The Rachels

“I forgot I used to look so good. So young. You don’t feel yourself aging, you know? Degrading, as the years gradually go by. It’s only when you look back at the photos, the ones you’ve been allowed to keep, that you see the change. But to be staring it right in the face, literally, like this. Jesus. Really brings it home.” Rachel looked down at her hands, cupped in her lap, comparing them to the hands of the young woman, posed in exactly the same way, sitting next to her. Rachel’s skin looked like leather in comparison. Moisturizing had fallen by the wayside over the last three decades, like her commitment to anything else that served to better mind and body.

“Who are you?” the young woman asked.

“You’re not even trying. Look at me,” said Rachel.

“I am looking at you.”

“No. I mean look at me. Really look at me. Look at the mole under my left eye. Look at the birthmark on my cheek. Look at the tiny bald spot in my eyebrow, the scar from where I walked headfirst into-”

“The kitchen chair when I was small.”

“The kitchen chair when you were small,” said Rachel.

“Jesus,” said the young woman. The young Rachel.

“Risen from the dead,” said Rachel. “Well not exactly. Not yet anyway. I think. The how I’m here isn’t important. Only the why.”

Young Rachel said nothing, just listened. Old – but not that old for fuck’s sake – Rachel had forgotten how much quieter she was back then, how little she said. It made people, certain people, think they could walk all over her. And by God did they do their best, in their handmade Italian leather shoes.

“Life is good?” Rachel asked.

Young Rachel frowned, a quizzical smile forming. “I’ve no complaints.”

“No. You don’t. The truth is, Rachel. This is as good as it is ever going to get. Might not seem like it now, sitting at a bus stop about to go interview for a job you’re pretty sure you haven’t a hope in hell of getting. But today will be the day I, you, always look back on as the last one on which you were truly happy.”

“But I haven’t even done anything with my life yet.”

There was a loud hiss. The release of air brakes. Young Rachel looked around at the bus idling at the traffic lights, about to move in their direction as red turned to green.

“There won’t be a ‘yet’ if you get on that bus. Because if you do, you don’t ever get to do anything with your life. Nothing that you’ve chosen for yourself, in any case.”

They were the only people sitting at the stop, one which only one route served. The driver looked at them both, a little puzzled, as he slowed and then accelerated past when neither of them made a move to get up.

“I can always get the next one,” said Young Rachel.

“If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?” asked Rachel. “If I was you right now – and I used to be – it would be that awful tattoo you got during the summer. Believe me, you don’t get any more used to it, or hate it any less, thirty years from now. But tattoos are the least of your worries, Rachel. And you’re going to have a whole lot of those if you go for this job interview. Because you’re going to get it.”

“I’m going to get this job? I’m going to get the job I’ve been dreaming about landing for weeks now, the job I’ve always wanted…”

“The job you will come to realize you had no business getting.”

“And you’re telling me what?”

“To not get on the bus when the next one comes. Because the person who hires you will do so for all the wrong reasons. Once they lay eyes on you, they will never let you out of their sight, or allow you to make a single decision of your own. Until one day, the only choice you’re left with is to do something unthinkable. Something I didn’t think I’d be able to go through with.”

Young Rachel looked down at her phone like she was only half-paying attention.

“I have no idea whether this is real,” said Rachel. “Have I gone back in time to intervene at a fork in the road of my own life? Did my panic when I stepped off the roof cause me to slip into quantum space and end up here? Or am I just having the nightmare of all nightmares, as I lie in a coma somewhere with a brain bleed to end all brain bleeds?

“I have to think it’s the latter. I mean, Jesus, I would have thought an older version of me, from the future, appearing next to me, would be extraordinary enough to distract me from getting on a bus and going to something as normal as a fucking job interview. I’d be full of questions.”

Young Rachel stood up as another bus approached.

“Don’t get on that bus, Rachel,” said Rachel.

“Maybe I want to find out for myself if what you’re saying is true. And if I’ll have better luck changing things later. Maybe I won’t decide to step off a roof one day.”

“Maybe,” said Rachel. “And maybe you’ll remember how this little chat went. Just in case you end up back here like me. Maybe you’ll have better luck convincing the next version of you to not get on the bus.”

“Yeah,” said Young Rachel, stepping forward and readying her travel app as the bus pulled in. “Maybe.”

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