MAYBE ANOTHER TIME
Copyright 1979, 1999 Sarah Hartwell
This was originally written when I was in my early teens and set in the near future. I've tidied it up a bit (a lot!) and changed the dates when updating it.
I: The First Meeting
I had been working in my office in Bourne House for about an hour when Mrs Boyle, the cleaning lady told me that someone wanted to see me. It seemed a little unusual that someone was wanting to see me at this time in the morning. it wasnít even 8 oíclock and officially my day had not yet begun. Without even waiting for me to answer Mrs Boyle, a man in his late twenties rudely pushed past her into my office. He put both hands on my desk and leaned forward in an almost threatening manner and stared me in the face.
"Liz" he gasped, sounding as though he had just run a marathon, I must talk to you."
I wasnít used to being addressed in this manner by a complete stranger and it all sounded rather melodramatic.
"Miss Fielding if you please" I said with disdain.
"Liz, er, Miss Fielding, I must talk to you. . . Liz?" he said breathlessly.
Mrs Boyle closed the door behind her and I could hear her humming as she cleared off the cabinets. She was near enough that I could call her if I needed any help, but somehow I didnít think I would be needing any.
"Please sit down," I said as coolly as I could, "Mr ..." I let the sentence hang.
He looked surprised but quickly collected himself and I wondered if I should have remembered him from somewhere. Already he acted as though he knew me and as though I should have known him although I had certainly never met him before, either in work or outside of work. He took the leather chair opposite my desk.
"Ritchie Hallam," he said sounding a little puzzled "Look Liz... itís me...?" he said as though I should know him.
"Miss Fielding," I corrected automatically.
He took no notice. The whole Scene seemed to have come straight from a spy-thriller.
"Liz I came back to find you," he informed me.
"Find me? But Mr Hallam, I doní t think I know you," I felt I had lost control of the conversation.
There was a momentary silence as he processed this information.
"Not yet" he told, some of the puzzlement evaporating from his face, "You will."
Yet oddly, the words carried no hint of threat.
He seemed more confident now, almost smug. He lounged in the leather chair opposite me, the denim-clad calf of one leg crossed over one knee. He looked as comfortable as if he were sitting in his own living room.
"Obviously" I replied coldly, moving aside a pile of unanswered letters and bills.
Unsure of whether to dislike the stranger; I was nonetheless intrigued. I had also by then, begun to wonder if this was some sort of threat because I was sure I did not know anyone called Hallam. His air, his manner manner and his cryptic conversation perturbed me. He seemed full of confidence and his fixed gaze made me feel cold. He was like a cat watching for some sign of weakness and this immediately put me on my guard.
"When you came to visit me, you came too early" he told me.
"Too early?" I asked, ttying to remember my recent morning visits.
"I wasnít ready for it" he told me, confusing me further.
"Visited you?" I asked, mystified by the good-looking stranger whose abrupt entrance had disturbed my life.
He certainly had aroused my curiosity. I visit many people, being a social worker, but I could not recall visiting this man. I would have remembered someone with such striking features. He was certainly good-looking. His blonde hair was roughly combed in no particular direction and was longish. Wispy strands of it adorned the collar of his jacket. His complexion was fair with a hint of a tan - a natural tan, not the orange-hued tan from a sun-bed. He was clean-shaven and he had the sort of faded blue eyes that I could stare into forever quite happily.
It was his clothing that made me suspicious. He wore a bomber jacket made of a silvery plastic so thin as to be almost transparent. I didn't recognise the make, maybe it was a new designer label or something. It was only half zipped-up, showing a clean white T-shirt. Hair from his chest poked up around the neckline and a chunky gold chain gleamed tightly round his neck. There was a silver stud in his left ear, though earrings were more in fashion. He wore tight black jeans, not at all faded. They were tapered and tucked into beige cowboy boots. It looked like he'd made a deliberate attempt to be fashionable and only gotten it half right. For a start, bomber jackets hadn't been in fashion for about twenty years and who on earth wore cowboy boots these days?
"About this visit..." I began.
"Yes Iím..." he began eagerly.
"When was this?" I asked picking up a pencil to note down the date.
"Last month on Thursday,but youíd..." he began, then he stopped "Liz, I want to apologise, I wasnít ready for it."
I was certain I had not visited any good-looking men since I had broken off my engagement to Pete a few months back. I certainly had not made any business visits on Thursday (which was only last week) which had been my free. day.
