“Hello, Cordi,” the man said quietly as he approached the woman.
Cordi sat alone on a faded park bench. She was on her lunch break. Today, Cordi was engrossed in a book she had just started reading. Her curly, dark auburn hair hung to one side, creating a sort of fortress that told others she was busy and to stay away.
The man then sat on the far side of Cordi’s bench, leaned over and tried again. Clearing his throat, he said a little more loudly, “Excuse me, miss … I said ‘hello’?”
Cordi rolled her eyes. She just wanted to be left alone. She sighed, and closed the book, and then pulled back her long hair, turning her head to see who it was that was interrupting her alone time.
“Hi?” Cordi said curtly and glanced at the strange man.
The gentleman sitting next to her wore a full grey pin-striped suit with a yellow flowered bow tie and a matching pocket square. His shoes were shined. His dark hair was combed neatly with a severe part over his right eye. His blue eyes matched his toothy grin as he smiled affectionately at Cordi. She had seen those dark-rimmed glasses somewhere before. It surprised Cordi that this man didn’t feel like a stranger.
“Do I know you?” Cordi asked cautiously. Cordi was not a smiler. She glared at the man.
“Well, I hope so,” the man kept smiling, then pulled a photo out of the inside pocket of his suit coat. “Do you know this man and woman?” He smoothed out the photo across his knee, then handed it to Cordi.
She put her book aside and took the photo.
Cordi studied it and then looked back at the man. A larger version was framed on her grandparents’ wall in their home. “This is my grandmother and grandfather when they were young ... ” Cordi squinted at the photo and then back at the man. Her heart began to beat and her palms became sticky. She thought to herself, ‘This can’t be happening.’ She backed away from the man and threw the photograph at him.
“Woah!” Cordi stood, trying to keep an eye on the man while grabbing at her backpack on the ground. “Who...who are...you? Is this a joke? Did someone set you up? I’m gonna scream if you don’t start answering me.”
Cordi was now standing on the other side of the bench, holding her backpack in front of her as if it was a shield.
“Cordi,” the man spoke quietly, “I completely understand why you’d be upset and I assure you that this is not a joke.” He picked up the photo she had thrown. “That is indeed your grandmother and grandfather. In fact, I should know. I am the man in that picture.”
Cordi interrupted through gritted teeth, “but my grandfather is in a nursing home across town. He has Alzheimer’s!” Cordi’s eyebrows came together as her heart beat hard again. “This isn’t possible. My Pops is super old. And you’re so … you’re so young!”
“Cordi, calm down,” the man put the photo back in his pocket, then patted the park bench, “if you’ll sit down, I’ll explain.”
“You can do what?” she paused, “Like in the movies?”
Cordi’s grandfather nodded, “Yes. Kinda like in the movies, I guess.” He slid a little closer to his granddaughter and whispered, “Time travel is hereditary, Cordi.”
Her eyes widened. She grabbed the elastic band from around her wrist and pulled back her long hair, putting it in a ponytail and faced this young version of her grandfather. This was information she wanted to make sure she didn’t miss.
“What are you saying to me?” She said, focusing on his every word.
“I’m saying that on your thirtieth birthday next week, you may experience some strange sensations in your brain,” he said, then stopped, “At least, it usually begins on the thirtieth birthday.”
Cordi nodded slowly.
The man continued, “but, it only works when you picture a certain time period in your brain. You must concentrate on that time. You will see and feel a kind of flash and in seconds, you will be transported from this time to the time you were envisioning.”
“And why do you think that I will be able to time travel?” Cordi asked slowly and cautiously, “and you said I’ll have a flash in my brain? Will it hurt? What if it’s just me having a stroke?” She could feel her heart race again. She reminded herself to breathe. ‘In. Out. You’re ok, Cordi. This is just your grandpa. You love him. He loves you. He’s on your side. Why would he lie to you?’
“I’ve been watching you,” he replied, “In each generation, there is at least one person who inherits the power to time travel. Me, your Uncle Mark, and now I think it’s you…”
“Wait! Mark can do this, too?”
The man nodded. “Yes, years ago, I had this same conversation with him just before his thirtieth birthday. He was pretty shocked. I’m not exactly sure what determines who gets the power, but it must be linked to DNA or something.”
He continued, “I have been watching you and you exhibit many of the traits we all possess. You are thoughtful and patient. You have a way of making sure the best thing is done for the good of the most people. And .... to be honest, you’ve time-traveled before!”
Cordi gulped hard, “Wait! I’ve what?”
“When you were a baby. Your grandmother and I came to your house to tend you while your parents went out. I had put you down on the floor to play with some toys. You started staring at a toy gorilla so intently and then in an instant, you disappeared! You were only gone for a few seconds, but when I saw that, I knew.”
Cordi inhaled deeply, letting out a long breath. She turned back around on the bench, staring at her feet. She knew what her young grandfather was telling her was true.
“I can’t stay much longer,” he explained, “But if I can tell you one important thing about this power, it is that you must use it to help people. We get the chance to travel throughout history to see, meet and help people we love. I am so excited that you are going to become a Traveler.”
