Through The Portal - a flash fiction story
Sophia stumbled into her light tent, ready to be done with this world.
The director had barked at her, saying her accent was off. How arrogant! Born in 1968, he’d never lived in Victorian England, never heard the pompous male actors rattle off their lines as if reading them in the air. He’d not watched the Queen be crowned, nor waved in admiration at the woman who would soon turn gender politics on its head.
She’d been there for all of it.
She fastened the velcro - such a wonderful invention - of the light tent, turned on the impossibly bright LED lamp, and stepped through the portal winking open. On the other side, the stench of 1874 London rose to meet her nostrils.
She breathed deeply. Ah, she was home.
Taking care to not wrinkle the costume those 21st century Brits thought represented her time, Sophia donned her everyday dress, a drab brown wool accented with white cuffs and neckline. She’d sewn it herself with her aunt’s help, fancier threads beyond her nanny budget.
One thing she loved about the 21st century was the freedom women had to work whatever job they desired,
including acting, to express their opinion, and to wear pants! Oh, the freedom of pants alone was worth traveling over 150 years back and forth each day. Too bad the currency of the 21st century was no good in Victorian England.
Sophia tucked her copy of Alice in Wonderland into her dresser, its dogeared pages calling to her. Discovering Alice had provided revelation upon revelation. She’d found a kindred spirit in a girl traveling through a looking glass - the light tent wasn’t so different - yet Alice’s world was almost more familiar to Sophia than the world of the 21st century.
When she’d first traveled, she’d gaped at the cars on the road and the handheld devices called phones. When she’d searched online - that was another advancement that astonished her - Sophia discovered the 20th century was chock-full of wonders. Good, like the cell phone, and terrible, like the nuclear bombs which ended a world war so bloody that she’d cried for days after learning about it.
Tucking her hair into a bonnet and tying it beneath her chin, Sophia left her small bedroom in the boarding house, greeting her housemates with a smile, hands folded at her waist.
“Mrs. Donnelly!” Sophia called as she entered the parlor. “I have a gift for you!”
“Another trinket? Am I supposed to desire this more than your rent this month?” the elderly Irish woman’s face softened as she examined Sophia’s hands, her eyes salivating for the bits of the 21st century Sophia brought her.
“Far be it from me to determine the value of a gift. I trust you will enjoy it, however.”
Sophia extended the perfume bottle, purchased at what passed as an antique store in the future, but which no doubt originated somewhere in between the 2000s and 1874.
Mrs. Donnelly’s eyes rounded with appreciation. The rose-colored glass bottle coordinated with the older woman’s bedroom colors. The scent inside mimicked the glass - an artificially enhanced rose water. Altogether, this gift had cost her half a day’s acting wages, an exorbitant price in the future that should gain her far more in Victorian England.
Mrs. Donnelly touched the perfume to her neck and closed her eyes as the scent enfolded her. “Why yes, I never know where you find these on a nanny’s pay, but Sophia, you’ve done it again. Let’s consider this month’s and next month’s rent paid. I’ve not smelled anything so fragrant in my life.”
A sigh escaped Sophia’s mouth. Perhaps now she could quit the nanny position, leave the two spoiled brats, and start her passion project - a newspaper filled with articles for women, about women, and, most important of all, written by women.
Footsteps echoed across her bedroom floor above, sending her heartbeat into the stratosphere - that was another thing she’d learned about - space!
“Mrs. Donnelly, I’m glad you appreciate your gift. I must take my leave of you, however.” And with a quick curtsy that barely met the standard of the word, Sophia collected her skirts and flew up the stairs and into her bedroom.
“What in the name of everything that is good and right is this?” Peter asked, his hands fisted against his very 21st century jeans as she entered her room.
“I can explain,” she started, holding out a hand, spinning him around, and directing him toward her closet. “But first, let’s return to the theater.”
Sophia pushed him into the closet, shutting the door behind them as light filled the space. They appeared inside the light tent, Peter clutching her waist and leaning his weight on her.
“What happened? Why are you in this dress, Sophie? This isn’t part of your costume set.” His hand drifted to his forehead, and Peter closed his eyes. “And what was that place? I don’t feel so great.”
“That,” Sophia said, turning into his arms, “was the real Victorian England. You arrived in my boardinghouse room and, thank goodness, I was right below, otherwise how awkward would that be! A 21st century man inside an all-female boardinghouse! Mrs. Donnelly would’ve kicked me out, and then where would I live?”
Peter looked down at her, his brows scrunched like a wrinkled puppy. “But how?”
She took Peter by the hand and led him outside the light tent, gesturing for him to sit in her dressing chair. “Tell me, Peter, have you ever read Alice in Wonderland?”