Out of Time: Two
Aunt Jess raised me, and when I was little I thought she just had a bad memory. She often struggled to monitor me, from asking me to turn on the oven twelve times straight to forgetting, in the car, that she was driving me to the library for a school project.
As I got into the double digits, I realized that too many people in my life had this problem. Teachers read my name at roll call and stopped to furrow their eyebrows, as if they couldn’t remember a student named Rhosyn Watcher. (I’ve heard my name pronounced different ways, but I always say “HROSE ine,” gently on the h.) People cut in front of me all the time and apologized when I hollered, but immediately did it again.
My best and only friend, Brodie Taylor, was a lifesaver or at least a sanity-preserver. With him I felt completely normal because that’s how he treated me—reliably, always, whether about birthdays or the conversations we held two years back.
Speaking of birthdays, every year on mine, Aunt Jess pulled out a photo of a young man in his late teens. “That’s your dad, Rhosyn,” she’d say. Her lucid moments were strangely dreamy. “He’s coming back for you. He promised thirteen years ago today” (or six or nine or however hold I was turning that year).
When that promise turned sixteen years old, I couldn’t hold my secret any longer. “Aunt Jess, I think Dad visits me,” I blurted.
She blinked at me and tucked her blonde hair into her headband. “What do you mean?”
“I saw him leave those roses on our doorstep this morning,” I blundered on, pointing to the vase on the kitchen table. “He once fed ducks at the pond. Two months ago he dropped an ice cube down my back and did a runner.”
“At the picnic? He was there?” Aunt Jess smiled in bemusement. “I don’t remember your mentioning that then.”
“Well, I did, but I didn’t say it was him.” I turned over my palms, helpless. “I’m not making this up! I keep seeing him ‘round, all my life really, as if he’s popping in to check if I’m all right.”
Sometimes, I thought but didn’t say, he acts like a hero… directing danger away from me. When our neighbor’s house nearly burned down, the newspaper used a photo of him comforting the youngest kid.
Aunt Jess’s smile faltered. She fingered the edge of the photo. “Are you certain he’s the same person?”
“Yes,” I said immediately. “He’s older than he is in that picture, but I’d swear in court it’s him. I just wish he’d talk to me…”
I stopped. My aunt had gone rigid in her seat the moment I mentioned Dad’s age. That jarred her somehow.
“Aunt Jess, are you okay?” I touched her hand.
“Too old,” she whispered. “He was too old when he came… One day nineteen, the next thirty, the third missing. Never spoken since to him…”
I found myself gaping at her. Aunt Jess said things about her brother on my birthdays, but she never really told me anything about him. I couldn’t decide if now she had lost her mind for good or just had it back.
The day after my birthday, she lost me.
I keep telling myself I definitely left a note to her about Brodie’s invite to a movie, celebrating my birthday a day late. Notes, I had discovered, worked as a better reminder than spoken word, because my aunt could come back to a note if she needed to. And I still tell myself not to feel guilty for going.
When I got home, Aunt Jess was curled up on the sofa under a blanket, crumpled tissues strewing the living room. Tear tracks ran down her pale cheeks.
I dropped my purse in the doorway. “What’s wrong?”
She gasped, jumped up, and pointed at me with a shaky finger. “Rhosyn, where were you?”
Fear gripped my stomach. I prayed it didn’t squeeze too hard. “Brodie and I went to the cinema for my birthday. The Last War came out a couple of weeks ago.”
“You were gone for hours. I was about to call the police!”
“It’s a two-hour film. Did you check your messages?”
Aunt Jess just stared at me as I drifted to the wall phone and pressed “play messages.” The light wasn’t blinking, which meant she had heard it, but I let my tinny recorded voice ring out:
“Hey, Aunt Jess, it’s Rhosyn. The film’s over. Brodie wants a Coke, but I’ll be home soon.”
The message was fifteen minutes old, so we’d taken a long Coke break to supplement the film as a gift… But surely Aunt Jess was overreacting. Her eyes were even bloodshot.
“You went to a movie?” she asked, still in a whisper.
“And left a note and a message,” I added, coming forward.
“Sorry, sorry.” Aunt Jess shook her head. “Why couldn’t I—? I’ll tell the neighbors you’re home.” She looked embarrassed. “I sort of freaked out and asked them about you.”
I was so relieved I laughed. “I’ll bet you did.” Freak out, that is, especially since the neighbors could hardly remember I lived there.
Aunt Jess turned toward the door, and suddenly I heard her sob. She flung it open and screamed down the road, “Rhosyn! Can you hear me?!”
I’d had many surreal experiences with people’s memories. This one cut me too deeply to move or speak.
Over my aunt’s shoulder, I saw the two boys across the street let their basketballs bounce away and looked at each other, confused. “Who?”
“Rhosyn’s my niece!” she cried at them. “Have you seen her? She’s been missing for hours—”
“What does she look like?” they asked.
I found my legs below my waist and ran out after Aunt Jess. “Like this, thank you! Aunt Jess, I’m right here. Right here.”
She hugged me tightly, panting. “I’ll go tell the neighbors.”
“But you just—”
She tore out of my arms and started down the street, hysterically calling for me in front of every house.
“You just asked us.” One neighbor boy rolled his eyes. “I keep telling you, we haven’t seen anyone!”
Terrified, I sank onto the doorstep and struggled not to cry.
“Aunt Jess, I’m right here…” I repeated. Why couldn’t anyone remember me? “Please try… I’m not invisible!”
I shouted the last sentence. For a moment, she whirled to look at me, her eyes unfocused. And she moved on, leaving me there alone. I pulled up my knees to my chest and buried my head in my arms.
Minutes later, a hand startled me by coming down on my shoulder, then gently—intimately—rubbing my back. “I’m so sorry, my beauty. You’ve been out of your time too long. Maybe someday she’ll remember what I told her—sixteen years ago—about when and why you’d have to leave. If not, she’ll forget you were ever here.” His voice fell. “Blimey, that’s not a comfort, is it?”
The Lancashire accent reminded me of Aunt Jess’s, though hers softened by so many Londoners.
I wiped my eyes so I could see the man who’d plopped himself next to me, whose voice I’d never heard and instantly loved. Once I saw his face, my arms instinctively went under his. “Dad!”