By Ruscena Wiederholt
Kate woke to a strange sensation. Light, streaming through the blinds, cast intricate patterns on her bedspread. Something had disturbed her slumber, but she wasn’t sure what, a car honking? She stirred, and lodged underneath her sternum there it was, the feeling that something had changed, profoundly and inextricably. But what?
Her cat, puddles, stirred and stretched lazily, unperturbed by the moments of time unraveling. Her thoughts floated in a foggy mist and the night before felt a thousand miles away. A pounding started underneath her right temple, and she got up, caffeine was needed. While coffee was dripping cheerfully into the carafe, she took stock. Last night, she’d gone to a happy hour with a few friends. Spicy margaritas, chilaquiles, live guitar music, and stories of the week had unfolded under a cloudless desert sky. And later, perhaps a few shots of tequila, which explained her throbbing head. Afterwards she’d come home, turned on the TV, and slipped into that sublime world she found every night. At 4 a.m., she woke up passed out on the couch. For a moment she couldn’t remember where she was. Puddles provided the needed reminder, and she’d picked him up and crawled into bed.
Nothing unusual, her long standing Friday happy hour provided much needed relief from her taxing weeks. She was a veterinary assistant at a fancy clinic, helping fussy purebred dogs and placating their even fussier owners. She wanted to go to vet school, but after two years at the clinic, she hadn’t mustered the courage to apply yet. She poured herself a cup of coffee, and took a sip, chasing some of the storm clouds from her head. Her phone was blinking, and she grabbed it. A new message read, “Nice to meet you last night.” Who was that? She forced herself to think, stretching back into the depths. Had she met someone? Right, a new guy had been there, a friend’s colleague, Ian, or Ivan?
She texted her friend, Cecilia, “Hey what was the name of that new guy last night?”
Her response came almost immediately, “Omg, Aion remember? I think he liked you!”
“Okay, right I think the margaritas got to me.”
“Me too, I have a terrible headache. So are you going to see him?”
Cecilia was always straight to the point, the complete opposite of her own wandering personality.
“I don’t know, he just texted me though.”
“You two were talking about wine last night, seems like you’ve got a lot in common.”
“Really? God, I can’t remember anything.”
A sensation, like a candle flickering for a moment, flashed across her mind. She shook her head, maybe she needed aspirin too.
“Lol, too much tequila.”
“Okay good to know, thanks.”
“Just text him, you only have so many choices.”
She frowned, what did that mean? She was getting old? She decided to ignore it.
“Okay got it.”
Exasperated, she texted Aion back, “Hey nice meeting you too.”
Then she threw her phone down.
She was curled up next to puddles somewhere in that surreal land between sleep and consciousness, when her phone vibrated. It was Aion.
“Hi! How are you doing today?”
“Hey, a little worse for wear… but alright.”
“So you’re a wine drinker right?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“Cool me too. There’s a tasting on Wednesday for Chilean and Argentine wines. Would you want to go?”
She hesitated, then thought of Cecilia’s words. She could barely remember talking to him but what did she have to lose?
Wednesday came sooner than expected, she was passing through her days like a knife through butter. Her phone vibrated with a message from Cecilia, “Hey remember not too be a snob! Lol, have fun.”
She smiled, even though she could barely remember the guy, small butterflies flitted in her stomach. A good sign she supposed. She put on a yellow sundress and opened the door to the sultry desert evening. It drew her into its eternal rhythms in an instant, the smell of creosote carrying a subtle sense of anticipation. The monsoons were coming soon, a spectacular deluge that would transform the desert.
She walked to a posh Mexican restaurant on Congress Street. She hesitated at the doorway, a dark-haired man was sitting at a table, dressed in a tacky red Hawaiian shirt. He had vivid blue eyes, olive colored skin, and curved full lips. He was handsome, more than she’d vaguely remembered. She flushed slightly and walked over to him, “Hi, Aion?”
He looked up, his eyes distant. His face immediately lit up, “Hey Kate! Glad you made it,” He pulled out a chair for her.
“Thanks,” her keys slipped from her purse, clattering to the floor. She anxiously grabbed them and sat down, “So what kind of name is Aion?”
“It’s Greek, from my Dad’s side.”
