One Last Time by Lorena Torres Loaiza

Omar walked in his front door, locked it, and froze. The house was silent and he could see all the way into the living room, where the time engine sat covered in a lace white tablecloth. All the curtains in the house were drawn, and the last bit of afternoon light was just enough to make out its huge square silhouette.

Patricia had just been buried, with a huge crowd and endless speeches about her kind heart, her scientific brilliance, her courage, her children, and her marriage. Against all expectations, watch-1267420_1920Omar held himself together. He told their daughters that he was spending the night with Rashmi and Pagliolo, lab friends. He told Rashmi and Pagliolo that he needed time with his daughters. Then, Omar came straight home.

Without turning any lights on, Omar walked through the house: past their family photos, their collection of dirt from around the world, their enormous combined bookshelves. On the coffee table beside her spot on the couch sat a book of Escher drawings and Patricia’s mug, full of dried-out camomile tea. Omar touched none of these things; he came up to the time engine, pulled off the tablecloth, and rubbed a stain off the dark, stone-like surface with his sleeve. Without a sound, the lights on the touch screen cube came on and spread, like fireworks caught in amber.

Omar and Patricia never used this time engine; new models were infinitely better. Using the lab equipment was out of the question, though: He could hear the outraged complaints already, and this was no time for debate. He had to see Patricia one last time. Just once, and life would somehow go on afterward. The warm, flickering lights of the time engine danced around and filled up the cube.

Omar bit his lip. He needed to pick the moment with care; any kind of time pollution would be unacceptable. Patricia would have been furious. He could only make one visit, someplace no one would notice; only one more moment with her to last him the rest of his life. Omar licked his index finger and placed it on the time engine, trying his hardest to stop shaking. The moisture sizzled on contact, and the warm light in the stone intensified and engulfed the entire room.

Omar blinked and rubbed his eyes. An afterimage of the time engine danced in his vision, but it had worked just fine. He was on a subway platform, alone, decades back from his starting point. The train pulled in; it was an old model with squealing brakes and orange leathery seats. Omar walked into the last car and sat beside a boy in a Doctor Who T-shirt with a terrible patchy beard and his nose stuck in The Star Diaries, by Stanislaw Lem. The book was dog-eared and bent, but only because Omar had bought it used.

There were other people in the subway car, but Omar paid no mind. He waited, stop after stop, his stomach twisting in a knot while his teenage self read on.

“Dupont station. Arriving at Dupont station,” buzzed a speaker. The subway doors opened and Omar bit his tongue to keep himself quiet as a young girl walked inside. She had a neat ponytail, comfortable running shoes, and her nose stuck in The Star Diaries, by Stanislaw Lem. With a graceful movement, she set her bag on her lap and sat across from Omar’s younger self, her eyes not leaving the book at all.

Omar focused. He could only allow himself one last glimpse at her, and this was it. Work at the lab was at a fascinating tipping point, and Patricia would want him to keep exploring it further. for years, it was her curiosity that fueled them both. She had given him the greatest daughters any man could ask for, and Omar would take care of them; if not as wisely as Patricia had, at least with the same determination. Life had to go on.

As he looked at Patricia, Omar recognized the edge of her birthmark right by the collar of her blouse. He saw her fingers, still untouched by the little scars she would acquire over the years:  some while they cooked together, some on treks around the jungle or the desert, a straight one on her knuckles after punching a mailbox when an article had described her as “smart AND fashionable”. All the times she had amazed him were still in the future, but he could see the potential of them here; in her careful, practical manner and her sharp focus. This was when they first met; as far away from losing her as he could possibly get. On the seat beside him, young Omar glanced up, saw Patricia, and almost dropped his book.

There was a hand on Omar’s shoulder. Startled, Omar looked at the person on his other side. The old man had an unkempt salt and pepper beard and his clothes were torn and dirty. Under deeper wrinkles and an infinite sadness, Omar recognized his own face. His older self held a hand out to gesture to the subway around them and gave Omar a despairing smile. Omar looked around.

Young, beautiful Patricia read her book, and young Omar looked at her and his same book with growing wonder. All around them, many older Omars watched the scene. Some looked the same as Omar did now; others were much older, and others were much closer to tears. Omar didn’t dare to count, but seeing the faces of his future selves told him everything he needed to know. Life would not get better anymore.

“Next station is Union, Union Station,” said the speaker, and Omar could barely breathe. The moment was all but finished and he was not ready to see Patricia go. Her face was serene and her movement poised as once again she kept reading while standing up and setting her bag back on her shoulder. The subway arrived at Union Station, and as Patricia stepped out, Omar heard his younger self mumble, exactly the same as he remembered doing so long ago.

“N-no. Don’t go,” he said, almost tripping over his own feet as he stood up and ran after her. As one, all the Omars in the subway car turned to look at Patricia as she turned to look at him for the first time in her life: Her eyes so bright and dark, her ponytail bouncing forward over one of her shoulders. They saw young Omar smile, a whole life’s worth of Patricia still ahead of him.

END

Lorena Torres Loaiza is a young artist/illustrator from Bogota, Colombia; but she has lived in Canada for a long time. Her love for fantasy books and comics gives her work its quirky style; and her experiences in different countries give her an interest in everything hybrid and in-between. Her website is ls-zian.com.