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Not Today

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This has been going on for quite a long time. Frankly, it started so long ago that "long" is too plain a word.

The planet is washed by rains, winds howl around the blue globe, scurrying from one side to the other as if playing some weird spy game, one season replacing another at the speed of movie frames.

There hasn’t been a time when William didn’t feel like he was running. In one way or another, his entire life is watching centuries and millennia slip through his fingers, while he moves inside the whirlpool but against its current.

He doesn’t remember. He doesn’t remember anything up to a certain moment. He is born, wherever, as whoever, but he is always himself. A regular man for the first thirty or forty years, depends on his luck.

And then he always meets Her. A twist, a knot in his smooth life line, theretofore unimaginably ordinary and unremarkable. He sees her on the street or at a friend’s party; once she was just a face on a poster, and the time before last she was born a queen.

He knows. He knows every time, and it’s immediate every time. In one damnable instant, Melbourne remembers everything. Every day in each of his past lives, the moments of her loving him particularly vivid in his memory.

Her love, oh yes… Always so pure, so tender, so strong. It breaks his heart, and somewhere halfway he learns to ignore the reality. The end is always the same — she slips away…

Pain is not a strong enough word either. By the time she leaves him after a few tiny moments alone he forgets everything. Into deepest corners of his violated memory he shoves all past meetings, leaving only what they have here and now. And his heart breaks every time like it’s the first time.

Victoria remembers too. The universe would be too cruel otherwise, although, one might think there’s nothing more the bitch could possibly do to screw them over again. But Victoria gets the revived memories of the past centuries too, once she catches the glimpse of the sorrowful green eyes in the crowd.

They never talk about it. If they start bringing up everything they have missed, their hearts would break before a mere thousand years passes. So it’s all over again. They live here and now, playing strangers, until they naturally miss another moment.

William hates himself. Fighting wars, building castles, scheming and plotting, designing rockets and sitting in the Parliament, he always tries to make it right. Stubbornly, strongly, piously believing this time will be different. This time she won’t become another man’s wife or die from consumption, this time she will agree to run away with him, even if they stand on different sides of the barricades. But fate turns with a twist again, mocking him, taking her away, leaving him with nothing but another scar on his weathered heart.

Victoria hates herself. She is far from being a passive figure in this cruel joke of time. Three times she was the one to find him, after seeing him first on the screen or on the street. Once she proposed to him. Once she made it clear to him that she remembered and his eyes overflowing with pain no human can bear is one of the few things she’d rather not remember. Victoria thrashes, rushes, strives, just like him, but their lines always run along and never together.

“Parallel lines,” a hoarse voice announces the subject of the lecture.

She hides her eyes looking down into her notebook, realizing at once that he is once again too old for her, and tears stream down her cheeks, blending with the black mascara on her eyelashes. Grayish blotches blossom on the ruled paper, and her friend anxiously asks if she is alright.

Victoria mutters something about the psych class she flunked last semester. She is frankly amazed she can still cry after so many years.

Professor Melbourne can clearly see that a girl in the first row is flooding the tabletop with tears she isn’t trying to hide. He does nothing. Time made him harsher. Tougher.

He takes the chalk stick and turns to the green surface of the blackboard, savoring their last time — there was a war and they were enemies and it was so much easier. He was enough of a bastard back then not to feel sorry for himself as he stared from his scaffold at her, standing on her husband’s right. So magnificent, so grown up. His perfect match, then more than ever.

 

***

An Oxford alumnus, she built an illustrious career on the political Olympus using her remarkable talents and tireless energy that presented such a stark contrast to her looks. Even the scandal with an applied mathematics professor, little known among the general public, couldn't get in the way of her success…

William frowns and his eyes glide down to the end of the article.

Died in a car crash in 1990…

His fingers crumple the yellowed newspaper sheet, carelessly, thoughtlessly. He shouldn’t do this, not really, because he borrowed the paper from the archive. He sips his bitter astringent coffee and squints his eyes at the shop window next to his table.

“Would you like anything else?”

He doesn’t need to look up to recognize her. The sound of her voice has been burnt into his skin, has long become a part of his flesh and blood. A waitress now, is she?

He noticed her a week ago. Always so beautiful, always young. Small and fragile even in that uniform apron, yet probably feisty, couldn’t be any other way. The girl with the nametag saying “Vic” has been ignoring the window table and this regular customer, the lover of eye-watering strong espresso and the leaver of insanely generous tips.

“Sir?”

He gathers his courage. A quick glance. Her eyes are brown this time but still sparkling, hypnotizing, making him feel like he has only been in this world for twenty years or so.

“I'd like a cure for a broken heart,” William chuckles bitterly, wondering what will go wrong this time.

“Who wouldn’t? All hearts break,” Vic says, twisting a short pencil in her slender fingers. “You know, someone broke my heart once spouting utter bullshit about rooks. Can’t stand the bastards since then.”

It’s supposed to be a joke but she can’t seem to find a reason to smile herself.

“So you’re a waitress…” he drawls, talking rather to himself than to her.

“Well, I work here because I don’t want to depend on my mother and anyway…”

She is babbling, incoherent and honest, she is being this young thing, even though all the agony of the time past came back to her last Tuesday.

“And your mother is--?” he asks like it’s nothing out of ordinary, a perfectly normal thing to ask a stranger.

Victoria says the name without a second’s hesitation, watching his expression. She needs to know that her family’s high position in society doesn’t bother him. Then again…

“You know, Will, after all these years, I think we have finally arrived at the moment when it doesn’t matter who my mother is. It doesn’t matter who you are and who I am. I still want to dance with you. Every night. After all these years, this is something so old that it’s stronger than morals or duty.”

A chill runs up Melbourne’s spine. The cold green of his eyes is bathed in the warm autumn of her irises. Thawing. Melting.

She warms him that night and many more nights. Something is bound to happen later, as it always does, but not now, now she is writhing in his arms, showing how great her want is. Her want for him — for all of him, for the man who keeps being born and dying for her. To protect her, to save her, to support her, to teach her. Always for her. From the moment they were no more than two specks of dust in the newborn universe after the Big Bang, it was all coming to him caressing her on the couch in the back room of a chain coffee shop, tasting her mocha-sweet lips.

They run against the time stream, towards and after each other all at once. Sometimes he catches up with her. And ruthless fate must wait. Not today.