out my notepad and pencil and scribble September 30, 1999, 8pm, and my old house address, the place where I grew up. My hands shake as I close Albert Einstein’s head.

I can smell the honeysuckle in our neighbor’s yard. The fragrance is sweet, like wine. I picked this night because I remember everything that happened. It’s the night before my 8th birthday, before my dad took me on my first time trip to Disney’s opening day.

Both of the detached garage doors are open, the florescent lights are on. I hear Steely Dan playing on the radio. And then I see him, piddling and tinkering, as he used to call it. His back is to me, but I can tell he’s holding a soldering iron.

“Ouch,” I hear my father say as he drops the hot piece of metal on the work table in front of him.

I haven’t seen my dad since he died fifteen years ago.

Suddenly, his body stills and his head lifts up, as though he senses my presence. He turns around slowly as I walk up the hill of the driveway.

“Abby?” he asks, as he shoves his eyeglasses up the bridge of his nose.

“Hey Dad,” I say as my eyes well with tears. I’ve dreamed about this moment.

He covers his mouth with his hand as his eyes dart to the kitchen window. We can hear Mom in the house. She yells over the volume of the TV that it’s past my bedtime.

“You’re all grown up,” he says, as he sniffles.

I nod. I’m not sure if I can touch him. But I really need a hug.

“The machine works,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.

I laugh. “It does. It sure does.”

He motions me to come in the garage. We sit at the wobbly table in the corner, out of sight.

“This is surreal,” he says as he wrings his hands. Dad was always an anxious man.

“For me, too. I’ve messed up, Dad. I need your advice.”

His smile fades, as the realization washes over him.

“I guess I’m not around to answer in the future,” he shakes his head. “No. Don’t tell me what happens. Don’t tell me how. Don’t tell me why.”

I nod. He will soon find out about the cancer that ravages his body. He didn’t suffer long, but I do as he asks. I won’t tell him of his fate.

“You’ve been using the time machine?” He asks.

I nod.

“It’s really cool, huh?”

I smile as I nod again. “Until it’s not.”

“Tell me about it,” he says, holding a finger up. “Just about what went wrong on your trip, not anything about me,” he reminds me.

I nod and take a deep breath.

I tell my father about meeting Ben in college, how I fell in love with his sense of humor and personality. How lucky we are to have the cute apartment we share in the West End. How we want to get married more than anything and that I don’t want just any wedding. I want a big wedding, with a band and a three course meal for all our friends and family. I tell him all about what happened, about recognizing Ben’s Dad as one of the thieves. Ben wanted me to drop it, but I went back again and left the note to alert the museum director, and that’s what got Ben’s father killed.

“So now, I mean, in the future, there’s no Ben?” he asks.

“Right. What do I do, Dad? To bring him back.”

Dad reaches over, pushes my hair behind my ear, just like he used to do when I scraped my knee on the sidewalk.

“I wish I could walk you down the aisle,” he says. “He sounds like a good guy, though, this Ben.”

My tears fall to the concrete floor of the garage.

“He is. He really is.”

Dad smiles. “He’s Nat’s boy, so he comes from good stock.”

“Nat?” I ask.

My father nods. “Nathaniel Murphy. Ben’s Dad. I call him Nat.”

“You know Ben’s father?” This is a revelation.

He sighs. “Sweetie, I might as well tell you. I’m the second thief that night. At the museum.”

I feel like the wind is knocked out of me. It’s hard to breathe.

“Why? Why would you do something like that? An art heist? Dad! Why?”

He points to the Albert Einstein PEZ dispenser in my hand.

“Developing time travel is not cheap. I needed the money for R&D.”

This is too much to process. My father, the art thief. I did think a genius planned the heist. Turns out it’s the same genius that put a time travel device in a PEZ dispenser.

“That’s why you kept the scrapbook?” I ask.

He nods. “That’s why. Plus, the clippings used to change like your internet searches. It was a good point of reference.”

How would he know…I gasp. “You traveled to the future didn’t you?”

My Dad smiles a toothy grin.

“I did. I had to know what would happen to a few things.”

We both laugh, time travel is certainly a trip.

“Abby,” my father is serious now. “You don’t realize how fortunate you are. After you left the note, it’s pure luck that I wasn’t killed, too. If I had been, we would not be sitting here right now.”

Oh, wow. He’s right. Goosebumps prickle my arms. I could have inadvertently nixed my entire existence, with no one left to undo it.

“It wasn’t your kismet, Abby. Be careful in the future, or in the past,” my Dad winks at me. “And you’ll do fine.”

“Should I go back and try to get the note I left for the museum director? Is that the best way to circumvent this mess?”

Dad’s brow furrows, he’s thinking it through.

