As Time Goes By

You are all worlds,
and all princes, I,
Nothing else is.

The first time he saw The Assassin she was stepping off the train at Union Station. She walked with a sparseness of movement, as if gliding through the crowd without touching the grimy concrete they all trudged on. She stopped momentarily at the broken escalator and the world above lit the soft curves of her face.

“Anne!” he called. She turned to look at him. A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. Then she disappeared into the throng of commuters, just like that.

Twenty minutes later Tom was sitting across from Anne at their favorite ramen place. Anne slurped her ramen in dainty little bites and sipped from her spoon with her pinkie up. He liked watching her through the steam rising from their bowls. She always ate with a mesmerizing seriousness. When he ate, the bowl filled his field of vision and the entirety of his world was salty broth and long noodles. Every time he came up for air, she would be smiling at him between her deliberate little mouthfuls.

This was their typical Friday night routine: ramen at Tomago’s, a movie from Netflix, sex on the couch, and then a dreamless sleep with her rosy cheek in the well of his shoulder. The next morning they would make chocolate chip pancakes with sliced bananas and real maple syrup. She would make coffee in the temperamental moka pot the way only she knew how, and then they would eat on the couch tickling each other with their bare feet.

“I saw someone who looked exactly like you today.” Tom said.

“Well you know the theory: Live in New York long enough and you’ll run into your doppelganger.” She took a tiny bite of her soft-boiled egg and then let the custard-like yolk mix with the fatty broth.

“It was strange though. I had the sense she recognized me.”

“Was she hot?”

Tom burst out laughing, nearly choking on a mouthful of noodles. Anne lifted one perfectly tweezed eyebrow.

“Well, she did look like you,” he said, in what he hoped was a suggestive manner.

She winked and he felt his face grow warm. It has been five years since she kissed him that night in their dorm and he still felt like a nervous schoolboy around her. Five years and she is still the only person who can make him laugh.

She was thinking: It’s been five years and he still eats like a starving grad student.

“Doppelgangers are supposed to be bad. They’re a personification of death sent as a warning according to some mythologies.”

“What’s the point of a warning if it’s inevitable?” Anne asked. “I prefer the Star Trek doppelgangers. Consequences of parallel universes crashing into each other actively trying to conquer other timelines. Did mine have a dark goatee and speak with an evil voice?”

He laughed again.

He said, “I know what we’re watching tonight!”

They got to Union Station right as the lights of their train appeared at the end of the track.

“Perfect timing!” said Anne, hopping on one high-heeled boot and then the other. She was still giddy heading to his apartment. To Tom, everything about Anne was bright: her eyes, her cheeks, even the cloud of steam that her breath forms between them on the chilly platform. He reached out to brush her hair from her face, but really to feel the silky strands glide through his fingers. She tickled his stomach and laughed.

Suddenly, he felt a dark figure gliding through the crowd as if her feet did not touch the concrete. The same concrete on which Anne hopped from one high-heeled boot to the other. He turned, but like a shadow the figure seemed to move just beyond his sight.

He heard a scream. The next three seconds he later replayed over and over again in his mind until they felt like years. The events unfolded like this:

He saw Anne fly off the platform.

He saw the dark figure standing where Anne was.

The Assassin turned her head and looked at him.

The train screeched into the station.

After that, he only remembered the screams.

Later they told him the screams were his but he didn’t remember screaming. He didn’t remember doing anything. He didn’t remember existing.

For a long time afterwards, he couldn’t sleep. Everytime he closed his eyes he saw her face. Not Anne’s face, full of brightness and pinkness and laughing eyes, but The Assassin’s, cold and pale. He would sit in bed shivering from the memory of it until morning. Later when he learned to drink until the world faded, he could see them both in front of him: Anne as he last remembered her, a strand of hair falling in her eyes. Anne hopping from one foot to the other. Anne screaming. The Assassin turned her head and looked at him.

They had the same face.


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