“Your Dad is Greek?”
“Yeah, you told me your name is actually Hecate?”
“Yeah, everyone calls me Kate though. My mom is really into mythology, she named me after the goddess of magic.”
“And witchcraft,” she said smiling. “You’re one of the first people I’ve met with a Greek name besides me.”
“Right, what are the odds?” his eyes twinkled.
“Welcome to wine night!” the host shouted over the din. “Today we’re trying South American wines, hope you’re thirsty!”
Soon bottles of crimson and golden liquid started rolling. Perhaps it was the assortment of half-filled glasses in front of her, but Kate felt none of the nervous jitters typical for a first date. Aion knew a lot about wine, which impressed her.
Kate’s lips puckered, savoring the flavor of a 2010 Malbec, “This one is great!”
Aion raised his eyebrows, “Great? Or just cuz Malbec’s always good?” He swirled the wine in his glass energetically.
“True, Malbec’s a safe choice, almost all of them are good.”
Aion took a sip, “So for a Malbec to be a legit good choice, it has to be extraordinary?”
Kate laughed, “Maybe… Or perhaps you don’t like Malbec.”
His forehead wrinkled, “No I actually do, used to be my favorite wine.”
“Well, you’re the one to answer the question then,” she reached for the next wine, a Pinot Noir. She savored it slowly, letting the cranberry-colored liquid slide over her tongue. It tasted like cherries with hints of vanilla and clove.
“This one’s good too,” she said marking a number on her sheet for rating the wines.
Aion eyed her sheet, “You’re giving that one a 4 out of 5?”
“Yeah, it’s good, much better than I expected.”
He raised his eyebrows, “What does that mean?”
“Well Pinot Noirs are often bad, sometime downright terrible, but if you find a good one, it’s great.”
“So I guess the bar is lower for a Pinot Noir than Malbec?”
“I’m not sure,” she paused, examining her glass. “Pinots are a bit of a challenge, an unknown. You never know if you don’t try though.” She took another sip, and got a burst of spice and tobacco. “This one is pretty fantastic.”
At some point between the Carménère and the Cabernet, Aion had taken off his tacky Hawaiian shirt, which relieved Kate. The simple black t-shirt underneath set off his azure eyes. The wine had been seeping into her veins for over an hour now, and something jarred in the depths of her brain.
“Wait I know what you’re going to say next. Is a Malbec or Pinot Noir a better choice?”
He shot her a surprised glance, “Well good question isn’t it? How would you answer?”
“So do you take the safe route of the Malbec, or roll the dice with the Pinot Noir?”
“Exactly,” he looked at her curiously. “What would you do?”
“Is this a trick question?”
“No, in all seriousness.”
“Okay I’d roll the dice and pick the Pinot Noir. Sometimes you have to take a risk.”
He nodded thoughtfully, and shifted in his seat. Kate wondered if she had said something wrong.
“What about you? How’d you get into wine in the first place?”
“My sister, Kora, is really into wine. She taught me a lot about it.”
“That’s cool. Is she still into it?”
He paused, “Ah, was actually, she passed away.”
She blurted out, “Oh wow, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”
“Not your fault.”
Kate sunk into her seat, “What happened?”
“She was hit by a drunk driver last year around this time.”
Kate was at a loss for words, thankfully the host interrupted.
“Okay what did everyone think about that Pinot? We’re on to dessert wines next.”
The flow of wine eventually came to an end, and they returned to the warm embrace of the desert night. The heat was a palpable presence, flowing in gasps of hot breath.
“Hey you never answered the very important question about Pinot Noir versus Malbec.”
“Oh right, I thought I was off the hook!”
“Never, what’s your answer?”
He stopped for a moment, and looked at the twinkling heavens. “My sister was really into Malbec, that was one of her favorites. When I drink it now, it reminds me of her.” He cleared his throat, “I was wondering if you could do both. Maybe I don’t need to pick one or the other.”
“Oh,” Kate said disappointedly. “I didn’t realize that was an option.”
“I didn’t either until just now.”
“You’d have a lot of wine around.”
“Yes I would.”
He grabbed her hand and the stars threatening to topple down soared a little higher.
