I(i): I watch, I listen, I move. The bittersweetness of my nature taints the minds of humans, and there are little to no rules for my existence save for two.
I do not- cannot- stop.
I do not- cannot- go back.
It’s a lonely way to go on (for what kind of companion is there that travels as I do), but it’s one that I have no choice in. I simply am, therefore I will simply continue to be. I know how that might sound, but it suits me quite nicely. I’m prevalent in life. I’m constant, reliable- an undertone, yet an overtone, too, that dictates how you look, how you feel, how you act. I’m present from the moment of birth to the moment of death and everything that comes before and after.
Yet I find myself trapped.
I(ii): I don’t know who put me here. There’s no creator I’m aware of- no God I know personally. If the notions- that many people have- of a greater being are true, I’m sure I would see Him the same way most see me. In times where I’m happy, I would thank Him for giving me the ability to be and witness what I had. In times where I’m not, I would spite Him for having cursed me with the agony of watching another beg for what I cannot give them. I’m unable to turn back my feet and walk the opposite way and at first, when they cried for me to do so, I cried myself. Though as I was forced forward with an unnamable wind, my energy became spent. My tear ducts took longer to reload. I rarely cry anymore.
I(iii): Despite my tattered state, my memory is phenomenal. You would think that something that breathes in forever would forget fairly easily, but I do not. When people remember, I see them remember, and I remember with them. It’s the only thing that I find comfort in: the stories people make because of me. Even if my constant ticking brings bouts of pain, there are packages of joy they receive- moments of pure happiness that arrive at their doorstep. Every time these memories are looked at, it warms the iciest crevices of my being. For the while they remember, I can forget the sadness to come.
I(iv): There are some stories that are replayed in my mind more often than others. Even when they’re not being recalled, I myself, like recalling them. They’re the only escape I have from this task I cannot run away from. I keep on moving, I leave people behind, I let people start… Far as I know, I see no end. Not yet. So as I go on, all I can do is look back to the times where people swore they felt me. Yes, I was there, by their sides, watching them carefully and closely, but there are only a handful of moments where they have paused and seen me. There are even less where I’ve reached out to touch them.
Ariadne Saville was eighteen when I held her hand.
II(i): She felt strange walking down the dirt path. The trees loomed over her on either side- as they had for the last eighteen years of her life. As it did every crisp October, the autumn breeze nipped at her heels right on schedule. All the benches that kept close to the trunks of the trees still sat in their usual places, stationary and doomed to stay that way. Leaves littered the ground in the same yellows, browns, and reds, yet something was stirring in her chest in the face of normalcy. It wrapped around her, keeping her separate from all she saw, and she didn’t know what to make of it.
It was a scene I’d seen countlessly: the soul venturing a place they’d grown to know- a place where no stone was untouched- to find that the air tasted slightly sweeter for reasons unknown. Her footsteps fell softly, her nose empty of warmth. I wouldn’t have noted her if she hadn’t sighed. Words are important, yes, though the lack of is sometimes louder. I heard confusion. A little bit of sadness. But overall, I heard her wonder ‘has it really been so long?’
There was an air of finality to the scene; that much she was sure of. Her flight to elsewhere was early the next day and she wasn’t sure when she was going to return, but what caught her about the odd sensation was how tired she had grown about the place. The small piece of land her family lived on was dedicated to a small group of houses and it was a world in itself- a place that she felt caged in. The dirt path connected it to the main road where a bus stop stood, and it was that path she traversed- either by foot or by bike- at least twice each and every day. Not that she hated it, no. On the contrary, the path was something she quite enjoyed. However, it wasn’t enough to quench the need of escape that took root in her heart a long, long time ago.
