Photograph by Phil Sharp, Story by Chloé Esposito
I know it is. I can feel it.
I turn away and pull up my hood.
My cheeks are burning. I’m blushing. It’s stupid. It’s not like she’ll know who I am.
I hold my breath as she walks by. Her pace is brisk. She is sprightly for seventy. I wait until she’s a few feet away. She’s a blur in the corner of my eye.
I turn around and watch her back. She’s small. Smaller than I’d imagined with ebony hair that curls in waves to frame her ivory face. Her coat hangs down to her mid-thigh. Her frame is slim. Too thin, really. She carries a canvass bag containing what look like groceries.
She stops at a pedestrian crossing on the London Road.
I bite the inside of my lip and check my watch: 9.55. Oh my God. It’s almost time. The timing has got to be perfect. A second too soon or a second to late and the whole damn thing could blow up. I dig my nails into my palms. Just one more minute and she’ll be gone.
Aurora, come on. It’s now or never. I take a deep breath and exhale.
I take a step then hesitate. What am I going to say? Oh hi, I’m Aurora, your great granddaughter from 2068? No way. That would freak her out. And she probably wouldn’t believe me. Keep it cool. Keep it casual. I don’t want to alarm her.
I stride along the pavement towards her. We stand by the road and wait. She turns to look at me and I smile. I remember the old photograph, the one my grandma used to show me of her as a baby with Mary. The stories she told me of her mother all come flooding back. I get a tingly feeling inside. I can’t believe that I’m going to meet her!
She doesn’t smile back. But that’s OK. Her eyes are dark. The colour of midnight. I have the same eyes. How cool is that? I guess they run in the family.
‘Can I help you,’ I ask at last, ‘you know, to cross the road?’
She turns to look at me again. Her face is beautiful. It’s pale and creased with my sculpted cheek bones. She smells clean, like freshly cut roses.
‘I’m fine,’ she says. There’s an edge to her voice.
Oh, great. Now she’s offended.
The green man flashes onto the screen and she steps onto the road.
‘I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘I didn’t want to upset you. I can see that you’re fine by yourself.’
She glares at me. There’s a deafening roar as the bus approaches. Sweat beads prickle on my brow. My heart beats in my throat.
I grab her arm and pull her back. The bus misses her by a couple of inches. We fall together onto the curb. I cut my lip. Taste blood.
That’s it now. There’s no going back. I’ve changed history.
‘What the…‘ she begins.
‘I just saved your life. I’m like the opposite of the Grim Reaper. But now, you run with me.’
I offer my hand and Mary takes it. I lift her up to standing.
Mary’s hand is as cold as marble. She’s unsteady on her feet.
‘Run? My life?’ she says.
‘I know, it sounds really crazy, but trust me.’
I glance both ways down the street. No-one’s watching. The cars speed past. More buses. I pull her hand. We sprint down the road.
‘It’s this way.’
She’s panting, straining, breathing hard.
‘What is going on?’
I beam at her. ‘This is going to be awesome. Just wait till you meet my mum. She is going to be over the moon!’
She never met her gran.
I can’t believe how well this is going. I must be a natural.
We turn the corner onto the Mews. There’s a silver mist in a sphere. It shines like moonlight on the water. If you’re quiet, you can hear it hum.
‘We have one minute till the portal collapses.’
Mary is staring at the mist.
‘What is that?’ she asks, moving closer and reaching out a hand.
‘It’s a doorway to the future. Come on, we have to hurry. It’s the only one and if we miss it we’ll be stuck in 2018.’
She looks at me and then looks at the portal. Her eyes are as wide as a child’s.
‘You want me to go in there?’
I grab Mary’s hand.
I pull her gently into the mist. It’s suddenly icy cold.
‘We are travelling through time-space. It’s amazing to meet you, Mary.’
The boundaries of reality melt into nothingness. It’s just me and Mary now and an endless sea of potential.
‘Don’t let go of my hand,’ I shout over the deafening din.
My ears are ringing. The sound distorts. We have to shout over the roar of all the days and hours.
We run along a silver path to the light at the end of the tunnel.
‘But,’ she says, ‘my name isn’t Mary.’
‘I’m sorry, what?’ I reply.
‘My name is Gladys. Where are we going?’
It isn’t where, it’s when.
‘It’s nice to meet you.’
‘Oh Mary. Oh my God.’
‘So, this thing leads to the future does it?’
I’ve got the wrong bloody gran.
The light at the end of the tunnel approaches.
‘Please, can you just be Mary?’
‘I think I’d like to go home now,’ says Gladys. ‘I’ve had enough of this.’
We fall out into the future.
‘Mary. Please,’ I hiss.
My family are still standing in the place where I left them: my parents, my little brothers and sisters, my uncle, a couple of aunts. My mother steps forward to give me a hug. Tears fill her eyes.
‘Aurora, at last! You had us all worried.’
‘It’s fine. We’re here now, mum.’
Then my mother turns towards Gladys.
‘Oh, my goodness. Grandma, it’s you!’
My mother and Gladys hug.
Chloé Esposito is from Cheltenham and now lives in London. She has a BA and MA in English from Oxford University, where her dissertation focused on 19th-century feminist writers. She has been a senior management consultant, an English teacher at two of the UK's top private schools and a fashion stylist at Condé Nast. She is a graduate of the Faber Academy and is now writing full-time.
Phil Sharp was born in west london in 1979 and now lives in Tottenham with wife Rebekah and daughter Grey.
He works for various editorial and commercial clients and is london’s leading head shot photographer.