Soulmate Part 3

3

“So you see, I’m not the only one,” Kate said. Talking to Susan, though not about how her first day had gone or, how the week was shaping up to be a week from hell with Satan’s triplets. But about the ad she had found in the Herald Tribune. She sat in the quiet of her tiny Flat. Like that explained everything. It was a place deflated of air with no room to breath. Dressed in her pyjamas, curled up on the new couch, newspaper in one hand, glass of red wine in the other. The phone wedged in against her neck. She kicked at the lone cushion by her feet.

“There but for the grace of—” she was about to say God but she didn’t believe in deities. 

“It does sound romantic,” Susan gauged her words, “but are you sure it’s written by a women?” The last garbled from eating something and talking at the same time. 

“Definitely,” came the reply, “I think?” And then, to herself, Kate thought. Did it matter?

“Well I’m not sure. That reference to baseball makes me think the poster is a man, and—” Susan left her words in the air. Unconvinced and not sure where all this was leading, but, knowing her friend as she had for over 25 years, anywhere. 

Kate had only been back from Canada a scant couple of months and already Susan felt she was planning to leave.

“It’s only an ad in the paper, and an old one at that.”

“Not so, it’s last week’s, and—” Kate countered, she wanted to say more but Susan continued.

“Honestly, Kate—” There was that tone, Susan was loosing her patience, “I don’t know why you read those things. I mean, who’s to say who posted the ad and what it means.”

Kate felt she knew exactly what it meant. “They sound genuine.” She added, as if convincing herself. 

“Listen Sweetie, the ad wasn’t aimed at you, you know that don’t you? And anyway, it might be some sort of—” 

Crank?

Kate listened but couldn’t stop thinking about the ad, who had placed it and why. Other than the obvious that is. Was it a joke, or was someone really looking for that all-important person. And with an ad in a newspaper? The whole idea that someone had gone to such lengths grabbed her attention and now, wouldn’t let go.

“Are you there?” Susan’s voice demanded.

“Eh—yep.” Kate said round a massive yawn. 

“Yeah, I know, I’m such a bore when I pontificate.” Susan teased. 

They said their goodbyes. Susan reminding Kate she was up in the Lake District for the next couple of days and would be on the mobile if she wanted to call. Knowing full well her friend wouldn’t last a day or two without phoning. 

Susan might have dismissed the ad but Kate went to bed still pondering who had placed it. And in the Tribune of all papers—one of her favourites.

To be continued …

Soulmate Part 2

2

Office life was as chaotic as it had always been. Frantic one minute, dull the next. And, as always, accompanied by the usual assortment of zoo personalities; clashing, creeping, manipulating and gossiping. It was only lunchtime on her first day and already Kate knew there was talk about her, behind her back. Some things never changed.

She had a small team of three and wondered how she was ever going to get along with any of them. They were three aliens who had landed that morning in her office, from another planet. They spoke another language, looked at her as if she were a dinosaur. Which, in truth, she was. And worse, they were not above sniggering to her face at her seeming ignorance. She so wanted to stick it to them; but, she was only hours into the job.

Kate hadn’t been on the book side of publishing for sometime, not since leaving New York back in the late 80s. Twenty years was a long time, maybe too long. Comics, magazines and publishing technical manuals were just not the same. All the contacts she had once amassed had long since moved on. She faced an almost insurmountable uphill struggle. And yet, here she was.

What had she been thinking? And more, what had HC been thinking when they’d said yes to her and hired her on the spot? They must have been desperate. 

Just how desperate was she, she wondered.

Things had changed, as her first morning had proven. And even though it was up to the three aliens to help her adapt, they weren’t too eager to make the transition easy. Her life was a little like Lipton Chicken Noodle soup right now. Thin, watery, with little, if anything, in the way of real substance or sustenance.

Surrounded by a sea of strangers, Kate sat in a coffee shop down the road from the office. The lunchtime rush was as different as it could be to the one she’d been familiar with while living and working in Montreal. And, in fact, Melbourne and New York. Whatever the city, people were people. They all wanted their coffee and sandwich like NOW, in big caps. And all without so much as a please or a respectable thank-you. 

Where had politeness gone?

The way of dinosaurs, like her, she surmised, heading for the bone-yard. She was a forty something holding a well-thumbed paperback, who sat alone in a corner. All the while surveying a generation that lived on speed dial. Speed Dial and text messaging. She doubted anyone in there knew what a book was, let alone spent valuable time reading them. What was worse, she had the same feeling about the three aliens assigned to her desk.

The thin emaciated waif’s voice of the trio rang in her ear.

“Don’t you know it’s all about the marketing, look at the Da Vinci Code—” 

Code? It was a damn enigma.

Kate sighed and leaned back. She eyed her overpriced plain black coffee and tuna wrap with all the enthusiasm of one eating their last meal. They received not even a second glance as her appetite escaped her. She opened her book, Glory Road, to read it for what seemed like the millionth time, or was that the twentieth? 

