You always told me that there would come a time when I would forget you. You said that your face would fade from my memory, and I would forget the sound of your voice.
“Everything passes,” you always said. I never knew what your were thinking when you said those words. There was never any one scenario that fit those few syllables.
Sometimes, we would be working; sweating under the glow of the sun, toiling over the land that we had found for ourselves.
Or we would be swimming, relaxing in the stream by our home, floating down on the current without a care in the world.
Then there were the nights when we would look out on the endless horizon and into the skies, counting the stars together, watching the moon cross from one side of the world to the other.
Other times you would say it as you looked into my eyes and held me close, stroking my hair, touching me. Telling me with your soul that we would never be apart, though your words said otherwise.
I always laughed when you said that. Told you that you were crazy, and that you should just enjoy the moment. You always smiled after that, though it was not the happy smile I knew, and said that you loved me. Then I said that I loved you too. I don’t know how many times we repeated that scene. Dozens of times, hundreds, even thousands. But it was always the same, and I never believed that you felt so strongly in those words. I thought that it was just an old saying that you had inherited from your family, or some bit of wisdom you had picked up from your travels.
We spent many years together, and we were always happy. I never once thought that you would leave, that your urge to wander could pull you away, that it was stronger than my love for you.
But it did.
I think that I woke because I was cold. You always held me close on those winter nights, when it was completely dark and the fire had died. You would wrap your arms around me; entangle our legs and whisper into my ear, telling me that you loved me until I was once again warm and drifting into sleep.
I woke because I was cold, but immediately I knew that something was not right. You never rose in the night. You always stayed by my side, filling me with your love. But you were gone. I found you at the front door, standing on the stone pathway that we had laid together, when slipping on the mud had become too much for me to handle.
You had a bag packed.
I called your name and you turned, slowly, until you were facing me. The moon was low in the sky behind you and I could not see your face. I asked you to come back to bed. My voice shook.
“Everything passes,” you said. And you smiled that strange smile, and for the first time I knew what it meant.
Every time you had smiled, you had been hurting. You were Time, and it had pained you never to move forward, always to stay by my side, stuck. You had stopped everything for me, everything. It was a miracle that seasons had ever passed at all, without time, without you, to guide them along.
I tried to find the words that would make you stay, but I knew that there would never be any strong enough. Time was not meant to stop, but it had stopped for me. Because you loved me, you had stopped your journey.
But you could not stay forever. I saw that now, as clearly as the sky on all of those a cloudless days that we had shared together.
There were no words left for me to stay, so I only nodded, jaw clenched tight, fighting back tears.
You looked surprised that I did not try to stop you. Your mouth opened, and you tried to speak, but I shook my head.
You needed to go. We didn’t need words, not to say that. We never needed words to say anything at all.
Your smile was the first real one, the first truly happy one I had ever seen. All of those years, never being able move had been killing you. I didn’t doubt that there had ever been a single day that you had not been in some sort of pain, but now, you were freed of that anguish. Finally free.
Eventually you spoke again. “You’ll forget me,” You said, and there was almost a kind of sadness to your voice. I had never heard you sad before. “My face will fade from your memory, and you’ll forget the sound of my face. You’ll grow old.”
“But you won’t,” I whispered, somehow finding my voice.
“No,” you said slowly, “I won’t. Time cannot grow old. For if it dies, who will govern the world?”
You smiled at that. How ironic that the being that could not die would bestow his wisdom unto the one who thought that nothing would ever change.
“Not everything.” You came up to me, and held my face for what I knew would be the last time. “My love will never pass. I will always love you; that will never change. Never.” The kiss you placed on my head was so soft, I was not sure that it had happened at all. You looked once more at me before turning down the stone pathway.
I waited until I couldn’t see you anymore, until you had disappeared beyond the horizon, before going back inside. The suns were high overhead before that happened.
With you gone, things once again changed. Years passed.
On particularly long seasons I always knew that you had stopped for a time, though I never knew what might drive you to do so. I could only imagine that you stopped to be with people. It must have been lonely to live forever, always traveling without companionship, or friends. I imagined that even though you knew you could not stay forever, you relished in the connections that you made, because for those brief weeks when time stood still, you were human.
