Sunday, April 2, 2017
Where is it? I mused. Where, where, where?
This was a month ago, and I was meandering around Iceport International Airport shortly after my arrival in Arctic State. The object of my pursuit was the Starbucks I knew to be hiding somewhere in the facility and which, as my departure time to Riverville crept ever closer, I knew I needed to find pronto. This would be my last iced caramel macchiato until the middle of May.
I spun around in an exasperated circle, luggage in tow, when a familiar voice sounded from the row of chairs behind me.
"You're not lost. You're right where you need to be."
I turned my head to a pretty blonde wearing a cashmere sweater.
"Well, fuck me," I said. "Fuck me running."
The woman cocked an eyebrow from behind the oversized newspaper she'd splayed in front of her like a secret agent in a mid-century spy movie.
"You didn't used to curse so much," she observed.
"And you didn't used to read the Times."
That brought a smile and the lowering of the parchment wall.
"You know, there was this time," she explained. "In about 2009, when I convinced myself I didn't need to keep such close tabs on Evil anymore. Not my most insightful moment."
"And you find him there?" I gestured with skepticism at the Old English font.
She jiggled a front-page story on the dismantling of the Paris climate-change agreement and smiled her weary smile. "Every day."
I plopped happily into the seat beside her, my caffeine craving momentarily forgotten.
"It's been a while," I noted.
Good squeezed my knee with her free hand.
She looked tired as always. The kind smile that came so easily to her face seemed to struggle against the weight of all she knew, all the same mistakes she saw repeated over and over again. Some of those, I realized with a start, were mine. I'd been short sighted, self-absorbed, reckless. But also a child. I didn't blame myself for those years, and knew she didn't, either.
"I missed you," I said.
"And I missed you," she replied. "It was hard to just watch. But you were in so much pain then that your heart didn't have much room for me. You couldn't see the good in the world." She had this marvelous way of expressing emotions with just her hazel eyes, which gleamed for a moment and then resumed their usual warmth. "So you couldn't see me."
"I guess that's why I saw so much of Fate back then," I mused.
She nodded thoughtfully.
"You saw doom," she offered. "Which is one aspect of him, and explains why your last meeting was so...eventful."
True. On that occasion, I'd punched a primordial being twice in the face and compared him to a piece of fecal matter.
"I hope you'll tell him I'm sorry about that," I said. "I wasn't...you know. I wasn't myself."
"I think he knows that," she replied. "He's not one to hold grudges. You see enough and you get some perspective on that."
"How is he, by the way?"
She smiled, but didn't lie.
"Okay," she said. "In his city. There's always plenty of fate for him to attend to there."
"I hope I don't see him again for a long time," I noted. "Nothing personal. Just..."
Her eyes crinkled with the pleasure of a teacher whose student has just realized something important.
"It doesn't do to see too much of him," she told me. "Some people are tied tightly to him, others barely bound to him at all. But no one should dwell on him more than they have to. His work isn't conducive to living a day-to-day life."
"And where do I fall on that spectrum?" I asked. "Bound tight or not at all?"
She appraised me evenly. "Somewhere in between."
I sighed. "I'll take it."
"And you're not seeing him a lot," she observed. "Good sign."
"But I am seeing you," I countered. "So what does that mean? Happy ending? All sunshine and rainbows from here?"
She threw back her head and actually laughed, a sound like wind chimes blowing in a summer breeze. It occurred to me, with a shock of surprise, that I'd never heard her do that before.
"You know it doesn't work that way," she said, but her tone was all mirth.
"I do," I agreed. "Worth a shot, though."
She laughed again and I wondered absurdly if immortal forces of elemental power had friends. She seemed like she'd be great fun at a cookout.
"So why are you here, then?"
"Because you realize it doesn't work that way," she responded, folding her newspaper and dropping it to the floor. "Because you're here. Because you've chosen to engage in the world and accept what it brings to you, even if that's difficult. Because you've realized that finding something worthwhile requires sacrifice and risk. Because you've decided to get a little messy. All Good comes from that."
She had a way of laying it out there. And she was always right.
"When I was younger I made so many decisions based on fear," I admitted. "For years. And then at some point I realized I was twenty-eight, and if I didn't change it then one day I'd have just that fear. And nothing else. Because it all keeps moving forward, whether you're on track or not."
She lifted her chin like she'd just figured something out, too.
"You're feeling a little bit of Time," she said. "Pressing on your shoulder. Most people are immune to her in youth. But you've passed from that, haven't you?"
"Gettin' old," I pronounced, my hand running down the teacher-appropriate sweater I'd donned for the trip.
She guffawed. "'Old' is a relative term."
"Which I guess you'd know if you hang out with Time. Another friend?"
"Well," she pursed her lips. "More like a colleague. You probably don't want to meet her."
My eyebrows shot up quizzically.
"She's...disconcerting. Even for us. I tend to interact with her only when I have to. Like the last time you and I saw each other."
That occasion, more than five years ago, was on my very last day as an undergraduate. It also, as it happened, involved a brief episode of time travel.
"I always wondered how you managed that," I said. "The bit where I popped back into 2006 for an afternoon."
She picked up a tray of cinnamon buns that had appeared literally out of nowhere and offered me one.
"Yeah. I called in a favor."
"A favor? No disrespect, but what could you have done to make a 14-billion-year-old chick owe you one?"
She pointedly sucked some cream from her index finger.
"First of all, she's older than that. And second of all, I made her chicken-noodle soup."
"I'm sorry, what?"
She looked just a little affronted.
"Well, my chicken-noodle soup is amazing. Which makes sense, since I did invent chicken-noodle soup. Just saying. But beyond that, it keeps really well, and she's always going on about how 'nothing lasts, nothing lasts.' So reliable heat-ups are a big hit with her."
I stared and didn't care that I was being rude.
"I am not. I once made her a macaroni-and-cheese casserole that got her through the Middle Ages."
"But macaroni and cheese wasn't invented until--"
"Don't dive too deep on this one."
For a while we just surveyed the bustling airport, and, from the observation window, the sunlit snowy city beyond.
"I'm really here." I said finally.
"You're really here. On the journey."
"You know, the toilet I'm going to have lights your poop on fire instead of flushing it."
"Well. That's part of the journey."
Before long, it was time for me to head to the gate through which I'd depart for Riverville and White Venice.
"You're doing the right things," she said as we stood and hugged one another. "Keep doing them. Even when it's hard. Even when it's scary. Especially then."
"I'll do my best."
I'd walked a good distance away when she called after me.
I turned around.
With a grin, she lifted a venti iced coffee she hadn't had a few moments earlier.
"The Starbucks is just around the corner."