Now that the day of her long awaited departure had come, her mind had fallen into disarrangement. She was excited for a new start. Happy that she was getting what she wanted- proud that she had worked hard enough to get what she wanted. But as she paced herself, those vibrant colors began to dim with each step, becoming tinged with grey. Then, as if the world were shifting to compromise, all of its dark layers faded until no trace of it was left. Yellows became golden, reds- scarlet. The breeze touched her as if it were honored to do so and the trees whispered love into her ears. Just the fact that she heard them drew me closer and before I knew it, I was silently walking by her side.
It had been eighteen years of this place, yet she felt that it was only then she saw.
II(ii): She stopped two benches down. There was nothing particularly different with the second one- it was composed of the same redwood planks, faded with countless of seasons I brought about. If you were to walk past it, you wouldn’t notice its most important feature- your eyes wouldn’t catch the etching on the top right of the highest plank. AS + ET. Ariadne couldn’t help her smile as a memory tugged at her. I peered in, watching it slowly unfurl.
'It’s only now that I really feel like you’re leaving…’
III(i): Ariadne spoke as she walked down the path beside her best and childhood friend, Emilia Thomas. The two had grown up together, seeing everything and running through everything hand in hand. Now that University was upon them and their ways were heading in opposite directions, the two were going to be without each other for the very first time. Emilia’s suitcase rolled over the freshly fallen leaves, sending them crunching as she replied, ‘Same… It didn’t feel real before.’ Her destination was farther than Ariadne’s, so she was to leave a week prior to her. ‘You’re going to call me at least once every month, right?’
‘Who are you, my mother?’ Ariadne laughed, trying to fight herself from the urge to cry. The two had made a bet earlier on who would be the one to break into tears first, and there was no way in hell Ariadne would give her that last satisfaction. Emilia quickly told her to shut up: she was being serious and was afraid that the distance would rock their (nearly) two decades worth of friendship. ‘Ah, okay okay, I’ll make it even better. I’ll call you every week instead of every month.’
‘Oh my God.’
‘What, that’s not enough? You’re so demanding-’
‘Ariadne, I’m not kidding.’ Their footsteps came to a stop as Emilia’s eyes glassed over, tears threatening to spill. ‘I always hear that people grow apart once they get to Uni.’ The sight dampened Ariadne’s humor and the smile slowly wilted off her face. ‘But we grew up together. Shouldn’t we be an exception?’ Only silence met her question. Sniffing, Emilia tilted her head up and pressed the sides of her thumbs against the bottoms of her eye sockets. ‘Look at me, I’m becoming a mess because of you,’ she huffed, a small smile hinting at the corner of her mouth while she tried to keep her tears at bay. ‘What do I need to do, initiate a pact?’ Ariadne tried once more to change the heaviness of the air around them, but the attempt fell flat as a tear betrayed Emilia. The way it glistened in the sun kept her from saying anything else.
Then, a brilliant idea dawned upon her. Taking off her necklace, she made her way to the nearest bench and bent over it, digging the tip of her triangular pendant into the redwood. ‘What’re you doing?’ Taking a deep breath, Emilia followed behind her, her suitcase crunching away again. Ariadne scratched away at the bench, finishing off the two sets of initials. ‘There,’ she simpered before blowing away the wood shavings. ‘We’re bound forever now. ‘Till death do us part.’ Finally, Emilia let out a laugh, the dramatic nature of Ariadne having finally got to her. To some, it was an annoyance, but to her? It was one of the things she would miss the most. A half-hearted grin stretched across Ariadne’s features. The laugh died down. In the growing quiet, the both of them sunk into the gaps the other was about to leave. Heat pricked the backs of their eyes. Their lips fought to keep smiling.
II(iii): The memory was distant despite being just a week old. Suddenly, the seven days had expanded into its own forever and Ariadne found herself surprised. It had only been so long and she was already yearning to see her friend again. Soon, she reassured herself- saying that the year will pass by before she even realizes it’s gone. Summer will appear at the door with its warmth and they would reconnect soon enough. I guess I’m funny like that. Slow whenever people wanted me to be fast, and fleeting whenever people wanted me to ‘down my tempo’. The thought made me laugh- I was surprised she didn’t hear me.
