A storm was coming, building from afar but for certain on its way. If you told that to anyone other than Ahsa Mirai they would laugh, given the stagnant and balmy conditions at present. But Ahsa wasn’t in her present, well, not in the way most people are. Hard as she tried, she could not remain there for too long as her tendency to slip into her visions of the immediate or distant future would overcome her at any given moment. It’s an odd affliction, you see.
Ahsa collected her things from the clothesline hanging across her backyard, gathered up her shoes from the porch and anything else she didn’t want to get soaked and brought them inside. She caught sight of her mailman coming up the walk. Skipping out to meet him she waved a cheery hello.
“Hey, Mr. James,” she said.
“Well, hey yourself, Ahsa, how’s your day?” he said, handing her the mail over the low picket fence.
“Oh, fine, just fine, just getting things into the house before the big weather, ya know. Going to get my storm windows out of the basement and put them on today. How are you?” she answered.
Mr. James was used to peculiar words coming from this unusual young woman’s mouth but still he looked quizzically at her. Standing still, he looked up and around at the cloudless blue sky, the birds chirping merrily in the surrounding trees, the sun shining brightly, then looked back at Ahsa. He simply nodded and smiled, gave her a wave as he took leave of her to finish his deliveries on the block.
Ahsa knew what he was thinking but there wasn’t a thing she could do about it. Other than share her thoughts and visions with others if she deemed it of use to them, she mostly remained silent with the people of her small town community.
Hurrying back to the matters at hand, she let it go, knowing Mr. James would remember her words once the torrential downpour did arrive less than twenty-four hours from now, and scratch his head. She grinned confidently to herself as she ambled back up the steps of her front porch.
Knowing the future ahead of itself was not such a terrible thing. Mostly. What was more alarming to Ahsa was that she was told many years ago that she would begin to forget her past, an element of her condition that she was in fact beginning to catch glimpses of in recent months. Dr. Alain DeMain, whom she had worked with since childhood, had told her in no uncertain terms that this would very likely be on the horizon for her, a kind of forgetting that would occur incrementally and eventually wipe her memory database clean.
“Look, Ahsa. You know your future, so I know you understand who you will become, who you will be with, if you will have children and all that,” he said.
Dr. DeMain never asked her the details of her special insights but merely advised her on how to cope with it.
“Your future is mapped out. Be sure to let your people know you will need them to be your link to the past. Be your memory. When that is gone, they will be your living archive to the past,” he explained.
Dr. DeMain was the one to encourage her to keep a daily journal and to buy a good camera, to start recording all the important events through writings and sketches, take photographs to fill in all the other gaps, which she began doing right away. The camera became the most defining possession she had. The chronicling of her own life events gave way quickly to the capturing of life’s subtle moments, too: the bloom on a spring flower, a hummingbird at her feeder. The angelic face of her neighbor Anna’s smiling baby boy. Her father playing his clarinet in his later years. And she was able to tune her own rhythm to the seasonal changes that were nature’s way of recording the passage of real time.
“You see, Carlos, well, it’s hard to explain. But it’s like memories are upside down and inside out. You can probably conjure up all kinds of events and conversations that you’ve had over the years that evoke a whole range of emotions. That’s becoming a vacant spot for me, in my mind, do you understand? It’s a blessing in some ways, I mean, I don’t hold grudges, or have regrets. Lucky me,” she laughed. “But I also have no barometer for my life or ability to understand its arc … like what did I say or do that determined my present or this future course? I can’t connect any dots.”
“But you’re only twenty-seven. I mean. I don’t really understand. So. You don’t remember anything from the past? I mean, do you remember the first day we met? Or going to the party? Will you even remember our dinner together tonight?” he said, perplexed by it all, a bit distressed as he really liked Ahsa and wanted to spend more time with her, build something.
“Oh, yeah, I’ll remember this! It’s not that immediate. It’s mostly older memories I can’t retain and it’s pretty subtle right now, but it will get more difficult as I get older. I keep a journal with me all the time. And keep photo albums to stay grounded. Without them, I’d be really lost! I have over 300,000 photos up in the cloud, isn’t that something!” she said. “And there will be lots more photos to take!” she added with a laugh, hoping Carlos would share this new information easily.
It was their third date and things were still so new, he didn’t know her very well but she already knew, of course, where their relationship was headed, so she wasn’t too worried. But she felt he should know about her memory issues, with losing sight of the past. As for her ability to know future outcomes and timelines, well, this detail, she would keep to herself. For now.
