I had a couple notes scribbled down from a few months ago. I used them as a prompt for today.
Gwyneth O’Connor left a note. Saving David. Back before breakfast. Her parents called the police. Her friends answered questions as best they could, but all they could do was admit Gwyn meant what she wrote.
“Who’s this David?” her parents asked. “Is this a boyfriend?”
The girls shook their heads, and Billie put both her hands on the table and leaned forward. “He doesn’t even know she exists!”
The police officer tapped a pen on the table in front of Billie. “Is she stalking this boy?” the officer asked.
Another girl tossed her head back and laughed.
Billie gave the other girl a quieting look. “Of course not.”
“What’s her meaning here? Saving. Is this a religious thing?” the officer asked, frowning. The officer turned to the parents. “She join a cul—a new religious organization or something?”
Gwyn’s father shook his head.
The officer sent the girls on their way, after making them promise to let the adults now right away if their friend contacted them. “But she won’t,” Billie said. “She isn’t going to call. We’ll know everything’s okay if we see her again.”
Gwyn’s mother gasped. “You think she might not come back?”
Billie stood up with the other girls and gathered her school things. “There won’t be anything to come back to.”
The officer’s frowned deepened. “Now don’t you go scaring the young lady’s parents.”
“She’s going to do it,” one of the other girls blurted. “She will. Just you wait and see.”
Gwyn’s mother burst into tears and the interview was over. The police assured the parents they’d do all they could. A few more questions were asked and and a recent photograph was handed over.
When left alone, Gwyn’s father sat at the kitchen table, staring at nothing in particular. “Since when did Gwynnie ever want to save anyone?”
Her mother swallowed a pill meant to calm her nerves. “What do mean? Since always. Didn’t you ever notice she was born that way?”
Gwyneth woke up on a park bench in New York. It had worked just like the witch promised it would! But she hesitated. She was in the right place, but was she at the right time?
On a nearby bench an old man read a newspaper. Casually as she could, she stood up and stretched. Then as if she had nothing on her mind at all, she strolled by the old man, his newspaper, and his ratty bags of belongings. She knelt down in front of him and pretended to tie her shoes, but she looked up to check the date of the paper. January 8, 2016. She smiled.
The old man jerked his paper to the side. “You the girl?” he barked.
She startled. “I’m just tying my shoe.” She stood.
“You’re kneeling there smiling at me. The hag said you would.”
This confused Gwyneth. “I wasn’t smiling at—what do you mean, hag?”
He rolled his eyes. “All right, girl. Witch, if you prefer. The witch that flies around these parts and stirs up trouble.”
Gwyneth didn’t know what to make of that. She had been to a witch. But her witch was in London, and almost no one believed in her. What were the odds of this man knowing a witch as well? A man she happened to meet in a city she’d never been to before? “What was her name?”
“Aye, you fool girl. What witch ever gave her true name. You bet your last dime whatever name she gave me ain’t the name she gave you. You don’t know much about witches, do you?”
“They help with wishes,” she replied. What could one expect of some obviously homeless man in a park. He still bothered to read an actual newspaper! Even her dad read the news on his phone.
The man laughed. “They sure do. Their own.”
“Then what were you doing talking to one? If you don’t like them, why did you listen to one tell you a girl would be here smiling at you? Which I wasn’t!”
He folded the paper haphazardly on his lap. “Girl, I’m old enough to know better, but not old enough to stop wanting a bit of trouble. And I’d like to save David too. I really would.”
Gwyneth stared at him. “You know about David?”
“You’re not quick, are you, girl?” He snorted and picked up a brown bag that had been hidden away between him and sacks of belongings. The bag was twisted and shaped around a bottle of some kind. He took a long swallow. “Why do you think I’m here? Why do you think I got mixed up with the hag, I mean, witch.” He wiped his mouth with his ratty sleeve.
“But what’s David to you?”
“He holds the universe together, and I’m part of this universe too.” He paused. “Though I may not look it.”
Gwyneth reddened. “Of course you look it,” she said. “I didn’t mean you didn’t.”
“You did, but that’s okay. We already know you got a lot to learn.” He tucked the brown bag and its contents into his coat pocket. “Now, let’s you and me see what we can do about David.” He pushed himself up from the bench. “He won’t be far from here.”
