Nicholas is a time traveller.
He isn’t sure exactly how it happened. When it started is another mystery. All Nicholas knows is that one night, he’d gone to bed twenty seven years old- but when he wakes up, his body was seventy-something. Every movement has his muscles quivering in anticipation of pain, whilst the aches are bone deep. His reflection is a shock- he can’t recognise his face at all, and he seems to have shrunk by quite a few inches. The first morning Nicholas wakes after time travel, he spends half of it staring at the mirror trying to work out where his defined jaw line had disappeared under the soft folds of skin. His eyes droop to the sides, and his face is etched with laugh lines and frown lines, a constant reminder of the jokes he’s yet to enjoy and problems he’s yet to confront.
There’s a woman, too, in his future. She’s old as well, body curved over with age, and sometimes she needs a stick to get around. Nicholas isn’t sure what to make of this. He might be old in this future, but his mind is young, and there’s no way he’s attracted to an old lady- even though he’s an old man. But her smile is radiant, and Nicholas thinks he might know why he lives out the rest of his days with her.
Her name is Anna, and she spends an infinite amount of time patiently explaining to him what he’s missed in his life- birthdays and weddings, apparently even a divorce before her. Nicholas struggles with the information, because, really, how can he hold sentiment to things he hasn’t experienced yet? How could he smile and hold his wife when he doesn’t know her yet? But Anna is patient and kind, and he dares not upset the person who is helping him through the time warps.
Eventually, Anna brings him a leather-bound notebook, fastened with a fine cord of coloured string, for him to keep notes. Nicholas writes down everything Anna tells him. His writing is shaky and slow, but he persists nonetheless. He writes the names of the friends he will meet some day, the places he will travel to, the memories he will make one day. Nicholas asks Anna to tell him how the economy changes, but she laughs and refuses.
The notebook occupies him for a while, but he starts to wonder how he can get back. Whilst he’s never been one for spoilers, of course it’s reassuring to know that he will live a long life- but he wants to be able to live that life as well. But he doesn’t know how he jumped into the future, so he doesn’t know how to get back. Sometimes, Nicholas finds himself in another part of his life- he awakens one time and finds himself dancing with Anna: their bodies have already lost the energy of youth, but they still waltz around the room with clumsy, loving grace. Another time, he’s back at university with long hair. There’s no Anna, but there’s a girl called Maggie, who smokes and wears clothes that expose her midriff. Nicholas remembers her. He wonders if she’s the one he divorces.
The constant time warps are inevitably confusing, but he persists in writing everything down. Anna helps, always sitting beside him as she fills in the blanks of his life.
He’s writing again when a young couple comes to visit. Nicholas isn’t in the mood for being re-acquainted with people he doesn’t know yet, so he scowls and sulks in the bedroom. The couple regards him with similar expressions on their faces, and briefly wonders if they’re siblings. He doesn’t hesitate to turn his back on them, though, despite Anna’s coaxing. But the curse of old age meant frequent bathroom visits, which is how he finds himself opening the door a crack. The murmurs he’d heard before turn into audible dialogue.
“…no need to worry, I’m perfectly fine,” Anna is saying. The female guest sighs.
“I just think it’s better to leave him alone. It’s not like it makes a difference.”
“And it must be tough on you, looking after him all the time,” the male says, his voice gentle and persuasive.
“I already told you, I don’t mind,” Anna says, a hint of steel in her voice, before it softens. “I love him.”
The door hinges squeak, betraying Nicholas by announcing his presence. Anna immediately assists him to the bathroom. When he returns, the two guests are politely saying goodbye. Nicholas suddenly feels a twinge of shame for his behaviour, and decides the least he can do is to shake their hands.
“Nice necklace you have there,” he tells the girl gruffly. “You have good taste.”
She freezes immediately, her hand stiffening in his, before a dazzling smile breaks across her face. “You bought it for me,” she tells him quietly, and then the couple is gone. For a minute, Nicholas stays at the front door, realisation creeping over him. That smile. Like sunshine-
He turns to Anna, who smiles the same smile.
Eventually, Nicholas snaps. He never asked to time travel. He never wanted to jump ahead and not know what happened in between. He cares for Anna, but he doesn’t love her- not yet, at least. He can’t keep up with the uneven timeline- one morning he’ll be rushing to finish a presentation, and the next he’ll be a wrinkly old man who can’t even feed himself properly. It’s in this future that Nicholas finds himself in the most, much to his frustration. Anna is never frustrated with him, but he notices the shine in her eyes when he wakes, disappointed to see her rather than his youth. It must be painful, he realises, to see the man she loves but never knowing if his heart knows hers yet. Nicholas continues writing in the notebook- there’s not much else he can do in this old body. He’s vaguely aware at how new it always looks, but he’s more distracted by longing for his youth once more. If Anna is upset, he doesn’t care anymore.
“I want to leave,” Nicholas tells her. Anna continues eating her dinner. “I’m not ready for this life yet. I’m going to travel back to the past. Can you help me?”
Anna says nothing for the rest of the meal, so Nicholas keeps quiet too. When the plates are washed, she retrieves the notebook. They spend the evening reading it together, but this time Anna adds an extra chapter; how they met, how they loved.
“One last time,” she tells him. They put the notebook away and hold hands under the covers.
“Don’t forget,” he hears her whisper. Forget what, Nicholas tries to ask, but he’s tired, bone-tired.
“Please don’t forget me,” Anna murmurs. Nicholas wants to apologize, but for what, he isn’t sure. He finds himself sinking deeper, and soon his breathing evens out.
Nicholas awakens, aged seventy-something, face to face with a stranger.
“Hello, Nicholas,” she smiles. “I’m your wife. My name is Anna.”
Nicholas takes in this information. “This is going to sound crazy,” he says slowly. “But I think I just travelled through time into the future.”
(Inspired by The Notebook & The Time Traveller’s Wife)