“You have probably heard that time is like a river. While that description is close, time is more like a waterfall. It cascades over the cliff, follows a winding course. But eventually comes back around where it all started, only to do the same thing over and over again,” he explains.

“Now. Go back to your apartment. After you tell Ben about what you saw, about Nat being one of the thieves. Tell yourself not to do what you’re about to do, about the second trip when you leave the note. That’s the safest route.”

“Ok,” I say as I pull my notepad and pencil from my pocket. I begin to write the time and date of my destination when my dad gives me more advice.

“You know, you can write multiple times and dates on the paper at the same time. The machine will read from the top and transport you accordingly.”

“Oh. Nice. So I can go back and talk to myself and then transport to real time, all in one trip?”

“Yep. You sure can.”

I write the address for the apartment twice, each line followed by a new time, only a few minutes apart.

I stick the paper in the PEZ dispenser.

Before I close Albert Einstein’s head, I look my Dad in the eye one more time.

“Can I come back? To see you?”

Dad nods. “I’d like that, sweetie.”

As I snap Albert Einstein’s head closed, I whisper into the ethers, “I love you, Dad. Always.”

~

Thirty seconds ago, I opened the door to our apartment to tell past me not to leave the note for the museum director. Just to let the thieves get away with it.

I was surprised to see myself.

Almost immediately after that conversation I belonged to the ethers again, only to end right back up at our apartment door.

The threshold rule makes sense now.

This time, the actual present time, the apartment door is unlocked. Everything looks like it should. Just like our apartment. The pillows Ben knocked off our shabby couch are on the floor, just the way we left them.

I rush into the bedroom. Ben is sound asleep in our bed. It’s the sweetest sight I’ve ever seen.

I’m sure I’ll tell him all about this, one day. But right now, I just want to rest. Ben and I have something to do tomorrow.

~

It’s my wedding day.

My reflection in the full length mirror is a modern image. There’s no white fairy tale dress, just a simple white pantsuit.

Ben walks into the bedroom, looking dapper in his khaki pants and navy blazer.

He shoves his hands in his pockets as he stands behind me.

“You’re beautiful, you know,” he tells me.

I smile as I turn to face him.

“You are, too,” I say.

“Ready to go?” he asks.

I nod.

“Do you have your something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue?” He asks with a raised brow.

I smile at the man I love.

“That’s a traditional kind of question, don’t you think, for a couple going to City Hall?” I tease.

“Well, do you?” Ben asks. “It’s bad luck if you don’t.”

I pull the Polaroid from my pocket. I picked this one from my stash, specifically for this occasion.

“I do, Mr. Murphy,” I say as I show Ben the photograph.

He squints his eyes.

“Is that? No, it can’t be,” Ben says, astonished.

“It certainly is. That’s Mona Lisa. Walking down the street.”

He chuckles as he runs his fingers through his hair.

“Something old, something new, I get it. But what’s borrowed?” He asks.

“Time,” I say with a wink.

Ben holds the photograph close to his face. “Is that what I think it is? On her back?”

I take the Polaroid from his hands and put it back in my pocket.

“Yep, it’s a tattoo. A blue tattoo,” I tell him, as he pulls my body close to his.

“Now you know why she’s smiling.”

Short Story
9

About the Creator

Dana Stewart

Soup lover proudly owned by fluffy little lap dogs. Likes: sunsets, chocolate, witty replies, and good hair days. Dislikes: Mean people and flan. Hit that subscribe button.

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  1. Easy to read and follow

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Comments (8)

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  • Mary Haynes12 days ago

    Wow! Great storytelling, lots of twists in the plot. Loved it.

  • Quincy.v16 days ago

    Really nice article and helpful me

  • Mariann Carroll18 days ago

    Well done, I totally enjoyed this story . 🥰

  • I loved the concept of your time travel where we can't just kill anyone to alter history and that we can't carry any time telling devices. I was so shocked that the first thief was Ben's dad and second thief to be Abby's dad! Awesome plot twists! The part where Abby went back to see her dad was very emotional. This was such a fantastic story!

  • C. H. Richard19 days ago

    Omg I grew up in Boston and my mom took me to Isabella Stewart before the heist so that does. make very old. I've listened to the podcast, Netflix and now this great time travel story. Love the whole concept and your bits of humor really added to the story! Great job and one of my favorites ❤️

  • Caroline Jane20 days ago

    ❤ my head hurts..in a good way 😅.... I hate time travel stories but I had to read yours because i knew it would be good and I was right!! Nicely done Dana! ❤

  • Scott Wade21 days ago

    Fascinating and great story Dana! Love it! 🥰. Netflix anyone?

  • Harmony Kent21 days ago

    Oh, wow. Just. Wow. I love this, Dana! 💕🙂

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