He looked at his watch, an expensive looking digital multifunction one with built-in mobile phone - grief, those were only just out on the market!
He suddenly became more hurried and fidgeted in the chair, crossing and uncrossing his legs.
"Can I meet you again?" he asked "A bit less formally and maybe discuss things then?"
Although I was used to this from the people I worked with, who sometimes felt unable to discuss matters in a formal atmosphere, I decided to be heartless and enquire further.
"Why not now?" I asked, still trying to work out where I had met him, if in fact I had met him before.
"I canít stay, Iíve got to go back," he said, half rising from his chair.
"Business?" I asked. One moment he had seemed so keen, suddenly he seemed to be trying to wriggle out of the situation.
He seemed glad of an excuse "Iíll see you back here?" he asked.
"Thursday?" I asked.
"Yeah okay" he said "Five be okay?" and he left my office as abruptly as he had entered.
I tried to work out who he was and where I had met him before. Perhaps I had met him on Thursday at the "Joker". He had said "too early" and I had been at the Joker late in the evening. I wondered where "back" was and. why he had been in such a hurry to get there. Either that or on the compulsory course the preceding Wednesday; the one about dealing with difficult clients. I'd certainly forgotten most of that course when dealing with the enigmatic Mr Hallam. I sighed and spent a few minutes staring into space wondering and trying to picture his face; then I tried to put him out of my mind and continued to answer the mall I had out aside.
That Thursday on the stroke of five he turned up at my office just as before. We went to see an old film, had a meal at the Joker and back to my flat afterwards. His flat, so he told me, was being redecorated by his flatmate and was 'in a bit of a mess'. I noticed other odd things about him; the way prices seemed to mystify him, he had remarked on the inexpensiveness of our meal even though the bill came to well over eighty quid. He was obviously a classy character and had more money than he knew how to look after.
It's not my habit to sleep with a guy on the first date - or second date if I counted that first, strange, meeting in my office. He seemed pretty naive about the topic of safe sex too so I had to supply the condoms and even then he didn't seem to know how to use them! Yet it was obvious he wasn't sexually inexperienced so I was glad that I'd insisted on the precaution.
When I woke up on the Friday morning I thought it had all been a dream. He had left a note, in neat handwriting, telling me that he had an extremely important business appointment but he would be back in a couple of days if I wished to see him again. Judging by the bedclothes strewn across the carpet and the ornaments he had disturbed in his flight from ray flat, he had left rather precipitantly. Even if he didn't show up again, and I suspected it was going to be a one-night stand, the evening had been fun - far better than the last few months since breaking up with Pete and better than those last months with Pete (we'd become complacent and sexually unadventurous).
However, Ritchie Hallam was as good. as his word and two days later, he showed up at my office at five oíclock. We went to a rather more select restaurant in the expensive part of town. That was when my curiosity was aroused again. He always used cash, never credit cards even though the bill was steep. I wondered if all the cash was real - I mean, he always had so much of it so he was either eccentric in not using cards, a traditionalist who liked the feel of cash or a crook with a large stash of bank-notes to get rid of in a hurry.
During the evening I asked for ten quid for a packet of Marlboro cigarettes and as I put the shiny two pound coins in the slot, the date on one briefly caught my eye. The date on it was 2008 but the year was only 2006. I dismissed it as a trick of the light, having other things on mind than the dates on coins. Besides, 8s and 6s sometimes look similar when you glance at them quickly and no forger would have made such a basic error.
This part of my tale I must compress rather, not having time to go into full detail, but he visited me every two days for about four months. Although I asked him where he worked he only gave me vague answers about there being "no work locally". From this I assumed he was having to go to numerous interviews around the country in his efforts to find employment. I was tempted to look up his Social Security details on the computer, but it would have been a breach of the system. Unless I had a genuine child support query or firm grounds for suspicion of criminal activity I had no valid reason to snoop around in his records. And to be honest, I found the cloak and dagger atmosphere one of the attractive things about him. No doubt that's why women end up involved with the wrong sort of men and I ended up trying to sort out their child support problems while the father is being detained at "His Majesty's Pleasure".