“A Traveler,” she asked, “that’s what you’re called?” She looked up from staring at the ground.
“Yes, you’ll become a Traveler,” he said as he gently touched Cordi’s hand, “It’s an exciting time in your life, Cordi. Just know, too, that you’ll only stay in each place for only a few minutes. In fact, I’ve got to be going now, too.” He stood up and smiled at his granddaughter, “I love you.”
“Wait, let me write some of this down,” Cordi said. She reached down into her backpack for a notebook. As she looked up, her grandfather was gone.
Cordi whispered to the air, “I love you, too, Pops.”
Cordi had a difficult time sleeping the nights before her thirtieth birthday. She kept thinking about her visit with her grandfather. Had she only imagined it? No. It was real.
Cordi thought long and hard about who she could help and who she wanted to see. Cordi had remembered that during her seventh birthday party, she had received a Pretty Princess Pony doll. After Cordi had opened the gift, she put the doll down on the playground and by time the party was over, it had been stolen. Cordi wanted to go back and make sure her younger self didn’t lose the pony. She was sad for months because of it.
As Cordi’s alarm went off on her thirtieth birthday, she got right out of bed. Like a kid on the first day of school, Cordi had picked out a shirt and jeans that she felt would look great for Traveling. She wanted to make sure she made a good impression on 7-year old Cordelia.
Once she felt she was ready, Cordi sat on the edge of the bed and closed her eyes. She breathed deeply in and out, like she would in her yoga class. She’d never done this before. It was all guesswork right now.
Cordi cleared her mind, trying to imagine her seventh birthday. She focused on the park, the playground, the benches, the pink and orange balloons, and her friends. Soon enough, her head began to tingle, but not in a headache sort of way. She began to smell the birthday cake and melting vanilla ice cream. She could hear kids screaming and laughing, and soon enough, a flash went off in Cordi’s brain. ‘Just like Pops said would happen,’ she thought.
The sensation was so strong, Cordi opened her eyes immediately. In front of her was the playground in the park that was near the home where she grew up. She could see the wrapping paper that had been neatly folded in a stack on the edge of one of the picnic tables. Her mother always saved the wrapping paper. Cordi never knew why.
The vanilla cake with bright pink and orange icing had been cut and served. Ice cream was melting in a plastic barrel. The scoop had slid to the bottom of the container.
Cordi slowly surveyed the scene. Her mouth opened as she caught a glimpse of her 7-year old self running around the playground. Her younger self donned a plastic, glittery princess crown as she dragged her new pony around the playground. She was wearing her favorite unicorn T-shirt. ‘I remember that shirt! I loved it!’ Cordi thought.
Traveler Cordi brought her hand to her mouth. She was speechless, but thought, ‘This. Is. So. Cool! Unbelievable! I am so little!’
“Hi there,” a familiar voice said to Cordi, “I’m Jennifer. I didn’t see you sit down.”
Startled, Cordi turned around and there stood a younger version of her mother with her hand outstretched. Cordi shook her hand. She had never shaken hands with her mother before. It felt so formal.
Cordi gasped and almost couldn’t form words. There was her mom in front of her, and she was so young. Cordi fumbled through an introduction, “Oh hi there. Yes, I was just walking and was feeling a little light-headed, so I sat down for a minute. I’m sorry if I am interrupting my…” Cordi stopped, “...I mean, your daughter’s birthday party.”
“You’re not interrupting anything. We’re just finishing up,” Jennifer said. “Can I get you some water or something? Are you sure you’re ok?”
“Yes, I am fine. Really. I am just a little dizzy. Some water would be great,” Cordi said.
Jennifer poured a paper cup of water and gave it to Cordi. Jennifer said, “You look familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?”
Cordi gulped at the water then replied, “I’m new to this … area … yeah, this area. I just have a common looking face, probably?” She grimaced and laughed awkwardly.
Jennifer said, “Well, I hope you’re ok. I know what it’s like to be overwhelmed, especially when you’re new to a place.”
“Oh yeah. Did you just move here?” Cordi wasn’t sure when they moved to this neighborhood. She had never thought about it.
“No, we’ve been here for a few years, but it was tough to move to a new place. I was depressed for a lot of months. I had two little girls and my little boy was on the way and then my husband was starting a new job. I didn’t know anyone.” Jennifer shrugged her shoulders, as if she were a bit embarrassed. “I’m not sure why I’m telling you all this. Do you have children?”
Cordi stammered, “Uh...no, I’m not even married.” She held up her left hand, “See no ring yet.”
Jennifer replied, “I’m surprised. You seem like a lovely person. I’m sure you’ll find someone you can share your life with … I mean, if that’s what you want to do with your life. Look at me telling you how to live your life! Like I’m your mother or something!” Jennifer laughed and patted Cordi’s shoulder.
“Yeah, I guess I just haven’t found the right person yet. Someday… maybe. My mom worries about it more than I do” Cordi confessed, “But, I’m sure you’re a great mom. The girl with the tiara, she’s yours, right?” Cordi asked, trying to keep the conversation alive.
