Ingrid pushes her way through the city. Dust persists everywhere; it’s in the alleys and the streets, in the houses and the shelters, in the faces and the lips, in the souls and in the shadows. Everything is aging, even the new looks old. That scent of death colors the stifling air. The war, it’s faraway, but its pain is everywhere. People smile, they do. At times, it’s to mask that pain, and at times to forget it, but it always infiltrates their feeble faces to strike them with its coldness that freezes all expression. It’s all so bloody. That stink of bloody, bloody war! She stops abruptly and forces herself to halt that flow of thought. She must move forward. She is late.
In their last meeting, everything in Matthew seemed to be subdued to a definitive sense. His voice, especially his voice, it always felt so ancient, but that time, something was different. She turns the matter over in her head, yet, with all her might, she pushes that one possibility away. Could that be? Now? No. Never. The mere thought of it makes her cringe.
She is now standing before his door in the motel. She knocks it, six times, each three with a different tone. It is their sign. She holds the doorknob, in her mind, a desperate wish for him to be in there. She sees him. A sigh of relief escapes her mouth carrying with it a mountain of fear.
He looks at her face, as though trying to bury it deep within him lest he will forget. It makes her sure now. It makes her see it all. He leaves her without uttering a word and stands by the window, the dusty horizon stretching before him.
“You are leaving,” she says. It’s not a question. She knows. She has known it since that stranger broke into her life, he’d have to leave. It never entered her head though that now is the time.
“Yes.” He is still looking away.
“Is there anyway you can stop it? It’s all about a machine, right? Destroy it then, or …. I don’t know.” Desperation leaks to her voice. “Please don’t go, not now. Stay in my time”
He now leaves the window and looks her way, an agonized smile on his lips. “It’s not quite the way H.G. Wells described,” he says. “ I got no hand in it, my cells are pre-programmed to jump back to their original time. That’s the longest they can hold in yours. They already gave me a hard time trying to adjust. Remember?”
The memories fleet through her head, of a stranger following her in the dark streets. It wasn’t until she saw his body crumple on the asphalt that she knew he was only asking for help. They were near a motel, that place they are standing in now, where she’d sneak whenever she could to attend him. He looks too different now. And it’s hard to believe it was only three months ago. But what can’t she not believe after all that he told her?
“Yes,” she utters through puckered lips.
He sits on the bed in the center of the room. “Come,” he says, half-whispering and gestures it with his hand. The tears blur her vision. She sits on his lap and feels his fingers penetrating her hair in rhythmic motion. Every now and then, she lifts her eyes to see his unfocused. At times, his lips part and then close again on something he can’t find his way around. The weight of silence makes the air heavy.
“Is it ever going to be over?” she raises herself from her position abruptly. That movement surprises him and her words leave him puzzled. She now has his full attention. “You refuse to tell me anything about your time, but this I need to know. Will the war ever come to an end?”
He breathes deeply. “Yes.”
“Will the world better?”
“Why?” It provokes him deeply. It flings him out of whatever thought deluging his head.
“Because…because we are human that’s why. We crave the scent of blood and tread on others to have it. We want authority, we want control. Nobody and nothing is ever allowed to be beyond us. They’ll kill you because you have different color or religion. They’ll kill you because you don’t agree with them. They’ll kill you because you have more fuckin’ money. They will kill you because you are not as human as they are. Believe me, they get very creative when it comes to inventing causes, but, they have only one cause, they kill you for the sake of having killed you. My hands bear the blood of more people you can imagine. They’ll say that killing is ugly and put on the masks of saints who do such a great sacrifice when they take another life. But no, killing is not ugly. It’s you, being liberated of all that is human to be a pure animal with your filthiest desires moving your hands to shred bodies. You know why they’ve sent me in here? To kill you. You will give birth to a child who will cause them much trouble in the future. They want to eliminate all possibilities of him, or anyone like him to be born. Nothing was known about the father, so they sent me here to kill you.”
The blood is flaming in his veins. The words, they sprung out of him, out of the deepest part of him, they left him gasping for air. Amidst his hectic speech, Matthew got so caught up he forgot all his surroundings, including Ingrid. She is shaking violently, her mouth half opened on silenced screams that fear to come to existence. Instead, they cause a hurricane within her heart. She collapses on the bed, and around the bed, everything collapses. Including Matthew.
“Listen,” he wrenches her in his arms, “You have to run away. Don’t get married, or just don’t have children. It’s not you they are after, it’ your child, and if he never comes to be, nobody will be sent after I go to kill you.”
“And what for?” she pushes the streams of tears out of her eyes. With one arm, she frees herself from his tight grip. Her head is so heavy she swoons and he supports her. “Tell me one good reason for me to live. I went on so far, holding on the hope of better times. Butـــ” the tears thwart her, “it’s all so ugly.” She again tumbles down and sinks in her sobs.
“Ingrid,” his lips brush hers, “you are an angel. Everything about you is beautiful and I am so ugly I can’t look at myself in the mirror anymore. They will kill me when I get back, you know that? Make me die knowing I’ve done it for a good reason.”
“No. I can’t. What is better, to live suffering, or to die so that you no longer have to suffer?” He has nothing to say. Instead, he lets a lifetime of sorrow melt away in violent sobs.
The next morning, Ingrid wakes up to a day where Matthew no longer has an existence. The air burns with his scent, and in her womb, last night, he caused the life that will bring them both to death to start beating.