I’m waiting under the Great White Oak again, watching the clock tower. When the clock chimes, my heart jumps up the ladder of my ribs and throbs in my throat.
His hand materializes in mine, at first the soft brush of a breeze, then a running stream of water, and finally flesh, warm and welcome to the touch. He wears his only smile—lips curved in one corner—and he doesn’t say a word. I laugh.
I glance at the full moon and salty stars sprinkled in the sky until his hands guide my eyes through the endless galaxies to his face. He hasn’t changed a bit. I, on the other hand, look different. More worn, I say. Lovely as ever, is his reply.
We sit at the same spot in the café where we always order coffee we’ll never drink. Though there’s new staff and the décor’s changed and the name has gone from Latin to French to English, nothing feels different. I clutch his hand so tight my fingers cramp. I only have him for one night. This night. Tomorrow, when the sun’s high, he’ll be gone and I’ll have to wait another decade for the clock’s chime.
I remember the first time he materialized in front of me: “I figured I’d find you here,” he said as he changed from a brush of wind through the Great White Oak’s leaves to fully visible with each toll of the clock tower. He wore his full military attire—just as he had when he’d boarded the bus across the street and disappeared from my life.
I wrapped my arms around him in the shade of the Great White Oak; felt him, solid, real. “How are you here? How is this possible?”
He shrugged. “I got you something.”
Each gift he brought was a little something from his world: something that disappeared as soon as he did.
Today he gives me a piece of sky—a frozen crystal icy to the touch. He doesn’t say it, but I know: time is running out.
He rubs the ring imprint on my finger which has long since tanned and vanished. “You’re not wearing your ring.” To him it was four days ago when he slipped it on my finger and one day since he last saw me wearing it. His eyes are intense. “Have you thought about what I said?”
I’ve been thinking about it for a decade.
It took me years to let go of his things, one Goodwill box at a time, and more years still to accept the emptiness of the house and finally sell it. It was just yesterday at the cottage that I was able to scatter his ashes in the lake along with all my guilt and fear.
“I have.” I stand and so does he.
“Will you come with me?”
I’ve had a decade to play out endless responses to the question that I knew would come, but in this moment, they refuse to form on my lips. Instead, I guide him through town until the moon and stars fade and the shadows retreat to reveal the high-noon sun. He pushes me up against the Great White Oak. I expect a kiss, something fierce and desperate. Instead, he says, “If you wait too long…”
I lift his hand to my face. He smells like gunpowder and faintly metallic, as if he’s still fighting the war that stole him from me so many years ago. I rest my cheek against his knuckles. We stare at the clock. The large hand stalks the final hour. If only it would catch and stop, freeze us in this moment forever.
The house, the clothes, the ashes—they’re all gone. There’s nothing else for me to hold on to, nothing left to keep me here. “If I can.”
His hand tightens in mine, and I know the hour’s here. I must try—go with him if I can.
The clock chimes. I suck in a sharp breath.
At first there’s flesh, then water, and finally a rush of cold air. He slips from my fingers into the unknown.
The Great White Oak sheds its leaves. They rain down and turn from green to brown to pale gray ash before hitting the ground. The sun seems out of orbit, everything spins out of control.
He never promised to return, as he has every time since he first materialized.
Tomorrow, I begin again, but this time I will do it right: I’ll list the cottage and look for an apartment, someplace neither of us were attached to. I’ll find a way to press onward through the hellish wait, counting years, then months, then weeks, then days across the space of a decade, hoping that next time—if he comes—it’ll be enough and I’ll be able to go with him.
Notes from Guest Reader Eva Wong Nava
The Space of A Decade is a raw and haunting piece replete with tension and the author, Jake TS Wryte, has conveyed this well within the tight form of Flash. Upon first reading, I sensed an echo of Audrey Niffeneger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife but with Wryte’s distinct voice and pace. I especially liked the irresolution of the plot and the narrator’s knowledge of this, highlighting the protagonist’s flawed desire, the shadow side of being human and the emotional baggage that our physical life contains.