She ate out of necessity. But neither the food nor the book could distract her from stray thoughts that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe even on the wrong continent, or the wrong planet. She dropped Heinlein on the table and apologised to the man staring up at her from the back cover.

“Not today good sir,” she nodded at his genial face, “even you cannot take me where I want to go.” 

Out the corner of her eye, hung on the wall just behind her, Kate spied a rack of local and international newspapers. She smiled. The owners were Arabic and, as were their want the world over, always provided their customers with an impressive selection of newspapers.

Arm outstretched she snagged a crumpled copy of the daily Guardian. And, sitting, did something that again made her almost laugh out loud. She turned to the pullout section marked jobs. 

“Okay, Susan’s right, I’m in need of some serious therapy.” She mused, talking to herself. 

She reached back up and stuffed the paper where she had found it and spotted two other familiar titles two rows up. She grabbed them both. One was a copy of the New York Post, dated the previous Thursday. The other a copy of the international version of the Herald Tribune, also dated the previous week. Here was something she could read and, although neither would take her away from herself, would at least give her a smile. If London was a well-ordered zoo, then New York was the wild safari park. One the daily Post delighted in letting you know about with every sordid little detail they could dig up on the residents’ lives. 

In a world of her own, blocking out the noise, Kate flicked through the pages. She scanned headlines and absorbed snippets of old news while she ate. A slow process on both counts. As twice, while reading the Post, she all but choked on a dry piece of wrap when laughing at something that had caught her eye. The Tribune was a little more conservative in content. It covered news stories from across the world’s stage. She had always liked the international Tribune for getting that other point of view on world events. Especially when she had worked in New York. It had supplemented her daily read of the English papers she bought on the walk into work from the subway. 

Having scanned some of the headlines, Kate turned to the back pages and looked up Births, Deaths & Marriages. She scanned the handful of announcements. It wasn’t like the Daily Telegraph were they announced what the Royal Family’s plans for the coming week were. Or which society ball or function was taking place. This was more mundane. Nothing as sizzling as the ads that had run in the now defunct Private Eye magazine. Where people in debt to the tune of seventy thousand were willing and able to do anything, anything, to pay off said debt. 

Kate had always wondered just who these people were and if those ads had been for real. It was a little scary what some people would do for money. Just what would they do for love? And just how far was she willing to go?

Roving over a column her eyes stopped on a box-ad near the bottom. Her heart skipped a beat.

‘Dear Soulmate,’ the ad began, ‘I’m sorry I missed you. Truly I am. But life was ever complicated…’

In small neat 8 pt type, the ad announced to the reader that the Poster had watched them from afar. Watched everyday, at roughly the same time, at the same place and, lacking the courage, had never approached them. Now, time having passed as life had, and with only this one regret, the Poster would like to meet.

Written beneath was the familiar address for the Metropolitan Museum in New York, followed by a date and time. The date was this coming Sunday, March 12th. Her birthday, Kate noted with surprise. Twelve-noon till closing it said. She assumed the Poster meant they would wait that length of time. Wait and then—well. She knew how that went.

Kate swallowed hard on the tight little constriction in her throat. How sad, she thought, and then realised this person could be her. Another lost soul reaching out for that one person in a sea of humanity.

Okay, and how gullible am I? She thought. 

Standing, Kate folded the paper and shoved it up under her arm as she left the cafe. She was already late for work.

To be continued …

Soulmate Part 1

1

THE AIR WAS damp rather than chilly as Kate Mackenzie stepped off the back end of the big red double-decker bus. Which was nothing unusual for an average winter’s day here in London. If it snowed in the heart of the city you knew the rest of the country was in dire straights, or, at the least, up to its proverbial ankles in it. She smiled to herself and pulled her coat collar up round her neck. For someone who’d just spent the last three years living in Québec, she was thankful it never snowed in the Big Smoke.

Kate hated London, it was the last place on earth she wanted to be right now, but here she was, back in the rat race. Working in the acquisitions department of HarperCollins, back at the science fiction desk. Where it had all began. Even though, this time round, she had moved up a few levels. That was only because of an impressive resume. She had racked up the miles never mind the years. 

She now headed for the office on this, her first day back at work. And, it seemed to her, Hammersmith and the city itself hadn’t changed. Not in the twenty or so years she had been away working her way around the world. 

London, New York, Melbourne, Montreal and back again to London. 

All that was missing in the mix was Paris and she’d have herself a perfume ad.

So, has nothing changed? She wondered. Or was it that she hadn’t changed? After all, here she was, back at a job she knew well, back to a place she had thought she’d left for good. She had come full circle. Coming back to where, though? 

Kate stopped dead in her tracks much to the annoyances of those in the flow, who now bumped her to show their displeasure at having to go round. 

