Most people live their lives in the present: looking back on the past; trying to anticipate the future. My gift – my curse – is that I was fated to foretell what will be. But the gods have a cruel sense of humour, for they decreed that no one would believe me when I spoke of things to come.
Back then, I was Cassandra: daughter of Priam; sister of Paris. To be honest, I didn’t need the gift of prophecy to see that my brother’s desire for Helen would end in tears. She was beautiful – “the face that launched a thousand ships” is how one of the playwrights centuries later described her – but she was also married: to Menelaus, King of Sparta. He was a good bit older than her: no doubt he was handsome once, but by the time Paris visited Sparta, Menelaus had run to fat and was losing his hair. Paris, on the other hand, was only 17: tall, well-muscled, and with a smile that would melt your heart. Helen was some 9 or 10 years older, with a daughter, Hermione, but that didn’t stop the two of them. She and Paris fell in lust straightaway, and he carried her off to Troy whilst her husband was still planning the welcome reception.
Of course, it didn’t last: within six months, they were getting on each other’s nerves and all the rampant sex had dwindled to a half-hearted fumble every now and then when Paris was drunk. Still, it was an excuse for a war, and we all know how men love prancing about waving swords.
All that was centuries ago. My brother’s bones have long since crumbled to dust and the city of Troy remains a fallen ruin. The world I wander through now bears little resemblance to the one I knew, yet the gods are as capricious as ever – especially, it seems, when it comes to love…
I’m sitting at one of those cafes with the chairs and tables outside when I see him. Sunlight dances across his hair, turning it to burnished gold, and for a moment, I am back in the past, gazing at the face of my beautiful brother as he carries Helen inside the city.
The feelings I experience right now are not those of a sister.
Over the centuries, I’ve had lovers; and for every one of them I’ve looked like the girl I was when Apollo first took a shine to me. He cursed me with immortality as well as prophecy: I think he thought it amusing to imagine me weeping over paramours who grew old and withered away whilst I remained in my prime. That’s what you get for saying no to a god.
This one, though… Looking at him is like a cool drink on a hot summer’s day. I know instinctively that his lips will taste like honeyed mead and that his skin will smell of spice and stardust. The thought of him turns my bones to water.
And then a premonition ripples across my mind and I see him tripping over the feet of a blonde woman some tables away and quite literally falling for her.
Sometimes, you have to defy the gods. As he passes my table, I manage to drop my phone at his feet. He and I both reach for it together. Our fingers touch; our eyes meet. The rest is history.
At least, it should be. But the gods have a way of re-righting the future, and it was never their intention for me to be happy.
For now, they allow a brief moment of contentment: the lull before the storm.
“I’m James,” says my modern-day Adonis.
“I’m Cassie,” I reply.
From the corner of my eye, I see the blonde woman leaving.
We sit there, drinking coffee and talking, until the sky gradually darkens and twilight weaves around us.
“Do you want to get something to eat?” he says.
The café closes at 6, so we find a Wetherspoons and an empty table and order salmon for him and salad for me. It’s as the waitress is bringing our meals that I experience another flash of the future: James choking on a fishbone. I know then that the gloves are off and the temporary reprieve is over.
I manage to time it right so that I jump up from my seat to go to the loo just as the waitress is about to hand us the plates. The china spins as my hand catches it, and a salmon fillet slithers to the floor. (Aren’t fillets meant to be boneless? Is this another example of Apollo’s twisted sense of humour?)
James isn’t impressed with my clumsy behaviour, but how can I tell him I’ve just saved his life? (Men don’t really like it when women end up being the heroes.) He asks for another salmon, but that was the last one. He has to settle for a pizza instead, and I can tell he’s not happy.
He cheers up over apple pie and cream, and the glass of wine probably helps too. I’m still finding my way round these modern dating rituals, but when he asks if I’d like him to walk me home, I realise he’s hoping for an invitation to see my bedroom. I’m hoping for a friendly flash of inspiration. Nothing. If Aphrodite wants to bless our union, she’s keeping quiet about it for the time being.
We’re within a few hundred yards of my flat when the premonition hits me: a man with a knife is trying to rob us. When James fights back, the blade slices into him.
I’ve hardly time to rifle through my bag, looking for anything that can be used as a weapon. My fingers close around a perfume atomiser. When the inevitable happens, only moments later, I let our attacker have the full force of the spray, right in his eyes.
James stares at me: half-impressed; half-horrified. “Do you make a habit of fighting off potential muggers?” His other question hovers in the air unspoken: what would you have done if that had just been a harmless passer-by?
But I’m on too much of a high to care. Giddy with relief at having averted disaster for James three times now, I dare to think that maybe the gods aren’t going to ruin things this time.
“My flat’s just over there,” I say, taking his hand and beginning to lead him across the road.
Flash! This premonition’s stronger than any of the others. I freeze mid-step, my mind watching in slow motion as the car hits James.
Frozen to the spot in shock, I’m suddenly aware of the car hurtling towards me. I’m too surprised to move out of the way. I always thought I’d anticipate my own death.
But I’m pushed out of the path of the oncoming vehicle a split second before it reaches the spot where I was. The spot where James now is – or rather, the crumpled heap that he’s become.
It’s my fault. If I hadn’t stopped in the road to focus on my premonition, he wouldn’t have needed to save me. No one would have been hurt.
An ambulance arrives about ten minutes later. James is still breathing, but his beautiful face is a mess. A blonde paramedic helps her co-worker lift him onto a stretcher. Her face is familiar, and then I realise where I’ve seen her before. She’s the woman he was meant to fall for earlier.
I watch as she sits beside him in the ambulance, stroking his hand and talking to him softly. It will be her voice, not mine, he remembers, and her face will be the first one he sees when he wakes up.
Like I said, the gods have a way of righting the future – and I know they’ll never write a future where I finally find love.