1 comment

Sad Science Fiction Romance

“Today we discussed this painting by Toulouse-Lautrec, called Two Women Waltzing,” Janet said and showed me the painting on her cellular.

The cold sun of March was shining over the balcony of the restaurant on the 49th floor of the Stick, and it was difficult to make up the details of the painting.

“These people are his acquaintances,” she continued. “This dancer in the front, her name is Cha-U-Kao. She openly declared being a lesbian, and she has a male occupation – a clown. Think of it, that was 130 years ago, and today …”

One of the things I found attractive in Janet was that whatever she talked about, be it modern art, Buddhism, or her last trip home, sounded as the most interesting topic in the world, full of connections and similarities to other subjects or events. For her, the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism were directing our lives, were the way to analyze every crisis around the world, every decision we should make. And conversations on mundane topics around the table at her parents’ place were no different than the discussions of the Christian synods on the way to treat secular art.

“What distracts you, honey?”

Even when my thoughts drifted to our morning activity in bed, to a colorful bird perching on a nearby tree, or a passing rare car, Janet did not scold me, but rather was concerned whether something in my day was bothering me.

I felt the small box in my pocket. My heart told me this is The Moment.

“My-J, I love you. You are the only woman I will ever love. I want to wake up next to you every day of my life. I want to make you happy, to share my life with yours. I want to have a family with you. Will you marry me?”

I didn’t have any doubt about her answer, yet when she accepted, a rush of happiness drowned me. We left the restaurant and walked along the river, kissing, fondling, laughing. I didn’t care about the passersby. In fact, I did not notice them at all. Janet, the love of my life, the to-be Mrs. Joshua Coreman, the future mother of my kids, was walking next to me, and that was the only thing that mattered. No suffering, no struggles.

Janet stopped walking, and her hand pulled mine. She was gazing dumbstruck at the birch tree growing in the middle of the promenade. A man was leaning on the trunk. He was about 40, curly black hair, green eyes, wearing a dark blue sweater with colorful stripes and black jeans. He was me, fifteen years my senior. He had a few wrinkles along the eyes, but he wore that unmistakable sweater, Janet’s present for our first anniversary. And his ears were a bit too big. As a kid, I spent hours in front of the mirror, trying to make them stick to the side of my skull rather than give me the look of Dumbo the elephant. This was certainly me. And that me was openly crying, tears visible on his chicks.

“Josh, who is this?” she whispered.

“I am Josh,” the guy said, “the same guy who asked your hand half an hour ago.”

“What is this prank?”

Her tone was more forceful than before.

“It’s not a prank, My-J,” he said, “I came to forewarn you.”

Upon hearing the nickname I invented the first time she stayed for the night, the nickname only I used, she took a step back.

“I don’t like this, Josh. Let’s leave.”

“You shouldn’t leave together,” the guy said. “In fact, you mustn’t get married. Y’see, Josh will kill you in ten years. I killed you in ten years.”

I stopped breathing. What the hell is going on? I never felt so much at a loss. The closest I felt this way was at the beginning of my freshman year, but even then I could guess what was expected of me.

Janet tugged my hand.

“Let’s go, Josh.”

I couldn’t move. Janet yanked me harder, but my muscles were frozen. I was staring at the older me, trying to make sense of what he said.

“I am sorry I didn’t come before you proposed. Or before your first date, our first date, at Chez Francoise. That would have been much easier for all of us. But for some reason, this is the earliest moment I can reach.”

“Go away!” Janet hissed.

“My-J, please,” he said, “I am sorry, I am truly very sorry.”

Tears were flowing freely from his eyes.

“I love you,” he continued. “You were the most precious treasure I ever had.”

“So why did you kill me? Go away!”

I never heard such vehemence in her voice. Her fingers held mine so tightly, I was afraid she would break them. I was sure she would reap the man apart.

“After I graduated, I got a position in Oklahoma State,” he said. “You could not fit in there. You were depressed, started drinking and smoking. It was horrible.”

His voice croaked. He paused for a few seconds and wiped his nose.

“We went on a trip to the Canyons. There, on a narrow trail in the Grand Canyon…”

He was openly crying.

“I am sorry, My-J. I could not hold myself; we were so miserable, and I did not know how to handle it. I am sorry.”

“Who the hell are you?” she wheezed. Janet left my grip, went to the guy, and with a force that I never knew she possessed tore his sweater. The array of spots that decorated my chest came into view, except the large one above the heart, where he had a scar.

Janet collapsed on a bench and started sobbing. I took the place next to her.

This was insane. How come I would kill her? In my entire life I have never hit a person. None of what went on here made sense. And where did this guy come from? There cannot be time machines, this is what they explained in the Intro to Philosophy class.

