“Every day which isn’t a day but is occasionally a week I find that it’s coming undone. Bit by bit because it’s like it’s further away for some of them,” the girl says, looking at her hands.
“Claire, sweetheart,” the woman says, her face lined with age and grief. “Can you hear me? Do you see me?”
“He walked along the beach and was lost and found again. She has shells and sea glass. She asked her mother to bring some home. He cried, on his twenty-fourth birthday, because he wasn’t where he wanted to be. A thousand words I want to say, but it’s impossible to spit them out,” she says, the last of it coming out in a sing-song voice. “I see,” she adds, but if it is to the woman who speaks to her, it isn’t clear.
“I’m right here,” the woman says softly, reaching out a hand, for Claire’s.
The girl’s eyes turn to the woman’s, and they are starry skies, infinite and wide, storming and deep. She looks to the reaching hand, and allows it to slide over her own, looking pained, and then indifferent. “No,” she says, her tone conversational. “No, you aren’t. You can’t be,” she sighs. “Not always.”
The woman looks hurt, but swallows it down, and takes her hands back, murmuring, “I want to understand, Claire. Please, help me, so I can help you. Please.”
The girl cocks her head to the side, and regards the woman as one might a strange pattern in an oil slick, with a faint sense of fascination, but no empathy. She looks back down at her hands, and then turns her head away, as though listening to some far-off radio station, tuned in to something only she can hear. “He just came in. He wears the smartest suits. She wants to push that kid into the elevator shaft, chair and headphones and all,” she says, not at all on the same page of conversation. “They all connect to the nexus. They sit there and talk about a past that never was. They used to build worlds. They built worlds where we all walked. Where this whole world walked and had its own nexus of people building worlds and did you know the night the three of them listened to Mandy sing about George was the first time she had seen time used that way?” she murmurs.
“Claire,” the woman says, tears in her eyes. “Honey, I love you.”
That seems to catch her attention for a moment. Starry eyes blink, focusing in the here and now. The girl turns to look at the woman again, frowning like one might at a child that wants constant attention. “They’re the same two men, over and over and over again. One woman, two men. They change on the outside. Sometimes they change on the inside. They’re the same, again and again,” she explains carefully. “Can you tell? They have so many stories. So many ways they fit. They don’t recognize one another. Not always. When they’re separated, they hurt themselves trying to reconnect. There was the fog, when she met them the first time, in the fog in the wild, and then there was the place she made him mayor, after taking him away from everything he loved, and you can’t begin to know how many cups of coffee and how many hand signals happened, to tell the story back and forth, when it was less broken, less strained between them,” she explains. “They are all here, everywhere, all the time. Everything,” she says, her words coming alternately fast and slow, a tumbling river over rocks, rapids and spilling over one another. “Sometimes, it’s just as simple as ‘He loves her.’ but no one can hold on to any one of them for too long,” she murmurs, talking past the woman next to her. “All of them are true. All of them,” she whispers.
“I don’t understand, but I’ll listen,” the woman says, moving to sit just a little closer, moving to take the girl’s hand again, to brush tangled black hair back from her face. “I’ll listen as long as I can,” she says. She turns her head for a moment, to look down, to give the shortest of glances to the body on the floor, and its sightless gaze, half-hidden by round, rimless spectacles that reflect the light in the room, giving it inhuman eyes. When she looks back, she looks hopeful as she whispers, “We have time, now.”