I Owe My Life To Susan

Submitted into Contest #154 in response to: Write a story featuring an element of time-travel or anachronism.... view prompt


Science Fiction Mystery Crime

I stop pushing the pram when it catches my eye. A blue t-shirt, the fabric being pulled by the current of the river. White shoes. Blue jeans. I see a glimpse of skin near the blue t-shirt and in seconds I realise I’m looking at a dead body. I freeze. My three-year-old girl, Olive, puts her hand through the top of the pram as she likes to do.

“Mummy, hold my hand?” she says.

My beautiful Olive. I hold her hand through the pram. Three rounds of IVF and the result is the most wonderful girl in the world. She’s way too big for the pram but if she walks herself we stop every five steps to look at flowers and butterflies and bugs and dog poo. It’s not much of a walk.

“What’s that, mummy?” she says to me, pointing to the body in the river with her other hand. I start walking again.

“Nothing, baby, nothing,” I lie.

I glance back as I walk. The person’s face is hidden in ripped, black plastic but I can see legs and an arm. It’s a body all right. Of an adult. Shit, shit, shit.

I call the police. They say they will send someone and ask me to come to the station to make it official. Sure. It’s just around the corner.

As I walk I text Jason and tell him. He’s on a work trip and due back tomorrow. Jason, oh, my, you should see this guy. His body is straight out of ancient Greece, thick and lean. His smile is to die for. He swooped me off my feet when he saved me from a seedy guy in a club five years ago and I’ve been in pure and absolute love ever since. And he can cook. And he can clean. And he can fuck! I mean, COME ON!

I get to the police station and go through admin. 

A policewoman smiles and points her huge arm to a door. The flab under her arm wobbles as she points. I look at her badge for a name, which is not helpful, Officer 48651.

Susan would laugh at her if she was me now. Sorry, I should explain. My other (I call her Susan) deals with all the hard stuff in my life. Shields me from the dark stuff that goes down. I owe her a lot. I have a wonderful life due to her. She’s me when she needs to be.

Yep, I know, it’s weird.

I push Olive in the pram into the room. She’s luckily now fast asleep. Jenny motions to a chair.

“Now,” she says as she sits down with a thud opposite me. I pull my jacket tighter around me. It’s cold.

“Start from the start, please, what did you see this morning?”

I tell her the story. Walk, saw body in river, came here. She writes it all in a notepad.

The policewoman (who I later find out has the name of Jenny) smiles and puts down the folder she was holding. “That wasn’t a very nice experience. I’m sorry. Sometimes death is inevitable but it’s always sad.”

“Thanks. Wasn’t fun,” I reply.

Jenny clears her throat. “So, anyway, we’ve sent a team down there to retrieve the body from the river. We are still to identify it. Thank you for making a report. Did you see anything suspicious at all while you were down there?”

“Um, I don’t know,” I say. I need to pee. And wash my face with water. And have a breather.

“Mind if I just pee?” I ask. Jenny motions to the doorway, her arm saying, “Of course.”

I go to the toilet quickly and do what I always do to calm myself when things are a bit much. Name all the capital cities I can think of until I calm down.

Hanoi, Cardiff, Islamabad, Bamako, Tehran, Dili.

That calms me and I return to the room. It suddenly feels warmer when I enter. Jenny stands there and motions to a chair. I sit.

“Right,” Jenny says to me. “Thanks so much for coming in again today on short notice. I just had a few more questions for you.”

My heart kind of skips a beat and I freeze. My cheeks feel warm.

“Again? I’ve never been here before. I went to the toilet? I found the dead guy in the river this morning?”

Jenny frowns. “Dead? Who’s dead? Is this in reference to Jason?”

This is weird as fuck now and I don’t like whatever practical joke she’s playing on me. And how did she know my husband’s name?

“You said you sent a team,” I say.

“Yes, we can send a team for sure. Let me know where it is. Unless this is about Jason. If it is, we got that sorted last week,” says Jenny.

I turn to Olive in an attempt to get some support, some normality, something to show me that I’m not the crazy one. But when I turn, in what feels like slow motion, the spot where she was is now empty. No pram. No Olive. She’s gone.

I frantically look around the tiny room but it’s just me and Jenny.

“Where’s my child?!” I shout at Jenny.

Jenny stands up. “Alice, what are you talking about? You didn’t come in with a child today.”

“In a pram! Olive!” I search under the table, in every corner. But I know she’s not there. Did I take her into the bathroom?

I run past Jenny, knocking her off balance as I do. Good. I hope she falls and breaks a hip.

I run into the bathroom and search everywhere. No pram. No Olive.

I burst out crying and collapse on a heap in the ground. I have to find her.

Asmara, Accra, Valletta, Lusaka, Harare.

Within 30 seconds I’m up again standing, hyperventilating, lurching towards the door. I explode from the door and frantically search everywhere for Olive. Oh, my beautiful, lovely Olive. Where are you, baby girl? Oh, please, Olive, where are you. I run into the interview room and, and, and, she’s there. She’s in the pram. Fast asleep. She’s fine.

I stare at Jenny.

“Ready to get started?” She asks me, smiling.

I pause. I must have been imagining things. Am I going crazy? Am I mad? I swear Olive wasn’t here. But there she is. And she’s fine. And everything is okay. Is it? I think it is. Is it though? Hmmm.