“Yep, Cordelia is the birthday girl. She’s a gem. I am so blessed to have her. That’s my other daughter, Savannah and Bruce is in the sandbox over there,” she said pointing. “They keep me going for sure, but Cordelia, well, we call her Cordi, is my big helper. I couldn't do it without her. She’s seven going on 30!”
‘Wow, I had no idea Mom felt that way about me,’ Cordi thought.
Cordi watched the younger Cordelia put the pony on the edge of the playground.
Cordi asked, “Do you want me to grab that so she doesn’t lose it?” Cordi got off the bench, walked to the playground, knelt quickly and grabbed the pony. She could hear young Cordelia giggling with a friend. ‘This is so surreal,’ Cordi thought.
Cordi brought it back to the table and gave it to Jennifer. ‘Whew, I just saved Jennifer months of young me whining for this doll!’
Jennifer put the pony next to the wrapping paper. “Thanks! You must have nieces and nephews. Kids lose things so fast!”
“Was that one of her presents she received today?” Cordi asked Jennifer.
“Yes, her best friend got it for her. She loves that pony! I’m glad they were able to get one for her.”
Jennifer sighed deeply and smiled slightly. She seemed to be staring at each of her children as they played, then suddenly, Jennifer’s eyes teared up.
“Is everything ok with you? Maybe you need some water?” Cordi asked then smiled.
“Yes, I’m fine.” Jennifer wiped at her eyes with a napkin, “It’s silly, really. My husband just lost his job, and Cordi wanted this birthday party so badly. It’s all we could do to pull this off, so I’m just grateful that her friend bought her that pony because we couldn't afford it this time.”
Cordi took a second look at the party her mother had put together. The paper plates, cups and napkins were all mismatched. There were three simple balloons; one pink, one orange and one that said HAPPY BIRTHDAY on it. Cordi had always imagined that there were more. The cake had been homemade and was decorated simply and the ice cream was a 5-gallon bucket that had already been eaten out of. And then she saw the wrapping paper again. ‘Oh. That’s why she kept it.’ Cordi had no idea that her mom and dad ever struggled. She only had happy memories.
“Well, I think you’re doing a great job, Jennifer” Cordi patted Jennifer’s shoulder and then went in for a hug. Cordi whispered in her mom’s ear, “Your kids are lucky to have you.”
Jennifer returned the hug, dabbing at her eyes some more and said, “Sorry to have gotten so emotional on you. It’s really easy to talk to you … I’m sorry … what is your name anyway?”
Suddenly, Cordi’s brain began to tingle again. “Um, sorry, I’ve just remembered I’ve got to go … thank you for the water.” Cordi abruptly stood up and ran behind the closest tree she could find then closed her eyes tight. She squatted down and tried to stop the dizzy feeling that had overcome her. Her brain flashed and when Cordi opened her eyes she was back in her bedroom. Just like that.
Her phone vibrated. She grabbed it out of her back pocket. It was her mother.
“Hi Cordi! Happy Birthday!” Cordi’s mom yelled, “The big thirty, huh?”
“Hi Mom,” Cordi said, “I’m lucky to have been able to talk to you twice today already!”
“What are you talking about? I just woke up,” her mom replied.
“I know, Mom,” Cordi said, shaking her head, “I’m just being weird, I guess.” Cordi rolled her eyes. ‘Oops. Gonna have to get used to this.’
There was a brief pause, and then Cordi said, “Hey mom, do you remember my seventh birthday party in the park years ago?”
“That’s so funny that you mentioned that! I was just going through some things in the attic the other day and guess what I found? Your Princess Pony doll! I’ll bring it to you when I see you next.”
Cordi began to tear up, “I loved that pony!”
“I know you did,” her mom said, “You almost lost it that day at the park. It was a good thing that nice lady showed up.”
“Yeah, I remember you telling me about her,” Cordi grinned to herself knowingly, “who was she?”
“I don’t know. She was only there for a few minutes, but I remember she was a lovely young woman. She disappeared as fast as she appeared.”
There was another brief pause, and then it was Cordi’s mom whose voice caught, “Y’know, that mystery woman was an answer to my prayer that day. I was having a rough day. I wanted your birthday party to be perfect and we just didn’t have a lot of money…”
“Mom, it was a perfect party. It was one of my favorites!” Cordi said and then she continued, “I am lucky to have you, Mom.”
“How did you know that’s what the mystery woman said?”
“That’s what the mystery woman said to me that day in the park. She said that my kids were lucky to have me,” Cordi’s mom laughed to herself, “I can’t believe I remember that from all those years ago, but it was exactly what I needed. I guess we’ll never know who she was.”
“Yeah, I guess not,” Cordi said, smiling.
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Loved, loved, loved your story. I got choked up at the end. Well written. I will keep an eye out for other submissions of yours. Your story and mine both begin in a park with a stranger. As I started reading I thought, what is going on here? It's funny, we are both males writing from a female's POV. Interesting.
Thank you for taking time to write this note. Much appreciated!