The next two weeks – filled with Pinot Noir, hikes through the saguaro cacti, and dinners of Mexican fusion cuisine – went by with a surprising ease. Even though she’d just met Aion, she felt like she’d always known him. The first time he leaned in to kiss her, even his cologne was familiar, like that musk and sandalwood scent was a link to nights long past.
Kate slid her car neatly between two cars. Tumamoc Hill loomed above, a sentinel of cacti and rock over the desert. The sun scorched the land in summer, drawing up the streams of life droplet by droplet. Banished from the day, hiking during the evening was popular, and Tumamoc Hill was the best of them all. Rising over the city, it emerged from its ashes every morning, and faded away again in the nighttime air.
Cecilia was waiting for her at the trail head clad in bright Lululemon gear, “Hello, hello!”
“Hey,” she slid her backpack on. “Ready? If we’re quick enough, we should get there by sunset.”
At the top of the hill, the city stretched out like a toy model beneath them. The city lights were coming on, delineating day and night in a thousand bursts of light.
Cecilia sipped from her water bottle, “You know, I could see this view a thousand times, and it always looks a little different.”
“Yeah I know.”
“I always notice something that I hadn’t seen before.”
“Maybe it’s just the time of day,” Kate mused. She loved the desert sunsets, the orange and pink shades covering the sky like a parting kiss.
“Like a light shining on an avenue waiting to be discovered.”
A mourning dove cooed in the distance.
Cecilia giggled, “Speaking of romance, when’s your next wine date?”
Kate grinned, “This weekend.”
“Really? Tell me more!”
“It’s odd I feel like I’ve known him a long time already.”
“Well that’s a good sign.”
“Sure, perhaps you were lovers in a past lifetime.”
“Really? I doubt that.”
“You don’t believe in reincarnation?”
“I don’t know, seems a little implausible right? Always coming back, starting over every time.”
“Maybe life is just an endless cycle.”
Kate took in the sea of lights before them, the sun had slipped beneath the sky, its daily journey completed. “Seems like we achieve nothing if we have to redo our lives over and over again.”
Cecilia nodded, “I guess so. Maybe we do achieve some things and don’t realize it.”
“We’d forget our past too? Sounds kinda depressing.”
Cecilia smirked, “It does, doesn’t it? But so does meeting your demise in just a few short decades.”
“Ah, now that is depressing.”
“We probably don’t get both.”
“I guess not?” Kate frowned, “Come on, let’s go back down before it’s completely dark.”
On Saturday, Aion had invited Kate over, promising to cook dinner. He admitted his efforts to cook always always produced poor results, even when he made the same thing over and over again. Kate, on the other hand, admitted it involved repetition, but she liked the familiarity. And she saw subtle signs of progress in everything she made, a slow trajectory to something finer.
He peaked his head through the doorway of the kitchen, “Ready for the big reveal?”
Kate grinned, “Yes!”
He walked over with a wine bottle wrapped in a paper bag. He poured her a glass and slid it across the dining table. She took a sip.
She tilted the glass sideways, examining the dark red, almost purplish color.
“I’m not sure…”
He beamed, “What do you taste?”
“Cherries, kinda sour, and tannins. A little spicy.”
He poured himself a glass, and swirled its contents around assiduously, “Cheers! You’ll figure it out.”
Kate frowned, “Maybe, there’s a weird taste there.”
“Something you’ve tasted before?”
“Yes, I think so.”
He raised his eyebrows, “You’ve had this wine before, so just give it a second.”
Kate put her glass down in mock protest, “Did you even cook anything?”
He smiled, “You have to guess the wine first.”
Kate took a drink, and swirled the wine over her tongue. Something familiar was there, a sensation recorded in her brain from a day long past.
“This wine reminds me of you!”
“So familiar in a way, I don’t know why though.”
Aion gulped down the last of his wine, “Okay I’m a fine red wine, I’ll take that.”
Kate giggled, “I’m being serious.” Another sip, and the taste came back, sweet, like childhood.
“Cola? I’m tasting cola?”
Aion nodded, his blue eyes looking intently at her.
“Cola, how strange. Oh, I know! Cab Franc! We had this maybe two weeks ago?”
“Yes, you got it! I knew you’d remember!”