Despite his earlier talk of a flatmate, he didn't seem to a home address which was odd for someone with so much money. At first, I decided that the flatmate tale was cover for someone who lived mainly in hotels. So, for a while he moved into my flat and paid my rent, although he was often away from home. Over time we turned it into a nice home for the both of us and he moved some of his possessions in. Again I was curious - where did he keep all the stuff? I'd snooped in his wallet and couldn't find anything with an address on it, almost as though he was hiding it from me. I scratched my earlier theory about living in hotels and came to a far different conclusion.
The only sensible explanation was that I was 'the other woman' in his life and that somewhere else - on the days he wasn't with me - there was a wife or long-term partner and a home he didn't want me to know about. It wasn't an ideal situation, but by then I was in well over my head and it was hard to imagine life without the extravagant Ritchie Hallam. He never drove - he always used taxis or I drove my VW. He never used credit cards. He never told me where he worked or what he did. He never carried anything which gave an address or any personal details. In short he made sure that I couldn't trace his home. Maybe his name wasn't even Ritchie Hallam. Whoever he was, he had gone to great lengths to hide his home life from me to prevent me from coming into conflict with a wife or family or whatever. But at least he didn't seem to be part of some criminal underworld or a drug-dealer or whatever.
I should have quit then, but in truth I was enjoying the excitement as well as the high-flying lifestyle. Somehow the thought that this attractive man wanted to spend time with me instead of with his wife was a turn-on. It was a feeling of power. And at the back of the mind there was always the thought that he would ditch 'her' and choose me instead. Not good thoughts, I know, especially after breaking up with a boyfriend who had had a string of affairs throughout our relationship.
Ritchie took me out to one restaurant or another nearly every night he was in town. It was exhilarating - he always wanted to be out doing things. The nights were fantastic, though I was insanely careful about safe sex. Okay, so if he had a wife he wasn't likely to risk catching something and passing it on to her, but I still wasn't going to risk unprotected sex - how many women had there been before me? And since he had been unfamiliar with condoms, any sex he had with them must have been unprotected. He always promised to have the blood test for HIV, but somehow it never happened..
Once, I got him to admit that there had been 'other affairs', but then he told me he'd never met anyone like me and he clammed up again. He never mentioned his other relationship, or relationships, again. And by then I had a small secret of my own, something i didn't want to tell him until I was sure.
Over the months, our conversations spanned many subjects but always seemed to come back to the subject of time-travel and how it was possible in theory. In fact, Ritchie seemed completely obsessed with the idea of being able to go back in time and prevent certain things from happening - killing dictators before they had risen to power. He read my SF books voraciously, mostly the ones about time travel. I raised the usual arguments about 'what if you ended up killing your grandfather' and stuff like that but he argued that history was already on course so everything would fall back into place the same except for the one piece of the puzzle which had been removed. I am not much of a scientist and although his endless theories were fascinating, I did not understand much of what he said, in such matters he was years ahead of me. It was just one of his little foibles, like the fact that he never let me see where the taxi took him once he left my flat.
He was also fascinated by the idea of cryogenic suspension; his hero in this field being a Dr Rupert Callister at some Medical University in London. One night, after we had made love, he began talking about his hero.
"Doc Callister is the pioneer of cryogenics - he has developed cryo to the point where it can be used in manned space-flights to the outer planets" he told me "Do you realise what that means?"
I admitted that I did not.
"Mankind is free from the effects of aging and can be sent on long journeys in suspended animation to be revived. when the craft has reached wherever it was headed! Doc Callister has opened up the way for mankind to explore the universe!"
"Hmm what?" he was off in a world of his own again. I often wondered where his mind went to when it wasn't in the here and now.
"Do you ever think of anything other than time travel and all that stuff?"
"Whatí s wrong with Ďall that stuff'?"
"Well come off it, itís all theory. Díyou think theyíll ever develop it to such a point?"
He laughed and it was then that he told me he had a confession and at first I thought he had found someone else. He said he thought that I was ready to hear what he wanted to say. My heart lurched - either he was breaking off our relationship or he was ditching his wife and moving in with me full-time.
"Well, do you believe time travel is possible?" he asked quietly.
"Itís just a fantasy," I said, "You've been at my John Wyndham books again."
"What if I told you it was completely possible?"
I just laughed. "What are trying to say?" I asked him.
"That it is possible."
I suddenly went cold as I realised what he was trying to say and why he was so often away from home. I knew what he wanted to tell me and I knew that it was going to be crazy, but it went a long way towards explaining a lot of things.
