In the mid 80s I read an intriguing time travel story, collected in an anthology from the previous 10 years or so.

It concerns a couple who realize that their history is being manipulated by the wife's ex-boyfriend, who wants to prevent their marriage from ever having taken place. Each time he successfully goes back and changes something, there is a characteristic description of a taste of cotton wool in the mouth. There is some delay before their memories catch up with the new reality: one time the couple mutually know their wedding date was in the spring, but also briefly remember it taking place in the summer.

At the end, the husband goes back and does some manipulation of his own, not altogether successfully.

1 Answer 1


"Needle in a Timestack", Robert Silverberg (I read it recently in the anthology The Time Traveler's Almanac). First line:

Between one moment and the next the taste of cotton came into his mouth, and Mikkelsen knew that Tommy Hambleton had been tinkering with his past again.

And a few paragraphs later:

But Tommy Hambleton was out to destroy Mikkelsen's marriage, or, more accurately, he was determined to unhappen it altogether, and that went beyond Mikkelsen's limits of tolerance. In something close to panic he phoned home to find out if he still had Janine.

  • Actually, hmm. From your ISFDB link, that seems to refer to an anthology; do you know which particular story this was? May 17, 2016 at 14:19
  • Sorry, I accidentally chose the wrong ISFDB link, I updated it to be the story rather than the collection by the same name.
    – Hypnosifl
    May 17, 2016 at 14:21
  • That's very confusing: he had a story with this title, and also used it as the title of a collection which doesn't contain the story? Strange. May 17, 2016 at 14:24
  • I hadn't noticed that, but it looks like the first version of the short story collection came out in 1966 while the story was first published in 1983, maybe he just liked the phrase so he thought it would work to re-use it for a time travel story.
    – Hypnosifl
    May 17, 2016 at 14:38
  • 1
    So, five years later, apparently they've made a film based on this story: gizmodo.com/… Oct 13, 2021 at 18:12

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