“Sure,” I say and slowly sit down.

“So, Alice, I just called you in today to give you an update on your husband’s investigation. The funeral was beautiful, by the way, so touching.”

I laugh. Like, actually laugh. Maybe I am mad.

“Investigation? Funeral? What are you talking about?”

“Still in shock. Mourning,” Jenny says under her breath, writing in her notepad. She walks over to me, putting a hand on my shoulder. Her hand feels cold.

“Look, I know this is a hard time. My husband passed away last year and it was such an awful time of mourning and recovery. So I know what you’re feeling.”

Coffee and cigarettes reek from her body.

“What I’m feeling? My husband is alive!” I shout at Jenny and I stand up, knocking the table. The folder on the table opens with the movement and out spill photos. It’s photos of the man in the river. The blue, ripped shirt. The jeans. The white shoes.

I pick up the photos. The next one hits me like a tonne of bricks. It’s my husband. He was the one in the river. His face is pale and there’s a massive gash on his neck.

And there’s a photo of me. OF ME. Standing looking sullen with bruises on my face.

And a police report. My eyes flick over the words. “ABUSIVE HUSBAND” “ASSAULT” “DRUNK” “FAMILY VIOLENCE”

I vomit in my mouth. I put my hands up to catch it and the vomit goes through my fingers. I can’t breath. I can’t breath. I can’t breath.

Jenny is trying to comfort me but I can’t hear what she’s saying. I run. I run to the bathroom. FUCK.

I vomit into the toilet.

Ottawa, Santiago, Beijing, Rome, Toyko, Beirut, Lima, um, what’s the one in Qatar, um, Doha.

And I’m okay. I need to see the rest of the photos. I clean my face and head back into the hallway.

And a cop stands there holding cuffs looking bored. He moves towards me when I exit the bathroom.

“Hands behind your back, please,” he says lazily.

I’m more confused than ever.

“What is this about?”

“I’m hungover as a dog, I don’t have the time for games again, Alice” he tells me.

He knows my name. My shock makes me turn around and put my hands behind my back. As I do I look down at my clothing. It’s an orange jumpsuit with my surname on the front. My mind reels and before I realise what I’m doing I sprint back into the bathroom and lock myself in a stall.

Madrid, Seoul, Stockholm, Damascus, Canberra, New Delhi, Luxembourg.

And it’s suddenly quiet. The cop hasn’t followed me. I wait. I’m scared to go out. But finally I gather the courage to exit the stall and the bathroom. Peek out cautiously.

And I see a girl. Well, a woman really. She smiles at me and holds out her hand. I move towards her and grab it. She’s probably early 20s but I’ve never been that good at ages.

“You ready?” She says to me and smiles again.

“Um, yep, I think so?” I ask. I’ve never seen this girl before but I feel like I can trust her.

And I grab her hand and we head for the exit. No cops with handcuffs. No Jenny. We just walk out and the girl directs me to her car and I sit in it. As I sit down my knees and hips hurt. I look in the mirror. I’m wrinkled and tired. Like I’m wearing old makeup or something.

Before I have time to think the girl gets in beside me and holds my hand again and starts the car.

She turns to me. “Mum, I’m so glad you’re out. And I’m sorry about what I said to them when I was a kid. I didn’t know it would cause so much fuss. I love you.”

London, Washington DC, Prague, Copenhagen …

July 15, 2022 23:32

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Michał Przywara
20:54 Jul 22, 2022

This was great :) What a great take on time travel! And while it seems like having someone else take care of all the unpleasantness in life is a comforting idea, it's just not true. As the story shows us, there's so much unpleasantness that if you skip it, you miss out on most of life. Alice is a well developed character with a good voice, but curiously, Susan is also very well developed even though we never see her directly. We very much have a second story behind this one. And Susan's story is a doozy. Abuse, murder, a prison sentence…...


Thomas Pascal
03:09 Jul 24, 2022

Hey Michael, Thanks so much for the feedback and the thoughtful comment. Yes, great idea. I might expand the story and have Susan's POV. I suppose she would have memory loss too. She just gets chucked into a bad situation and has to deal with it the best she can. In a way it's like the husband dating two different people - no wonder they had issues. Thanks again!!


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Graham Kinross
03:30 Jul 21, 2022

Well that was something? Have you seen Moon Knight? This really reminds me of the chaotic split personality madness of that. Is it split personalities? Mental breakdown or was she jumping from universe to universe when she went in and out of the bathroom? So many questions.


Graham Kinross
03:55 Jul 21, 2022

Was she wrongly convicted because of her daughter’s testimony?


Thomas Pascal
06:05 Jul 21, 2022

Hey Graham, thanks for the read! Haven't seen Moon Knight but looks sweet, will check it out, cheers. Okay, so maybe this needs a rewrite. What I was going for was the following: Alice is the main character and has a split personality called Susan. When life gets a little stressful Susan takes over and handles business and Alice has no memory of it. So when the husband is abusive Susan takes over. Alice is still totally in love with the husband because she only knows the good side of him. But Susan knows the abusive side of him. Susan ta...


Graham Kinross
07:45 Jul 21, 2022

If she’s getting older in every one of these interactions then you could hint at that with her hair getting longer or shorter and going grey.


Thomas Pascal
11:27 Jul 21, 2022

Good idea, cheers!!


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