II(iv): She continued on. I liked the calm of it all, so, I continued with her. All the universe needed was for me to never cease being: I never had to be anywhere in particular. Even if I slowed to meet her steps, paused to watch her smile, I was still somehow moving. Always moving. The complexity of the concept had stumped me from the beginning and I had long given up the search for clarity. Then, ever so slowly, as we listened to the hum of the breeze, the days that had whizzed by her began to rise to the surface.
II(v): They were glimpses, short and sweet. I saw her and Emilia on their bikes, their graduation gowns flowing freely as they raced each other down the path. She revealed how hard she truly worked for the scholarship she had received at her university: her morning jogs used to include reciting information for her exams during stretch breaks and cool-downs. Textbooks used to clutter any bench she occupied- the walls of her room were suffocating.
But at the aging image of a woman, Ariadne pressed her lips together, eyeing this one memory with a greater fondness than the others. The same dark blonde hair cascaded down the woman’s shoulders, framing her similar, warm amber eyes. Right off the bat, you could tell that she was her mother. Ariadne remembered taking great pride in their striking resemblance at the age of seven and didn’t remember when she dropped it.
The memory began with a sigh, a deep desire, and a birthday.
III(ii): Sixteen was an odd age to feel weighted. Usually people looked forward to their ‘sweet sixteenth’, but it was also a trend for them to feel let down once they got there. The facts were these: Ariadne thought that, upon the day, she would feel 1. in control, 2. pretty, 3. wiser, and 4. a freshness to life- as if she were about to speed over the starting line. Yet there she was, feeling 1. lost, 2. plain, 3. childlike, and 4. stuck- as if she were glued in place.
The night air hugged her as the lamplight casted shadows about the trees, but the sight didn’t help her like it usually did. They looked dull. Dark. Their dances in the wind became unwilling bends and twists and it only reminded her of how she might as well be doomed to stay with them. Her parents weren’t rich- they had only enough to get by. If her grandparents hadn’t given them the house, she didn’t know where they would have ended up. Just thinking about it gave her a feeling of unease in her stomach; even more so when she thought about college tuition fees.
Ariadne longed to study abroad and immerse herself within a place completely foreign to her. What made her want it all the more was that no college near her home offered the one course she was truly passionate for- modern language.
There was something about languages that captivated her. She was fluent in three: Spanish from her mother, English from her father, and French from her schooling. At first, she loved how she could say the same thing differently three times. Hola, hello, bonjour. Adios, goodbye, au revoir. It was like eating three unique flavours of the same type of candy. That is, until she came across the words that couldn’t be translated in their entirety. Example: sillage (n). French. A direct translation into English would be ‘wake’, but it was so much more than that. It was the white airplanes drew onto the blue sky and the ripples behind a speeding boat. It was the smile you recalled, the scent you swore you still smelt, and the ghost you were haunted by after someone you loved walked out of your life. Not a single English word could capture all of that.
She had found words that were a different brand of candy altogether.
III(iii): As the wind whistled through her vacant ears, her mother spotted her from a long way away. I’d come to realize that most mothers possessed this fascinating quality. No matter how far their child seemed to be, they always managed to be able to distinguish them from everything else. By the curve of her daughter’s back against the dim light, the apparent press of the knees against the chest, and the downward turn of her head, Helena Saville just felt that her daughter had been crying. Don’t ask her how: it would take her sixteen years to show you.
A neatly packaged cake swung at her side as she approached her, cautious and with great care- as if a single sound would send Ariadne off running. It was only when she was a foot away (almost exactly) did she talk. ‘Honey, what are you doing out here?’ The question was soft and cottony, floating in the air between them. Ariadne blinked, taking a second to register it before slowly looking up. ‘Just thinking.’ Her eyes flicked down to her mother’s right hand to see the cake. Slight embarrassment rose to Helena’s cheeks as she noticed the slight shift. ‘I was going to surprise you, but I guess it’s too late for that,’ she thought aloud, wiggling the box. ‘Thanks anyway,’ Ariadne did her best to smile, but the corners of her lips still sagged a bit.