"Youí re not from this time" I breathed half-afraid of what he was going to say.
He said nothing. It was only the second time he'd ever completely clammed up on me. It was up to me to get the information out of him
"When from Ritchie?"
"What about all the money? Bank notes and coins don't last that long in that condition."
"It's easy enough to get replicas. It's like the replica antiquities that museums sell. And the replicas are so good that nothing around today can tell the difference," he shrugged, "and they're cheap to make. And some people start their lives over in a completely different time - they need the money."
"But it's forgery."
"No it isn't - it's just transferring funds from one time to another instead of between banks," he laughed.
I was stupefied. Until that moment I had never really suspect that he was not from my time. Well, it isn't the sort of thing you would expect, is it? Looking back on all the little things that had happened, it seemed such an obvious explanation, but it was something straight out of one of my books. I decided to tell him my own secret.
"Then I have something to tell you," I said, wondering how he would take the news, "Youíre going to be a father."
His reaction shocked me; the disgust on his face as though it were the most disgraceful thing that could have happened, yet he said nothing. With all the horror that his face registered, he did not need words. Originally I'd hoped that it would be the thing that finally won him away from his wife. If that had seemed a stupid plan, then the thought that he'd fathered a child out of his own time was, well, more than stupid.
"I thought you said you'd taken precautions?" he said slowly, disappointedly.
"Sometimes the condoms don't .... or maybe we got careless and didn't use one of them properly. It leaked or something. It wasn't deliberate," I said, though of course it had been deliberate.
It was then that I realised that I'd lost him. Maybe if he'd been a married man conducting an affair I would have lost him anyway, but at least I could have had him traced and sued for child support. DNA tests would have proved his paternity. But if he chose to flee back to some other time then there was no-one I could sue and my pregnancy was already to far gone for me to have an abortion.
A week after that conversation he broke a dinner-date. He visited once and was unapologetic. He just wanted time to think things over. If he could travel back and forth between my time and his then he had all the time he wanted. After that visit he no longer came to see me. I knew that I had no way of reaching him, time travel did not exist in
I had to give up my job when Jonathon was born. I gave him his fatherís surname, Hallam, and my own father's first name. Without Ritchie's financial support, the money soon ran out. I'd sold a lot of Ritchie's stuff before Jonathon arrived. Whether it was a mistake or whether he'd just chosen to tantalise me, Ritchie had left one clue to who he was and were he came from. It was his address card.
When Jonathon was six and I was 30, the authorities considered me to be unfit as a mother and took him away from me. For someone who had spent their working life in Social Services, working on child support cases, this was the ultimate indignity and it was this single event that drove me into a desperate course of action.
During the next six years, I found work and rebuilt my life as best I could. I also got in contact with Rupert Callister who at that time was still developing his cryogenic unit. I'd had a lot of time to think about Ritchie. Although in my time he had visited me every two days, in his tine the visits may have been many weeks apart. Maybe I was an intermittent hobby. I'd had no idea what he did in the time - his time - between the visits. In spite of this possibility, was determined to sea Ritchie again even if it meant spending over a hundred years asleep.
My work didn't pay anywhere near as much as I'd have liked, especially since I was putting most of my spare income into Callister's research. The deal was this: I became a sponsor for the project and Callister would let me act as a human guinea-pig for his cryo unit.
In 2019 I went into suspension, due to be woken in the year 2145. We'd only ever done short-term tests with primates - a few weeks, a few months and finally almost 2 years (though the latter subject, a female bonobo ape, died of heart failure in the unit). The technology wasn't perfect - it slowed aging to a minimum, but it couldn't halt it entirely.
Callister would not be alive then to see if his unit was capable of preserving a living body for that length of time, but I didn't really have anything to lose and an awful lot to gain if it did work. Long term arrangements had to be made - arrangements for waking me up, power supplies and battery back up, arrangements for long-term care and monitoring of me while I was literally out cold, financial arrangements for my upkeep and for me to live on when I woke up.
In those times, a cryogenic tank was like a huge aquarium. Heavy green vapour lined the bottom like slime. Leads were connected to the tank and they hummed and vibrated gently, throbbing with life. Dressed in a thin white gown I lay in the tank, eyes open as icy white vapour rolled over me like mist. Several TV programs had sent their science correspondents to 'the freezing'. I'd been filmed signing dozens of disclaimers and explaining about the long-term trust fund which would support me when I was revived (if all went well). The white gown was to preserve my modesty in front of the cameras. In the preceding weeks I'd given endless interviews and sold my story for a handsome sum to several tabloid newspapers who ran articles of 'what will she wake up to?'. They planned to update their readers regularly, but I doubted the interest was last more than a few weeks - there was simply nothing to watch.
