I close the letter, put it back in its envelope, and place the envelope next to me, on the bed.
For a few minutes I stare into the void. I can't find the words. I only feel tears streaming down my cheeks. My life will never be the same again.
There is a snowstorm today. While a lot of people do not like to go out in this weather, I love it. I wrap myself up in warm clothes and head off to my favorite coffee shop in the city center, where I can warm up with the best hot chocolate I've ever had. Besides, the city is so small that everyone knows everyone else, and I am sure I will find someone I know there. But when I arrive, for the first time in years that I have lived here, I notice a new person: someone I have never seen before. This person is an old lady, sitting alone on a round table enjoying a hot chocolate. But what catches my eyes is not so much that old lady as the scarf hanging on the chair next to her... This scarf, of such an intense mauve color, has almost a hypnotic effect on me... It looks exactly like the one I am wearing right now, and even stranger, on one end of it, was sewn a small green clover, exactly like the one on my scarf. I thought this scarf was sold as a one-off. That's what the salesman told me... I must have been mistaken. Eventually, I go sit at a table but I can’t help myself but keep looking discreetly at this old lady. A few minutes later, she finally gets up to leave and I stare at her, despite myself, in all her movements. I don't know why, but that she has just aroused my curiosity...
I run out of books in my bookcase. I have read everything, especially during this winter period. So today, I head to the only bookstore of the city and as usual, I wander through the shelves until a book chooses me, like the wand chooses its wizard. When I finally reach out my hand to grasp the Sentimental Education, for this book seemed to be waiting for me to finally get it out of its dusty shelf, an old wrinkled hand touches mine, in a similar movement to grab Flaubert's work... I turn my head: it's the old lady from the other time in the café. I am about to leave her the book when she says:
"You can take it lovely, there are plenty other books here that I can buy to read them in front of my fireplace while listening to Mozart's sonatas with my cat sleeping on my lap."
And she goes off, giving me a mysterious smile and I just stand there, gawking. How is it that she has the same reading routine as I do? Does she read minds? Plus, why did she feel like she had to tell me her routine? God, how intriguing that old lady is to me...
Spring is coming! I can hear the scattered choir of birds and it puts me in a good mood! I take my bike and head downtown to enjoy the sun on this beautiful day of March. I go for a walk in the city park and when I arrive there, I see many people jogging, running, picnicking... This is wonderful. I can smell the smell of nature, of flowers, and it soothes me. Walking by the lake located in the center of the park, the breeze of the wind brings to my nostrils a smell that I know so well... A mixture of cherry blossoms, hawthorn blossoms, almond and vanilla... This is exactly the smell of the perfume I bought during a trip to Japan when I was fourteen years old. However, I only wear it on special occasions, like today, for the spring solstice, but I forgot to put some… Therefore, who wears it? Convinced that no one else in the city has this perfume, I let the wind guide me to the source of the scent to solve this mystery. Arriving less than two yards from it, I recognized the old lady: the one I saw in January and last month. I would like to ask her where she got that perfume. But strangely, my legs won't move in her direction. Something about her puzzles me so much that I am almost starting to get scared. Finally, I resign myself to continue my walk the other way around, asking myself many questions, and the most important of which is:
"Why has everything been bringing me back to that old lady for the last three months?"
April 27th :
Today, I am going on a shopping spree with my mother because it has been a long time since we have spent time together. I decided to take her to a lot of shops because she has not bought a nice dress for months and we need to find the perfect one! After making a selection of different outfits in one store, she goes to a fitting room and I just walk around the store waiting for her. Suddenly, I hear:
"Liline! Look at this!"
So I head to where I left my mother because she usually calls me by this nickname: she's been giving it to me since I was 2 years old. But when I arrive at the fitting rooms, I don't see her outside the cabin, so I put my head through the curtain and ask her if she called me. She tells me that she didn't. I stick my head out and turn around to go walking around the store again… At the same moment, I notice the same old lady that I have been seeing for the last few months and I wa...
"Liline! Look at that! Isn’t that dress beautiful?".
A little girl, her granddaughter I suppose, proudly shows her a dress and "Liline" acquiesce with a smile.
But “Liline” is not her. It is me. That is my nickname. It is the nickname my mother made up after naming me Pauline. Why does she have it too?! For God's sake, who is this old lady?!
Feeling anger, mixed with incomprehension, overwhelming me, I decide to leave the store to wait for my mother outside.
Today I have a strange feeling that overwhelms me and I cannot describe it, nor can I say what it is related to. All I want to do is to go and let off steam, to run for hours and hours until I feel better. So, I dress up in my sportswear and run away from home, as far as I can.
After two hours of intense running, I stop, exhausted and out of breath, in the middle of a small neighborhood. The sun's rays starting to hit at this time of the day; I decide to put on my sunglasses... Damn it! They are no longer on my head. I ran so fast that I must have dropped them. As I was getting ready to set off again to retrace the path I had just taken in order to find my sunglasses, a delicate hand touches my shoulder and invites me to turn around.
I don't need to tell you who it is.
She holds my glasses in her hand and hands them to me:
"Here, you just dropped them a few yards ago" and while grabbing them, I look her straight in the eyes, trying to decipher a secret message she could pass to me. And I see nothing but a scar on her left eye, right next to the pupil... The same as mine. I had surgery when I was eight for an eye disease that could make me go blind. It only affects a minority of the population; she can't have it too. So I keep staring at her, and she doesn't move, and neither do I, and we stay that way. I felt like seconds turned into minutes and minutes turned into hours. Time became meaningless.
