They say life is short. I’ve heard it. You’ve heard it. We all have.
When you’re a child the years drag by slowly and adulthood feels so far out of reach. You believe you will forever be a kid, wishing to be older where freedom is at your fingertips.
As you age, the years seem to go faster and faster, like a whirl pool. Suddenly it’s always Christmas time. Suddenly it’s always the day where you’re officially a year older, and it seems before that day has even came to a close, another year has passed once again.
When I turned seventeen it was as though somebody hit fast forward. Too quickly I became twenty-three, teenaged and childhood memories so fresh in my mind that it near mentally destroyed me. It bothered me so much.
Each night when the city clock chimed midnight, I felt a pang of sadness. Each chime was a step closer to New Year’s Eve, where people would celebrate, laughing and drinking to the new year.
Me? I drank too, drowning my sorrows in vodka. Usually I would find myself a quiet spot where I’d sit alone, wondering if I was the only one who realized how quickly time was passing us by.
To me it didn’t seem right. How could I have been twelve what seems like yesterday, yet twenty-three today? How could a memory possibly be from five years ago, when I was sure the memory was a reflection of a life-event just five months earlier.
My mind forever in the past, I longed for my childhood. I longed for what would never be again, and I cried because I knew that soon today would too, be a thing of the past, as is yesterday, and even an hour prior.
Deep down I knew I should be enjoying my youth, for I would long for it all too soon. But I just couldn’t move on from the past and my own concept of time.
My life was going well. I was less than one year away from graduating as a veterinary-nurse, which meant I’d be qualified all too soon.
My boyfriend, Brodie, and I had put down a deposit for our very first house with intentions to move in that very week. We’d be accompanied by my mutt, Rufus, and my two Siamese cats, Silvia and Chip, making the small one-bedroomed house very cozy.
I was close to my parents; I had a couple of good loyal friends and got on well with everybody at course. I certainly didn’t lead a lonely life.
I wasn’t stripped in the looks department. I wasn’t drop-dead-gorgeous, but I was proud of my long, blonde hair and maintained a slim figure with little effort. I had begun to notice small signs of aging, such as the way the skin beneath my eyes maintained lined even after I’d stopped smiling. Those little lines had surprised me, further accumulating my obsession with time.
I was the first to admit I had a good life. I wished desperately to be happy in the present, but the present is nothing more than a moment; then that moment is already gone.
That night, Brodie and I sat in the car over-looking the city lights among our usual Friday night drive. And that night was marked with a once-in-a-lifetime moment as Brodie, his face only half lit by the outside street-lights, reached into his pocket and revealed the ring that resembled his all.
As tears of joy rolled down my face, and I gazed into the eyes of who I loved with all my heart, I had a single thought that eased off the pain time gave me.
At least I wouldn’t grow old alone.
Later, I lay on my back in bed, watching a shimmer of light dance across the dark ceiling. Brodie’s sleeping body was warm against my own.
I was still overwhelmed from his proposal and looked forward to announcing the news to my family and friends the next morning. Unfortunately, my over-reactive mind dampened my happiness with pain I tried so desperately to disregard.
I feared the future, and the children that would come. While there was no rush, I knew that in what seemed like the blink of an eye, I’d be in my late thirties, and so instead of being content in the present, I worried for the time where big changes would occur.
Brodie loved me now, while I was young and attractive. I feared Brodie’s potential loss of love and physical attraction for me as my fine lines would gradually deepen, and the last of my beauty would diminish leaving only my soul to show. I couldn’t force away the idea of him secretly eyeing the younger woman, as I’ve seen older men do to me now, and fantasizing of somebody else as he made love to me; his wife, no longer the picture he married.
I feared looking back, to my twenties as I did my teenage years now, wishing I could be that age again; because that time was now, and psychologically I failed to make the make the most of these short, short years.
I sighed deeply, wondering if anyone else could possibly understand. I knew there was no purpose in being upset, because this was one of the few things I couldn’t slow down, nor prevent; but I think that’s why it scared me the most. To nearly every situation there is a solution.
Not this time.
I took a deep breath, then exhaled, continuing to breathe with focus. Nothing matters, I told myself. Nothing matters.
I placed myself in a cartoon fantasy where the sky was blue, the air was warm, and all that mattered was the talking animals surrounding me. Perhaps I was insane, but here, in my fantasy world, was where I found sleep.
I awoke the next morning to the sun on my face, streaming in through a gap in the curtains.
I smiled, proceeding to open my eyes. I could tell all of my family and friends about Brodie’s proposal today. We had decided to keep it to ourselves last night, for it was late when we arrived home and we had shared a desire to simply be together, just him and I. Even the animals were locked out of the bedroom that night.
It was a Saturday, but unfortunately Brodie had work until midday. With newfound excitement in our love, I immensely looked forward to seeing him when he got home.
Despite my contentment, my body felt tired. I slowly, almost forcefully started to sit up, but cried out as intense pain shot up my back. I heard footsteps hurrying down the hallway, and before I could even begin to wonder who might be in my house, the intruder was right beside me.
