Every Moment of Tomorrow
Friday, May 25h 1984. (Henry is 42, Alba 15.)
Today I find Alba walking down the shore, or rather she finds me. I have grown used to the look of shock in her eyes, to the way that, for a second, she is surprised and upset and surprised, that moment when she is a normal teenager looking at her long dead father walking on the same beach she is.
It never lasts for more than a second before she remembers, before she realizes that this is borrowed time. This time is no different. She blinks several times, her eyes wet, her smile brilliant and in that second I miss Clare so fiercely that it's a physical pain in my gut.
"Daddy," Alba says before she hugs me fiercely, and I hug her as well. Two days ago I tucked my little Alba in bed and she was four years old, bright and happy and I could carry her in my shoulders. And now here I am, holding unto my teenager daughter who has been orphaned from her father since she was five.
"It's okay," I promise her even though I do not know that and then: "I'm here," because it's true, because right this moment I'm here, holding my beautiful daughter, and I wish Clare could be here as well, so that I could share this amazement with her.
When we hug, it always takes time for Alba to let go. I never ask her to stop, as if I could fill all the years she's going to have to be without me when we meet like this. Furtive little dates, small things, and I try to give her all the love I have for her in these few, precious moments when we meet.
When she pulls away, her eyes are red but she's smiling and it's Clare's smile right there.
So we talk. The last time I saw her (besides the little Alba that still sucks her thumb, sometimes, when she's sleeping) she was thirteen and she had her first crush. As a father that is no longer there, I fight with the wanting to know everything and at the same time with the wanting to fold myself around her and protect her. Alba tells me that she had her heart broken at fourteen, of the boy she likes right now, of the girl she likes and she wonders about her sexuality as we have ice cream and I want to cry when I think of all the things I'm not there to see.
"Mercy, mercy!" I ask of her finally, and she smiles (Clare shows from within her impish smile, from the way she bites at her lip before she eats her sundae) and for a moment we do nothing but eat our ice creams, both of us in our stolen clothes, enjoying the warm sun and the company and it's almost perfect like this.
"Daddy, can I ask you something?" She's doing the same thing she does when she's four years old. Her voice is soft, hesitant, because she knows I might say no and she is, in fact, pretty certain that I will say no but she still thinks is worthy to take the risk.
So brave, this daughter of mine, but more Clare. Everything I love in this fifteen years old Alba is Clare's doing, with nothing but my whispers to help.
"As long as you're aware that I might not answer."
She nods, takes another spoonful of vanilla ice cream with chocolate fudge and nuts before she asks.
"Do you know if I get married? In the future?"
I am thankful of the fact that I'm not eating at the moment, because just air manages to make me cough. I have another one of those moments where I don't know what to do. I want to know, of course, and at the same time I don't. I wonder how many more of this stolen moments I'll have in my life, if I'll get to see a twenty years old Alba, a thirty years old, an Alba who is a mother, a mother who manages to live for much more than my forty three years old. I wonder if perhaps those children looking at us over the sidewalk are not my future grandchildren, wondering if they should come nearby or if they should wait. I wonder if it'll be Gomez the one to give my daughter away to someone I might never know. My yearning comes back, so fierce that I feel it crawling all over myself.
But here, Alba is looking at me with green eyes concerned and worried and I make myself breathe again, take a spoonful of half melting ice cream before I answer.
"I don't know. I've not met yet an older Alba than you."
"Oh." Disappointment makes her slouch and pout, and she spends the next few seconds pressing the flat of her spoon against the glass cup, mixing vanilla and chocolate.
I resist the urge to laugh.
"Have you asked your older selves?"
"They won't say!" and there is Clare, Clare at sixteen begging for some information about our future life. Did we have children, where did we live, where we still in love? Alba seeths a little at herself and then she pouts at me. "Grown up Alba doesn't tell me a thing about our future."
"She probably learned that from me," I tell her, taking another bite of my ice cream. "Remember, it's not good to know everything in your future. Some surprises are good."
"But if I knew, at least I'd stop trying to wonder if I'm gay or if this is just a phase or what!" Alba exclaims, moving her spoon for emphasis before she slouches again.
"And what if the person I fall in love with is really old already?"
"Then I hope you'll be kind to your poor father and lie about it."
Mercy, I think but do not say, because in none of the books I read about rising a child it came on how to deal with something like this when your daughter is, by your own time, four years old. I wonder if I have time to write a book on the subject, or if I can, at the very least, suggest it to someone else.
Then she looks at me and I ready myself for another assault of teenager questions. Alba, too, knows that this time is borrowed, and we can never know when one of us will disappear, when our present will pull us away from this oasis of time.
She plays with the remnants of her sundae, and when she asks, her eyes remain on the table.
"Would you be okay if mom married again?"
For a moment, I'm sure I am time traveling again. The nausea, the dizziness, the rush of blood going through my ears. However, I feel Alba's touch, and her eyes are worried and I make myself breath again. Breath, you fool, breath.
"Is she..." and I think of the letter I wrote, asking her not to wait. I think of someone else touching Clare, kissing Clare. I picture this someone making love to Clare in our bed and being a father to Alba, the father I won't ever be able to be and the feeling of nausea remains.
"No! No, she's not," Alba lets me know and then it's easier to breath again. Alba blushes again and she moves her chair closer to mine. I move my arm around her shoulders, and yet she doesn't look at me. "... we fought. Before I time traveled."
