Lee and the Time 10 — Lover
Her lover was falling apart. Lee knew this, she found pieces of him along the sprawling path she took. She, too, began to crumble. The longing inside of her, which kept the loneliness away, knocked on at her inner walls, wishing to escape. At times it seemed as though each part of her body was longing at a different time, once the hand, to a familiar touch, once the eyes, to a fond sight, once the nose, to an old musk. Each inner blow threatened to crack her further, to break another piece. She grasped at each body member and glued it to its place by force. Determination held her form. Barely.
“We are close,” the Time remarked. It hung, at the shape of a small pocket-watch, on a slim chain that dangled from her heart. Today, his hands seemed even more ponderous than usual.
“Lee, have you thought about what you will do when you find him?”
“What do mean?” asked Lee through clenched teeth. The longing made speech difficult. “He needs me. I’ll go with him wherever he needs to go.”
“Hm,” ticked the Time. “You assume there is a particular destination he is heading to.”
“Or something he’s looking for. Of course. There must be something. Otherwise, why would he leave me?”
“Why indeed,” said the Time softly. But Lee, uncharacteristically, did not hear him. The longing raged in her ears, dimming the Time’s voice, eager for a sound it once knew.
“This road seems familiar,” said the Time, changing the subject. “Although all roads seem familiar to me. There is always someone who already walked them, someone who paved them or someone who faltered while trying to follow another’s footsteps.”
“Is there anything that doesn’t make you so somber, Time?” asked Lee. “Or is the entire world so tiring for you?”
“I assure you, Lee, there is nothing more tiring than seeing people repeating the same mistakes over and over again. The universe is changing, but it seems that for every single transformation, a trillion pointless litanies must follow. People copy failure more often than they do success. Most are not even glorious ones. How many times have I watched them drag their feet in vain? How many times did they refuse to learn from their predecessors? Oh, they tend to think that this is how progress is attained, by trying what came before them, with a slight variation in circumstances. Until, at last, the right circumstances for success become possible. But it is not so at all. For every person who contributed to change, there are a million who simply erred in the exact same manner, without ever realizing their error. And they all come to me afterwards, asking for a second chance. As though they would make better use of it than they did with their first one.”
“Oh, Time,” said Lee. “Why can’t you be glad that some things do change, rather than be angry that others don’t?”
“Perhaps because there are so few of the first kind, and such an abundance of the latter,” replied the Time darkly. Then, he added thoughtfully, “However, here and there, I do find myself surprised at times. Rarely.”
Lee caressed his face, smiling through her longing. “See, that wasn’t so hard.”
She looked around. “But you’re right, this looks familiar to me as well. Did we backtrack?”
“I never backtrack,” said the Time.
“Wiseass. Isn’t this the way to the library? I used to come here looking for him.”
“True,” said the Time. “I wonder why he came back.”
“You told me he’d never come back,” said Lee. “That if he’s looking for a book, it wasn’t the kind you’d find in a library.”
“I wasn’t wrong,” said the Time, without defending himself. “If he came back now, something must have happened.”
The longing pulsed inside of Lee with fiercely, now that she was so close. From time to time, she stopped to gather a piece of her lover, which he must have dropped in his hurry. She tried to hasten her step, but her body could not withstand the effort.
They passed a familiar bus stop. It was empty, but two silhouettes sat there, gazing at each other, shyly holding hands. Lee smiled to herself. Time was wrong; some stories had a happy ending. And if they repeated the same mistakes and achievements as all the others, it was still the first time they experienced them together. Some things you can’t learn without experience. Some mistakes are worth making.
The thought distracted her from the pulsing pain for a short time. But then the pain surged, and Lee thought she might burst. At the distance, the library’s outline could be made out. Still too far. She kept on. Here, the long stairway leading to the entrance. And there, did something move on them?
A tiny figure, crawling up the stairs, leaving a trail of shards behind its back. Lee tried to run.
“Lee, slow down,” the Time implored her. “You cannot withstand it.”
Lee didn’t listen. She managed to quicken her step, but paid a heavy price for the attempt. The longing erupted out of her, long cracks appeared on her body. “He’s there,” she breathed. “Time, there he is!”
She was so near. The crawling figure became clearer. He had only one arm left, all of his broad chest and most of his face. Lover stopped crawling, looking upward in despair. The realization that he will never reach the end of the stairway dawned on him. He rested his cheek on one of the stairs in acceptance, surrendering to this fate. What was left of his body began crumbling.
