On my birthday I’ve gotten tons of wishes. People have been throwing their expectations onto me all day long, like they know what I want from life, assuming I’d want what they want. The typical ones are the most innocent—who wouldn’t want a happy birthday?—but those who longed for originality fall into two categories: wishing me a long, safe life in complex words on the one hand, or wishing me to somehow lead the way, like they’re not aware that frontline soldiers are the first to die. I haven’t yet decided which of the two categories resonates the most.
Good thing husband got me a garden swing. He placed it in the living room this morning since we have no backyard yet. Someday we will, he said, doubt in his eyes, his voice, his posture. But he tried at least, he tried to be positive, before kissing me goodbye, a quick kiss on the forehead, before he left for work. He promised he’d be back sooner than usual, to celebrate, he’d bring a cake, he said and winked, cause he knows cakes make me happy. I got you one more surprise, he added, but he quickly closed the door, before I had the chance to ask more.
He left me wondering. He never does that, it was so unlike him, I forgot all about the surprise and jumped onto the swing. I have spent most of the day on it, on that wooden swing in the living room—we don’t even have a porch or a balcony, how pathetic, I thought—but it’s proved to be more than a swing actually, a simple garden swing, its magical properties unveiled throughout the day, because of the day. I mean it’s not only my birthday, not only that Christmas in July thing, all about consumerism and stuff, it’s also the last day on the Mayan calendar, “the day out of time” it is called, a day to pause and ponder, and I hate pondering or wasting time, but I’m between jobs, husband says, I shouldn’t be sad, I should be patient, I have achieved a lot already in life and I nod when he comforts me, yet I still feel a loser.
I played Candy Crush and completed all levels, which means I have to wait two days for new levels to appear. This game never ends, which is soothing most of the time, except when this happens, when I finish new levels too soon, and there comes a gap in time, filled with existential anguish, a gap I fill with going back to old levels, playing them again—without the wish to finish them necessarily, I have already achieved that—and don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of myself, but then again, this gap, this empty time, feels awkward, unnecessary, like I’m trapped, my life suspended, like I can’t move on, like the game will somehow end this week, and I’m a champion but what comes next for fuck’s sake? What comes next if the game ends?
You won’t know it when it ends, my husband says from time to time, talking about life in general, not the game, in an attempt to soothe my existential fear, the midlife crisis I’m supposedly going through, and I pretend I’m calm most of the time, that it works, only it doesn’t. On the swing I closed my eyes and fantasized I was still in the nineties, but the way I am now, older and wiser, for I don’t want time to stop, I only want to be free of time, out of time. That’s how the magic began, the swing transformed into a time machine and I was there, young and carefree and wild, but of course it wasn’t magic, it was nostalgia, it was the Mayan calendar, my birthday, my mind working its way through boredom, through life, but it felt so liberating that I regressed even further back, to late childhood, when I listened to Gazebo and Italo-disco, or even earlier, back when my favorite song was “Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies, back when my favorite band lived only in cartoons.
Time travel leads to my favorite book. I can’t truly respect anyone who doesn’t like it. That’s why I’ve never asked husband to read it, maybe he never will. I don’t mind that, but if he reads it and doesn’t like it, I can’t even begin to imagine what the future holds. I get off the swing, take the book from the shelf and hold it, my all-time favorite book, and pretend I’m Holden Caulfield, privileged but grumpy, I care about where the ducks go in winter, while the world seems to forget them, I pretend I’ll run away, although I know I won’t. I have envied other people lives. I even envy my old life now, my own youth, so I start rearranging the furniture to make the past come back, or some of it. I try to take comfort in the thought that this life is my choice, I once was bored with the arrangement and changed it, but looking back on old photos, I can’t help but doubt my choice. I looked happier then. And I know well that someday in the future, I’ll look back on present photos and I’ll rearrange the furniture like it is now, at this moment, to bring back what will be missing, all that I have now and do not appreciate.
Now I move back to waiting on the swing, I’m waiting for the new levels, in the game, in life. I’m waiting for the future to be revealed, if there’s any left, or at least for husband to come home with the cake. Back and forth on the swing, my memories, my present, my lack of future or dreams mix into a cocktail that gets me dizzy. Where is the future? I wonder, my head spinning, when he opens the door, comes back into our living room, but I’m grateful he’s here beside me, holding the cake in a bag, grounding me back to present tense. This is a time machine, I tell him, and grab his arm, pulling him closer and he laughs, he laughs, as he climbs over me and we swing together for a while, kissing and kissing, until he slips inside me and we move, we keep on moving, back and forth, up and down, we make love on the swing, and that’s what life is all about, I think, it’s movement, I wish it were never-ending, like Candy Crush, but at least we move and move and move, up and down, back and forth, until that final burst of pleasure, that final release of energy. That’s life, I tell him, we’re still moving, I think, it doesn’t matter if we ever have that garden we dream of, as long as we move, but he doesn’t get it, the importance of the epiphany, he only says: I read it. You read what? I ask. I read the book, that’s the surprise, he says, and time stops, the world is ending, my heart is pounding, my hands tremble, he thinks it’s the orgasm, but it’s the ducks in winter, I can’t stop thinking if he cares about them, if he gives a shit about the ducks, it’s past midnight now, my birthday is over, a new galactic year is starting, as we swing back and forth and back and forth.
Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist from Athens, Greece. A Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions nominated writer, her work can be found in many journals, such as Litro, Jellyfish Review, Flash Flood, Moon Park Review, Okay Donkey, Maudlin House, Open Pen and others.
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