“Um…” She shifted from foot to foot and dragged her fingers through her hair. “How can I trust you?”
He shrugged. “However you want.” He walked away, stilted at first, but more purposely after a few steps.
She ran to catch with him. “You know where he is?” she asked, aware suddenly of the puzzled looks they were getting from passersby.
“I do my homework, girl.” He’d left all his sacks behind, but he didn’t appear to care. “The ha—witch tell you about the catch?”
By his tone, Gwyneth figured he’d rightly assumed her answer. “What catch.”
“There’s always a catch, girl. I can see I’m going to have to teach you a lot.” They exited the park and faced a busy New York street. “Second lesson—”
“What was the first?” The light changed and they crossed the street in the midst of a crowd.
“Really not quick,” he mumbled. “That a witch don’t ever give her true name. Got it?”
“What’s your name?” she asked as the reached the next curb.
“That’s not the right question!” He pointed to their left. “This way.”
Gwyneth couldn’t believe how fast this old man for looking like he did. Back in the park she’d assumed she could outrun him. Now she couldn’t even walk at his pace. “What’s the catch?”
The man nodded once, sharply. “We can’t save David for us.”
“What?” The sick feeling that she’d grown accustomed to since David’s death exploded back into her heart. It had vanished when she met the witch and made her deal. “But who else are we saving him for?”
The old man came to a halt. People behind them stumbled and cursed before marching around them. “This ain’t about us! That’s the biggest lesson there is, girl! And I’m not moving another step until you understand that.”
“But…” The old panic returned. The dread bloomed and uncurled itself like a strangling vine. “But we need him.”
“Aye, we do. But that don’t matter. When you save someone, you don’t do it for you, no matter who it is. You save them for them. And he won’t owe you a thing. You save him for you, you’re gonna think he’s yours. And he ain’t.”
“But everything’s falling apart with him gone.”
“Things’ve always been falling apart. But they make something new and that’s where you are. That’s the universe. You hold everything together the way things are and there ain’t no point. We’ll be stuck.”
“Why did the witch tell me can save him then?” Her skin burned with outrage in spite of the cool breeze.
“I can’t reach you everything in a day, girl.”
He held up his hand to stop her from saying anything else. “I don’t want to know today. Now we got only a little time left. Are we saving him or not?”
Gwyneth nodded. “I told my parents I’d be back before breakfast.”
The old man began walking again and he laughed. “You didn’t tell them which one, did you?”
“No, but they’ll assume—”
“That’s their fault for assuming. C’mon now. Take a right at the next corner.”
She hurried alongside him, pondering the deal she’d made and what she was really getting herself into. Back home, her mission had seemed clear.
He came to another abrupt stop. “Down here,” he said. “That’s where the photoshoot is going on.”
“Oh the last one! The one that gave us that beautiful photograph? I cut it out of the paper and have it pinned to my wall.”
“Course you do, girl. Now get going. Time’s a wasting.” He looked at her face. “You’ve traveled through time and lived to tell about it. The time to hesitate has come and gone.”
And with her heart beating at breath-taking speed, she walked through the door to the room where she’d save the universe, just not our own.
Gwyneth’s parents stood in her room. Their fear and guilt and worry tangled themselves up together and rooted them in place for a long time. They would never remember how long they stood there.
“That’s strange,” her mother said, staring at the wall over their daughter’s desk.
“What’s that?” her father asked.
“Why would she pin a photograph of nothing on her wall?”
“Who?” The man scrunched up his face as he looked around.
“Who?” the woman asked.
“Who are you talking about?”
“Was I talking about someone?”
“What did we come in this room for?” He scratched his head. “I hate it when I do that, come into a room and forget why.”
“We really should clear this old junk room out,” she replied. “I can’t even remember where we got half this stuff.”
The couple returned to their living room, where they sat down across from each other, her on the sofa and him on the wide, comfy chair. She picked up her book and he looked at his phone. A new song came over the radio.
“What are you listening to?” the woman asked.
The man shrugged. “This is that new song by that David Bowie fella.”
She made a face. “I never liked him. And he’s too old to be acting the way he does.”
“He shouldn’t have been acting like that when he was young.” He reached over and turned the radio off. “I can’t imagine who likes that stuff.”
And they sat together in silence, reading and untroubled.
Thank you for reading!