She was already at the bottom of the stairs. He can’t give up now.
Lee cried his name. He raised his crumbling face at her direction. His lips mouthing her name in question.
The longing exploded inside of her at once, as though it simply waited for the right time. She will never reach him, she realized painfully when she saw her reaching hands crumbling in front of her eyes. She felt her legs tumbling. It was too late, for both of them.
“I allow no exceptions,” she heard the Time. He might have said the words now, or perhaps just in her memory. “I never stop, never go back on my tracks. This is not a world for second chances.”
She started falling, and still managed to smile, even through her tears. I tried, Time, she wanted to say. But her mouth did not move. I really tried. I’m sorry I let you down.
The world froze. The crumbing lover, the rising sun, even the longing erupting out of her. Lee blinked, she hung in the air, half falling. The time dangled from his chain.
“Ten seconds,” the Time said softly. “That is that time you have to reach him. Take them.”
Lee straightened and ran the rest of the way hurriedly. She kneeled by her lover’s side, resting his head on her lap.
“Hey,” she said, managing a smile.
“Hey,” he returned, his voice cracked. “What’s up?”
“Not much. I missed you a bit.”
He smiled, revealing his one dimple. “A bit?”
“Maybe more than a bit.”
“Is it not strange,” mumbled the Time. “Two old lovers meet, the time stops. And yet, for some reason, they still manage to waste the opportunity to say something meaningful.”
Lee caressed the watch gently. “The opportunity won’t pass. We’ll both be fine now, won’t we?”
Lover groaned. He reached with the fingers of his remaining hand to Lee’s face. “I’m sorry, Lee. I truly am.”
“Why? I forgive you. I know you had a good reason for leaving, I’m sure you did.”
“I did. And I didn’t. I felt lonely. Even when you were with me, I felt the loneliness inside, nibbling. I feared that if I stayed, I would infect you with my loneliness, so I left. But I could have said something. I could have told you not to follow. I just didn’t want you to remember me this way. I wanted to be able to return, if I regretted it.”
Tears ran down Lee’s cheeks. “And you regretted it? That’s why you’re here, right?”
“In libraries, time passes more slowly, that’s all. I tried to drown my loneliness in the Routine, but it only stalled her, it couldn’t heal me. I searched for a cure, but I didn’t mean to see you again,” mumbled the lover. Time started moving again, and he kept crumbling. “If I had stayed, it would have grown inside of me even faster. It was gnawing at me from the inside, and what we had wasn’t enough for me. Forgive me. You can’t always love another, as they love you.”
His face was the last thing to disappear. He managed to whisper, “perhaps one day, the man who will rise from this shattered body would be able to love you as you deserve to be loved. If so, I’d be glad to know he exists because of me. But don’t wait for him.”
Lee gazed at the shards that remained in her hands. The lover was no more. Silence hung in the air.
“You’re still here,” mentioned the Time after a long pause.
Lee wiped her eyes and blew her nose. “What? Oh, yeah.”
“So am I.”
“The longing that kept me chained to you was supposed to disappear,” said the Time patiently. “But it did not. You didn’t fall apart either, as you almost did a short while ago.”
“Because I still miss him. I miss him so much,” said Lee. She cried, but managed to keep her voice steady. “It’s just a different kind of longing now.”
“Ah,” said the Time, sympathizing with her. “Yes.”
“I thought you didn’t allow any expectations.”
“True,” he said. Then he had to add, “However, it simply crossed my mind that, if I were to change the rules entirely, it wouldn’t be an exception.”
“What do you mean?”
“For now on, at every meeting between old lovers, I will stop for a moment. I will give them an opportunity.”
“Time,” Lee cried, “you changed the world for my sake?”
“For you. And perhaps for everyone’s sake. Perhaps it is not so righteous that I lapse for no one.”
She pulled him to her face, her tears stopped for now. “Time, do you want me to let you go?”
The Time hummed, only the sound of his hands breaking the silence in the air. Then, he spoke.
“Perhaps in the future, one can never know what it might bring. But for now, I would like to see what entirely new mistakes you are going to make.”
Lee laughed, her laugh mingling with her sobs. She gathered the lover’s pieces into a pile at one corner, and kept just a tiny piece of him to herself. “So he might come looking for me, one day,” said explained to the reprimanding Time.
Then she climbed down the stairs, a slim chain dangling from the pocket of her shirt. And the Time, who always seemed so heavy at his seat, suddenly became a comforting weight on her heart.
You never know, she thought, it just might bring better days. Someday.