“Where did you find this one? It’s super good.”
“I had some help picking it out, let’s just say that.”
“Help? Like who?”
“You’re not the only wine expert, you know.”
He took her hand and kissed it, “Do you think the rains will start soon?”
“I hope so, it’s been so hot lately.”
Aion stared at her, his eyes like pools of water, secrets buried deep within. He was so intense at times, it made Kate feel a bit uneasy. She took another sip of wine, “Feels humid out too, which means it’s coming.”
He nodded, “Do you think can enchant the rains to come later?”
“Me?” Kate laughed.
“You’re named after the goddess of magic right?”
Kate poured herself more wine, “Yes I guess so. What does your name mean?”
Aion leaned back, “So glad you finally asked, he’s the god of time.”
“God of time? Like Chronos?”
“No he was different, at least his type of time was. Chronos represented linear time – past, present, future. Aion’s time was cyclic, like the seasons and zodiac, that kind of thing.”
“His time was supposed to be unbounded, the future was just a version of the past you’d lived through already.”
“God of cycles, so you always know what’s coming?” Kate joked.
“Well no,” he furrowed his brow. “That’d be too easy.”
“I always thought of time as a line, a solid arrow from the past to the future. But I like the idea of it coming around again, makes me feel like I have another chance. Maybe this time, I’ll get it right.”
Something passed over his face, “Get what right?”
She sighed, “Well I think I’ve mentioned it before, going to vet school.”
“Right, you have. Why don’t you apply? You’re great with animals, you’d be a fantastic vet.”
“Thanks… it’s not that I don’t want to,” Kate tapped her fingers on the table. “Something keeps stopping me every time I try to move forward on that front.”
“What exactly is stopping you?
Kate frowned, “I wish I knew. I feel stuck, like some giant net has trapped me and I can’t find my way out. I have until September to apply, but I’m not sure I’d get in anyway.”
“You never know if you don’t try though.”
“I know,” Kate slumped down.
Aion leaned over and kissed her, “Something will come to you, you’ll break free from whatever is trapping you.” His jovial expression melted for a moment into a wave of bleakness.
Kate stroked his cheek. She’d seen that expression many times before, Aion was so familiar yet mysterious at the same time, “I hope so. Now what did you make?”
“Well pizza? Actually I have to make it yet. I was never the cook in my family.” He tapped the table, “I may need your help though.”
“Alright, at least you got the wine right.”
“Yes, I couldn’t go wrong with that.”
The next week rolled by, like water bubbling over the pebbles in a stream bed.
On Saturday night, Kate and Aion were at Gate’s pass. One of Kate’s favorite spots, the saguaro cacti was a forest of spines and succulent green flesh overlooking the city. The setting sun cast rose and tangerine shades across the sky. The heat washed over her.
“God I hope it rains soon, this heat is unbearable.”
“Yeah,” Aion fidgeted, looked around and then turned to her.
His mouth was pinched, his eyes clouded over.
A flutter shuddered through the pit of her stomach, “What’s wrong?”
“There’s something I should tell you.”
Kate drew herself up, “What?”
“It’s a little hard to explain. I don’t know where to begin, really.”
Something hardened in her chest and she moved away from him, “What are you trying to tell me?”
He looked down, “I’ve…”
“Are you married or something?” she burst out.
“God no, that’s not what I was saying.”
Kate didn’t reply, hard lines cursing through her veins.
“Nothing like that at all. This is going to sound weird, but I don’t want the rains to come.”
“You’re talking about rain? Not another girl?”
“There’s no other girl,” he reached for her hand. A shadow struggled on his face.
Kate softened, “Rain? Is this a metaphor for something?”
“No, well maybe. I don’t want the rains to come. And they will soon, it’s almost July.”
“Yes, they will like every year,” she said softly. “And the rains mean?”
“A new season, a new start.”
“Doesn’t sound so bad.”
Aion stared at the horizon as if searching for answers in the thin clouds stretched across the sky, “Yes but every time they come, it starts again.”
“What starts again?”
“Don’t you know?”
“No, what are you talking about?”
“Do you remember the night we met?”
“Barely, seems like a long time ago.”
“Because it was a long time ago.”
“Kinda…” a cold sensation flowed down her spine. “What do you mean?”
