The young man stood back as the half-dozen mourners drifted away toward their cars. One or two eyed him suspiciously, but he ignored them. He wasn’t in the will, the family had nothing to worry about. She’d left him nothing they would value.
They’d met too late, or too early. Interviewing the old lady for his article on the town’s history, he’d expected rambling memories. Not that brilliant mind behind the faded eyes, her rich humor and wisdom. The uncanny bond that warmed so briefly, between the twentyish reporter and the dying, nonagenarian dowager.
The undertaker’s people slid away in their hearse, leaving the young man alone, his only companion the patient sexton with his spade, waiting to cover over his first and truest love.
Click. Click. Spin.
Her friends had always kidded her about her crush. Don’t tell her about Brad Pitt, they said, or Daniel Craig. She’s got the hots for a guy been gone six hundred years.
She’d first encountered the writings of Wilhelm von und zu Meuerheim in high school AP History. A 16th century military genius, polymath, mystic, composer of sacred musics. Her most precious possession was a crude woodcut purportedly to be of the old knight: the hooded eyes, eagle nose; the gently humorous line of the mouth either the artist’s genius, or a slip of the carving tool, she never knew. But his face watched over her studies year after year, decade after decade.
She never married. Friends said she was in love with a ghost, and she never denied it.
Click. Click, click. Spin.
In a teeming slum somewhere in India, a child died of dysentery. On a yacht in Monte Carlo harbor, as her slim, tanned friends clinked crystal, a princess felt a sudden piercing pang of grief. She looked eastward into the growing dawn, and abruptly set down her champagne. “Hey, what’s with you?” they asked.
“I don’t want any more,” she said. She had the strangest feeling she’d lost her best friend in the world… and she’d never known who he was.
— What is wrong with this thing?
— What’s the problem?
— I’ve been trying to get these two souls together for ages, but I can’t make the wheels work. They just won’t match up.
— It’s worked for millennia.
— Well, you try.
A train station in Italy, shabby, noisy. Jammed in First Class among her chattering fellow tourists, she looked out her window and saw him. His train was just pulling out in the other direction, laden with football fans waving brilliant scarves and singing at the tops of their voices. He was laughing and singing with them, but something had caught his attention so that he stopped and looked across the gap just at the moment she did. Barely three feet away, she saw her own shock of recognition reflected in his face. But she’d never seen him before.
Inexorably the heavy trains slid in their opposite directions. She never would again.
— That’s not right.
— You see?
— Let me look. Oh, that’s it. See there.
— You think? I tried that.
Thirteen-year-old Achmed huddled among the vegetable baskets in the back of the pickup truck as his father handed over his papers to the Israeli crossing guard. Other guards climbed into the truck itself, looking under and into every basket, their suspicious eyes and cold black gun muzzles focused on Achmed and his mother. He tried not to see any of them.
Then some instinct made him raise his head. A few yards away another Israeli soldier stood guard, his uniform dusty and sweat-stained but his rifle gleaming. Amid the dust and heat, the soldiers’ fierce hate and distrust, the cold fear that knotted Achmed’s insides — a brief meeting of glances. An astonishing sense of meshing, of falling into bottomless, welcoming, deep dark eyes, warm and safe…
A truck beeped impatiently from further back in the line. Achmed’s father accepted his papers back and accelerated the truck. They pulled away as the small car behind them drew up to the guardpost.
Two minutes later came the explosion. The guardpost behind them vanished in the familiar crimson bloom of flame, the up-piling black smoke. Particles of metal thudded into the backboard of the truck. Up in the cab, Achmed could hear his father curse in astonishment, then relief, and then laugh. “By Allah, that was close!” But all Achmed could feel was a terrible, terrible sense of loss.
— Oh, that worked great.
— You’re right, there’s something misadjusted… There. Now try it.
Headed for the front door of the dormitory, he looked up, and there she was. Standing in the wide plate-glass window on the second floor, her hand on the cord of the orange venetian blinds: the prettiest girl on campus. His heart stopped. She couldn’t have been looking for him? It was their first date, he wasn’t late. But she saw him instantly, and grinned, and beckoned. His heart racing, he headed for the dorm’s entrance, but even before he got there the door opened and she was waiting…
— There you go. That worked. They should be set for fifty, sixty years now.
— Thanks! You — uh, you wouldn’t want to stay and watch over them with me, would you?
— Well, I… Well, yes. Yes, I’d like that.
Ellie Tupper writes in Maryland.