She readied her paintbrush as the first bars of Dvořák’s “New World” symphony spilled from her record player. The gentle hum of the strings guided her fine tip across the whitewash. When the music built to a crescendo, she stepped back and studied the wall. Her night-black line slid precisely through the mural like the decisive sweep of her imaginary conductor’s baton, curving around patches of darkened green and raindrop blue. Tilting her head, she half-closed her eyes and added a final flourish to mark the end-point of her path.
Without looking behind her, she lifted the needle of the record player and shifted it closer to the center of the record. The notes from the second movement skipped slightly, but she hummed along with the record.
Going home, going home, I’ll be going home
A ribbon of sunshine crossed through her lakes, her hills, and her path, a final golden stroke over swaths of color. She glanced up at her single window, but a cloud erased the sunbeam before she had time to smile. Patiently, she lifted her paint and settled the can in one corner of the room. At the wash-stand in the other corner, she cleaned her brush, her hands, and her face. Straightening the collar on her maroon vintage dress, she half-smiled at herself in the mirror.
Even though the road is long, I’ll be going home
Then she stepped back to study her map once more. One hundred and forty strokes. The exact number of roses embroidered on her sofa, the exact number of letters on the paint label, the exact number of dots on her apron. She remembered being teased for that apron, that sofa, the record player. No one else used them anymore, but they were hers.
Far away have I strayed, far from those I knew
She folded herself onto the sofa. Paint can, wash-stand, apron, record-player. Everything in the right corner. Afghan across the arm of the sofa, for the evening. The stack of books, for the afternoon. For now, the music. She closed her eyes. Perhaps today would be a day to go outside, if the clouds left the sun alone. The porch needed painting, perhaps with the leftover green paint.
But I’m sure I will be coming home to you
Still without looking, she shifted the needle to the final movement. The crescendo of strings and horns chased away her tranquility, and she opened her eyes to a blank wall.
“No,” she whispered, her voice lost in the music’s crescendo. “I’ll simply paint it—again.”
She almost fell from the sofa in her hurry to reach the paint, but both paint and brush had vanished. When she turned to silence the music, tried to think, a voice echoed in the hall outside.
“She’s coming, but we’ll have to take it slowly—it’s been a long time.”
The symphony ended, a last grand resolution. Intent on the voice, she only glanced at the empty corner where the record player had been.
“Easy now, not too quickly. Watch the monitor for stress. Steady, there we go.”
She blinked, quickly but deliberately. Her apron and her stacks of books were no longer in their places. She realized she was sitting on the floor, without her sofa cushions. She fumbled for her afghan and draped it around her shoulders, shuddering.
“Slower, slower, or her signs will destabilize. Gently, please.”
A sunbeam fell across her lap, and she stopped shivering. The afghan disappeared, but she smiled.
“There, that’s it. Just a moment more.”
She curled up on the floor. The voice was closer now, but company would have to let themselves in. She needed a quiet rest first, and then she would talk to her visitors. And paint the porch. And water her roses. How long had it been since she’d slept?
“Hello? Can you hear me? Can you try to speak?”
She opened her eyes. A man in a white coat was bending over her.
“Loretta, can you hear me?”
She tried to hum the last movement of the symphony, to clear the catch in her throat, but no sound came. Carefully, she nodded.
The doctor smiled. “Wonderful, just wonderful.”
He pressed a switch, and she felt herself lifting. When she held out her hands, he pressed a glass of water into them. Tilting the glass, she drank. Raindrop blue. Over the doctor’s shoulder, through the shimmering glass window, she saw a sweep of hills. Darkened green.
She glanced at the doctor, who was reading something from the tablet in his hands. “Are we home?”
“All vitals read normal,” he said, lifting the empty glass from her hand. “Suspension was successful, Miss McRoy.”
She nodded. “And the date?”
He shook his head. “2150, January 1st. We were unable to extend stasis for longer than expected.”
Her breath caught like the silence at the end of her symphony. “My birthday,” she whispered. “January 1, 1990.” She sat in the silence for a moment, then she smiled. “Don’t tell me how old I am, please.”
“Of course not,” he said, smiling in return. “But I can tell you anything else you want to know.”
She tilted her head, imagining the feel of her paintbrush in her fingers. “Do people still listen to Dvořák’s symphonies?”
He frowned. “I’m used to the music of these monitors—that’s a question for James.”
“James?” She glanced down at her dress, adjusting the one crooked button in the long row between her collar and her waistband.
The doctor grinned. “My colleague. He’s developed quite the interest in Mozart since he learned about your brother Jacob’s music. Developed quite an interest in history, too, especially because you happen to be—” He glanced down at his tablet, which had begun emitting a consistent crescendo of noise, and then back at her. “I have to go.”
She exhaled slowly. “It’s mother, isn’t it? She’s probably running late.” When the doctor nodded, she added, “Of all of us, she would get—lost—the most often.”
The doctor scanned her monitor, then turned to leave. “Try and get some sleep,” he said. “I’ll send James in to see you—he’ll know more than I do about the things you want to know.”
He lowered her bed, and she lay back against the regulation cushions. “James,” she whispered. “At least they still have historical names in the 22nd century. Variant for Jacob, from the Hebrew—”
Her eyes closed. When she opened them again, another young doctor was standing half-turned towards her, scanning rapidly though a tablet. After a moment, she drew a breath and sat up, summoning a smile as hidden as Mona Lisa’s.
“Well,” she said, “as far as I can tell, we’re home.” He turned and stumbled over a monitor, but didn’t answer. “Is that right, doctor?” she prompted. “Have we come out of suspension?” His mouth opened, but no words emerged.
She turned her head and glanced at her father and her brothers, all asleep. “Mother’s running a little late. You’ll try your best to wake her? I know there’s some risk.”
He nodded, and she let him see a hint more of the smile. “Do you have a name?” she asked, shaking her head when he glanced down at his identification badge. “There’s another half, isn’t there?”
He blushed. “Call me James.”
She tilted her head to hide her laughter. “Because that’s your name?”
“I’m Anderson,” he finally stammered. “James Anderson.”