By Bethany Walker
I. jamais vu
Tristan buttoned his wool coat against the rainy London chill, his blonde hair rustling in the wind. He no longer recognized the familiar streets of his childhood, the families that had once occupied the Marylebone flats near where he grew up had long since moved on, and young business professionals had taken their place. The small bakery where he and his mother had shared tea every Wednesday for years was now a Boots, windows filled with garish commercial holiday displays.
He had come back to London to finish preparing the flat to sell. His mother had been gone a year now; he couldn’t imagine staying in the place himself. The last week had seen him boxing up the remnants of things that family members hadn’t claimed, carting them down to the donation centre. He was on his way now to meet with the estate agent to ensure they had all the final details ironed out. With any luck he wouldn’t need another trip and could sign the papers from his home in Grantham and wash his hands of it. The old ghosts of his childhood didn’t warm him as they had before. Now the home was filled with memories of too many visits watching his mother slowly cave in and succumb to the cancer that took her.
The Underground station swallowed him up, eliminating the view of the constantly changing city. The train was on time for once. He slid his earbuds into his ear as he sat, pulling out his phone in order to avoid an awkward forced interaction. His eyes paused on a woman across the car as he gave the briefest glance around. Her auburn hair was tucked under a bright red knit cap. Her cheeks flushed pink from the cold, making her blue eyes stand out even more. He knew this woman; he’d seen her every night for the past week.
II. deja vu
The dream always started the same. He was six years old, walking through the hall of his childhood flat. The wooden floors were cold on his bare feet and he could hear his mother’s voice in the sitting room. A warm yellow light lit the room and he found himself snuggling into his mother’s lap on the sofa as she talked on the phone. He could smell her perfume– lavender and peonies– as he leaned against her.
This is where it changed each time– sporadic flashes of different memories in the house as he aged. Sometimes he would suddenly be twelve arguing with his mother about going out with his mates. Other times he was eighteen, packing up his things for university, his mother coming in to sit on his bed and help him fold his clothes, eyes watering as she began to talk about how much he had to look forward to. They always built up to the worst memories– his mother slowly losing hair, growing frailer and frailer. He often found himself sitting on the side of her bed, clutching her paper-thin hand and looking into her sunken eyes. After these scenes, the rooms in the house would darken and he would find himself again walking through the hall, this time his current self.
That’s when the auburn haired woman would make her entrance.
Some nights she was curled onto an antique chair in a bedroom, hair twisted in a knot as she read a novel, lips silently sounding out the words as she went. Other times he found her in the kitchen, stirring and singing as she baked. Once she was laid up in bed, curled as if she was breaking, or perhaps already broken, tears streaming down her face.
He had never been able to speak to her, or even get her to see him. He was a silent observer in whatever actions she was playing out. He felt some odd connection to her though he had no idea who she was. He had never met her in real life as far as he knew. That was, before today.
III. presque vu
The train came to a stop. Before Tristan could fully pull himself from his reverie, the woman had walked off. As quickly as she had appeared in his field of vision, she was gone. He stepped off the Underground train and onto the platform, the grip of the feeling that he was connected to her in more than just his dream still holding tightly. He glanced around in hopes of one more glimpse, a clearer spark of recognition.The hustle of the commuting crowd pulled him reluctantly from the brink of epiphany. Wisps of memory about the woman curled around his brain throughout the meeting with the estate agent, but none of them would solidify enough to grasp. By the time the old flat was on the market and he was on his way home to Grantham, the woman remained nothing more than a dream.
Two months later Camille unlocked the door to her new flat. She hung her red cap on the coat hook and made her way through the maze of boxes waiting to be unpacked. Starting the kettle, she pulled her auburn hair up in a twist and moved into the sitting room to begin opening up a box of books and office items.
There was a large built-in storage along one wall with shelves and a desk. She pulled open the top drawer to deposit some pens and felt it stick, reluctant to fully open as if it was caught. Bending down, she examined the underside and noticed a piece of paper, doubt something that had slid out of a too full drawer at some point and lodged itself. She extricated it and realized it was a photograph. A blonde-haired boy curled in the lap of a brunette in that very sitting room, both smiling happily at the camera. She smiled, memories of her own childhood playing in her head, and tucked it back into the drawer.
Bethany Walker is a licensed social worker and therapist. She currently resides in Longview, TX with her husband, daughter, and pets. In her free time she writes various forms of fiction. You can find her on Twitter @bookshelfofbeth