The sight squeezed Helena’s heart.
Setting the cake down on her daughter’s right, she moved swiftly and sat down on her left. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘Nothing.’ The reply was quick, like always. She was used to it- the distance that separated them wasn’t exactly unnoticeable. ‘... It doesn’t look like nothing.’ Yet she found it surprising that upon looking at her, she could decipher every twitch, glance, and breath. She wanted to reach out and touch her. Hug her. Hold her close. But with how tightly Ariadne had sealed that gate shut, such motions were forbidden and looked down upon. So, she settled for words. ‘Why do you look so blue on your birthday?’
On any other day, Ariadne would have shrugged it off and said, ‘I’m not! Let’s get back- it’s getting cold.’ Though it wasn’t any other day. She had turned sixteen, it was night, she was alone, and she could feel her mother desperately trying to reach out. So, shyly, she cracked a sliver in her vault door. ‘I feel like I’m not going to get anywhere, mama.’ It dissolved, syllable by syllable, and Helena blinked. The initial shock of her daughter actually saying something quickly dissipated and formed into confusion. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I feel trapped here.’
If you could hear a person shatter, you would have heard Helena do so from a thousand miles away. This was home. Home. Home was a place where someone felt like they belonged. A place where worries weren’t carried alone and a place where you were supposed to feel loved and protected. Happy. It was all she ever wanted to provide for her child…
And she had failed.
Did she have time to collect the shards? No. Time to let the pain run its course? Absolutely not. Ariadne was sitting right next to her, watching and waiting. She needed to be strong. There was always time to cry, just not now. ‘How so?’ With the silence, you could hear Ariadne trying to string all her thoughts together in a way that would make sense if spoken aloud. ‘I’ve been here for so long that it’s hard to imagine ever leaving. And it’s not like we have the money for me to do so. Not even for University.’ Oh, the sourness stung the already open wounds. Not like we have the money. Helena worked hard. Too hard, even. That was one of the reasons why they were so distant: she was always working hard. Despite how her efforts seemed to add up to nothing, she would continue to do so- even if her daughter still felt the way she did about it.
‘The Universities around here aren’t that bad,’ Helena tried to assure her, her emotions still fighting to gather some of her attention.
‘But they don’t offer the major I want.’
‘... Modern language.’ The fact was strange on Ariadne’s lips. The only person to ever know that was Emilia. Now that her mother knew, it made her feel partially violated. Vulnerable. However, her mother sat on the complete opposite end. The piece of information melted her a bit- a few of her wax pieces melded back together at the sound. They wadded in the quiet. One was preparing to chain the knobs once more while the other was getting ready to gift a ray of hope. Before Ariadne could lock up, her mother held her gaze in place and drived her foot between the jam and the door.
‘Work at it then. I know we can’t afford to give you everything you want, sometimes even the things you need, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get them. If you want to study at a University that offers your major, work for a scholarship. Give it everything you have.’
But one question emerged next, and I think I’d heard it over a million times before.
‘But what if my everything isn’t enough?’
‘But what if it is?’
Like a door swinging out to the magic words, the weights began to slide off of Ariadne’s shoulders. It was then she had taken her place at the starting line. Helena nearly saw the spark within her daughter grow brighter. At this point, she had already taken multiple steps over the invisible line that had been drawn, but she couldn’t stop herself. These conversations were rare and she’d better say what she wanted to say before it ended. ‘I know you’re capable of great things, mi amor. I’ve seen, and I’ve always felt great duende each and every time.’
Duende (n). Spanish. The wide-eyed wonder felt after seeing an elating film, the tears a novel can bring, and the ache in your chest after witnessing something painstakingly beautiful. The feeling you get when you view something that wholly and deeply moves you.
