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Would You Change Anything?

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“You really should spend more time with her,” you whisper, hand still resting on the doorknob.

As you say the words, your blood runs cold. You know what is about to happen, you don’t want it to happen. But it already has happened.

Ian’s frown pierces you, despite the darkness of the hallway. “What do you mean?”

You take your hand off the knob and walk past him into the room the two of you share. You hear him behind you, following you, despite his efforts to minimize noise so Hannah wouldn’t wake up. “Lou, what are you implying?” He hisses.

Every breath, every moment about to pass is flashing before your eyes. Years later now, you’ve become accustomed to the near constant flow of information, seeing your entire life at once, so it’s easy not to get lost in the lake and forget what is the present. Or get caught up in the despair of the future.

Tonight, you feel everything about to happen. Tonight, you feel everything that’s going to happen ten years from today. Tonight, you feel everything.

You sit on the edge of your bed, not bothering to turn on the lights. You’d rather not see his face, the expression that’s about to cross it is one that has haunted you since you first remembered it. Remember. More like premenber. No matter how many languages you study, you know you’ll never find a word to accurately describe what it is to remember the future. Not quite a premonition, not quite “seeing the future”. You remember it, the same way you remember yesterday and your eighth birthday. You know the word in heptapod, but that is but a picture in your mind. Not something you can speak out loud.

He turns on the lights anyway. It doesn’t matter what you try and do, you can’t change what is going to happen, because you’ve always done it and you’ve always failed to prevent it.

“Louise, please talk to me.” He kneels in front of you, taking your hand. “Do you think I’m a bad father?”

The look in his eyes is pleading with you to say yes. Fuck. Ian is smart, of course he would know you are about to talk about one of two things. Either you are picking a fight about his work schedule, or there is a reason you are telling him he should be spending more time with Hannah, that he will wish in the future that he spent more time with Hannah.

Suddenly the light softens into sunlight and you are pressing your forehead against his for the first time in years, desperately clinging to his hands, both of your cheeks dripping with tears. His eyes are squeezed shut in pain. His second wife is clinging to his arm, her face pressed against his shoulder. Your funeral blacks are warm under the sun that is too cheery as they lower her body into the ground...

You blink away the memory, drawing yourself back into the present. You find that your eyes are brimming with tears and you shake your head.

His face falls, and then his head. You want to pull his bowed head onto your lap and pet his hair, but you know what comes next. And you don’t.

He raises his head and stands, then swiftly turns and punches the wall. It caves in beneath his fist. He doesn’t move to disengage from the new hole in the wall.

“What happens to her,” he says, his voice flat, lacking the usual upward flick of inflection that functions as a verbal question mark.

“You don’t want to know that,” you say.

“Yes. I do.” He speaks tersely, staccato words. You can hear the strain in his voice. This is taking so much out of him.

You take a deep breath. You have never spoken about this with anyone so specifically. “Cancer,” you say.

His shoulders slump and start to shake and he finally removes his curled up fist from the wall, turning to face you slowly. His expression is crumpled in despair.

You fight the urge to stand and embrace him. He needs to be angry right now, he needs to be angry at you.

“You’ve known the whole time,” he says, his voice accusing. “Ever since that day in Montana, I was right beside you when you knew.”

You simply nod, tears beginning to leak from your eyes.

“You’ve known. You’ve known.” He rubs his face with his hands. “And you still had her.”

You nod again.

“Louise,” he says, his voice breaking, “you don’t have a soul. Not anymore. They took it from you.”

Your heart still breaks as he says the words you’ve heard him say a million times in your head. A fire rises in your chest, lifting you up to your feet.

“She was already real for me,” you hiss at him angrily. “She was already real and our daughter. Even if I could have chosen to not have her, that would have been like killing her myself.”

His expression is unreadable.

“I don’t have free will,” you say, a sobbing tone creeping into your voice. “I have already seen everything in front of me. I can’t change it any more than you can change your past. I have no control in my life. I was always going to have her. I always have had her. She was always going to die.” Tears are flowing freely down your face now in a constant stream.

He shakes his head. “I know that. That’s exactly what I mean. You’re not human anymore. You’ve had to make these decisions that aren’t really decisions that no human can make. You aren’t human, You’re too much of a heptapod, or something in between.”

Your stomach churns anxiously because the words he is saying are questions you’ve wondered about yourself. Even knowing he was about to say it doesn’t diminish the sting they carry.

He turns away from you, rubbing his mouth. “I can’t stay here. I can’t be with you.”

“If you could see your whole life laid out from start to finish, would you change anything?”

“Yes.” He doesn’t elaborate. You don’t need him to.

He walks towards the door without farewell.

You don’t ask him where he’s going, you already know what he’ll tell you in the morning.