Rosemary recalled the last time she had a man’s arms wrapped around her. It was during a late summer’s day when it happened. There they were, sitting on a tattered blue blanket, beneath a star-apple tree. Her hair, still raven and shiny, was pulled back in a tight bun while his was combed into a sleek pompadour. He had his head on her lap, eyes closed as she read a chapter from Great Expectations out loud. When she was done, she closed the book and up he stood. He gave her one smile and then laid a kiss on her head before locking her in a tight embrace. They stayed that way until the moon replaced the sun. It was the best memory Rosemary had of him. At that time, she thought she had known forever. That was, until he got shot the next morning. Rosemary opened her weary eyes and sighed; forty years flew by so fast.
Now, her hair was all wiry and patched with streaks of gray and white, and her once cherubic cheeks now sagged. Still, her lips remained full and her eyes never lost their childish sparkle. Her arms were still firm, her stomach was still flat, and her breasts did not sag – not bad for a woman of sixty-five.
Despite of this, she was lonely.
The park was bathed in a golden glow, and Rosemary thought that it looked beautiful – like an old sepia photograph. Rosemary inhaled deeply. These were the moments she wished that she had remarried. Watching the sun set was better viewed with a beloved.
The day’s newspaper was folded neatly on her lap. She had just finished reading about a certain Mr. Zee, a self-proclaimed mad scientist who declared that he has discovered the secrets to time travel. According to him, with the help of a machine he had designed himself, he was able to open a wormhole that enabled him to travel between dimensions, and through time. Of course, Rosemary knew very well that this was all just hokum – the product of a mind possibly damaged by too much pill consumption, or lack of sleep. But still, the idea of travelling back in time appealed to her greatly. She would give anything just to have the chance to see Andy again.
“Care for a candy?” a man who seemed to have come out of nowhere offered. He was holding a peppermint bar.
Startled, Rosemary eyed the stranger warily before politely declining. She loved peppermint, but courtesy dictated that she decline his offer. Unless he offers it once again, only then could she accept.
“Go on, you look like you could use some,” the man said. He was dressed in a crisp white suit and had his hair neatly combed to the side.
“Thank you,” Rosemary answered in a small voice. She took the peppermint bar from his outstretched hand and gave him a smile. Her cheeks felt a bit warm, though it wasn’t that cold. It’s been a while since she last spoke to a stranger, most especially, to a man.
“Mind if I take a seat?” the man asked. Without waiting for an answer, he settled down beside Rosemary and grinned. He looked familiar.
“Do you come here often?” he said. Rosemary was feeling flustered. Normally, if she can help it, she refrained from speaking to anyone. Not that she hated people; she just preferred to be alone. Besides, when circumstances that required the need for social interactions arouse, she never knew what to say anyway.
Rosemary shook her head, stopped, and then nodded after. The man raised an eyebrow.
“I mean… Yes, I do come here often,” Rosemary replied. “Every afternoon.”
The man nodded. “I see. I came here often as well.”
Did she hear him correctly? Did he say that he came here often? How was that possible, when Rosemary just saw him now?
As if sensing Rosemary’s thoughts, the man chuckled. “Yes, you heard me correctly. I came here often… But not so much anymore.”
He still didn’t make any sense. But Rosemary didn’t dare ask any questions. She barely knew the man, and she felt it impolite to ask.
“Something bothering you?” the man said. He was staring at Rosemary with great concern. The intensity of his gaze sent an unexpected chill down Rosemary’s spine, and in an instant, she felt her cheeks flush once again. She covered her face in shame. A sixty-five year old woman acting like a schoolgirl in front of a twenty, perhaps thirty-something man, was a silly sight to behold.
“I’m sorry,” Rosemary said, keeping her face hidden behind her hands.
The man gave her a puzzled look. “For what?”
“I don’t know,” she said. Rosemary turned away from the man, she wanted to leave, but she couldn’t. Maybe it was because of extreme embarrassment, but her legs felt like a tree with roots buried deeply into the ground. Or maybe it was because, after a very long time, she has met another man.
Without her knowing, the newspaper folded neatly on her lap, fell on the ground. Seeing the headline, the man picked it up, smoothed it out and read it with mild interest.
“Time travel… Interesting.”
Rosemary looked up at these words. “Yes, it is,” she found herself saying.
After reading, the man folded the newspaper once again before handing it back to her. Then, he crossed his legs and placed a hand under his chin. His pose reminded Rosemary of that famous sculpture by Rodin, and of something else, although she couldn’t remember.
“Do you believe in time travel?” he asked, keeping his eyes on her.
Rosemary regarded him for a moment. “I believe it is possible,” she answered.
“You do? If I told you I’m a time-traveller, would you believe me?” the man said. He kept a straight face so it was hard to tell whether he was serious or not. Rosemary was starting to feel uneasy. She had always been warned against speaking to strangers, and at that moment, she hated herself for disobeying that one rule which she never failed to follow. She shouldn’t have taken that candy in the first place.
Not knowing how to answer, Rosemary gave out an uncomfortable chortle. “Don’t play games with me, mister. I’m too old for that,” she said.
“If I told you I’m a time-traveller, would you believe me?” the man repeated. He suddenly took hold of Rosemary’s hand. There was a look of unexplained urgency in his eyes.
“Rosemary, would you believe me?”
Rosemary was taken aback. She didn’t remember mentioning her name to this man. No, she never mentioned her name to him. In an instant, her heart rate started to rise. Her hands became numb, and her breathing became shallower by the second. She was having a panic attack.
Alarmed, the man held on to both of her hands. “Don’t panic! Breathe… breathe…” he said, trying his best to keep calm. “Rosemary, look at me. Don’t you remember?”
She was taking in long and deep breaths. She needed to calm down. She wasn’t going to end up as the lonely old lady who suffered a heart attack in the park that the people would read about in the newspaper the next day. No. If she had to die, she would rather it happened in her home, with her lying peacefully on her bed.
“Breathe Rosemary, breathe… Try to remember,” the man said.
She didn’t understand. Remember what? Rosemary lifted her head and stared long and hard at the man’s face. The eyes were unquestionably familiar. But try as she might, she couldn’t recall where she has seen those eyes before.
“Rosemary, please. Please!” the man’s eyes were filled with panic. His grip on her hands was tighter now, but she didn’t feel a thing.