He chases her through time.
Here a scrap of ribbon, yellow like her hair. Here a petal, here the smell of garlic. Or of leaves crunched underfoot, grieving their own deaths. He remembers every detail of the life they once had together. Who could forget?
In the meantime, an age has come and gone. Glaciers melt away, polar bears lose all their fur and he wonders what she thinks about all of this despair. He wonders what she sees when she looks out her window, the ways she is always doing. The way she always did, once upon a time when she was his wife, and somehow, he cannot imagine her any way except the way she was centuries ago. Careless with her heart. Too careful with her soul.
He has tried to take a page out of her book and so he has been writing his own story everywhere he goes, scrawling his name into the sand, into the dirt, looking for her name in the heavens but writing his own name in the sky with the buildings that are all that he has to love now.
He is trying to find himself because she said she never knew where to look for him when it mattered She always said she did not know what to call him day to day because he changed his name like he changed his face while she, she stayed the same. Same letters. Same tastes. Every incarnation an anagram for every preceding life.
He chases her, and Time chases him.
In the meantime, he is a builder who dreams himself an architect because he needs some dream to occupy his mind until he knows what face to give his dreams of her. Castles come together underneath his hands because what does he have to give this dying world if not his imagination? She told him he built castles in the sky and she did not mean it lovingly and when he laughed he did not mean it kindly, but now he has a second chance and he is not going to blow it. Every morning is a second chance and he leaves traces of himself all over the city, then all over the world. The skyscrapers he warned her about before the first skyscraper had been built have all come true. Every dream he ever had about the world’s destruction is coming true and he cannot stop them, he cannot beat them. So he joins them.
He longed to mold cathedrals in his hands, but instead, his creations pierce the sky. Eventually, he produces new buildings to house inmates, because all the money these days is in following the whims of corporations, and a man has got to eat. Even a mimic of humanness like himself has got to eat, but the list of what he will consume shrinks daily. His bank account fills to bursting then overflows from trying to keep up with his investments but he can’t stop trying to dam his own wounds with money. He flies in water from Hawaii, Kobe beef from the Midwest of the United States, escargot from France. Trying to tempt his palate. Trying to remind himself that he was once a human being and could be again. If he could only remember why he used to want to try. Why the horror used to be worth it
But. He can’t remember anything but drowning so he chases her, rather than chase the self he tried to be for her, because who is that? He does not recall himself. He just remembers her.
The red of her favorite scarlet dress, like blood against her calves and oh, how she used to dance. When she still had legs whose shape he knew by heart, and he still had a heartbeat. Maybe he can give her back her legs and certainly, certainly, she can give him back his heart.
He never meant to take her for granted. Never meant to let the days drift by without explaining all those things he did not know how to name, but now he is obsessed with language so he can learn to say it all. He can learn to say thank you, thank you, for she was always there to greet him when he returned home to her.
He never knew she was unhappy. Back then, unhappy was not a thing that women could be. Only neurotic. Or, perhaps, charred from too close an encounter with a stake
Didn’t he always know she was magic?
He protected her from the mobs and the flames. Why wasn’t that enough? Their children, raised and grown, married and filled with smiles so, so much of the time. A wife with arms that opened for him only. That was all he used to want and he thought it was enough for her.
If it was, why hasn’t she found him? Why is he the only one filled up with missing the love of what the two of them were together?
That life is long gone now. That life and so many in between and he cannot remember what her name used to be, and he does not know what name to call her now. When he searches through phone books and on Twitter, when he hires a private detective, he does not know what to tell them. He does not know what description to give.
He wants to say, find my heart. But that is not an answer to their requisite questions of height, weight, eye color. They do not want to know what he sees behind his eyes. They want to know what to look for.
He only wants to know where to look and so none of his searches bring him closer. Her body is a corpse long rotted away and his body beside her, but he is reborn and reborn and is that supposed to be a punishment? To seek endlessly for what you have already had?
He wakes up with the imprint of tears shed centuries ago across his pillow. He wakes up with the echoes of words he said so many lifetimes ago. he cannot remember how many. He wakes up and is alone. He wakes up and does not want to, but God is not kind—or is, but not in the way he needs God to be.
He wakes up to a life he does not recognize. He wakes up to a face that is not his face. He wakes up to a body that is not his body but other people tell him that it is, and he nods like he understands though he does not. If even priests do not understand the afterlife, why do the doctors expect that he could?
He wakes up, and she is dead. And he hates her for dying. He hates her for being a thing that can die.
He builds things because that way one day she will walk through his doors and recognize the walls that are his bones, the paint that is his skin. She will see the windows that are his face, and know him. And then he will know himself
Yes, he is trying to find her. If you lose someone you love, you try to find them.
Mostly, though, he is still waiting for her to find him.
He chases her through time, to give him something to do while he is waiting.
Ariadne Wolf is an MFA student in Creative Nonfiction at Mills College. She is 350 pages deep in her first book, a speculative memoir entitled But It Will Hurt. Her literary nonfiction has been published in 8 literary journals, including Echo Literary Journal, Rascal, and now Parentheses. Wolf hopes to empower other women and honor her lost friends with her art.