Ariadne can still taste that candy lingering on the center of her tongue to this day.
II(vi): Were the cracks in her eyes always there? Ariadne looked to the treetops as if it would help herself remember more, but of course, the human mind refused to relay the scene in high definition. There was definitely an age to her mother’s words which she hadn’t noticed before- this time around she heard just how long she had kept them inside to ferment. Though the cracks… The cracks were so prominent. So obvious. A red streak in a sea of grey and yet she swore she had never seen them. She walked on mindlessly, desperately flicking through moments to find another of her mother. Another moment where she can compare the eyes and see if she was just too ignorant to take note.
Once again, I saw flashes of the path of her past. Some bitter, some sweet. I saw her first kiss under the protection of the leaves… Her first major fight with Emilia… Long summer walks and frost filled winter strolls… The benches froze, melted, and went through the motions over and over. But before she was able to find what she was looking for, a new image intruded her search. This time, it was a man.
He was an interesting mix: a youth tattered by the seemingly never- ending weeks. Despite being well over thirty, I could still sense the terrified, wonder filled nineteen- year- old boy behind the green of his windows. If you stared long enough, you could see hints of him on Ariadne’s canvas. The curve of her nose, the height of her cheekbones, and the red of her lips were his, making her pause at the sight. She stared, since she felt like she was never able to actually stare long enough herself.
III(iv): ‘Why so quiet? I never get to walk with you now-a-days,’ Carter Saville playfully bumped his teenaged daughter with his hip. It felt weird to think that he had a teenager instead of a ‘kid’. Even if she had been one only for last few months, it still had an alien vibe to it in his head. He had just arrived home from the city (which was a three hour bus ride from their town) for the weekend; the last time he was able to return was a whopping three weeks. It was the longest he had been away, but he couldn’t do anything about it. The company was rushing to meet a deadline and he simply didn’t have time to keep coming back.
Ariadne shrugged- her eyes never leaving the white of her shoes. It was tiring to miss someone, especially when it felt like they dropped in just to leave again. She had always been closer to her father; her mother was always busy with one thing or another. But ever since he found his new job, she began to associate him with the same type of loneliness she had always reserved for her. Some days, in his absence, the feeling wasn’t as neon as it was on others. However, there were days where she longed to hear his jokes, hug him tight, and have him sing through his jukebox of a brain. It was during those times that the pain was almost blinding.
Every time he came home, she would always be waiting for him at the bus stop at the end of the path. The smile that usually broke out on her face whenever the bus pulled up never failed to rejuvenate him. In a single snapshot, the long hours spent in his office cubicle became nonexistent and he would sweep her off her feet into a long overdue hug. Though that day, she hadn’t smiled. Not even a hint of one was on her lips. When he hugged her, she didn’t grip him with the same strength she usually instilled around his middle, and the silence seeping from her mouth yelled of her overwhelming sadness. Worst part was, it told him, ‘It’s all your fault, too.’ He then shrunk within himself, catching her contagious stillness.
The two had passed over the midpoint when she first addressed him. ‘When are you leaving?’ Hearing the weariness interlaced with her voice was as odd as hearing an animal speak fluent English. It had always been constant laughs between them: while Ariadne looked like her mother, her lighthearted nature stemmed from her father. Suddenly seeing her so exhausted struck a string in his heart. He knew the toll his absence was taking on her: she was so used to having him around all the time. Jumping from that to those ‘every other weekend’ deals was an extreme change; a thirteen- year- old could only adapt so fast. It was all for her, of course. For his family. After losing his first job, there had been a long pause before he found the second and the second didn’t pay as well as he would have liked. But that third job, that one job, paid even better than the first and- if handled with care- they could eventually start saving for both wants and needs again. Sure, it would take a lot of time (debts and bills were waiting to be paid), but it’s what the family needed.