“Apparently the government was working for decades on a machine that connects parallel universes,” he said as if reading my mind. “They started using it as a correctional means. My punishment is to prevent the murder.”

Janet stood up.

“So now that you warned us, we will make sure this doesn’t happen. Can you leave us alone?”

“You will be depressed in Stillwater, My-J. You will teach art in a lousy high school, where no one will appreciate your work. If you turn down this offer, you will run afternoon classes, which will attract only two kids, and they will quit after a month.”

“I will turn down the offer from Oklahoma State,” I interrupted. “We will find a way to keep both of us happy.”

“You will then both get positions in Tennessee,” the guy went on. “Both of you will be depressed. You will visit the Catskills, and…”.

“Give me some hope,” Janet shouted.

“I have done this for five years,” he said. “I talked with the two of you a thousand times. You never listen to me. You are sure that love will win, that if you know all the pitfalls, you will be able to evade the inevitable. But you can’t. You can’t.”

He was on the verge of collapsing. Like the time Mom got the telephone call about the accident Grandma and Grandpa had.

“I killed you again and again. Whatever we do, whatever we try, I end up killing you. You must separate. Now.”

My mind was blank. This was all so surreal. If I could chat with old me alone, maybe the inevitable could be overcome.

“If you love me, save me from this punishment,” he said. “Every morning I meet you, usually here, sometimes down there,” he pointed at the bridge in front, “sometimes at the Den. We all weep, you two part together. Then, in the afternoon, at the correction center, they fast forward for me your life. I pushed you to death in so many places; I stabbed you; I drowned you; I…” He wiped his cheeks. “Every morning I meet the woman I love, and ruin the happiest moment of our life, knowing how it all deteriorated, how I was incapable of managing our crisis, how I put an end to all the misery, just to start a worse one. Please, My-J, listen to me just once. Go, while you still can.”

His watch beeped.

“My time is almost over,” his voice became urgent. “They will pull me back in a second. Y’know, in the last few months I started suspecting that in your darkest moments, knowing how it is going to end, you’ll actually wish it to happen.”

He tried to stifle a cry.

“Please. Don’t let me kill you.”

And as he finished the sentence, he disappeared.

Janet and I looked stupefied at each other.

“My-J, tell me I am dreaming,” I begged.

The tears, the pale skin, the cold fingers, the shaking hands, were her response. How can it be that I will kill her, I asked myself? She is my gem, my soul. I want nothing but her. Janet was a friendly and cheerful person. She found everything interesting. How come she will be so totally depressed to make herself unbearable. This was impossible. This guy, this me, was surely wrong.

And why was future me so pessimistic? Why did he have to tell Janet that I will kill her?

At that moment, I hated him so much, for not giving me the chance to find a path that would save Janet and our marriage.

 “I am sorry, Josh,” Janet’s voice broke. “I am sorry I will be depressed and ruin everything.”

“My-J,” I started.

“No, don’t say anything. He is right, you know. Whatever he said, I am sure it will happen.”

She buried her lips in mine, and her hands slid under my sweater.

“Come,” she finally said.

She turned towards the Stick, dragging me behind her. The wind was chilly, and I tightened the scarf around my neck. We took the elevator to the 49th floor.

“Good afternoon, did you for…”, the host started, and stopped dead when Janet waved her hand.

Janet rushed to the restaurant’s balcony and gazed at the city. The skyscrapers around us were as impressive as an hour ago. The black and white Riser, the Twins, one circular and the other triangular, the Green Giant, whose walls were covered with plants, the Davis Center.

“I will not make you suffer,” Janet said.

“There must be a fix, a loophole. We will find it.”

There always was. In all stories, all movies, all dilemmas in the present and in the past, there was always a solution. If people were open minded, if they tried hard enough, they found it.

“Josh, there is no solution, not this time. You admitted it.”

Her face was a ruin of tears and makeup.

“Not this time,” she repeated.

She crossed the railing. I held her.

“Janet, please, stay with me. We will find a way out.”

“I love you, Josh, more than anything else in this world.”

“No!” someone shrieked behind me. “Don’t!”

I turned around. Future me was standing there, wide eyes filled with fright.

I looked back at Janet. She was not there. I hugged future me and we cried on each other’s shoulder until the steps of police were heard, and he vanished.

May 03, 2023 11:04

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

1 comment

Michał Przywara
20:40 May 12, 2023

That's a fun story :) What I particularly like is, this isn't a warning about a single outcome, it's a warning for thousands of them. That makes it all the more tragic. Perhaps suffering is inevitable.


Show 0 replies

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.