Christal had grown up as the replacement child, the third of Mr. & Mrs. Lord, for their first had been taken & given back to God. When Christal broke that barrier & turned back time to have a chance to rescue the girl whose death had given her life— she saw her own life floating away before her eyes & drown out of existence. She thought of all the memories that would be wiped out, even her very existence, but in that last second, she knew it was better to save a life by curing a death, even if it meant preventing a birth, & so she pulled the girl whose face she knew as well as her own, but whose face had remained frozen at the age of eight, from the dark waters that now engulfed them both. Flooding in tandem with the memories of living in her dead sister’s shadow, Christal had lived, in another life & dimension, in her living sister’s light, where she was no longer the replacement child, but the surprise one.
When the world no longer aged, learning did not cease but development did. Husbands loved their expectant wives with their rounded bellies & tiger mom stripes, & the mothers loved their little one(s) within, who floated as if in a state of suspended animation, the mothers, in suspended celebration. The babies born were loved for who they were & who they would never become. Developmental milestones became a thing of the past; educational milestones became the next big thing. There were no more birthdays— just calendars marking each day since the last birthday had been celebrated; there were anniversaries, however, for Time continued marching on, leaving a lighter bootprint with every passing year.
It was an era of endless childhood: of childhood sweethearts who would never marry, of teenagers who would never know wisdom, of young parents who would never become grandparents, & of grandparents who would never pass away. Those who loved their age loved their lives; those who wished to be young again would be old forever; & those who wished to grow up would never know independence, for no matter how much they learned, they would never mature. There were no more conceptions or births, no more deaths from old age but unnatural causes. Those who loved what they did would do it seemingly forever, & those who did not could not bear an eternity of hating their livelihood, so they went back to school in acknowledgment & the reclaiming of their perpetual personhood, for they had all the time in the world.
In this reverse Groundhog Day, where the days changed, but the routine did not— the world began to live in an almost hypnagogic state, for the only promise of tomorrow was that it would come. For some, this cessation was the spring of eternal life, for others, a never-ending winter. And for those who were too young to know any better, it was all they knew.
Her childhood had been sweet, filled with marshmallow hugs & chocolate kisses, of butterfly, angel, & Eskimo kisses, of kisses that flew from her hands like cosmic dust to decorate the sky, & of kisses from Grandma from that gold-paved paradise over the rainbow; of stork bites & tales from the Cabbage Patch, & monsters in the closet & under the bed that disappeared with the always precise aim of Mom’s crafty glue gun; of make-believe games & make-it-yourself puzzles; of art class with junk mail scraps & broken crayons, & a refrigerator that had become a museum gallery, with Lego magnets holding up hodgepodge collages; of music class with the laminated lyrics of hymns, folk songs, & Christmas carols; of PE in the park, field trips to everyday places, & lunch where cookie butter & Nutella sandwiches were always on the menu; of science class on the beach & Sunday school under the trees; of math class with numbers that had special significance— in her life or the lives of others or the history of the world; of a 24/7 library with fairy tales, folk tales, & tall tales, & thick scrapbooks that told the family history— the history she would end up repeating— that of happy marriages & childhoods, with written instructions & real-life examples on how to make them happen.
The frazzled, second-time mama, whose nerve endings were frayed, grieved for the time she robbed from Penny to spend on Polly, for the times she snapped at Penny because of Polly, & for the times she did not even hear Penny because of Polly, whose color of hangry ranged from tomato red to beet purple. As the principal of Sally Jane Richards’ Homeschool for the Housebound (& wife of the dean) cradled her colicky cuddlebug, her other hand reached out to reassure her doodlebug— this shiny new piece of change who had come into her life without a heads-up & put her into a temporary tailspin— that Book Club & Reading Club, Math with Monopoly Money, A.M. & P.M. Bingo, Wheel of Fortune-inspired Hangman, & Alphabet Soup & Word Salad with Bananagrams, had to wait for the not-so-secret formula to do its disappearing noise magic trick.
Her somewhat purpose-driven life had been collaged in snapshots, headshots, & group shots— in publicity poses, private portraits, & random selfies; in the stories she told about herself & about those who had known her before she had lost her name upon marrying & after she had found herself in Jesus’ name— these stories to which she bore false witness of herself, friendly witness to those who had righted her, & hostile witness to those who had wronged her; in the texts— sober & slightly tipsy— that she had sent to friends, enemies, & frenemies; in the filtered & unfiltered social media posts & comments everyone saw; in the footage that had captured this vain weather girl, this false prophetess who wore rain boots on sunny days, & this sometimes-misinformed meteorologist. Her life had been cataloged in the memories others had of her— from the barroom & the college of her twenties to the breakroom & the church of her thirties. And the patchwork life of Summer Storm was pieced together after her mysterious disappearance— when she could no longer defend herself— becoming a legend only because, like a hurricane, she had done her damage & vanished.
Since reaching late thirtysomething, Anne had wanted to know what it was like to have a child who would tell her she loved her without prompting, & the awareness she saw in the weeks-old bundle was sometimes more than she had seen in the years-old bundle who was crawling towards the age of accountability. As she looked at her children, one cradled in one arm, the other, snuggled under the arm that had yet to fall asleep, she knew there was not one daughter she preferred over the other, for how could one choose a right eye over a left? This mother— a family tree whose feminine, blue-eyed branches reached for the sun in opposite directions— brought the fruits of her labours closer to Solomon’s twin fawns. When Anne of the 1000-plus days looked to her husband, the king of her 900-square foot castle, she saw confirmation & absolution of her beliefs, reflected & shining from within the deep green pond, for to this ageing former head-banger now headmaster, they had the best of both worlds: a child who may never leave them & a child who may know well enough to do so.
The little blind child, who cannot touch Santa’s beard; the little deaf child, who cannot read Santa’s lips; the unborn child, who exists because two people were under lockdown but who may never see his or her grandparents except through a screen or glass; the lonely child, from whom kindness and touch is denied him— like the Romanian babies of Communism; the poor child, whose needs remain at the bottom of the pyramid; the special needs child, isolated from others like her but loved without pre-existing conditions— who sees Santa in a way no one else does, sensing his spirit in her parents, if not his presence in strangers.
Since coming of legal age, she had voted her conscience, though this time, she knew it wasn’t so important that others knew why she voted the way she did, but that she knew why, & she needed to justify to no one of her reasons, which were her own. In remembrance of a life well-lived, she recalled her grandpa’s words when someone had asked who he was voting for, & he had said, without apology & without hesitation, “None of your damn business.” She realized then that just as everyone had a right to their opinion, no one had a right to hers.
She didn’t yet have a name, but she had a job— to someday watch over the sister, whom she would never outpace in age, after their parents had returned to Heaven; to watch over the sister who some saw as a cute little dot on a wide spectrum— this blitheful child who wrote in smileys & spoke in echoes & laughed at movement, not jokes, & whose dreamlike gaze noticed the page numbers but not the words. But as the mother looked at her rapidly expanding belly that contained an entire universe of being, she wondered if this unknown quantity would outpace the one outside her body; for every parent’s worry about their child whose needs were different than most was Who will love them when I am gone?