Sideways Reflection

By Elizabeth Wong

Photo Credit: Alex Wong

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It was the year 2035 that I saw her again. What I remembered as indomitable and infinite is now as human as me. Aging, older. Old. Time reshaped us- me into something more, and her into something less. But I don’t feel more- just quietened and blunted from daily erosions: tired.

 

I feel less.

 

I still dream of her- bittersweet halcyon memories, tumescent from nostalgia- and wake up empty, into the vacuum of nights, time fathomless. Only my heartbeat and my mirage of her alive, like chrysanthemums blooming yonder shattered stones.

 

**

 

“You look the same.”

 

She doesn’t sing, now. Her voice crackles from the decades of silence. I want her to tell me what we’ve lost, the millions of possible memories together now impossible. I want to tell her of all the breaths I took without her, how our world split like conjoined twins, never to rejoin fully again or die as one. I want to fill this uncrossable depth that crucifies our asymmetrical middle ground. I want to know what kind of dreams she still has, if they haven’t been blown away by the screaming chasm of time.

 

And I look up, to the arc of heavy droplets, grey-blue from pollution and the backdrop of concrete, shyly scintillating as they fall.

 

“You look well,” My hand lifts, without my own accord, as if to reach her’s. I stop, awkward. She didn't look well: she looked unshaded and waning, an Atlas below an indifferent universe. “I missed you.” I did, at the beginning. But over the drag of days and months to years, I didn’t. To her, it’s been decades. For me, fresh from 2018, it’s been like yesterday I forgot her.

 

I’ve started to forget. And how can I ever miss something I cannot remember?

 

“Why don’t you ask?” She takes a breath, then two, exhale light into morning mist and rain. “Why don’t you just ask?” She asks, voice rising as much as it can, just above the soft wind of the streetcars. “Why don’t you look at me, and ask?”

 

“Ask what,” my head twitches, perplexed. Ask why we meet today? Why she left, all those years ago? Whatever it was, I already forgave her. It was useless to dwell in the past, eyes half-blind to the present, and back facing the future. I didn’t care for what she did.

 

“Look at me!” She wanted something I didn’t dare give. If I looked at her, I would stare at the sideways reflection of myself- of what I could become. Laughter like something soft but harsh, like cracking glass, rose out of her chest, crescendoing and breaking. “See? All these years, and you can’t look at me! You can’t even look at me!”

 

She stayed the same more than changed, it seems. I grabbed her hand and quickly dragged her inside, locking my door and toeing off my shoes, fat droplets splattering onto the tiled floor from our clothes and face and hair.

 

I sigh. “Go shower. I’ll get you some towels.” She droops, as if an abandoned marionette.

 

“Why don’t you ask?”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

I leave a set a clothes her size outside the door and start a pot to boil water. It’s odd, this reversal of something-closer-than-family to barely-stranger, from her caring for me all those years ago to me, now. I grew. That was all. It was inevitable.

 

I don’t need her anymore. We have no obligations to each other. I want to learn who she is now, but I don’t want her.

 

The water stops. In a minute, she’ll come out, and I won’t ask her, because what she did, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. As I put down a teacup, I breathe in.

 

“You didn't have to do that,” she mumbles, eyeing the table. “I don’t want you to do that.” To treat me like a guest. The words lie static in the air between us.

 

“I’m sorry.” I didn’t think. I just did what I felt, and she felt like a guest. Like a stranger. I was sorry, but I didn’t regret it, because a stranger is what she is.

 

“If you don’t want to ask, then I’ll tell you.” She lifts her head, and meets my eyes. Respect cools down my spine. Ah. She learned that the difference between being dragged to face a battle and facing the battle with her head held high is all the difference in the world. She is a sideways reflection of myself, but I’m finding that some of her skews return little parts of her parallel to me. Of what I hope to be. “Sit down.”

 

I do.