“Aidelle, I am so sorry. Even now, you look as beautiful as ever. Can you forgive me?”
“Phillip, what are you on about?”
Phillip blinked and placed a hand to his forehead.
“I don’t know… My head hurts so much. I keep seeing memories that aren’t mind… And yet, I’m sure they are.”
“Dad, I’m worried for you…” The lady in the purple, frilly dress brought a steaming cup of tea in, looking hurt and concerned.
“What could it mean?” Aidelle almost ignored the woman. She had more faith in her lover’s strength of mind.
“One minute I see myself here, with you. The next we are broken, apart; we didn’t marry and none of this is ours. I have a bad leg…”
”Yes, Phillip, you said it just collapsed under you. You’re not well, and these things you’re seeing are part of your illness.”
“No, I don’t have the bad leg, but he does. The other me. The one who went away to war-”
“War? That one all those years ago? You must be mistaken…”
“Zara was there, helping you. You were trying to…ooh, I can’t concentrate.”
“What is it? What are you saying Phillip?”
”It’s like… I have more than one memory of the same event.”
Aidelle stared at her husband. Perhaps her ears were playing tricks on her in her old age, but Phillip’s words made no possible sense.
“How can you remember two different versions of the same five years…?”
“And so, that’s how it was. Phillip told you, and, wearily, one day at a time, we started to understand. I…found a way (with my big brothers); we made the device and I came here to find you. End of story, really. Well…not quite, we hope.”
”You finally saw that something had gone wrong in time?”
Zara paused, and Aidelle saw her face fall.
“Mother was the first to ‘disappear’. She’d always been special to me and my siblings, but I guess we didn’t realise how much so. She just started…fading. Grandfather told of a life where none of this existed. I asked what could be done. Grandfather said that he could remember different ‘time-streams’, different versions of your lives, and a clock was involved. That’s when he took the silver hands from this golden clock. He said that he’d done something bad, but there was a way to correct it all. He didn’t want to ‘ruin your life’; he mentioned that things were being ‘rewritten’ (I didn’t understand then what he meant, but it’s plain now), and that you wouldn’t have any of this; he told you that none of our family would be in your future, because of the change. He begged for your forgiveness time and time again. And then, once he’d told everything he could, he…he just went.”
”Went? Vanished like your mother, you mean?”
”He didn’t vanish, as such, but his sanity was slipping, and then he died.”
Aidelle stared into her teacup, imaging that she would be able to read the future like the dolled-up gypsies in county fairs, but the brown tea swam over any chance of making a discovery.
“Do you,” she finally whispered, “Do you know why time has suddenly changed? Why did it pick now- or the time after your sister’s wedding- to jump into another ‘time-stream’ (as Phillip called them) and to kill your future when it was going so well? Why has my now suddenly affected your now, and not beforehand? It makes no sense that you’re here at all.”
“I- I suppose…” Zara shook a little, “It might have just picked a random time-stream to shower with the fragments of time as it only could be. Maybe all the good time-streams are falling apart because the argument of Phillip and yourself. Or maybe it’s trying to fix things, just like I am. My life is real, but you’ve made a mistake in the present and so it echoes into my perfect life and tries to destroy it as a message back!” She scowled, but a look from Aidelle told her better than to lash out.
“Maybe this is just what always happens. Your lost future comes forth to rewrite time and create itself. A total paradox, as you said.”
She clasped her soft hands around Aidelle’s.
“We will fix this.”