For those years you had been with me, you had been human.
It was summer, many, many years later when I saw another person again. I had lived a lonely life, except for my time with you, but I was not unhappy with it. I was out in the small garden that we had often worked together, though in my aging years I was reduced to simple crops that were easy to care for and harvest. I saw the figure coming up the stone path, which by now had long gone to ruin, since my knees would not suffer my tending to it anymore.
I wiped my hands on my apron and went out to meet the approaching figure. A young man, I saw, as he neared. The rest of my body may have been failing me, but my eyes were keen as ever.
He stopped a good distance away from me, his face shadowed.
I bid him to come closer, telling him that it was rude to be so standoffish in another’s home.
“Forgive me, Grandmother, I did not know that anyone lived here.”
“As you can see, I do. Will you come in or not?”
“If you will have me, Grandmother, I would be honored.”
“Only if you quite calling me ‘grandmother’,” I mumbled, turning into the house. I set a pot of water to boil, and sat my guest at a chair. He did not ask my name, and I did not ask him for his. He kept his face turned down, and I did not wish to see it, either. I busied myself in the small kitchen, preparing tea. I mixed in two globs of honey into both of ours, a sprig of peppermint into one, and a splash of goat’s milk from the nanny that had wandered my way a few months ago.
Placing the mug in front of him, I took a seat opposite the man and watched him stare at his drink.
“There’s milk in it, from a goat that came my way, but other than that, it’s the same as you used to like it.”
That brought his head up. Brought your head up.
“You thought I wouldn’t remember,” I said.
“I thought you might be dead. Though I had hoped… I don’t know what I hoped, exactly.”
“You’re exactly the same. Not one hair is different from all of that time ago.” Unwelcome tears sprang into my eyes; I blinked them away as best I could.
You sighed softly. “No, I haven’t changed. I don’t ever change.”
“And yet you came back, knowing I would be old or dead, or both. Why?”
“I couldn’t stay away. I love you too much.”
“Even still, now that I’m an old woman, bound to die any day now?”
“You won’t die for as long as I’m here.” You whispered, reaching out to touch my hand.
I withdrew before our fingers met. You looked shocked, and hurt, and I longed to give you my hand, but I would not let you see me like this, not after what you did. I loved you every day you were gone, but I could not, would not, stay an old woman past my given time.
“Perhaps you should leave then,” I whispered in a cracked voice.
You stood silently, just as silently as you had left all those years ago, and went to the door. I followed after you, planning to at least give you a decent send off.
As you took those first steps onto the stone path, I stopped you.
“Everything passes,” I said. “I’ve learned that now. I never believed you when you said it, but I do now. Everything changes. Except for one thing.”
You were completely still now; I couldn’t even detect any sign that you were breathing.
“I always loved you. All of those years I loved you, and I won’t stop loving you. Not ever. But you can’t stay here. It was killing you to stay with me. Some part of me always knew that, but I was selfish; I wanted you forever.” I took a deep breath before continuing. “But you can’t stay.”
The air was silent. I could only hear my own hear beating, and my breaths coming and going.
Then, you turned around.
I thought that I had seen happiness, that night you left, but that was nothing compared to the radiant joy that shone on your race. You rushed to me, spun me around, and in an instance, I felt lighter, freer, younger. Air moved around my hair and through my dress, though there had been no breeze before.
“Come with me!” You whispered in a breathless voice that shook, you were so happy. “Come with me, forever. We’ll be together always. That night, I had hoped you would understand, but you didn’t. You couldn’t let go of the world. You couldn’t let things change. But now… Now you understand.”
I gapped and sputtered, trying to find words “Understand?” I finally managed to say. “Understand what?”
“That you don’t need anything but me. And I don’t need anything but you. Time can never stop, but as the Wind you may follow Time wherever it travels.” You paused for a moment, and I could feel the euphoria radiating from you. “Will you come with me?”
I drew you into an embrace so close I felt that we could never be anything but one complete being.
“Nothing will pass between us,” I said to you, for the first time in my life, truly happy.