Carter loved his daughter. Therefore, he sacrificed his time for her.
He was sure she knew that. One hundred percent, no doubt about it. Though understanding something didn’t mean it hurt any less, and it pained him to say, ‘Tomorrow morning.’ She didn’t react. She didn’t even blink. Her emotionless demeanor sliced him up even more than if she had turned to him in tears. ‘I’ll be back by Friday night, though!’ He grinned, trying to get her to follow his lead. All she had to do was smile. That was all she had to do to make him feel okay- to solidify the fact that he did, in fact, do the right thing. She didn’t even have to look at him. No matter how big or how small, all he wanted was for her to smile.
‘But you’ll be gone soon after, anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.’
A numb poison dripped from her teeth. It had collected there for months, its toxicity levels rising with every waking moment. The goo had begun to burn her tongue and gums, and in weakness, she had let it dribble out.
The nineteen- year- old behind his windows cried.
Tears leaked through the places where the glass hadn’t been completely sealed to its frame.
II(vii): Disgust burnt her as she paused the scene, rewound it, and watched it again. Instead of peering in, I stayed out of it, deciding to watch a very different picture. Her brow furrowed in concentration, her tongue- hard against her teeth. The repulsion she felt towards herself attracted me to her thoughts, and it went like the following: I said that? I said that? Why, why, why? How could she have let herself slip out something so vile- something so vile that it had eaten through her own father?
Well, loneliness contorted the soul. Somehow, the twists were intensified through the fact that while her parents were physically there, she felt as if they weren’t present at all. When they were, however, the happiness was quickly robbed from her and the hole she desperately hid (in fear of being a burden) grew one more centimeter in diameter.
II(viii): Guilt began to gnaw at her. She was young then; kids were always a little more self-centered. Though the walls she constructed from dirt were no longer a form of protection. The earthy make of it violently shuddered to reveal the pitch black of its center and Ariadne’s footsteps froze. It had never occurred to her before, not even once: maybe the burning of bridges was also her own form of retaliation. That maybe they weren’t the reason why she always felt like oil in water, and maybe she was why they did.
It hallowed her chest.
The autumn colors began to dim once more.
She continued to walk, her mind as empty as the wind.
II(ix): Solitude was a friend of mine. I had run with it, stared it in the eye, grappled, laughed, and even cried with it. It was something forced upon me and I had no choice but to keep it by my side at all times. Humans aren’t capable of ever doing the same. You can say ‘I’m better off alone’ or ‘trust nobody’ all you want, but deep down you know the truth. The truth, in its simplest form, is this: humans live for connection. It explains why the lone soul goes through such a baffling transformation when touched by another. It gives reason to letters, conversations, friendships, love… Life isn’t life without connection. It’s one of the things I’d come to notice. Which is why, despite the eerie quiet, I stayed with her. She couldn’t see me, but I felt comfort in knowing that she wasn’t truly alone even if she felt like she was.
IV(i): I heard the laughter first. It was buried beneath the mounds of images- mountains of film- in the back of her mind. Her steps drowned it out, but it swam hard against the murky waters, floating upward and catching Ariadne’s attention long after it took mine. The sound was, in a word, enchanting. A pitch that had collected dust for years and years: finally being played again. It snagged her world and once more, colors began to bloom brighter as it consumed the space in her head. This time, she saw a little girl hopping down the path with her mother in tow.
Ariadne felt warm looking at her. The girl was eight-years- old, a little careless, and a little mindless, too. She still had a tie or two to her mother and would love her whenever she could- the fact was apparent by the way the child held onto the woman’s hand. Ariadne couldn’t believe that she was the girl only ten years ago.
III(v): Trips to the store were her favorite. It was her mother who usually took her, and the walk down the path was sweeter with her around since it was rare to spend more than an hour with her on a weekday. Not to mention that she was usually granted a jelly cup for coming along. However, her friend, Emilia, had an older brother who recently made his first trip to the store on his own and Ariadne’s sense of independence felt insufficient. ‘When can I go on my own, mama?’
