Paradigm - June 1997
Time and Caroline Chow - Gary Cahalane
(page 19/20)

Time and Caroline Chow

Like its owner, the Photograph was old and worn and had been through a lot, yet there was a Joy on the faces of the just-married couple that had survived all that fate and time could bestow.

Caroline Chow held the faded image of her youthful self and the man she had adored, so long age. Those smiling faces meant no harm as they reached across the years but she had no defence against the sudden surge of pain and the tears that they inflicted. The muscular shoulders of the youth that watched from the doorway seemed to collapse in accompaniment as Caroline crumpled under the weight of the past. John Akoba felt helpless and ridiculous. He tried so hard to make her happy and every year he had to witness the ritual grief of this woman he loved. She was not much to look at, a dumpy Chinese-American in her late fifties, her body criss-crossed with the same network of sears that covered his adolescent form, but appearance could do nothing to distract from the inner beauty that he saw or the passion that he felt. Every tear that fell from those soft eyes was like a drop of acid scorching into his dark skin, the sound of her sobs as brutal as a razor slashing his flesh, it was monstrously unfair to expect him to withstand such punishment. He moved to her side, gently placing his gift of flowers on the bed.

'Come on now.' John's voice was soothing as he reached out a hand to comfort. The slight involuntary flinch of her shoulders struck him with agonising impact. Instantly, Caroline realised her mistake, her misted eyes full of concern as she turned to him,
'John, I...'
'It's okay.' He smiled, tenderly brushing her wet cheek with his fingertips.
'No, its not okay, I love you! You know that. It's not that I'm unhappy Fred and Ginger brought us together, it's just...'
'Its okay, I'm okay, I understand. Today's the day for memories, for ghosts,' John's gruff London accent transformed into melody as he presented the exotic bouquet from behind his back. 'Happy anniversary love.'

Caroline did not say a word as she enveloped him, John responded eagerly, their lips joined, the contact wiping away all thoughts of the hurt that had briefly intruded. They fell back upon the bed, letting the flowers and the photograph drop unregarded onto the floor.

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Memory is a strange thing. As Caroline placed her wedding photo on top of her few possessions, closing the case with an angry gesture, she could not stop thinking of the last anniversary she had shared with John and of their tender embraces. John was doing his best to expel any residual trace of fondness from her mind. Confused and terrified of failure, he tried pleading.

'Please don't do this. All I'm saying is that we should try.'
'No!'
'It's only a kid.'
'Don't start again,' full of rage, she said the words, wanting to hurt him. 'You're such a jerk! Can't you understand? Can't you get it into your thick head? My biological clock's stopped ticking, I can't!'
'They might be able to fix it...'
'No! They can fix the hair, the teeth. They can't fix time. They can't fix how I feel.'

John stood uncomprehending, his face contorted by anguish, his eyes filling with tears, unable to speak as the disappointment solidified in his throat. He held out his arms, wanting her to make it better, to make the demons go away. Caroline slowly shook her head, her eyes as empty and cold as some distant point in space.
'Goodbye!'

Hidden by the environment's disguised cells. Two figures watched in puzzled silence. They said nothing as Caroline left, looking the door behind her, remaining, mute as she unpacked in an adjacent room, one identical in every detail to that she had just vacated. They watched dispassionately as John started to wreck his cage, and felt no more than mild frustration as Caroline fell sobbing upon her bed. Eventually however, the huge foetid bulk of the eminent alien zoologist nick-named "Fred" heaved as it commented in a series of impatient slippery clicks. 'Look at them! The last of their species. You'd think they'd do something.' The gurgling response of its distinguished colleague, the one the humans called "Ginger" was equally disgusted.

'Tell me about it. I hate these alien jobs. Those Pandas were bad, but these.... It's pathetic!'

Gary Cahalane