There were too many people in his way. Not literally, although there were some of those, too. Groups of tourists huddled around guides explaining the Abbey in English, Mandarin and French. He easily side-stepped them. It was the other people in the way, the people he’d left back home in New York and the grave markers making up the tiles of the floor, that kept him from reaching Sir Isaac Newton’s monument.
Every year he made this pilgrimage, drawn to Newton by some force of gravity the philosophical mathematician had neglected to document. He had a sense of urgency, but there was no deadline. This year would be just like every other. All that awaited him was Newton, reclining on his own sarcophagus while the Abbey windows reflected colored light across the dead like a prism, which somehow made it all more profound.
Don’t miss it. Miss what? Something, miss something.
Finally, he stood in front of Newton. His heart pounded for no good reason, and for the hundredth time, he wondered when he wouldn’t have to come here and stand on this exact tile, staring at that globe which looked nothing like the earth.
He willed his feet to move. Stupid, stubborn feet. He was doomed to stand in this spot until Newton sighed with pity and the sun hid behind Parliament.
After a few minutes, or hours, he heard a scuffle near his feet. Tearing his gaze from the monument, he looked down to see a storm of red curls near his shoe. Her hair couldn’t possibly be that red, it wasn’t natural, but when the girl picked herself off the floor, the rays of light shifted, revealing that her hair was, in fact, the color of a blood orange and grapefruit cocktail. She couldn’t have been more than five years old, and she looked up at him with a curious expression.
“I was born on Christmas,” she announced.
“Just like Isaac Newton.”
“Who is that?”
“That guy right there.”
She studied the monument for a long time before she responded. “My mom says everyone in here has been dead for a very long time. Except the people walking around. I made her promise the people walking around are still alive.”
He smiled. She was a charming little thing, and her voice was confident and clear, like she’d had a lot of practice talking to adults.
“Where is your mom now?”
“There,” she turned and pointed a pink-tipped finger behind where they stood. “She said she’s seen this one before, a long time ago, but she’d wait while I looked.”
He craned his neck around to see, and his knees buckled. She had the same soft curls as her daughter, but her red had less spark. Her red was weary. A Sex on the Beach instead of a Shirley Temple.
He looked back at the monument. Newton’s head was politely turned away, so he walked toward her, and he found that his feet were more than agreeable.
Those big round eyes crinkled at the edges, and she was just as beautiful as she’d been five years ago.
“Chelsea,” she called, and the little girl ran to her side. They held hands, and the woman’s feet looked as cemented as his had been moments before.
In front of her, it was his voice that now refused to work, so she spoke first.
“I named her after the city where she was born.”
“We had a nice place there. Do you still work for World Bank?”
He nodded. His mouth formed shapes, but the ache that overwhelmed his chest threatened to vocalize, so he closed it.
He looked down at his left hand, which hadn’t much looked like his hand for the last few years. The way he held it, so that it covered her hand in his line of vision, made it look familiar again.
This was where their lives together had ended, standing in front of Sir Isaac Newton just over five years ago, and he wanted to go back and fix it. But what had been broken then, would still be broken now. And between them, was Chelsea, who frowned at the pair of them with lips shaped like his.
The urgency retreated. There was nothing left here except the dead, and he walked out of the Abbey, his heart splintered with loss like light through a prism, which somehow made it all more profound.