Just For One Day

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Inspired by David Bowie’s “Heroes” and Stranger Things

“I have to go back.”

Mel sat on the edge of the bed, palming her coffee cup. She wore Stu’s shirt from last night. After uttering the words she dreaded, her head bent down and she took a deep breath from the collar. His aqua fir cologne still held the cold air prisoner. The chill slipped her back: to last night, to Times Square, the confetti dancing, the joy, the smiles; him holding her in his arms, his hand splayed on the small of her back. Her body went limp. For the first time, in many months: she felt safe from everything.

“Back…?”

Stu picked himself up out of the bed and rubbed his eyes. He could smell the coffee as it bubbled and popped on the hot plate a foot away. The morning light peaked around the edges of Mel’s head, giving her a crown. Her long, brown, wavy hair trickled down her back, adding balance to the white of his shirt.

She didn’t turn around when she said the dreaded words. She just stared out the window. That must’ve made it easier.

Mel sipped her coffee – light and sweet – “Yeah. It’s time.”

The way she said, “time”, echoed in Stu’s brain. Its warm finger pressed itself into his frontal lobe and pushed through electrodes and synapses, and it pointed – all the way – to Reality: at the center, where it chew and blew bubble gum.

“We’re happy here.” Stu got out of bed to pour himself some coffee.

“I’m not, Stu.”

“You could give it a try.” Stu poured a black coffee into the .95¢ Conway mug.

He walked to the edge of the bed – naked – and sat opposite of her. Mel sensed a stiff defense in his demeanor. He didn’t look at her, preferring instead to peer out one of the two windows that faced West 44th Street.

The wind kicked-up snowflakes outside; Mel watched two pigeons dance and coo on the sill as they warmed each other. Coffee steam glowed from their cups. The January cold invited itself in to their rented room.

“Happy New Year,” Stu said, “Here’s to 1960.” He raised his cup to the window.

Mel looked at him, “What’s so scary about 2016?”

Stu paused before his first sip, “Nothing.” He drank.

“Then why not go back?”

“We agreed to move forward together. Here.”

“I can’t. Not with you. I have to go back to my time.”

Stu chuckled. He took another sip of coffee, and began to look around for his underwear. “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me, again.”

He got up and hunted for his briefs.

Mel watched him stalk and sulk. She felt a lump in her throat tighten – the physical manifestation of worry. He knew how to control the wormhole, not her. Stu could be small sometimes, but not vindictive. He was always that way in college. He would get so wrapped up in professors playing favorites – anointing certain students and ignoring him. Not being special back then bothered him; she never heard the end of it. But she never knew him to want revenge. At least, she hoped: want revenge on her.

“This has nothing to do with our past.”

Stu found his underwear, “Doesn’t it though?”

“You have a wife and daughter. What are you thinking?”

“That we should be together!” Stu looked up as he slipped his legs through each hole, “That’s the way it should’ve been for the last 15 years! And now: look at what I can do!”

Stu waved his fingers in a circle, and the room seemed to twist. Lines on the floor warped. Air turned empty. Time became a blanket an angry mother pulled off her toddler’s head. It could bend and bleed, all in the palm of his hands.

Stu’s eyes glowed with something: power, maybe malice – he seemed possessed. Mel worried that he was gone, and they would be stuck in 1960 forever. The thought of permanent trespassing chilled her.

“You’re afraid.” she said.

“No. I’m not.”

“Yes, you are. You need to accept things as they are, Stu. I have to, too. I buried my husband a week ago.”

“Exactly! You’re so worried about – what? – formality? We’re in love! We’ve always been in love, Mel. Now I have this power – we don’t even have to worry about a divorce, or what people will think of us! We can go anywhere, and be us! Finally!”

Stu sat down on the bed next to her, and kissed her. She touched his face; they kissed, as though nothing could fall. He tried to push her down onto the mattress, but she pushed back. She pulled her lips from his, and looked at him: his thirtysomething face, still youthful but hurt. He was the talky, funny boy she met in acting class freshmen year. But as she looked into his eyes, she saw the loss. To be honest, she recognized it. In Stu’s eyes were the feelings she carried in her guts: the uncertainty of it all.

They broke-up.

They drifted.

They met other people, life moved on.

It was all fine and happy.

But first love… there is something about it.

“We fit here.” Stu said. “And if not: we can go somewhere else. The 80s, the 70s – we can go to the 20s!” The Great Gatsby was Mel’s favorite book.

“Stu…” Mel appealed. “I’m not telling you what to do with your life. But I have to go home. We had our time. I’d rather it stay that way.”

Stu felt his heart drop. His grip on her eased, and he slowly recoiled – his tiny dad gut pooching over his waistband. He fixed his gaze back out the window, and got up to see how the city wore its new year.

Only a few blocks away – through flecks of snow – he could see the rays of flashing neon, whale song car horns, people below crunching powder under their boots. 1960 was a good year to be an actor, he always thought. There was all the theater downtown, not mention the cafes on MacDougal. Bob Dylan wasn’t even there yet. He could make a life in this year. But he’d hoped Mel would feel the same.

“You remember when we talked about being born in the wrong year?”

Mel nodded her head.

Stu kept staring out of the window, thinking about Meryl and Mary. Meryl was turning four in 2016. She liked making snowmen with her daddy. It made winter special – even though Christmas always came and went too fast. Her laugh: it was filled with surprise, the kind you have when the world is so discoverable. Stu would chase her – lumbering as the abominable snowman, bearing teeth, howling at the clouds – before scooping her up. She would squeal as her feet danced amongst the snowflakes, her daddy helping her touch the sky. Mary watched from the porch, so pleased he was taking to fatherhood.

Life is wonderful.” He always told himself, “Life is wonderful. Try to accept that.”

“Stu…?” Mel got up from the bed. “I want to go home. Please take me home.”

Stu didn’t turn around.

He stayed quiet.

He thought.

And thought.

And thought.

“I love you.” he said, still not turning to face her. “I should’ve said that more.”

“I love you, too.” she replied, “You didn’t have to.”

“It was all easier, when we were younger.”

“It was.”

The silence sat for a little longer. Stu finally took a deep breath, and turned around.

“Okay,” he said, “get dressed. I’ll take you home.”

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