No, nothing’s changed. She thought and, glancing up, apologised to the worker bees. People, no different to her, making their way to their own beehives. 

Why did I come back? She thought again. And not for the first time. Adding, What the hell am I doing?

Too many years dashing round the planet waiting for her life to begin, with the last handful spent in Canada. Three long years spent with someone whom, for the most part, she had felt affection for. Someone who had touched her with kindness and yes, she had, she thought, felt love for them. But in hindsight, maybe it had only ever been affection. One that had never grown to anything let alone bordering on love. 

At least, not the love she had hoped for. Not the love she dreamed about. Not the all abiding love, the one that would light up her life. The kind of love you only found with a soulmate.

Soulmate? Who was she kidding?

Kate laughed out loud, a sour sardonic sound that brought stares from passers-by. She began walking and, head bent down, followed the throng toward a nondescript building. One slotted in amid many others that hugged a curve along the street as far as the eye could see. Dipping and weaving she dashed across the road mindful of the throng of private cars. Black handsome cabs, trucks pumping out black diesel fumes, and the ever-recognisable red London buses that clogged the street to a near standstill. 

She was in no danger of a hit and run, unlike in Montreal where, without a doubt, doing this she would have been someone’s hood ornament by now. Montreal drivers and, Québécois in general, were the worst drivers on the planet. The cheap little car she’d driven in while making a living at UbiSoft, wore several dents and scrapes like badges of honour. Taxis in particular were blind to the red hexagonal Arrêt signs posted on every street corner. Drivers were content to sail across every junction in some perverse game of chicken. 

Ah! Montreal. 

It was no doubt under feet of the white fluffy stuff right about now, Kate thought. She pushed open the big heavy double doors and entered the foyer of HarperCollins. 

Her first order of business on reaching her assigned office space was not coffee, like some. Nor dropping off her bag before heading for ten minutes of gossip in the Ladies. Where, no doubt, the discussion would be the weekend’s escapades. Tails about who had gotten drunk, who’d screwed who and who was flirting with who in the office. Instead, Kate slotted herself into her chair and, with a practiced ease, flicked on her computer screen. She picked up the phone and, with her thumb, dialled a number she knew off by heart: Susan’s.

Kate had ten minutes at least before anyone got around to remembering there was a newbie in the department and zoned in on her. She waited for Susan to answer the phone, the soft burr of the ring-tone comforting in her ear.

CLICK.

“Hello?” The voice was full of sleep but as familiar to Kate, as her own Mother’s.

“Hey there sleepyhead, did I wake you?”

“No. What time is it?” The voice asked round a large yawn.

“Nine. And you should be up and at work yourself, shouldn’t you?” Kate teased her friend.

“Ha! Some of us were up late last night. Do you know how hard it is to juggle so many balls all at once?” Susan replied in good cheer.

Susan ran her own business. She was a one-woman circus. She taught kids of all ages how to do trapeze, eat fire, to juggle, and more, how to have fun. She often worked weird hours and did a lot of kid’s party weekends. Kate knew she’d been doing a couple of gigs this weekend. One reason why Susan had not been able to spend the weekend with her, in London, before her first day back on the trapeze act, as Susan would have it.

“So how’s the gig going?” Susan asked, the phoned buzzed in Kate’s ear. Susan was on the move. Kate could hear her friend clattering cups and the like in the kitchen making the inevitable brew of tea. Earl Grey, hot. She wished she were there with Susan right now having a little tea and sympathy. There was nothing like it, especially when Susan dished up both.

“Well, I’ve been here five minutes and, it’s like nothing’s changed, nothing at all.” Kate looked round the room; saw the all so young faces, as she listened to the usual office noises. It was as if time had stood still and yet. Kate ducked back down least anyone notice her and fiddled with a pen as she spoke to Susan.

“I don’t know what I’m doing here.” She whispered. 

“You’re there to work.” Susan said as a matter of fact. “You know, to put tea on the table have money to pay the bills, and to send me presents from exotic locales.” The voice was light and cheery. Kate smiled. Talking to Susan always lifted her spirits. 

“You know what I mean.” It was old ground. A conversation that wouldn’t die, or at least, Kate wasn’t ready to let it go. She still chewed at the edges of one bad decision after another, wondering if she had made the right choices. 

“Look, UbiSoft wasn’t you, doing gaming manuals and the like was never your thing no matter how exciting it all may have sounded. You’re a book person, Kate.” Susan held the light tone, skirting the real subject, that of failed relationships. A subject Kate felt she was fast becoming an expert on having waded her way through one too many. But she knew where the fault lay; with herself. There was no one else to blame; she knew that in her heart. She had expectations. Expectations that were never met probably because Kate knew, she set the bar way too high. Now, after yet another disaster that had hurt another, she thought that she was doomed to never finding someone to love. An emotion she wasn’t even sure she’d felt—yet.