"... it happens," I say, trying not to worry too much about Clare. Please, let this be one of those times when it's naught but a flash, for Alba to be there ten minutes after she's gone, for Clare not to worry, for Clare not to be upset.
"I. Daddy, someone asked mom out and she said no."
"Did you want her to say yes?" I ask, and try not to feel betrayed. I try to tell myself that I've been dead ten years for Clare and Alba, that I'm not there but it's hard to convince myself of that when Alba leans her head against my arm.
"No. Yes. I. I want her to stop feeling lonely, daddy," Alba tells me. "I wish she could laugh freely again. I hate the idea of she marrying someone else, but I hate the idea of her being alone for so long. I think she hates me."
"No," I tell her, because I know what it is, to be hated by a father and I cannot believe, will not believe Clare would do that to our daughter. "She does not, Alba. Never say that. Your mother loves you very much."
She flushes again, embarrassed, but she sounds near tears when she speaks. I hand her some paper napkins and I wait.
"Okay, but she envies me and oh, daddy, I wish you could meet!" Alba sobs. My heart aches. Clare, I think. I won't see her grow old. My last memory of Clare will be of her at forty, sad eyed, her hair still red, and then of Clare as an old lady, with her hands wrinkled and old.
"I wish we could as well," I tell Alba, and I kiss her forehead.
We stay like that for some moments before Alba starts shaking.
"Daddy, I'm going..." she tells me, so we stand up, rush towards an alley just in time for Alba to call: "Daddy!" and then she's gone. I stay there for a few moments before I pick up her clothes and walk away, trying to think of my Alba at four years old, of my Clare waiting at home, trying to will myself back to them.
And I wonder once more, why can't I be there there where I'm wanted, there where I want to be, and why do I have to stay here when there is no one who wants me here?
Tuesday, November 8 th 2016. (Clare is 45, Alba 15.)
CLARE: Alba and I fought today, like it seems to happen almost everyday these days. Charisse tells me it's natural and I want to believe it's true but it's hard, it's hard when sometimes it feels as if everything we do or say is with the express purpose of hurting each other, to exasperate each other.
Today, we fought because I won't date. We fought because Alba thinks (or rather, knows) that I'm lonely. We fought because we both miss Henry, because we're both too similar to each other and we have no mediator between us.
Henry, I think and then no more, because I'll cry if I think that I want him to be here and I'm not ready to cry. I want to scream. At Alba, at Henry, at myself. I'm angry and there is no one here who could take this anger, so I wait.
After an hour, I'm calm enough to go towards Alba's room and knock. There is no answer, so I knock again. Still no answer, no music booming out her door, no dramatic Mozart to drown out my words. I try the door knob and it opens, and there's no Alba there but her clothes are on the floor and fear knots my stomach, fear makes me kneel down by the side of that pleated skirt and v-necked sweater and pick them up.
Since Henry died, I've grown even more scared of time traveling. Kendrich tells me that Alba is special but I wish she could be special without something that could kill her. I hold the clothes close to me, still kneeling down on the floor. Please let her be okay. Please let my baby be okay. You already took my husband, please, please don't take away my baby girl.
An other hour goes by. Then another. My legs cramp but I sit there, with my daughter's skirt and sweater clutched to my chest, trying hard not to go crazy. It's four hours after our fight, three hours after I realized my daughter had disappeared that I hear it: the sound of someone falling down on the floor. I rush out of Alba's room and there she is, tanned and naked and wincing as she rubs her hip where she hit it and then she looks up.
"Mom," she says and I hug her close and she hugs me and if Henry could come home, then everything would be well in my world.
Tuesday, October 18 th, 2005. (Alba is 15 and 4.)
ALBA: I appear in the living room, inches from breaking my own head with the coffee table. It's late or should I say early? I never know what to do with the hours between midnight and sunrise, and I give a silent little thanks to whoever it was that allowed me to appear in my house.
The fact that there's a man's coat tells me that I've traveled to time before daddy died and I'm overcome with the suddenness of it. I grab the coat and put it on, let daddy's smell surround me and I wish so, so hard that I could take this back with me. So instead I go up towards their room and see mom and daddy sleeping.
I fight with myself, wanting to go in there and sleep between them, but I do not trust myself not to cry and I'm sure mom doesn't know and I don't want to ruin it. Right then and there my parents are happy and sleeping together. Mom is not having nightmares, she's not calling daddy's name in her sleep, and daddy is snoring a little. I realize that I'm crying, and as quietly as possible, I turn to go towards my room, little Alba's room.
She's asleep and a part of me wants to tell her. A part of me wants to do something to avoid it, but I have tried to do so before and nothing has happened. Daddy still dies and I'm left alone feeling guilty. I'd rather let my younger self be happy for as long as it's left. Instead, I put my hand on her shoulder and shake her up a little.
Alba yawns and with the aid of her night lamp I see her rub her face. I smile at her.
"Hey, Alba. I'm Alba. Remember me?"
She nods and yawns again. "Did you have a nightmare, Alba?" Little Alba asks, wanting to be up but being unable to.
"Yeah," I answer, and I can almost remember this from Alba's perspective, how the older Alba will be gone by morning, just daddy's coat left around me, as if daddy was hugging me. I try hard not to cry again. "Can I sleep with you?"
She nods and scoots over, and I get into my childhood bed, holding myself as if little Alba was my favorite teddy bear. Alba yawns and snuggles close.
"It's okay, Alba, you can sleep with me. I'll keep the monsters away."
"Okay," I whisper, and I pray for that to be true.