For a moment I felt painfully cold, then the icy blackness of sleep closed in on me to hold me almost unchanging for my long and lonely years. I had put my trust in a piece of machinery hidden in a hospital basement and in the diligence of several generations of technicians. Those softly humming leads were to be my kit lifeline, my only link with a changing world.
II: The Second Meeting
Someone was hauling me into a sitting position and thumping my back, forcing me to breathe. My limbs felt stiff and heavy where the muscles had wasted. A tube was pulled slowly out of my throat, making me cough. It was like coming out of anaesthesia after an operation - there had been no dreams to tell me that time had elapsed.
My sleep seemed to have lasted only a few moments. It did not feel like 126 years later that I was answering questions and undergoing a thorough medical examination. At the age of 162 I should have been a healthy 36 year old. Instead I felt like an asthmatic 80 year old. I wondered what had gone wrong. After bringing me up to normal body temperature over a period of 48 hours, the medics and technicians explained that I had severe musle wastage and that my lungs were having to get used to breathing again. I was, in most respects, a new-born baby which had to learn to use its body.
Despite the monitoring of technicians, dust had built up on the equipment around me, years of dust and grime coated the tank's supporting plinth. It seemed that I had been pretty much left in the basement and forgotten until some computer flashed a wake-up warning on a doctor's screen.
The place didn't look anything like a lab. Spiders had spun their dusty webs over the multifarious cables and the gentle humming: had become a persistant throbbing sound as the antique equipment had whiled away the years. My tank was now a primitive affair compared to the amazing new systems and I was lucky to have woken up at all; not because the tank might not have sustained, but because for fifty years I had been forgotten as I lay in my icy coffin (it took some while to find this out).
For days I was subjected to tests and more tests as my body adjusted to supporting itself. News shows and science shows sent reporters to speak to me. Not because I was a sleeper, but to find out what life had been like more than a century ago. Cryo was no longer a breaking item on the news. Severely ill patients were routinely put in cryo while their insurance policies came up with the funds for their operations or while drugs were genetically engineered to cure their conditions. Some people had gone into cryo for decades simply to escape to a new identity. I was therefore not the first sleeper to be woken, I simply the oldest.
It took weeks of drug therapy and physio to get me on my feet again. Dr Callister's ground-breaking research had been imperfect. I had aged while in the tank. Not much, but enough that the face of a fifty year old looked back at me when they finally let me see my reflection or my image on the news shows.
Before long, I realised that the hospital didn't want me to leave because I was of scientific interest. If I did not take things into my own hands I would be a prisoner of science for the rest of my life. Luckily, a dozen specialist lawyers were on hand to deal with my case though it made a big dent in my trust fund. Once again there were tabloids making me a one-headline wonder and a the serious papers ran articles on how I would find things very different, but these days they paid a reasonable sum, not the vast amounts that I'd been paid before when I was a one-headline wonder.
The lawyers go me out of there. I was surprised that time travel litigation was such a huge legal field covered by statutes and goodness knows what. I also learnt that I had certain rights and that my primary right was a right not to be kept in a medical facility! They made sure the hospital gave me all my belongings from the strongbox. One of those precious items was Ritchie's address card, though I had long since committed its details to memory. That card, once creamy white was yellowed with age and its surface was covered with delicate cracks. I hoped that it would lead me to Ritchie and that this time we could stay together, or maybe we could both travel home - to my home.
It did not take long to discover why Ritchle had found my time so cheap. A cup of coffee in a small cafe cost at least ten times as much as it had in my own time. Before i got used to the 'exchange rate' and the new currency, I'm sure I got ripped off a few times and I couldn't afford to waste my money. Money was a finite resource - my skills were out of date and though the modern day equivalent of the social services got me a resident's ID and a work permit, the only work I could find was as history teaching assistant giving lectures about my own time. The biggest drain on my resources was accommodation.
