Ellie brought out the thrift-shop coat on weekends or when the sleet and the urge both got so bad that she just had to drag her feet towards the church. By mid-term exams, she could pass for an old lady even without the make-up. The secret was in the head-wobble and the bent back.
Felix’s condition was severe: his mind was nearly a week ahead. By Tuesday, his mind was already deep in the rain of the following Monday. He often bumped into people and had given up on umbrellas.
‘So do you, like, never get nervous ahead of exams?’ she asked.
It was their first date, but thinking it was their second he told her personal stuff, like, how he’d be sitting on the grass having a coffee, and his mind would be in the exam hall it would get dark and sweaty with the walls falling around him. But there were advantages.
Ellie, giggled and didn’t tell him about her condition. They ordered tiramisu, which is the funniest desert in the world and has a layer of lady’s fingers. She wondered what would happen if he chased his mind all the way through the future weeks. Would he know if they would always order tiramisu and pretend-fight over it?
That Saturday, anyway, everything worked out: Ellie had the house to herself and the heating broke down, so they tried three different strategies to keep warm. And if that mirrored whatever the next week held, that was all just fine. He was in perfect synch with her time-line.
She slept in little squirts of dreams, and every time she woke up, she hugged him. In the yellow light from the window, her coat was an old woman hanging on the wardrobe. With every dream, the woman got stronger, until she left her place and came very close, and that was also fine.
If only Ellie could just skip all the layers of time, go unseen past all the crocodiles, and arrive to the end where no threats could reach.
They dated throughout her treatment, and past the summer exams. They never fought: you can’t fight with a semi-future person. Then one night something bad happened: Felix’s body writhed under the sheet, his eyes bulged, the bed was drenched with his sweat, was the sea, was huge, and as she grabbed onto him, she cried for extra-arms, powers from the future, the strength of an octopus. ‘It’s OK’, he shouted through gritted teeth from the bottom of the ocean. ‘It’s OK’. And then silence, and then slowly, as he opened his eyes: ‘I think I’ve been hit by a bus.’ ‘Are you crazy?’ and she hit him with her hair-brush, and threw stuff, and screamed like a banshee. And Felix was too exhausted to explain that as his mind died in the week that was still to come, he didn’t … it wasn’t … he wasn’t quite sure, and the only word that occurred to him was OK, which doesn’t really explain anything at all.
And Ellie, who had mastered her disguise to cheat time, now faced the possibility of horrible grief. He said he couldn’t feel next Wednesday. He was worryingly fully present. They decided to stay in all week, which was difficult. She still lived with her parents, and his was a mould-infested place two miles outside the city. How would they get enough food? How would she feel at night when she had to leave?
But they managed. They fed themselves on beans and pot noodles, watched a few documentaries, revelled in Dutch Gold. A week passed, and another one He became a proper TV addict during that time, said he’d never been able to enjoy it before. She put all her talent into co-watching: how they make bolts, how they drive trucks, how they ice-fish—portents of the unknown they were, scattered atoms of his near-dead being. At night, she thought if she could properly focus, she could keep him safe, and then she grew frightened at the thought. So instead, she learned to stop trying and to match her rhythm to the world around her. And no death bus came. They waited another week and decided they were almost safe.
By Christmas exams, they were both cured. The imagined accident, if that is what it was, grounded him in the present. He stopped bumping into people. As old woman’s clothes stopped working for her, she invested in a lipstick, and a fancy top.
Several years after, Ellie still wonders why they broke up.
Sometimes, on a Thursday, when goes out with her new friends, she suspects that she loved that other guy more, the dead one from that Wednesday that didn’t happen. Or was it just the pressure of that week? There was so much death, TV, worry, and cheap food. He was no longer her guide into a safer future. A small part of her, the Ellie that adored tiramisu and that he loved best of all, wrapped herself in the old woman’s coat and waddled off. Yes, that could explain it. These thoughts make her cry, slurp her beer, and realise that none of them are quite the whole truth. The truth, like the dead guy from Wednesday, and her small part, was elsewhere, for her to hunt down in giant leaps, hurriedly, into the next Friday, and beyond, through a parallel world, the end of life, and time, and the end of all worry.
ROPPOTUCHA GREENBERG writes micro-fiction on Twitter (@Roppotucha)
Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Ad Hoc Fiction (winners’ section). The Evening Theatre, Elephants Never, 101 Fiction, Former Cactus, TSS Publishing (The BIFFY50 micro-fiction competition runner up), Ellipsis Zine, Twist in Time, The Mojave Heart Review, Enchanted Zine, and The Forge Literary Magazine. She lives in Ireland.
Image via Pixabay