My feet stumble and catch my balance, as though I was dropped, but for what purpose could I have been dropped, and from where? Weatherless air embraces me. I stand at a street intersection, one that has grown familiar to me over these past years. Across the street from me is a selection of restaurants. To my left is a road curving out of sight. The street behind me leads to downtown Petaluma. To my right stretches the road to a cluster of buildings. One of these buildings is my family’s church, a place that holds meaning to me. It is a denotation of change, a stamp of struggle, and yet there is nothing to say of it that is written in stone. Perhaps, in the future, it may allude to a tale of decision, but for now I am shy to speak of it.
Not a soul is in sight. The street and sidewalks are devoid of cars.The landscape is depressingly parched, the trees shrunken, the grass withered, as though the absence of people deprived them of beauty and of meaning. A feeling of dread pools in my stomach, like I am late for an appointment, or I have been left behind. What’s happened? I’ve been forgotten, haven’t I?
I feel a breeze stir and blow across my skin. A single car ambles down the road. It moves slowly but approaches quickly. I did not see it before — then I wonder if I saw it but didn’t notice.
The car stops in front of me, and the figure inside reaches across to open the passenger door. “Need a ride?” calls a woman’s voice.
I don’t hesitate to step in and shut the door. She’s playing music — a song I recognize immediately as John Barrowman’s cover of ‘I Am What I Am,’ and I smile. “Where to?” she asks. I don’t know what to say. After a silence — “Where is everyone?” I ask.
“Does it matter?” she says, and I turn my head to look at her. Whatever I was prepared to say falls back down my throat and stops my breath. She is an older woman, perhaps in her late sixties or seventies, with short, wavy, graying brown hair and a pen tucked behind her ear. She has a rounded nose, thick eyebrows, smooth skin, and an aura that sends my thoughts toppling off balance. She is familiar, too familiar, someone I have known all my life and for all eternity before, and she gazes at me with the eyes of someone buried deep within me.
I cannot speak, but I feel I might cry. She gazes at me softly, and whatever I could say, she already knows. When I find my voice, I speak anyway. “You’re…”
She smiles widely, like I’ve said something to make her proud.
“How can you know for sure?”
I nod. She reaches her arm down by her feet, brings up a red apple, and hands it to me. A smiley face is carved into it, sparking thoughts in my head of a time traveler with floppy brown hair and a bowtie, the icon of my personality. The gesture is so subtle and clever that I can’t help but laugh. I turn away and stare through the windshield. On the dash sits a notebook, and under that sits a novel, The Land of Stories, and I know for sure that this is me. She is me.
I look back at her. “So you still listen to John Barrowman.”
“Aye,” she says, but a bit sadly, and I know why. She grips the reflective heart necklace she wears, and incredulity sweeps over me. I touch the necklace that hangs around my neck, the exact same one. “You still have that,” I breathe, and she grins and says, “It goes with every outfit.”
“Am I…? Are you still…?” I can’t seem to find enough words.
Her grin is replaced by solemnity, and she looks away. “Spoilers.”
It’s true. There are so many questions I could ask, but if she were to answer them, my life would be already decided. I mustn’t know the future. Whatever she tells me will be set in stone. I can’t ask anything, and yet I couldn’t, in any brief manner, explain why. As Aristotle wisely put it, “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to someone, I do not know.”
I’m scared to know anyway. I don’t know what I’ll choose in life, at least not on any level deeper than writing or art. “I don’t know what to do,” I say in a quiet voice.
“Do what you have to do,” she says, and I look down and inspect my door handle. Two safety pins lay in the holder next to it. A tear rolls down my face before I realize I’m crying.
“I wish I’d been born as a kestrel,” I remark.
“Yeah,” she says.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see movement and look up. Cars are rolling in towards the intersection from every direction, and passersby have appeared on the sidewalks. The grass and trees are green again. Everything has returned to normal.
“Well,” my older counterpart says, “I’ve got places to go, things to do.”
I open the car door and get out, closing it behind me without a word of goodbye, and she starts the car and drives away.
I watch her leave long after the car has disappeared from sight.