Monday, June 4, 2012
I marveled at the rain beginning to fall around me. I yearned to stay standing outside, with my face turned up the cold drops coming down hard, faster with each passing second. To feel them, wet against my cheeks. There was no rain where I lived. Not for the last hundred years, according to the history books at school. But the cotton candy wrapped around the paper cone in my hand was rapidly transforming from a fluffy mound into sticky, pink syrup, and had started to run down my fingers. Everyone around me was running for cover towards the colorful, striped tents that dotted the carnival. I had learned long ago that the best thing to do was to blend in, so I shielded the remains of my precious treat and ducked into the nearest tent.
I was alone in the tiny enclave. It belonged to the fortune-teller. I could tell by the crystal ball and the deck of cards on the small table. I took a seat in one of the two empty chairs and proceeded to wipe the goo off of my fingers, and tried to salvage the remains of my cotton candy. It had taken me four trips to put together enough money for my day at the carnival, and I wasn’t about to waste any of it.
I jumped at the sound of a voice behind me.
“Oh, sorry dear. Didn’t mean to scare the life out of you.”
I turned as the old fortune teller came through the curtains at the back of the tent. My gaze traveled up her colorful robes, to her gnarled hands covered in gold rings and finally to her face, run through with deep creases and encircled by a halo of brilliant red curls. The sight of that face made me go cold all the way to my toes. It was immediately apparent that the sight of mine had done the same to her.
We both held our breath for a moment, equally unsure of how to proceed. Time-travelers had, for the most part, been bred out of the population, thanks to some disturbing laws regarding procreation that had been issued back in 2310. But there were still some of us. Some were older people, who had been born before the new laws, and then there were kids like me, whose parents had somehow managed to cheat the system. Usually by falsifying their family tree, which is what I assume my parents did in the name of true love, since I had never met any members of my extended family.
It was highly illegal to be a time-traveler. The first time I disappeared at the dinner table, and my parent’s realized I had inherited the ability from somewhere in their genetic makeup, they told me I must never do it again. That if I did, and I got caught, someone would come and take me away forever. I was four.
By thirteen, I had been to hundreds of different places and times. I couldn’t help it. Life was just better in the past. The smell of fresh air, the feel of rain, the taste of sugar. I usually went from a hidden cabinet that had inexplicably been built behind the hanging bar in my closet. It was just big enough for me to fit into. In all my trips, I had never met another traveler. But here I was, in 2004, at least I think it was, staring into the eyes of my eighth form history teacher.
“Azalea. What on earth are you doing here?”
I had always been terrified of Dr. Lexington. She was a tyrant of a teacher, not to mention a stickler for detail. And it suddenly occurred to me how she always seemed to know more about history than just what was in the books. Now I was terrified for a whole different reason, despite the fact that she looked borderline ridiculous in her fortune-teller costume.
“I, uh…” I had no words.
“Oh, for God’s sake, child. Find your voice. I’m not about to report your parents to the authorities for violating procreation laws. Nor am I planning to turn you in, though you no longer have an excuse for your pitiful grade in my class. Which means you can let go of that breath you are holding. Now, how many trips have you been on?”
I exhaled, and then sucked in a breath of the moist air, unlike anything pumped through the vacuum sealed world that was my everyday life.
“Six hundred and thirty-six.”
“Impressive.” I wasn’t sure, but I thought there might have been a hint of a smile playing at the corners of her lips. She pulled up the other chair and sat down at the small table. She absentmindedly picked up the deck of cards and shuffled them lightly before setting them down again, never taking her eyes off of me. And then she did smile.
“Did you know,” she said lightly, as she reached out and smoothed her hand over my damp, fiery red ringlets, “that your mother’s maiden name is Lexington?”
In a sudden moment of clarity, I looked up into the twinkling eyes of my grandmother.
“Now,” she said, laughing at my wonderment. She had always known who I was. “My darling, granddaughter. You must tell me how you’ve managed so many trips without detection.”
“There’s this cabinet in my closet,” I began.
“Oh, my.” she cut me off. “I had forgotten all about that.”
“You know about it?”
“Of course.” She smiled. “How do you think it got there?”
In that tiny carnival tent, a history I had not known began to fall in place, drop by drop, like the rain coming down around us.