Louise sat, having a cappuccino, working on her laptop. She was just thirty, but there was a certain weight to her. The sort of thing that used to be called gravitas. She was engrossed in her work. Maybe that’s why she didn’t notice Matt until he sat down across from her.
“I’ll only be a minute,” he said. “I can’t stay, really. I just wanted to have a look at you.”
And he looked. He was around her age, maybe a few years older.
“What?” Louise asked.
He shook his head. “God. I’ve dreamed of this moment. Is that your new novel you’re working on?”
“Matter of fact,” Louise said.
“I’d so like to know how it ends.”
“Who are you?”
“My name’s Matt.”
“Do I know you?”
“You can’t. it’s impossible.”
“Darn my luck.”
“Not what I meant. I know you’re not going to finish your book. Where are you now, the middle of chapter three? Laura’s come back to work the day after her husband’s death. That wonderful section where the father, Nick, takes his son back out of the program.”
“How can you possibly know that?”
“In about two minutes, a pedestrian will cross against the light. A car, a red, I think you called them Mini Coopers, will swerve to miss him. The driver will lose control and the car will go up on the curb, pinning you to the cement and killing you instantly. The hard drive in your computer will also be destroyed, but you back up to a cloud, which is why we have the first two and a half chapters of your novel. We also have all your notes. Donald saw to that.”
“How do you know about Donald? Who are you?”
“Donald’s great, great, great…” he had to count it out in his head, “Great, great grandson.”
“Grandson. You’re my husband’s great, great… grandson. Which would make you my great… etcetera grandson too?”
She waited, not understanding any of this. How he knew the things he knew. A practical joke of Donald’s? A stalker? She waited for him to go on.
“Where I come from, we can do a lot of things. Travelling into the past is one of them. But we’ve lost a lot too. We have many different realities, I guess, but none that we create. Your novel, “Ruler of My Heart,” unfinished as it was, was one of the last great works of art in the history of the human race. It’s a tragedy you were never able to finish.”
“The red mini?”
He nodded. “After the accident, Donald is broken hearted. Eventually, he gets over it, marries my…” He began to count again “… Great, great, great, great, great grandmother.”
“Lucky for you I died.”
“Definitely. But, as I said, the incalculable loss to humanity. I’m a professor. Twenty-first century American lit. I’ve read what we have of your book at least a dozen times.”
“And I so much, so much want to read the rest of it. That’s my tragedy. Do you see?”
“I’m afraid I really don’t.”
“I’ve come back to keep you from dying.”
“If this, it’s impossible, but if what you’re saying is true and if you really can do that then you won’t exist.”
“You do what you can to make the world a more beautiful place.”
“So we won’t have had this conversation.”
“You’ll finish writing, go home to Donald. And I expect you’ll go on to write many more wonderful books.”
He looked at her. At her computer.
“How do you propose to save me?”
“Are you familiar with what they call, “The Butterfly Effect?” It was named for another of the wonderful stories of your time. The idea is that if you change the slightest thing in a time stream, it realigns the entire future.“
She looked at him. He was staring, just taking her in.
“Louise Winters. My God, it’s been an honor.”
He reached out, took the spoon from her saucer, and put it on the table.
She followed his action with her eyes. When she looked up, he was gone. And she wasn’t looking for anyone. She was just looking up, maybe trying to think of the next sentence in her book.
There was a loud honk of a car horn. The sound was followed by the sound of someone swearing.
A pedestrian was crossing against the light. The driver of the car that almost hit him was shouting at him from behind the wheel of his red Mini Cooper.
Louise took that in. Just another urban moment. Didn’t mean anything special to her. She took a sip of her coffee and got back to work.