Swinging her daughter’s arm softly to and fro, she hummed, ‘When you’re older, mi hija.’ Ah, the staple response of every adult to encounter a child with a question. When can I read that book? When you’re older. What did they mean when they said that? You’re too young to know. Where do babies come from? You’ll understand in due time. Due time? Due time. You would think they would have learned from their own personal experiences that this response only inflicted more curiosity. Sometimes even frustration. In Ariadne’s case, it was the second. ‘But that’s what you always say,’ she pouted, kicking a pebble under a bench. She’d been getting older daily, yet the answer never seemed to change. ‘Well, there’s no other way to say it!’ Helena laughed, amused mostly because she remembered reacting the same way when her own mother used that sentence on her.
The kid puffed her cheeks. If there was anything she knew for certain, it was that if you picked a fight with your mother you were ‘screwed’ (at least, that’s what her father had jokingly said one time). Instead, she chose to make a declaration. ‘I can’t wait ‘till I’m eighteen. I can do everything on my own then for sure.’ A grin stretched onto Helena’s face from ear to ear. She had forgotten what it was like to be so young. Tsk tsk-ing softly, she warned her, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ Childlike wonder and innocence was so short lived. Most times, people found out that they took it for granted. Helena knew she certainly did. Seeing that purity within her child’s eyes rekindled that light within her own, and she prayed (prayed and prayed and prayed) that Ariadne would hold onto it for just a little bit longer.
IV(ii): Regardless of the loss of that childlike wholeness, Ariadne didn’t feel as sad as she thought she would be at the reminder. Actually, she found it quite humorous. There she was, at the age she wished to be way back when, and she still couldn’t do everything by herself. Rather, she was scared to do everything by herself. I’d seen this play out in nearly all lives so far: the weird (and awful) realization that adulthood wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It’s riveting to witness. A person could have grown up in a rich, poor, happy, agonizing, loving, or empty household, but he would have come to the same conclusion anyway. In the diversity of humanity, there’s this underlying similarity no one can seem to shake.
She missed being so carefree. It was hard for her to be loose with love and she found it difficult to believe that she had loved so openly before. The outline of her mother shifted and grew while the shadow of her old self shrunk and laughed once more. ‘One step, two step, three step…’
III(vi): ‘Eight step, nine step, ten step!’ She was six when she and her father used to count their strides under the trees. ‘How many tens do we have already?’ Carter looked down as Ariadne squeezed her eyes shut, rummaging through her head for the number. ‘Three, papa!’ She beamed, holding up three small fingers. With a cheer, he applauded her, gushing that she was ‘exactimentally’ right. He was always so blown away as to how much energy the child threw out every waking hour. Ever since he had lost his job, it was his duty to tend to Ariadne’s every daily need and he never knew just how tiring it really was. Those needs included dolly playtime, meals, poopies, peepees, baths, kindergarten drop-offs, kindergarten pick-ups, movie time, story time, and all sorts of other ‘-times’. Just how did their old caretaker handle it all 24/7?
In one swift motion, he picked her up and pretended to nearly drop her tiny body. She howled with laughter, her stomach having done a three-sixty, and the fear of actually falling was nowhere to be found. He held her tightly in his arms as her breathing sank into the rhythm of his footsteps. After a while, he began to softly hum the tunes she knew from front to back. A melody was always- always- on the tip of his tongue and Ariadne delighted in knowing them as well as he did. Then, upon remembering just why her father never seemed to leave her side anymore, she asked, ‘What age can I start working?’
‘Working?’ He chuckled to himself, the thought of her thinking about such a grown-up thing was awfully strange to him. ‘For little money or big money?’
‘Big money,’ she mused, her fingertips pinching the fabric of his shirt to the beat of his walk. ‘Ooo, you’ll be twenty-something by then, sweetheart.’ Twenty-something! That’s going to take forever! She gasped, ‘What? So far?’