“Take it easy, Mrs. Hughson. I’ve got you.” A woman’s voice. She reached a hand behind my back, supporting me. “I’ve got you, you’re up now. You can relax.”
I blinked in surprise and gazed up, wide-eyed, at the woman above me.
She was tall, solid, and appeared to be in her early fifties. She wore blue dress pants and a white shirt. “Why are you in my house? Why did you call me Mrs. Hughson…?” I murmured. “I’m not married yet! How did you even know Brodie proposed?” I shook my head in confusion. “How do you even know me?!”
It was then that the last of sleep escaped me, and I looked around for the first time. My mouth fell open and I gasped in surprise as I took in my surroundings. I wasn’t at home at all. I was in a small room, painted white. I sat upon an all-white, single bed facing a small television.
A single grey arm-chair sat in the corner of the room, blanketed with a colourful, knitted shawl. Beside the arm-chair was a roll of wool and two knitting needles perched on top of a little table.
“Am I in hospital?” My voice sounded hoarse. Different. “What is wrong with me? What happened?” I slid a leg out from the sheets and began to lower myself to the floor.
“Whoa, take it easy, Mrs. Hughson,” the lady said, frowning. I stared at her, waiting for her to explain what had happened to me.
“Tell me!” I tried to shout. But my voice came out in barely above a whisper.
“I’m Mrs. Dutch. I’m your caregiver. Remember? I’ve looked after you for nearly a year now.”
Feeling afraid, I struggled to slide my other leg out of the bed. I felt so weak, deprived from all energy.
“Look,” I started. I cleared my throat. “You have the wrong person. Something must have happened to me to put me in the hospital last night. I’m not who you think I am. I…”
“But Mrs. Hughson,” Mrs. Dutch interrupted. “This isn’t the hospital. This is Amberley Retirement Home.”
I struggled to breathe as my body began to violently tremble. This had to be a joke.
“How about I get you your wheelchair?” Mrs. Dutch asked. She studied me closely.
“Wheelchair?” I murmured weakly.
Mrs. Dutch exited the room, and I eased my aching body to the floor, grasping the side of the bed for balance as I waivered on landing. I noticed the toilet symbol on a door opposite the room and began to make my way over to it.
My legs felt heavy, and I hunched over to compensate for the constant strain on my back.
What had happened to me?
Slowly, painfully, I reached the bathroom and opened the door. I found the light-switch to the right and flicked it on.
I turned to face the toilet, and let out a shrill scream, my heart racing in fright. I wasn’t alone in here! An elderly lady with thinning, white hair stared back at me through sunken eyes. I reached a hand to my heavily pounding chest, still gasping.
To my surprise, the elderly lady copied me, reaching her own hand to her heart.
I stared at the lady, taking in the pink nightgown which hung from her frail, hunched body, up to her heavily wrinkled face.
She appeared to be in shock; her pale, blue eyes panicked.
“W…what were you doing here in the dark?” I stuttered.
It was when her mouth moved in unison with my own that the strongest feeling of dread washed over me, turning my blood like ice.
My weak knees shook violently, knocking into each other uncomfortably, and unable to hold myself up any longer they quickly gave way, and I collapsed to the lino floor, screaming uncontrollably through my dry throat.
The elderly lady fell with me too, wailing; her face no longer one of shock, but pure terror.
For the little, old lady was me; and what I faced was a mirror reflecting my biggest fear.
Two caregivers rushed into the bathroom to my assistance. “It’s okay, Mrs. Hughson, it’s okay,” one of them ushered softly. “Shhh. Easy does it.” With one at either side of me, I was dragged to my feet still sobbing.
“Let’s get you into your room,” the other caregiver said. “Mrs. Dutch is just getting you some breakfast now.”
Too devastated and exhausted to argue, I allowed them to help my shivering, numb body back to the little, white bed. “L…listen,” I started. “I… I…” I took a deep breath.
I had to calm down.
“I don’t belong here. I’m twenty-three. I mean, I know I don’t look twenty-three, but I am. I’ve ended up in the future or something.” I hesitated, breathing quickly. “What year is it?”
The young, blonde caregiver before me, bit her lip, her large eyes full of pity. “Tell me!” I demanded.
“It’s 2083, Mrs. Hughson,” she replied.
“See! I am from year 2016. Just yesterday, it was 2016, and my…”
“Here we go, Mrs. Hughson.” I was interrupted again by Mrs. Dutch as she wheeled in a table revealing a bowl of porridge, a mandarin, and a glass of milk. “Eat up so you’re nice and strong for your son.” She grinned at me. “It’s Saturday today. Do we remember what that means?” she spoke to me as though I was a small child. “It means your son is coming to visit!”
“Oooh, exciting!” the blonde nurse piped in, forcing fake enthusiasm.
I glared at them. “Listen to me! Please!” I cried. I started to lose my voice and cleared my throat again. “This is a mistake. I need to get back home; I need to get to 2016 again. I’m truly twenty-three; I…” I cut off, quickly doing the math in my head. “Ninety,” I muttered. “Ninety. If it’s 2083, that makes me ninety…” My head began to spin.