I quickly learned to give up smoking. Even after over a century the habit was strong. The cheapest cigarettes cost an unimaginable amount and I had to sign a medical waiver before I was allowed to buy them! In fact I had to sign my rights away for many things which I'd taken for granted. Burger and chips? Sign a cholesterol waiver. Cookies? Produce proof that I wasn't allergic to nuts. Public transport? Take out a relatively inexpensive policy with my preferred transport companies so that I was insured to travel in their vehicles. Private transport? Forget it - the tolls on roads were punitive, fuel cost a king's ransom and there had been so many revisions of the Highway Code that I didn't have a clue what most of the traffic signs meant.
One morning on a non-work day, I plucked up the courage to go searching for Ritchie. After a ridiculously expensive drink (non-alcoholic since I couldn't afford an alcoholic beverages permit) I caught a subway train to Ritchie's home town. The whole of the country was linked by underground train, leaving far more room above ground for housing. His home town was a large sprawling township spread across the sides of a hill. Most of the homes were in 10 or 12 storey high blocks and had 10 or so underground storeys as well. Britain hadn't caught the skyscraper bug, or if it had, it preferred to build them upside-down into the ground instead. The more affluent districts had 'normal' (to my mind) houses no more than 3 or 4 storeys high. I called a taxicab (from a firm which accepted my insurance certificate) and gave the driver Ritchie's address.
Kent Place (Ritchie's street) was a terrace of 3 storey grey houses built round a paved area in which a few sad looking trees had been planted to give the place some colour. The houses were identical apart from the paint on the doors. It was not an affluent area, but it wasn't run down either. It reminded me of the council estates where I'd done most of my home visits. A sanitation vehicle was sweeping the street and spraying it disinfectant. A pretty normal street then. Somehow, I'd been hoping that Ritchie was a millionaire playboy (okay, not a playboy - that meant too many women in his life) living in a mansion in its own parkland grounds. Instead, he was probably an exec or middle-manager.
My heart fluttering like a butterfly, I knocked on Ritchie's door. It was a non-work day so there was a good chance he'd be home, if he wasn't gadding about in some other time. It would be just my luck if he was seeing me, the old me, back in that other time.
An impersonal voice came from the security speaker.
"Please identify," it ordered.
"Liz Fielding" I answered impatiently.
"Please wait" the voice said.
Ritchie opened the door, his face seemlng younger than I last remembered. How many years had passed here while 'back home' our relationship had lasted only several months?
He was bare from the waist down (displaying a familiar well muscled chest to whoever might walk by). Somewhere inside the house a woman was giggling; her voice echoing in the hallway like chimes. I began to feel nervous, unwelcome.
At last the voice I knew so well spoke, "Yes?".
He seemed unmoved by my presence although I'd hoped he would have been pleased to see me. I'd hoped he had forgiven me about the child which was now firmly in the past.
"Ritchie, itís me!" I said, excited by the sound of his voice after the long years without him.
His blue eyes registered no recognition, only a faint distaste which made rue feel uneasy as though I did not belong. I realised that I looked older, but surely not so old that he didn't recognise me. The for a moment I wondered who I was trying to fool. I was no longer a 30 year old. I was a 50 year old woman chasing after a young toyboy.
"Iím sorry, do I know you?" he asked somewhat coldly, the same way I had asked the same question so long ago.
"Itís me, Liz" I said, feeling helpless "Donít you remember? You came to visit .me a long time ago." I had a feeling of deja vu.
"It must have been a very long time ago" he said icily "I donít remember any Liz."
"What about your son?" I ,asked in desperation, hoping to jog his memory "Donít you care about ...?"
I saw a side of Ritchie I had never seen before. His eyes became cold and stony, full of hatred as though he couldnít bear to think of me. His face set in a hard line.
"Look miss are you quite sure youíve got the right Ritchie Hallam? There arenít any more Ritchies you could have taken me for?" he asked viciously.
"Of course there arenít, look I've got your card." I knew that he could not deny visiting me if I showed him solid proof.
He took the aged card from me and laughed.
"This?" he asked "Come off it Liz or whoever you are, this must be about fifty years old, will you stop wasting my time with such obvious fakes!"
A female voice called out from the hallway. The owner was slender, aged about 19, and dressed only in a wrap-round. Her dark hair hung down her back, tousled by the same hands which had once tousled my hair. Her long slim legs were exposed as she leant gently against the wall. I felt disgusted. I now knew what Ritchie was doing when he was not with me. Ritchie turned to look at her and she ran a painted fingernail down his chest and pouted.
