Corpulent flakes defy gravity, swinging like obese dancers in pirouettes as blades of the winter winds slice through my tan army coat, coming to rest on a conspicuous gap between two trees, each of which seem nearly as old as New York City itself. I fish the watch out of my pocket, hidden there because the strap had fallen off before I found it in the autumn leaves months before. At least it still keeps time mostly.
Three seconds to go before Central Park finally sees something worth talking about, but the only person here to bear witness to me. I feel the air thicken and press in on me, transforming from a loose collection of energy-trading molecules into a hammer-like force the universe shifts to give birth to an unexpected delivery. I’m shoved backwards, away from the one tree and toward the other, having made the same mistake I made last time and gotten too damn close to the origin. Popping erupts all around me, sounds that might be made by metallic popcorn, and a deep crackling as though a giant sucked oxygen into massive inflamed lungs.
An instant later, the space isn’t empty. Instead, a confused old woman stands between the trees, staring in my direction through eyes so clouded that I felt fairly confident she can’t actually see me.
“Where am I?” She asks me as though she can, face locked in my direction and following as I pick myself up from where I landed.
“Central Park, New York,” I tell her, because it's the truth. I wonder if she recognizes my voice, but there’s no sign that she does in her manner. It wouldn’t surprise me if she didn’t any longer, but a man can hope, can’t he? “Do you remember who I am?”
“You’re not in Marldinia anymore, Chrys,” I tell her, hoping that she’ll understand. She starts to shiver as I approach, walking slowly, trying not to scare her. Every step crunches new snow, and her head darts after the sounds like a robin listening for worms. Maybe she was that, once. And I was the worm. But for her, that was ages before, another lifetime. I wonder where she’s been besides Earth in her lifetime of dreams, only a handful of which she'd shared with me.
But that first time. Ah, that first time was two weeks long more than a year ago, going on forever. I always see her that way. Instead of the glazed, directionless eyes, I see bright blues, sharp and attentive. That frazzled greenish white hair had once been the color of mahogany, and that distant grimace had once curled so easily into a smile that it was almost impossible to tell when Chrys was upset without asking her outright.
But now, I can see her shivering.
I pull off my long coat and approach her more quickly. I lean forward and I whisper into her ear.
“Chrys, you have to remember.”
For my work, I get a quick elbow to the gut and lean forward as the pain of her sharp angles works its way out. She shuffles away, having forgotten where she is, but it’s easy to chase her down. When I do finally gain on her, I shove the coat quickly over her shoulders, an act that she accepts in her confused state, and pulls the coat over like a cloak. That makes sense. Where she’s from, they don’t have coats - that’s a uniquely Earthian thing to have. Cloaks, or robes, abound in that mysterious world, if I can believe her stories. And really, how can I not, with her appearing like this.
“You have to remember,” I repeat the words, sternly - but from a safe distance out of reach of her elbow.
“Who are you?”
“Gregory,” I tell her. “But you call me Greg, remember? Your Greg. The only Greg.”
“The … only… Greg?”
She had given me that name for two reasons. The first is that of all the names of people I’d told her about, Greg was the only name that she said didn’t exist in the Marldinia Book of Names. Since the book kept itself updated with every possible name in the world in which she lived, if the name wasn’t in there, then there wasn’t a Greg at all. The second was because that day, we lay holding each other in the hot sand while waves washed up over our toes. I wasn’t just the only Greg she knew, but I was her Only. The Only. Greg.
Her response gives me hope.
“The only Greg. My only Greg.”
She turns her head down as though she’s examining her fingers, but I still think she can’t see them, until she asks the next question.
“How did I get so old?”
“You don’t have to be,” I tell her. “You forgot. You don’t have to be anything you don’t want to be here.”
I reach out my hand to pull it into her fingertips, only to have her pull them back, but not far. I reach again, this time succeeding in getting my fingers between hers, and feeling the softness of her skin as it moves around my own. Her bones beneath seem hollow and frail, as though I could break her with a breath. I stand, waiting for a snowflake to crush her, but she seems oblivious to the falling whiteness from the sky. She fixes her cataract-ridden eyes on me, and I can tell now that she does see me after all. She furrows her cloud-white eyebrows in concentration.
“My Greg,” she says, her eyes lighting up as a smile creeps across her lips. I know what to do next. It hasn’t been as long for me as it has for her. I step back. Way back, past the tree, and into something soft with arms.
“What are you doing?”
I turn around quickly, pulling free of the arms in the process. Standing before me, or more, above me is a man in a blue uniform with a badge.
“Meeting a friend.”
He looked to me, eyeing me up. Ex-military man in a faded trench coat and tennis shoes, soaked through and shivering. I reek of desperation and homelessness, and I know from experience that falling into the homeless category automatically makes me seem dangerous to police. Not sure why that is. Of course my perpetual shadow-beard and the sleepless bags under my eyes don't help very much. Though his placid expression didn’t change, he did move to put his body between me and Chrys.
Just in time.
