Life Improvement: A Novel

Life Improvement is a hilarious time-travel novel! Institute for Life Improvement rents out time machines so that ordinary people having difficulties can go back in time and change their lives for the better. The time machines? Blue-and-white porta potties. But the Institute’s Second Chance Technicians Bella, Enzo, and Aldo have a little trouble getting the machines to work correctly…

The Truth About My Mother

Justin and the Traveling Porta Potty

My mother called me with her decision whether or not to give me the two hundred dollars I needed for food and medicine.

“You poor mentally ill girl,” she said. My spirits sank; I would never get the money I needed. She immediately followed with, “Dad’s going to give it to you.” My spirits rose, but then I remembered something.

“I just asked Dad, and he said, Not till I get Mom’s permission.”

Emily said, “I have no way of knowing what Dad said.” She sighed audibly. “I told you we’d give you some money for your health and food needs to get you started after you moved, but I never promised to pay your doctors or for your medicine.”

“I don’t need a promise,” I said. “I just need two—“

“Hang up now,” Emily said, “and cry. Cry all you want.” (Recently, I had made the mistake of telling her that I cry sometimes.)

“But I’m out of—“

“Cuckoonut!” my mother screamed. She ended the call. Weeks later, Dad gave me a check for two hundred dollars.

My mother (when I write about her, I call her Emily) was born in 1924, before anyone knew much about mental illness and its treatment, and long before a person tended to worry when their mother slipped that many contradictions into one conversational segment. Emily never found out that she, herself, was living with a psychiatric disability. The rest of us, well, we didn’t really want to know.

I, a (starving graduate) student of psychology, couldn’t help but know, and so I became the brunt of all my mother’s fears and prejudices. No one wanted to walk in my shoes. In my mother’s eyes, my sincere suggestions that she might benefit from mental-health treatment were merely insults that warranted retaliation. I had just accused her of being mentally ill; now she could justifiably accuse me of the same. She was blithely unaware that she was debasing herself by her own futile attempt to debase me.

Psychiatric disabilities are not just brain disorders. My mother’s psychiatric disability pervaded her entire body, her entire personality, her entire life. During the above conversation, she sincerely thought that she was making sense. And she had no idea what psychiatric disorders have in store for those who are affected by them but are not getting treatment. Neither she nor anyone who knew her understood the horrors my mother would face as the disability worsened. Life Improvement includes a large section that describes these events accurately, honestly, and with the necessary brutality.

I have had many dreams about my mother. They ended about the time she died, with a dream where I stood in a huge, brightly lighted building, alone or so I thought. Then I saw Emily in the distance, her face hidden from me as she walked away down a long hallway.

Unlike Lynne, I will never get a second chance to help my mother. In my dream, Emily silently rounded a corner, disappearing from sight. I will never see her face again.,

Justin did not want to enter the time machine.

The trainee at the Institute for Life Improvement (ILI), the one and only agency that rents out time machines, had jumped at the opportunity to be the first to test one of the new machines. Now he wondered if he really should have made that jump.

Beta-testing the newly invented time machine had been pure hell. Not one bone in his body wanted to take the trip he needed to take. First, there was the smell. The time machine looked like a blue and white porta potty. It smelled like a porta potty. But it wasn’t a porta potty; it was a time machine. The give-away? You had to let it scan your retina before the door would open for you. Real porta potties don’t tend to waste time with security requirements.

Second, the time machine was scary. It stood before Justin in a secluded grove, there but not there. It didn’t look like the time machines Justin had seen in photos or videos. Those machines were made of shining steel and were real, stable objects. Justin had no idea with which material this time machine was made. It looked delicate and fragile, as if the light didn’t want to touch it and had decided to distort it instead. It not only looked unreal; it looked like nothing he had ever seen.

Third, there were the slithereens.

Fine. The time machine, created by the ILI founders, had taken him here, to the beautiful house of his youth; it could take him back to ILI Headquarters. He would see his boss, Bella, and his coworkers, whom he loved, once again. And he would get away from the slithereens. He couldn’t see or hear them yet, but he could smell them approaching—rapidly—and he could feel the atmosphere vibrating as the slithereens came for him.

Again, he looked at the machine.

But who wants to go into something that alternates between rectangular and oval, blue and white, and tall and short? he thought. Right now, he doubted that he could fit into it. In a minute, it would be humongous.

He knew that it was all smoke and mirrors, that the time machine’s looks were not important. It could be made to look different from how it looked now. But the machine only had two possible appearances. It could be toggled to look the way it currently looked or to look like—a porta potty. Yecch! He preferred this look, although the porta potty look was a very close second.

He knew that the insides of the machine were a different matter altogether. The ILI founders had created a very satisfactory transportation device complete with padded seats, an indescribably comfortable futon, and the fluffiest of pillows. But that was no consolation. Here and now, the machine was terrifying. He didn’t want to enter it. Of course, he didn’t want to enter a slithereen’s belly either, although it was possible to get back out of the machine—usually.

Justin smelled the slithereens getting closer. He took a step toward the oozing time machine. Then he stopped. His feet froze to the ground. Nothing could make them move him toward that horrifying machine.

A butterscotch-pudding voice boomed from the speaker inside the warping, weaving time device.

They’re both the same novel: a strange tale about weird but friendly time travelers
wrapped around the true story of Dr. Bradt and her mother!

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a teacher and her mother

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time-traveling porta potty

Life Improvement: A Time Travel Novel