"Ritch" she said "to is it darling?"
Spitefully he answered "Some bird who thinks I know her"
"Do you Ritch?" teased the voice musically.
"I donít make a note of all my affairs" he said callously, "You should know that, Susie my sweet."
The girl laughed and pouted her lips. Tears stung my eyes. Where was the Ritchie I used to know?
He turned back to me "Look Liz or whatever your name is, get this, I donít know you and I definitely donít have a son! And I doubt you could forge a DNA assay to prove otherwise." He crumpled the address card in his hand and dropped it onto the street outside his door.
I began to protest at his behaviour but I knew it would not work. He did not care for me and I wondered if he ever had done.
"Ritchie, in 2006 you kept visiting me..." I was near crying. He gave a low exaggerated bow reducing his teenage girlfriend to helpless laughter.
"Correction - he told Susie "Someone thinks I knew her a couple of hundred years ago. Look madam," he spat the word out making me aware of my greying hair, "I wasnít alive a hundred years ago and I donít care about my previous incarnations, now will you leave me alone!"
Suddenly I realised what I had done. In tears, I turned and walked away. A long-ago conversation suddenly made sense.
He'd said, in that first meeting in my office, that he was not ready for my visit. I had come back too soon; I had visited him before he even knew me. I had caused the whole thing to happen. Why had he travelled back? Curiosity to find out who this older woman was? Or to try to stop his son from being born and then let the rest of history fall back into place with that one piece missing. Had our affair been unintentional when he'd met a much younger me?
Behind me, Susie spoke, this time spitefully, "If she thinks sheís from a hundred years ago shouldnít we ring the hospital? She might be dangerous."
I turned round and shouted at her. I shouted that I had been a sleeper, in fact I had been the longest surviving sleeper and I'd done it all because of promises her pitiful boyfriend had made to me in my own time (the latter was poetic licence, but I was angry). She must have recognised me from the news shows then because she shut up. But I realised that I had just been another girl in her boyfriend's busy life and that he had been free to visit me whenever he liked, in between his other affairs. Ritchie shut the door in my face, but I think I'd done enough damage to his relationship by then. Wasn't that what I'd tried to do when I got pregnant?
I had seen what Ritchie had really been like. He could have stayed with me for days and returned to his own time only minutes after he had left; he could leave weeks even months between his visits and I would never have known. In despair, I phoned for a taxi and I returned to my tiny apartment and my history lectures.
The stress of living so far out of my own time became too much eventually. The reason for being here had been taken away. I got my alcoholic beverages permit and drank too much. I couldn't afford to travel back to my own time and I didn't want to turn up looking 20 years older and have to face a barrage questions. What if I did go back? Would I be the driving force behind time travel? I didn't give a damn. Finally running out of money, I waived most of my rights and returned to the hospital as a resident. They could run their tests on me, determine the effects of long term cryo, whatever. Just so long as I didn't have to live in the damn outside world. No more money worries.
I kept certain rights. The right to access information, for example and the right to a monthly cigarette allowance (that galled the doctors!). And the right to be taken out once in a while (escorted, preferably by some young male medic) to shows, or to the park, or maybe to some historic building which I knew from before. And I got the lawyers to find out about Ritchie Hallam for me, and then I set to keeping an eye on him. It turned out to be one of my rights - to keep an eye on my however-many-times-great grandson.
Since signing most of my life away, I've lived as a semi-prisoner, semi-recluse in the hospital. My visit had triggered his interest of course. And yes, I was an intermittent hobby of his. But unknowingly I was his ancestor as well as his lover. From a distance I saw what happened when my other self had told him about the baby. He knew that he could not stay in my time and that I could not go to his - I would have been an inconvenient disruption. He couldn't face the responsibility.
And what of now?
Ritchie couldn't face the events he'd set in motion back then, but eventually he came looking for me in his own time. There's nothing left of what I was and he's changed a great deal. He's grown up a lot. Ritchie is fifty now. I'm eighty. I've refused life-prolonging drugs. He visits me in the hospital though I can hardly see him because of degenerative damage to my eyes (primitive cryo leads to a lot of degenerative damage in later life). But he's writing these notes for me and he listens to me when I ramble inanely. He doesn't love me these days, these modern days, but he does respect me and he told me that he did love me once.