“I’m like most people, Ahsa,” he said, putting his fork down and placing his hands one on top of the other across his heart. He was a gentle soul.
“Time is such a mystery. I try to be present to fully experience things as they happen. And I dream and I plan, I construct and envision my future, hope for the best things for myself and everyone I love. But who knows how things will ever turn out. I like that we can’t know, that we can only speculate or imagine the things to come,” he said.
Ahsa just nodded silently.
“As for the past, I cherish my memories, the story of ‘me’. I have done so much in my life, I love to reflect on it all, it makes me feel warm inside and connected to everyone I’ve ever met,” Carlos said, letting his hands slowly return to the table, palms resting face down on its surface.
“I’m sorry for you, Ahsa, in a way. I know this must be hard?” he continued, wrinkling up his forehead in a questioning manner, unsure how she would react to his perception of her most unusual dilemma.
“I’m used to it. It does take the surprise out of life, though,” Ahsa said.
Carlos nodded, looking into her eyes deeply, so eager for more explanation and clarity.
“What surprise?” he asked, not understanding her comment.
“Did I say ‘surprise’? Oh, um, I don’t know what I meant. Can we talk about something else?” she said, as the waiter arrived just in time to provide the perfect distraction, setting down their second course.
What Ahsa didn’t tell Carlos that evening was that she had seen him coming a mile away, she’d just been waiting for him to appear. She had known him well before he arrived, his warm hazel eyes, his thick black hair tied into a loose ponytail. She knew the way he walked and the sound of his deep and gentle voice, the way his laugh gave away his ease with life.
She heard his whistle of an old traditional tune from his native Ecuador. She had felt his touch on her face and his kiss since she was a child, wondering who this mysterious man was infiltrating her thoughts, this person on her horizon.
Carlos Ayer had walked into her life just the way she had known he would two days before her twenty-seventh birthday. Working at Berryman’s, the local boutique in town on that Saturday afternoon, she looked at the clock on the wall expectantly, awaiting his arrival.
“Excuse me, Miss. Can you help me pick out a dress for my sister Rita? She’s about your size and your age, I bet you have a good eye,” Carlos said with a bright smile. Ahsa turned around to face him, to face her future right then and there in that moment in time. The continuum had caught up with itself for a flash of a moment.
“Of course, I’d love to help!” she beamed.
“Fantastic!” Carlos said.
“Well, let’s see, your sister is turning twenty-four so something light and fun. And I bet her favorite color is blue?” Ahsa said.
Carlos blinked twice at her and said, “How did you know the dress is for my sister’s birthday? And her age? Her favorite color…”
Ahsa thought quick on her feet, she had always needed to.
“Oh, I must have been thinking about my own birthday coming up, is all. And just guessing her age. Lucky guess, huh?” she said with a nervous smile.
“Oh, OK. Yeah, you’re good at this I guess,” he said eying Ahsa with curiosity, still a bit stunned by this mysterious and exotic creature before him with such unbridled intuition.
“When is your birthday?” he asked.
“Day after tomorrow. Now, let’s see, these are my two favorite dresses in the boutique right now and we have both of them in her size…er, my size, therefore…probably her size,” she said, hoping not to call too much more attention to her gift of foresight.
By the time Ahsa had wrapped up the pretty dress in a gift box for Carlos, they had made plans to meet for coffee after she got off work.
Stirring a bit of sugar into his espresso, Carlos wondered about this beautiful young woman sitting across from him and the fortuitous nature of their meeting. He could have walked into any boutique in another part of town but his luck and fate had taken him to hers. Setting his spoon down, he lifted the demitasse to his lips and took a sip, never removing his eyes from her luminous face.
“Tell me something about yourself, Ahsa,” he said, placing his cup back onto its saucer.
“What would you like to know? I’m pretty much an open book,” she said.
“Surprise me. Pick a page from your book, then,” Carlos said, with a wink.
Ahsa thought about how she would not be able to answer this question so easily to a stranger one day, she would not have access to that book. It would be gone for good in the coming years, as if to go up in flames in a house fire. She blinked and thought a minute more about what she wanted to share with Carlos, knowing what she knew about them, their future, the things only she could know.
“I play the piano. I love learning the old Scott Joplin rags. They’re so full of life! So energetic and upbeat. But, oh so complicated, too. I used to drive my dad crazy while I was practicing the ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ when I still lived at home with him. That was the first song …” she stopped abruptly, surprised and grateful that she was able to recall that moment at all. “Um, that was the first Joplin tune I learned,” she said, recovering herself from the momentary freeze-frame of thought.