“This will sound strange, but you have to believe me,” he hesitated. “We keep getting sent back to the morning after we met. The first time, I thought I’d smoked something and imagined the whole thing, but then it happened again, and again. I’ve lost count.”
“You’re saying you go back to May… repeatedly?”
Kate stood up suddenly, “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“I’m not crazy,” he said firmly. “I work with old people after all, I’ve seen dementia, Parkinson’s, all sorts of mental disorders. I’m not making this up.”
Kate’s heart shuddered, “If that’s true, why wouldn’t I remember it?”
“I don’t know, but don’t you sense something? Anything at all?”
His words felt like a light on the events of the past weeks, so familiar, so predictable. She twisted the rings on her fingers.
“How do you know I’m going on this so-called trip with you?”
“You always show up. Even if I didn’t text you the morning after we met, I bump into you at a party, or a bar. I meet you every time. Once I looked into your name, I realized you must be part of this too.”
“Hecate, she was a liminal goddess, associated with boundaries and crossroads.”
“That’s just mythology, Aion.”
“Those myths seem to have become my life,” he muttered.
Kate drew in a breath and sat down, “Suppose I suspend my disbelief for a moment, what happens?”
“The rains start, and a few hours later, maybe a day, we get sent back. I wake up the morning after I met you, vowing never to drink again.”
Kate’s lips curved upwards slightly, “Yeah me too… How do we get sent back?”
He gave her a worried glance, “There’s always a bright light, like an explosion. Sometimes I’ve seen flames, and then it’s all over. Then I wake up in my bed, hungover.”
“Like a phoenix.”
“Yeah, just to the north.”
“How’d it get its name anyways?”
“I think some of the first settlers, well the European ones, found canals that had been dug by the Native Americans. They’d long since left the area, so they named their settlement Phoenix, since it was born from the ruins of another civilization.”
“Cool, I never knew that.”
“So still not saying I believe any of this. But if it is true, how would I help?”
“I don’t know.”
“That’s not very reassuring.”
“I know it’s not,” his eyes shined. “So you believe me now?”
“I don’t know, this is possibly the weirdest thing anyone’s told me. Have you told me this before?”
He looked away, “No.”
“Really, why? Aren’t I supposed to be going through this too, just like you?”
“Can you blame me? You’d think I was crazy, some kind of freak.”
“I don’t think you’re crazy. I just need to process this.”
He gave her a long look, “I realize this must sound incredibly strange.”
Something resonated beneath Kate’s rib cage and she grabbed his hand. “Come on, let’s go back down before it’s completely dark.”
Kate slept restlessly that night. She was incredulous of Aion’s words but a weight had settled in her stomach, sinking to the very bottom. She’d felt stuck the last couple of weeks, perhaps she was literally frozen in place, like wine swirling slowly around a glass.
The next day, thunder clouds were hanging low in the sky. She texted Aion good morning. Normally prompt to reply, by noon he still hadn’t responded. By the afternoon, there were still no messages and she began to worry. Had he made all that weird stuff up last night?
She texted Cecilia, “Hey, so Aion was acting a little weird yesterday and now he’s not texting me back.”
Cecilia responded immediately, “Hi! What do you mean by weird?”
“Well kinda hard to explain, but not like him at all.”
“Did you have a fight?”
“Perhaps he’s just having a bad day, wait until tomorrow.”
Kate glanced anxiously at the brooding sky, “I’m not sure I have time.”
“Okay drama queen… maybe he’s just stuck in a bad place. You could go talk to him?”
“Just go over there?”
“Well you’ve run out of time, right?”
Had she? Or did she have more than she wanted? “I guess so, thanks.”
Kate drove to Aion’s house and found him sitting on the porch, a glass of untouched wine in his hands.
“Sorry to come over uninvited. You never texted me back, and after yesterday, I was worried.”
He nodded but didn’t reply.
Kate twisted the rings on her fingers, and said awkwardly, “What are you drinking?”
He looked at the sky, “It’s going to rain any minute now.”
“Is that any excuse for ignoring me?”
He put the glass down, “I wish I didn’t have to. I realized last night that we’re always together right before the rains start. I think that’s why you get dragged back with me.”