‘At least it’s not as far as thirty! And why are you worrying about big money, anyway?’ Carter nudged his daughter’s head softly with his own. Six was way too young to start thinking about money. But what she said next would make him encapsulate this moment, the writing on the lid destined to read open on a bad day: ‘Cause if I can go get it myself, you and mama can stay at home with me more.’
The capsule’s paint would become a shade eight times lighter than its original due to being touched too much by the time he turned fifty.
IV(iii): Before she had the chance to react to the scene- to the happiness that swelled in her chest, to the overwhelming love for her parents she hadn’t felt in so long- the words ‘I can do it!’ filled the air around her heart and she didn’t even have to guess what was about to be seen. It was her favorite memory, the one to trump all the others, the one she loved to recall just as much as I loved to recall the entirety of this event. A year or two separated her and the last time she had thought of it, but now it was back to wash over her with its immaculacy and stainless steel; a place before the trees became just a background, before the road grew dark, and before she became afraid to love.
III(vii): ‘Are you sure?’ Helena raised her eyebrows at Ariadne, who was sitting excitedly on the seat of her new bicycle as her father held it in place. The way the contraption wobbled under her only caused a sense of adrenaline to rush through her veins. She had never ridden it without the training wheels and without her father holding on. So now that this was the time, he was instructed to let go if she told him to do so. ‘Yes yes yes, I can!’ Carter grinned as he looked at the giddiness painted across her face- lost in awe of how she wasn’t the tiniest bit scared of getting hurt. He looked up at his wife, noiselessly asking if this was it through the subtle widening of his eyes.
Helena pressed her lips together. What if Ariadne were to lose balance? What if she got hurt? She was only five- her body was still so fragile. Then again, how else would she learn to ride the thing? With the corner of her mouth tugging up slightly, she nodded at her husband. ‘Alright alright, are you ready!?’ He boomed in his referee voice, sending his daughter gripping the handlebars with a newfound strength. ‘Si papa, si!’
‘Ready…’ A breath.
‘Steady…’ A beat.
Her tiny feet pounded the pedals as Carter moved with her- one hand on the back of her seat and the other between the handles. The wind bellowed through her hair, her little heart pounding against her ribs as she picked up speed. He ran to keep up, his focus fully centered on making sure she stayed balanced-
‘Now papa!’ The yell broke through his ears and suddenly, his fingers became fastened onto the bicycle. Suddenly, a freezing terror chilled him to the bone.
What if she wasn’t ready?
What if she falls?
What if she crashes?
What if she can’t do it?
‘Papa, let go!’
And she soared.
IV(iv): A breath was caught in her throat as reality pulled her right back, sullying every emotion she had revived in those very few seconds. Desperation latched itself onto her chest and her fingers curled into her palm- so tight that her nails might’ve ripped through the flesh.
Too fast… It’s going by too fast…
Her frame shook as she stood there, rigid and fighting to stay on her feet. The heat intensified behind the backs of her eyes and soon enough, tears began to carelessly trail down her cheeks. I felt the hunger she felt. I heard the pleas she made. If I had accepted trades, she would have given me her everything in that moment to go back to the beginning. She would have given me all of her present for all of her past: for a second chance. Regrets lashed out at her and she felt it all collapsing inward. She should have seen the cracks, should have said the right things, should have stayed fearless…
And she didn’t love enough.
However, bound by the apathetic rules of this world in which we exist, I did the only thing I was capable of. I couldn’t bring her back to the beginning and I couldn’t change who she was then, but I faced her, and reached for her hand. It was a fleeting second. A fraction of a fragment in her timeline, but it stretched on forever for me. Her eyes flicked up to mine, glassy and shattered. They were irrevocably cracked, just like her mother’s and just like her father’s, yet they still saw me. Just for a second.