Dotty flicked the light on then carefully descended the stairs. She hadn’t been to the basement in years, certainly not since Duncan had left. And he’d been gone for nearly twenty years. Jayden, her eldest grandson, would be 21 next month. He’d been learning to walk when Duncan disappeared from their lives.

She’d finally agreed to move into an assisted care unit and had been going through the bittersweet process of whittling her treasures down to the pieces that would make the move with her. All that was left now was to see if there was anything downstairs that needed to be sorted.

Her little terrier, Scottie, had joined her, and as she was tidying up a dusty pile of ancient science magazines, he started scratching and whining at something at the back of the narrow cupboard where Duncan had stored his old lab jackets. She shifted the stiff coats aside, something else to throw out, and grazed her knuckle. Irritated then intrigued, Dotty stepped closer. There was a door concealed in the back of the cupboard. She pulled the coats out, folding them, then with Scottie at her heels she opened the door.

It was dark with a smell of mustiness that had her wondering about damp and mould. Dotty felt around the door jamb. She found a switch and clicked the light on. Scottie was under the bench, sniffing and scratching, but Dotty was rooted to the doorway. The bench was covered with some sort of console, lights were softly glowing in different colours. Under each light was a piece of masking tape with a number. The buttons weren’t in sequence, but she could see Duncan’s logical mind at work. Dotty moved closer, recognising her name on an envelope. She opened it.

The words blurred as tears filled her eyes at seeing Duncan’s neat script. Scottie nudged her leg in concern, and she reassured him before reading the letter. He loved her and their children, but had to try and fix up his error of judgement. Dotty huffed. Mid-life crisis was a better description. If he didn’t return, she could follow him by pressing the buttons in the order listed.

Dotty slumped onto a chair, her mind whirling. Was this how he had vanished, trying to undo a series of poor decisions which had fractured the fabric of their life together? Leaving their children and grandchildren, abandoning her? And then having the gall to suggest that she follow him into the unknown? Her hands shook and Scottie whimpered then barked, bringing her back to the present.

She exhaled, a long and ragged breath. Then she found the power point where the console was plugged into and turned off the switches. One by one, the lights faded into darkness. She would arrange for the equipment to be removed – perhaps Jayden would help her clear the space.

‘Only you and I will know, and I can trust you, Scottie.’ Then she followed Scottie’s wagging tail upstairs and into the light.

This piece was written to a prompt on the Writer’s Digest website.If You Could Do It Over: a little old lady stumbles across a time machine.

Photo: set of stairs