Changing in our world is possible for Chrys, but it’s not a free act. It sucks energy from everything around her - a lot of energy. Any energy she doesn’t use leaves in the form of a mild explosion - or at least, it used to be mild when she used to remember to control it. With the dementia set in, I'm not sure she understands that many things, and this is one of the more dangerous ones.
A second later, and a wave of blue-green light rips out from her body, pulling off her skin and clothes and disintegrating her hair. I know enough to not be looking when that happens and save myself from temporary blindness. I also know what happens next. A red wave follows, bringing with it all of the force left over from her change. I duck, the officer doesn’t, and as a consequence, he finds himself soaring through the air over my trembling form. Less than half a second after that, I sprint toward her, a little angry at myself for giving her my good army coat. The surplus store has them, but it’s hard to come by enough money living between 4th and 5th avenues in a cardboard box.
I whip off my shirt and throw it over her naked body, thankful for the fact that the energy she exuded took with it all the snow and ice and left a thin veil of heat over. She glanced up at me, her eyes blue again.
“How long has it been, Gregory?”
I hesitate to tell her. The last time I did, she cried for almost the entire time we were together. If I have to tell her, I will though.
“No. For me.”
I decide to tell her.
“From the looks of things, maybe twenty years this time.”
“Twenty years?” She stares at me as though she doesn’t believe me while I try to get the shirt over her head. It’s a little dumb of me considering that now that she’s back, really back, the weather probably doesn’t bother her. I don’t think the nudity does either, considering last time we spent the entire time naked on Punta Umbria. That was her favorite thing - laying naked in the sand. “That’s so long, Gregory. I must be…”
“Eighty or so, I’d guess.”
“Such a long time to be without you. How long has it been for you?”
She wiggles into my shirt. My nipples are freezing in the cold, and each breeze feels like it’s icing me over. Chrys accidentally bumps my elbow and recoils.
“Just a little.”
She puts her hand on my chest, and I feel her energy push through me, extending through my being.
“Dementia,” she mutters as we both wait for the energy to permeate down to my toes. I nod, and smile my most winning hobo smile at her, which makes her laugh. “How did you get me back?”
“Just reminded you who I am,” I say.
Done, she pulls her fingers through mine.
“Dementia.” She traces a finger across my chest. Now, my shirt hangs over her shoulders, parted at the buttons meeting just beneath her solar plexus. Her bare legs protrude out into the snow.
“W-what’s going on here?”
I had forgotten about the officer. Faster than I can think, Chrys snaps her fingers and he’s forgotten to see us. He searches in futility for a while before wandering off, scratching his head. She doesn’t have to snap her fingers - she does that for me so I’m not surprised when she makes things change. A crackle of energy bounces between us.
“I love you Gregory. I spent thirteen of those twenty years trying to dream my way back here.”
“And here you are.”
“By accident, I think. I was thinking of you, but I didn’t know it was you. What will we do, Gregory?” She asks the question as she puts her arm through mine.
We make an odd couple, me shirtless and her pant-less. Between us there’s one good outfit, and it’s not even a good enough outfit for one, let alone two. Still, now that I’m warm and she is too, we can walk around all day in the snow if we want to. I have missed that too. The nights are cold without her.
“And you’ve been here the whole time?” She asks, gazing at me in wonderment. I nod briskly.
“Does that make me creepy?”
She laughs, and her laugh is like a chorus in my head. “Not any creepier than we look to anyone else.”
“I think I’ll stay,” she whispers, and the words carry with them a different kind of warmth. I don’t know if it’s possible, or what will happen to her when her body dies. To her, I’m just a dream, and to me, she’s everything. She smiles at me and I put an emaciated arm around her to pull her close. She spends a little more of her dream magic putting flesh back onto my bones.
“Where to this time?” I ask.
“I’ve always wanted to see your North Pole,” she says.
“Why stop there?” I ask. “Have you ever been to the moon?”
She looks up into the sky, where the moon hangs in the darkness, surrounded by a million stars. Moonlight caresses her hair, and makes her shirt, my shirt, glow with its light.
“The moon? I’ve never thought…”
This may be her last time with me, and why not has to be the way of it. Days stretch out before us, or it could be hours, or it could be minutes. Just because she wants to stay doesn’t mean she can.
I look at her and smile, and she grabs my hand tighter.
“Why not?” She repeats, and we are gone - a miracle that never occurred in a park bearing no witnesses. On the moon, we don’t bother with clothes anymore. Life shrinks down to her, and me, and an endless beach stretching out before us.
I suppose I’m still homeless, but with her, I’ll never be cold again.
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I love this so much!
Thank you Kristina!
Wow! This is a killing winner story, Andrew, and I am very honest. The first glance, and it completely sucked me in. There are a few remarkable lines that I can't help but reflect a soft smile like the way you ended it. Brilliant Andrew!
Hi Keya! Thank you so much, I really appreciate your feedback! I really enjoyed writing this story and most of the stuff I write is dystopian in nature, so happy endings are a rare thing for me. I was very surprised when the story broke that way. What a great thing to hear - thank you again!