“Hey—you there?” Susan’s voice brought her back. 

“Sorry, I was out there—you know, the little wheels grinding away.”

“Maybe if you did a little less thinking and a little more you know, just being yourself, love would come along all on its own.” It was a litany Susan repeated, often. 

You work too hard, you should play more. Ease up, don’t push yourself, and stop thinking all the time. Go get blasted. 

“What if love doesn’t exist and we’re all just fooling ourselves?” This again was a familiar conversation between them. One Kate pulled out and, like other conversations that wouldn’t die, chewed on in a way only a Jack Russell could. 

“Maybe its Mother Nature’s ultimate joke—love’s an illusion. The attraction is all about the sex. Bang, bang, thank-you Ma’am?”

“Come on, I know you don’t believe that, you’re a romantic at heart,” Susan countered. Adding, “which is why I’ve never understood why you don’t work in the romance section instead of science fiction.” 

“Me, handle bodice rippers?” They both laughed.

“Well, okay, so you always were off-planet.” Susan added with another chuckle at her own joke. 

Kate heard the inevitable slurping sounds in her ear of tea being drunk. 

“Tea and sympathy,” she said and laughed into the phone.

“What? Sorry—my bad.” Susan apologised. 

Kate pictured her friend’s face and the soft blush of embarrassment that would have risen to Susan’s cheeks. They were both moving into their forties. But, to Kate at least, Susan was still that awkward innocent 19 year-old she’d met way back when, at York University. 

Time was no longer on their side. 

Kate smiled and wondered whether they should just hook up together. Become a maudlin pair of spinsters living in a run down cottage somewhere in the countryside … surrounded by a dozen cats. Except, she was allergic to cat hair. Didn’t like the damp. Wasn’t sure all the fresh air was good for anything other than asthma, and definitely wasn’t into giving up on love. Not just yet.

“Do you like cats?” Kate asked knowing the answer as Susan gagged on a mouthful of tea.

To be continued …

Twist of Fate

SHE LOOKS AT ME AND begins twisting the threads, I am dumbfounded. She is going to do it. I can’t believe it. Not now, please, I still have three books half finished and three others already in outline mode that I need to write.

It isn’t fair, I want to scream at her, knowing of course, it will not make the slightest bit of difference. She cannot hear my plea, how can She? Deaf to all. Eyes only for her precious tapestry, weaving threads. Twisting, twining, feeding new strands in here, one there, seeing where they lead, looking for patterns.

All I’ve ever been able to do is watch and worry, knowing She would come to mine, but so soon?

No! I want to scream again.

She turns now, looking at me with those sad soulful eyes, not apologetic, how can She be? This is her life. She came into being when Time started. Her lot in life, to weave. She knows—knows that She will live till Time’s last foundation has fled.

While me?

I see Her hovering, deciding, scissors poised. I know She has to. The eyes say as much. There’s no other way. She picks up the loose strand that’s sticking up out of the tapestry. Such a short piece. It wouldn’t warrant Her attention—except. I seem to have caused a blockage. There’s a jumble of threat all caught in a tight knot, but worse, it appears to be spreading. Other threads are arriving, getting caught up, and me? There I am, the only one sticking up out of the weave.

She tugs.

I feel it in my heart. That terrible moment of fear. The strand is loosening. She tugs again. Another stab.

No! Please.

She has it loose now, the scissors move. I close my eyes but in my minds-eye, I hear the ‘snip’ as the blades close. I know. I feel it in my chest. That fatal moment. Will I open my eyes ever again? I hold my breath, as if this will help. I hear the click. My eyes fly open. My hand sits over my heart. It’s still beating, rapid, but strong.

She looks at me now, the sadness almost overwhelming. She offers me the tiny piece, golden, so small. I take it. Feel the hot tears. She did her best, the look says. A finger points. I stare at the tapestry. My thread is still there. Just not as long. The other threads begin to move, the living tapestry flows before my eyes. I take a deep breath and open my palm. The tiny golden snippet has vanished. I frown. Look up at Her, questioning.

A long fine finger points again. I look down, there—there it is, on my chest. I stare uncomprehending. A long thin scar. I trace a finger along it. It’s mine. I feel it. It sits above my heart. I realise then She has given me more time. Not much, but more than I had. Just one tug and She let me live. I sigh and look up, She is smiling again. The sadness in Her eyes always ever-present but the lips? Ah! They move but I don’t hear the words, my eyes heavy with sleep, my mind slipping. I drift away.

When I open my eyes again it’s to the sound of birds chirping outside a window. I look about me and register I’m in a hospital bed. Blinking, I make the connection, my hand sliding beneath the thin hospital gown. Fingers reaching, I find it. The remnant of a tiny golden thread. Mine. A scar to remind me. Life is short.

— THE END —