Suddenly I was exhausted. My failed attempt to convince the caregivers had wiped me completely. My eyes self-closed and I began to lie down, giving in to the strong pull.
“Are you not going to eat something, Mrs. Hughson? Then we can find you something nice to wear for your son.”
I jerked my eyes back open. There was no time to sleep; I needed to find a way to get back to where I belonged. I reached for the spoon, scooping up a large lump of porridge.
“Very good,” Mrs. Dutch said. “Just ring the little bell beside your bed if you need anything.”
I was left alone with my food. I forced down a mouthful of the gluggy mess, the remainder of the spoonful sticking to my teeth. I hated porridge.
“Need to get my strength up,” I muttered to myself, again fighting the urge to close my eyes. I reached for another spoonful.
“Mrs. Hughson. Mrs. Hughson,” a voice whispered. I felt a hand on my shoulder.
Groggily, I opened my eyes. For a moment I felt confused again, then with a pang of emotional agony, I realized where I was.
I must have fallen asleep.
“Your son is here to see you,” Mrs. Dutch told me, assisting my stiff body into a sitting position.
“Hey, Mum.” I turned towards the voice. A man who appeared to be in his mid-fifties dragged over the armchair and took a seat, facing me. He was tall, clean-shaven, and had a head of receding, greyed, brown hair.
His kind green eyes crinkled up in the corners as he smiled at me. He reminded me of someone; but I didn’t know who.
I simply stared at this stranger, lost for words.
“How have you been doing?” he asked me.
I hesitated. Maybe this man could help me.
“Look, I’m not your mum.” The man’s smile dropped, and the creases at the corners of his eyes eased off. “Well, I mean, I probably am. But listen, I’m twenty-three!”
The man stared at me. Then the crinkles at the corner of his eyes deepened once more as he began to chuckle. “How does that work? I’m your son, and I am fifty-six.” He laughed again, then placed his large, warm hand over my own, shriveled and arthritic. “Have they been treating you alright in here, Mum?”
“Listen to me, uh, what’s your name?” I croaked, desperate for him to listen.
“Mark,” he answered. His hand left mine, and he appeared hurt once again.
“Mark. Just last night I was twenty-three. Brodie proposed to me!”
“Dad?” Mark asked.
“Of course,” I replied slowly. How had I not realized? It was Brodie who Mark reminded me of, with his kind, green eyes and wonderful smile. Brodie was Mark’s father!
I stared hard at Mark, seeing him under a brand new light. Brodie and I had made this man. This man was our son.
He would be our future son when I got back to my time.
I felt a pang of sadness as I pictured the way Brodie’s face lit up the night prior when I said the one word he so had hoped to hear. In this terrifying time, I longed to be in his presence. “That’s it!” I hissed excitedly. “Brodie will be able to help me!” I reached for Mark’s arm. “Mark! Where is Brodie? Where is your father?”
Mark began to fiddle with his hands. He glanced away quickly, brushing a tear from his eye. “I’m sorry, Mum.” His voice cracked. “It’s just so hard seeing you like this all of the time.”
“Where is he, Mark?” I demanded to know.
Mark sighed, burying his face into his hands. He sighed again, and gazed at me through tear-filled eyes. “Dad is dead. You know that, Mum. He’s been dead for six years.”
I froze as his horrible words sunk in, stunning me. “No…” I murmured under my breath. I choked, as I realized with me being ninety-years-old, both of my parents were dead too. “No!”
My stomach turned over.
Suddenly, the ache in my muscles intensified. Sharp, hot pain shot repeatedly down my spine. My head hurt, and my hands and feet throbbed. Above all, my heart hurt the most, in a way no words could describe.
I pictured the faces of my parents. Then Brodie’s face flashed into my mind; not him as an old man, but the young Brodie- the only Brodie I knew.
All at once, overlapping memories of him and I overwhelmed me, suffocating me; my love for him immerging with the worst pain I’d felt in my lifetime.
“Noooo! Nooooo!” I screamed repeatedly, sending pillows flying from my bed.
Mark stood up, stepping back in surprise.
“The nurse, get the nurse!” I heard someone cry.
Mrs. Dutch and a nurse rushed into the room. “It’s okay; it’s okay Mrs. Hughson,” Mrs. Dutch spoke soothingly, holding down my thrashing body. “Quick, give her something!”
I screamed, swung, and kicked, ignoring the physical pain every physical effort endured. But I was a little, old lady who was much too weak to resist the nurse from injecting my arm.
I got one last look at Mark’s sad face; one last look into his pained, green eyes.
My body, unable to fight the drug, relaxed. Brodie’s face in my mind, my eyelids felt heavy.
Just as I began to drift off I heard an unrecognizable voice. “What’s wrong with that lady?”
It was Mrs. Dutch who responded. “She’s a poor soul. She wakes up each morning thinking she is twenty-three, and has no re-collection of her life after that age, nor memory of her husband’s death. Dementia is a horrible thing.”