With a shy voice, I decided to break this silence that seems to last for eternity and I thank her. I set off again, but this time walking, for I am afraid I will faint from the emotion, even if I don't know why I am so troubled.
Today is my birthday. These last few months; I couldn’t think of anything but this old lady. Why does she feel so familiar? After all, she is just a stranger. But I need to meet her again: I am going downtown this afternoon.
But first, I go downstairs. Everyone is wishing me a happy birthday. My brothers and my mom are hugging me, but my dad's at work, he will be home tonight. So, my mom tells me that I have to wait until tonight to open my presents, which is fine...
“However, someone dropped an envelope with your name on it in the mailbox. Here you go.”
my mom says.
An envelope for me? I have never received an envelope in my entire life, this feels so strange. I take it and go to my bedroom, upstairs. Before opening it, I notice that my first name is written in ink. And strangely, this handwriting strongly resembles mine. Then I get on the edge of my bed and I open the envelope delicately to see a letter. I take it out and open it. Several pages are tied together like a book. I don’t know why but I am overwhelmed with a feeling of unease. I take my courage in both hands and start reading:
When you read this letter, I won't be here anymore. It has been several months now that we have been passing each other in different parts of this city. Often, I saw in your eyes that you wondered who I am, and why we have met so often in the last few months. But you know who I am. You know, deep down inside, who that little old lady is. I have left you many clues, you have found them all, but now that it is time to put the pieces of the puzzle back together, you do not want to. You don’t want to admit what has been happening to you these past few months. But after all, I understand you, it will be hard to deal with such an unreal story.
So, Pauline, if you still have some doubts, I am going to tell you a few anecdotes about your future life.
You will realize your dream: you will graduate from Harvard after working so hard to get there. After your physic studies at this university, you will go on the trip of your life, alone, ready to discover the world and you will end up at a classical music concert. There, your future husband will be waiting for you, dressed in a suit and singing Vivaldi’s Vedro con mio diletto on stage. This encounter will push you to start playing the piano and the violin again and you will realize your second dream: being a soloist and playing with the major symphonic orchestras in the world. During this period you will concentrate mainly on your career as a musician, but you will not stop continuing the projects in physics that you had started from an early age. Can you recall, when you were six years old you told your parents:
"Mommy and Daddy, I'll be the first scientist to prove the existence of a temporal rift between past, present and future so I can see our cat Mimi again." And if other parents would have laughed, they didn’t. They have supported you since this day and because of their reaction, you always promised yourself you would succeed: but you, unfortunately, gave up because you did not believe enough in yourself…
So here I am and you finally understood. Yes, I am what you might awkwardly call the “Pauline of the future”. I am you, only older and less pretty.
If I decided to come to you these past few months, it is because I am going to die soon but I am not here to reveal to you the age I had the day of my death...
I am here to tell you that I failed at realizing my third dream.
I am here to tell you that I am proof that this temporal rift exists.
I am here to tell you not to make the same mistake that I did and to believe in yourself because you could revolutionize the world of Physics.
I am here to tell you not to give up and go through with your research because you will succeed.
I came here to tell you to change your destiny and not to go down the same path that I took for this field.
I have already lived the future that is coming and I know that it might be hard for you to read my words but your life shouldn’t end like mine, in the regret of having given up one of your dreams.
This is why I decided to come to you these last few months: to reveal all of this. Sadly, I was not brave enough to say this face-to-face; so I preferred to write this letter.
I know how sensitive you are and I hope that you will be able to handle all the things that I have just told you, but also, all the emotions that must overwhelm you.
I leave you with these last lines hoping that you will not make the same mistake that I did but that you will make the right choice.
I believe in you, you will make it.
The Pauline of the future.
P.S: Look in the envelope again, I left you a present. Happy Birthday”
And I am doing it. I open the envelope with trembling hands. I see a jewel sparkling inside. I slip my hand in and take it out to look at the gift. It is my necklace. The one my parents gave me when I was born, the one with a real oyster pearl as jewelry on the chain. This necklace, that I was so attached to and that had such great sentimental value to me, was thought to be lost for a long time. But in fact, it wasn't lost, it was my future self who had it since this day, and who just gave it back to me today.
I close the letter, put it back in its envelope, and place the envelope next to me, on the bed.
For a few minutes I stare into the void, squeezing the necklace tightly in my hand. I can't find the words. I only feel tears streaming down my cheeks. I now know why this stranger looked so familiar.
She was me.
She was me all this time.
One part of me knew, but the other part wouldn't admit it. I now have a thousand questions to ask her… But I need to live my life first, the answers will come with it.
Then, I stand up and go in front of the mirror on my wall. I scrutinize myself in it while detailing every part of my face.
I feel like someone has stolen my identity and my life, but that is not true, I now have to rewrite my own story.
“The Pauline of the future”. The signature of the letter resonates with me and the moment I utter these words in my head, I realize that two of my thousand questions will never be answered:
How is it now possible to know where the present lies?
Was this old lady the me of the future or I am the me of the past?
I will never know, and honestly, I am not sure if I ever want to know…
Finally, I wipe the tears from my cheeks, and I go back downstairs with my family, lying to them about the content of this letter and pretending that none of this ever happened.
It is my life, I do not want them to know that I will do the right thing, I will rewrite my own story.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
Nice story! Can you read my story and give me feedback? It's called "The (Not So Stranger) Stranger." It's for the same prompt. Thanks!
Thank you ! And sure I am doing so right now 😉