“It Was Tense” by Lindsey Duncan
The Past wandered into the pub with the measured ease of a bygone era. He arranged himself on a stool. Doublet, hose, and immaculate mustache, his hair a rusted earthen color, he presented the perfect picture of pedigree.
“What can I get you?” the bartender asked.
The Past released an ancient sigh. “An Old Fashioned.”
The bartender bustled to prepare the drink, while the Past reflected. “I should never have let her go,” he said. “If I ever see her again, I’ll be better to her.”
“Plenty of fish in the sea,” the bartender said. “There’s no use dwelling on the…err.” He shriveled away from his customer’s glare.
The door opens, letting in sunlight. It illuminates her entrance. The Present wears designer jeans and the latest color-blocked blouse from a designer whose first show is today, her hair a perpetual whirl of blonde momentum. She laughs like New Year’s bells.
She will be accompanied by a figure no one will be able to describe, though terms such as “cutting-edge” and “conceptual” might be used. The girl sipping an appletini in the corner is going to remember it looking a lot like her older sister. No one will be quite sure of the words of its joke, either—only the merry reaction of its companion.
The Past stiffened, recognizing the Present’s voice. The resolution of a moment before seemed like a myth. The bartender slid him the drink; he bowed his head over it.
The Present drifts to the bar, oblivious to anything but her immediate joy. The Future, of course, will pull a stool out for her, respond to her in a predictive ballet of conversation.
The Past felt buried, suffocated by their presence. He tried to wince away rather than subject himself to the spectacle.
She twists in her chair with impeccable timing. “Oh, Past!” she says. “Fancy running into you here.”
“Those who don’t know my haunts are doomed to re-enter them,” he muttered.
“Never mind.” To his eyes, every inch of her frame glowed with nostalgia: the shimmer of beauty they had shared, secrets whispered and truths told in touching hands. “You look good. Really good.”
She bows her head in gracious acceptance. “So do you,” she lies, with the best intentions.
The Future is not about to be forgotten, and he will lean forward into view. “Introduce me to your friend?”
Her lips purse. “Future, darling, this is Past. We used to date.”
Its response will be pleasant, but turn out to mean nothing. It adds, “We shouldn’t intrude on your evening.”
“Oh, no,” the Past said, “please stay. Tell me how you met.” He had no idea why he tortured himself, except having her near made him feel revitalized.
The Present flashes a vibrant smile. “Oh, it hardly matters.” Of course it doesn’t: she leaves the looking back to him. “It feels as if we were destined to meet.”
“We have so many plans,” the Future will rush the words out, all eagerness and optimism, “we’ll do things we’ve never done before -”
“Maybe there’s a good reason for that,” the Past interrupted, irritated.
The Future’s expression will morph into a frown. “What is that supposed to mean?”
The Present flutters a hand. “I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything. Let’s just enjoy the night, shall we?”
“Romance is candlelight dinners, dancing under the stars, a dozen roses,” the Past said. “Tradition endures because it touches our souls.” He answered her dare, but his eyes never left hers. “Jumping into the unknown could be a disaster.”
The Future will counter, “Or it could be the path to better traditions. How are we to grow without trying new things?”
The Present bites her lip, uncertain. She clearly finds merit in both arguments.
Her indecision flooded the Past with the memory of hope. “Why trust an untried path? Turn to the wisdom of the great masters. I would trust nothing less to keep such a beautiful woman safe.”
“The great masters never heard of a gun,” the Future will point out. “Would you keep her safe her by bringing a sword to a gunfight?”
“I don’t need to be kept safe…” the Present demurs.
“When did this turn to talk of violence?” the Past asked. “Is that all you can offer?”
The Future might try to resist a smirk, but will end up failing. “Not all I can offer, it would seem.”
She turns rosy. “That is quite enough!”
“Mind your manners,” the Past snapped.
The Future is planning to ignore her protest. “By whose standard of manners: your dusty tomes of etiquette?”
“We must have rules of conduct if we are to be anything more than feral beasts.” The Past took no trouble to hide his scorn, furious in her defense. “If that is all you wish to be…”
“I wish to be inventor, innovator, conqueror of possibility. And you wish to be—what? Exactly what you have always been.” Withering dismissal. “A relic.”
“I wish to be as I once was,” the Past said quietly. “The one she loved.”
“Please.” She stands now, meeting his eyes. “Enough. I was the one who changed. It was not you.” She turns to the Future. “And you…you have changed into something I do not care for. Perhaps I was too hasty to embrace you.”
“Of course not,” the reply will come. “I can be whatever you want me to be.”
“I’m not sure I know what I want.” She squeezes its arm and steps away. Her lips brush the Past’s cheek. “Farewell.”
She slips out of the bar, gone in a blink.
The Future is going to stumble, but will catch itself against the barstool. “What just happened?”
The Past ached, but he held something no encounter could take away: the memories of her, and the hope she would some day remember her roots. What the Future held, he did not know.
“Sit down and have a drink,” he advised.
|Lindsey Duncan is a chef / pastry chef (CPC CSW), professional Celtic harp performer, and life-long writer, with short fiction and poetry in numerous speculative fiction publications. Her contemporary fantasy novel, Flow, is available from Double Dragon Publishing, and her science fiction novel, Scylla and Charybdis, is now out from Grimbold Books. She feels that music and language are inextricably linked. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio and can be found on the web at www.LindseyDuncan.com.|