Her stomach clenched, “You don’t want me to come back with you?”
“I wanted it both ways, I thought maybe that was an option. But you have your life in front of you, vet school, everything. Right now, you’re trapped here with me.”
“But what happens if you go back without me?”
“You’ll be free.”
“Will I remember you?”
“I don’t know, you’ll skip this whole cycle. I’d just be someone you met at a bar, a long time ago.”
Kate’s lips trembled, “I don’t want that to happen.”
“It has to.”
“I’m not letting you go back without me.”
He stood up, “It’s going to rain any minute now.”
He gathered her into his arms and kissed her. Kate wished that moment could linger, unraveling across her days.
“Go. If you don’t, I will.”
His jaw was set, his eyes piercing. A caustic wave flowed through her chest. She spun around, and walked off the porch. As she drove away, she started to cry.
An hour later, she was in Cecilia’s kitchen, gratefully downing a glass of wine.
“He told you what?” Cecilia stared at her incredulously.
“I know, sounds crazy.”
“Ah yeah, totally cra,” she raised her eyebrows. “But you liked him right?”
“Yes, a lot actually.”
“And you’re supposed to be a goddess?”
“I mean no, not really, just my name.”
She finished her wine, and Cecilia poured her another glass, “Good right?”
“Yeah what is this?”
Cecilia was looking at her phone, “Pinot. So there’s a whole Wikipedia page on her, Hecate. She’s a protective goddess, associated with the spiritual world, and ghosts. Oh and snakes too, cool.”
She pursed her lips, “Well suppose for a moment his ground hog’s day come to life story is real. What would Hecate do?”
“I don’t know, wait ghosts?”
“Yeah ghosts and sorcery are Hecate’s thing.” she scrolled through her phone, “She also rescued some chick named Persephone from the underworld. Who knew your name was so intriguing?”
“Underworld?” Kate took a sip of wine, and something slid into place. “I know what’s happening, how could I be so blind?” She gulped down the rest of her wine, “I have to go.”
Kate was out the door before Cecilia could reply. She parked out of Aion’s house, and jumped out of her car, “Aion?”
She walked forward a few steps, the headlights illuminating the softly falling rain. Perhaps she was too late. “Aion, I have the key! I know how to get you out of this.”
A figure emerged from the darkness but stopped just before the light.
Kate ran over to him, “Your sister died on this day, didn’t she? The day the rains started?”
He looked down, “Yes.”
“Not died, but dies?”
He looked at her, wide-eyed, boundless rivers flowing in his pupils.
“She’s still alive, isn’t she? You’re going back to avoid this day, otherwise you lose her forever.”
“What other option do I have?”
The rest sunk in like a pile of bricks, “You’re the one driving aren’t you? And you get hit by that drunk driver every time.”
“I was trying to save her.” He cleared his throat, “Am trying to.”
“But you can’t. That’s like trying to stop the rains from coming.”
He smiled ruefully, “You loved her too. You two always got along so well. I kept you separate this time, I wanted to give you a chance to escape.”
She gripped his shoulders, “Don’t you see? You won’t make it back this time.”
“But why not? I always…”
“It’s different now. Every other time, we were together when the rains started. Somehow, I bring you back across the boundary. But since you’re the god of cycles, we end up going back in time, only to repeat this all over again.”
He knitted his brow, “I can’t leave her to face this alone.”
“You have to, otherwise…” she gulped.
“If I don’t bring you back, you’ll go with her instead.”
His eyes, like the deep sea, looked back at her, endless depths, cycling slowly. A raindrop struck Aion’s face and he started to sob.
She awoke the next morning to puddles curled at her feet. Aion didn’t even stir when she got up. She stroked his hair, it’d been a long night, the expected call, the visit to the police station, his parents’ faces, shattered at the news. Aion was right, perhaps it was easier never having met Kora. As the coffee dripped cheerfully into the pot, she had a pleasant thought, maybe she’d apply to vet school after all.
Ruscena Wiederholt currently works as an ecologist at an environmental nonprofit. She regularly writes pieces on ecology for the general public and also edit a magazine that communicates science to a broader audience. Wiederholt’s work has also been published in the new literary journal, Dead Fern Press.