I saw him again in the night. I was holding a glass of water and talking to the stars in the night sky when I saw him. Or he came before me. I did not see the color of his hair or the look in his eyes but I could feel the hidden pain in-between the soaked lines. He looked hidden in the way he bent his back and turned his face away at each turn. I did not know what to say to him to ease the pain or to clarify matters as to why he was here in my home in the middle of the night, listening to a half-drunk man talking to the stars.
Soon he clutched his chest and let out a fragile gasp through the hole in our hearts. He stared at the photograph of two vultures held out by strings with blood-soaked colors and he whispered not a single sound. He seemed immersed in the stillness of the picture and I could sense the ache in his old bones.
I touched his hands. He let me hold on to that little moment with as much delicate balance as I could muster and he let me listen to the stillness of his chest. He showed me not his eyes nor his face but I knew him in a part of my memory; a part of myself as crosswords, hidden in our memory, ready to pounce on us. I knew him and yet I couldn't recognize him.
He sort of seemed disturbed by flashbacks of days and days of broken promises and unread texts and staggering messages of unpaid bills. But he would not stop staring at the photograph of vultures on my kitchen wall.
"I miss this so much." He said so suddenly.
I followed his unhurried gaze back to the photograph and I wondered what he meant. I asked him, I think I did, why he said what he said. And he shrugged and I dusted my hand and he disappeared. As I climbed into bed and wrapped my hand across my wife's sleeping form, I wondered what he meant by that.
A week later I tried to summon him. I needed to know what he had meant by his little whisper and I called and called and tossed in bed. Rose leaned closer and held my shoulder.
"Is it the nightmares? Are they back again?"
And because I knew it was somehow easier to lie, I told her yes and she hugged me and told me she loved me.
In the morning I stood behind a blue car and I smiled at the man in a pink shirt. He waved back at me, quite unsure, and walked out of sight. I tried to remember the color of his eyes so I could see him again but I couldn't remember anything other than the fright in his eyes as I smiled at him.
Every day, I thought about my gift and as much as it made me happy, it brought me a sense of intense sadness. It was always so wrong in the way I could go back in time. See, two months ago, I went back to ten years ago and I watched as Amy screamed when they pulled at her hair and tore her clothes. I reached out to save her but I could not. So I was relegated to the back picture, cursed to see the past and being unable to control the flow.
Amy was my daughter. She was murdered ten years ago in her home by the sea. The police found evidence supporting their claims of her husband being the perpetrator of the crime. He said he was innocent. So I went back with tears in my eyes and I watched as she kicked and scratched but it hadn't been her husband. I saw someone else. A friend of hers from college, the police would later say. And it hurt so much even though I had helped the police.
Two weeks after I had summoned the old man who loved the vultures' picture, I held on to the door of my office and watched my life slowly pass before my eyes. I saw men with scars on their faces and I saw women with fake smiles and I saw myself in the midst of these people, holding out unlit candles and aching from the inside.
I wanted, hopelessly, to fight the pain in my heart but it would not go away. It was like a part of myself, halves, and it burnt through my soul like wax. Do I dare go back to the years in college with new dreams and silly crushes? I tried that months ago. I had tried that before I summoned the old man. I had tried that before I was broken by my very own present.
But I hadn't been able to find the peace of back then. I was back at my campus, of course, seeing myself in my hostel room, lighting up a cigarette while my friend drank from a stolen bottle of cheap rum.
"It tastes so good! Try it once."
"No chance. I bet it'd taste like cheap shit."
"Shit isn't expensive, asshole."
We laughed at this and as I stood right over our old mess, I realized that the peace of before was just from before. I couldn't get it back and it sort of hurt. When I came back to my sad reality, Rose was holding me again and asking me if I'd love to eat out and I told her yes and ended up eating nothing. Because I did not want to eat with her, knowing she would want too much of me when she finally knew the truth: That her husband could go back to the past at will.
There were questions I needed to ask her; questions tearing at my chest in summers and winters and autumns when I felt like breathing. These questions are what kills me inside and outside and I realize that holding the key to the past wasn't the cure or the answers I was looking for.
I needed something meaningful. Not Rose's love or Amanda's killer being found after many years. I needed something to hold on to and that need was killing me with each new day.
On Monday I sat on a bench and watched the birds fly past. In a moment, I felt a light flicker past my eyes and until I saw the cramped buses and petite passengers sandwiched between overweight humans, I hadn't known I had transported myself back to my wedding to Rose. She was wearing white, as all new bride does, and she was smiling, as all new grooms do. I was happy as we said our vows, ones that would later come to taunt me, and kissed our lips. I loved her then. I love nothing now. Not now that there is an ache in my bones and pain blotting my veins.
I held her hands and I touched her cheeks and as the color rushed in, I thought she looked beautiful. I told her that. She kissed me in the way new brides do: with warmth and passion and closed eyes.
Then I am back again and I'm still seated on the bench with one eye closed. I stand up from the bench and start to walk home. I pass by the old church and I smile to think that I still remember.
I walked home. I pulled open the door and I find her in the kitchen, staring hard at the photograph of blood-stained vultures. She turned to me with the saddest smile and I could feel the emptiness leaving me. Suddenly.
"Doesn't this picture remind you of us?" She asked.
"Yea. Because we are vultures, hovering over each other, waiting for one to die first."
I arched an eyebrow. She folded her hands across her breasts and sighed.
"Let us first admit it. We have hurt each other in the silence following our daughter's death and we have lost so much. We are like these vultures..."
I found myself in the kitchen watching as the old man stared at the photograph on the wall.
"I missed this." He said.
"How? They are just vultures."
He turned to me and I could see the color of his eyes like an emerald. I could see the brown color of his hair, dusted plenty of times by the grey version and I could recognize him.
"These aren't just vultures. Look through them and you'll see."
I looked through them and felt like a deer in the headlight with no way to go. I would recognize the man who gave me the powers to relive old memories at will but I would also hate him for that. Because he was right. The vultures were me. And he was right.