“Lately I’ve been working on Joplin’s ‘Stoptime Rag’. I’ve been at it for a little while now. Maybe I’ll play it for you one of these days ….” she drifted off, knowing of course he would hear her play that song and so many others often in the years ahead.
“I’d like that. I’d like that very much,” Carlos said, and he smiled so warmly she could feel the heat all the way to her toes.
“Listen,” he said. “Why don’t you come to my sister’s birthday party next Saturday at my parents’ house? It’s only proper, after all, you picked out the perfect dress, and … what is it, Ahsa?”
She was overcome with emotion, holding back tears she looked swiftly away to hide it from Carlos. Of course, she would be there. As though it was happening at this moment, she was feeling and knowing all at once how beautiful the day would be, how much she would love his family, how easily she would fit in like a missing piece to their puzzle. In due time.
Ah, time, she thought. It’s so impossible, why must she experience it so differently than everyone else. She composed herself in order to meet his gaze and answer his question without betraying her thoughts.
“Sorry, I just had a speck of something in my eye,” she cleared her throat. “Carlos, I’d love to go to your sister’s party, thank you, that is so sweet of you to invite me,” she said.
It would be months into their relationship before Ahsa felt Carlos would be ready to absorb the other time-related element of her mind’s inner workings. Carlos had professed his love for her by now and shared his beautiful vision of their lives together. He had been painting the picture for her in exquisite detail: their future home, their children, their summer travels, all perfected for them in his adoring ruminations. Relaxing on the beach together that afternoon, the timing and setting all felt right even without the internal cue marked on her mind’s calendar from years ago.
Carlos listened carefully as Ahsa explained it all to him, taking the information with a certain degree of consternation. Though, like everyone who met Ahsa, he had almost come to expect it. How ironic, you might say. But such as it was, he wanted to learn everything about it. He wondered how it would be to live without the element of surprise. To know one’s life ahead as clearly as knowing the words to a favorite song. To know so certainly one’s fate just as one knows the sun will rise in every tomorrow.
“So, what happens with us? No, wait,” he said, holding up his wine glass before she could speak. “No, no. I don’t want to know. It’s strange enough that you know. But Ahsa, how can you … live with that? The knowledge of what’s to come … I can’t even begin to understand what that is like,” he said. Carlos took a big pull of wine from his glass, rolled it around in his mouth to fully taste it, then swallowed, searching her face for some answer to the question.
“It’s hard sometimes, yes. I can’t block it out, it’s there. So, I’ve learned how to be very accepting. And patient. And I try to help other people and steer them out of harm’s way if I can. But it’s not in my control. It hurts if I know someone’s marriage will dissolve, and when, well before they even feel an inkling of it falling apart. And my dad … I knew how he would pass and when and …,” she started, feeling saddened as one would with a painful memory, though for Ahsa, she had lived with the knowledge of it her whole life.
“Do people ask you to tell them about that stuff, like how things will turn out for them?” Carlos asked, suddenly intrigued.
“It’s blurry. I mean, it’s not my life so there are details missing. My clarity is with my own life, so if a person intersects deeply with mine then I can see more. But that’s how I get out of that fix with inquisitive friends, I just tell them I don’t really know! And, well, not many people really know about my special ‘gift’, if you want to call it that,” she said.
“Well, I just know our story turns out great, my love,” Carlos said, lying back on the sand to take in the expansive view of Ahsa against the flawless backdrop of sea and sky. “It’s all gonna be perfect, I just know it,” he said. Ahsa nodded to him and gave him a knowing smile, set her glass down and snuggled her face into that special place on his chest, lay there listening to his heart beating, strong and true.
Ahsa peered out the window to look at the clouds parting slowly. Though she didn’t need to. She knew the storm would pass today well before its last crack of thunder. The kids were due to arrive home within the hour and Carlos was on his way back with his sister Rita and his mom, ready to celebrate birthdays once again. To celebrate lives well lived. The skies would be absolutely clear by then, the sun would warm things up.
She grabbed her camera and went into the garden to take a few snapshots of the clouds moving apart, changing and shapeshifting, becoming something new from one minute to the next in a perfected passage of time. She stood still to feel the sun on her face. Our life together is beautiful, just as Carlos said it would be, she thought. As perfect as it could ever be, better than one could ever know or even imagine.
© 2020, Mary Corbin
Future Perfect is from the “Sentences” collection. Featured artwork: “Eye on the Ball #2” – painting by Mary Corbin. No reprints without permission. This story was published in Scuzzbucket, Dec. 2020)