Every Possible Past
Lars sat with his knees pulled close to his body, leaning against the rough-hewn surface of the kindergarten wall. He trailed his finger through the thin coating of dirt on the rockbed floor. He drew distracted shapes and wrote out words and names in the dirt, all of which he wiped clean and started anew, his brow furrowed.
Pad watched from behind. Unseeable, her eye flickered between Lars and the drawings in the dirt. She picked up the hem of her dress and moved to his side, sitting down with only a few inches of space between them. Lars said nothing. Pad didn’t either, for a while.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Me? Nothing,” Lars muttered. He erased a smiling sun and started anew. “Thinking.”
“…About?” Pad asked after a moment of hesitation.
“Stuff,” he answered. He picked his hand up from the dirt, seemingly lost for what to do. “Like, about this. Here.” Lars motioned to the rock walls stretching too high to measure, filtering through just enough light to see the rock dust trailing through the air, large and enveloping. “Where I’m stuck. Forever, maybe. And I’m thinking about if just…if I coulda avoided any of this if I’d just stopped being a coward sooner. That ‘stuff’.”
“Oh,” Pad answered. She stuck her own finger in the dirt, tracing squiggles. “No, you couldn’t have. You don’t have to worry about that.”
Lars blinked. “I didn’t even explain.”
“You’re concerned that your fate may have been avoided if you had helped Steven escape from Topaz sooner.” Pad added her own smiley face among the squiggles in the dirt. “Or perhaps if you had saved your blond friend on the ship when Aquamarine and Topaz descended upon you.”
Lars straightened, back against the stone wall. Then he pushed himself standing. “How do you know this stuff?”
Pad paused, her finger trailing midway through the dust. “Oh. Oh of course. My future vision is broken. It can only see the past.”
“So you can see…what, everything that happened?”
“And everything that might have happened. Like an endless tree.” She stood, and dusted herself off. “Most Sapphires can see all the possible things that might happen. I can only see the things that might have happened.”
Lars swallowed, and he stammered, and slowly he found the words. “The things that might have happened.”
“So you can tell me what would have happened to me if I’d done this differently.”
“What would have happened if uh…what if I had helped Sadie when she needed help on the ship?”
Pad remained silent for a few seconds. A hollow wind blew through the caverns. “Ah yes, I see that vision now. You would have plummeted into the water with all the human others. And Steven would have vanished on the ship. You would have returned solemnly to your home. The next morning, you would have entered into a building with a large ring on the top.”
“The Big Donut.”
“Yes. That’s what the sign would have said.”
“What about Sadie?”
Another few seconds of silence. Pad clasped her hands together. “She would be there too. But you would not speak much with her. The disappearance of Steven would have left you both in turmoil.”
Lars wrung his hands together. “Okay… okay okay. That would have happened a couple days ago, yeah? What would be happening right now? If I was home? Where would I be?”
Pad shook her head. “Oh. I can’t see the possible presents.”
Lars licked his lips. Then he nodded. “Okay so…if I asked you tomorrow, would you be able to tell me what would have happened today? If I never left home?”
“Oh, yes. Yes, I would be able to tell you that.”
“Okay. Okay then.” Lars leaned against the wall, sinking slowly down it. He patted the dusty ground beside him. “If you’ve got some time now. Then could you tell me what um—if I had gotten off that ship, and stayed home—what would I have done yesterday?”
Pad picked up the hem of her dress and dropped into the offered spot. She fell silent a few moments before her mouth opened. “You would have returned to your place of work once more—the Big Donut. And you would have spoken to Sadie. She would have been difficult to console, as would you, but you would have triumphed eventually. She would have laughed at a humorous remark you found from the internet. This would have made you proud.”
Ten years pass quickly for Gems, not so much for humans. Lars wasn’t sure how these last ten years had passed for him, slow and fast at the same time. His physical body has not changed much, though his hair has grown much longer.
Lars leaned his back against the rough stone wall, free of dust now, and he waited for Pad to appear by his side.
When she did, Lars sunk to the ground, knees against his chest, and patted the same spot as always—as he did every day—for Pad to sit.
“So…tell me about yesterday. If I had stayed home, what would have happened yesterday?” Lars asked with urgency. It was the same question he had asked every day of the last ten years, but he was anxious now. He knew what might occur.
Pad smiled. She clasped her hands together. “You would have taken Sadie out to a food place along the beach. It would have been the one she told you she loved as a small human. And you would have taken that polished and cut stone out of your pocket, in the soft black box, and you would have presented it to her. You would have lowered yourself onto one knee first, and unfurled the box, and said, ‘Sadie, would you marry me?’”
Lars’s heart pounded in his ears. He swallowed dryly, leaning in. “What would she have said?”
“She would have said ‘Of course Lars. Of course.’”
Lars let out a strained breath, a noise of relief, or perhaps disbelief. He blinked harder, and leaned back against the wall, and traced his hand through the dirt. “Oh my god… Oh my god she would have said yes. She would have said yes.”
“Yes, she would have,” Pad answered.
The noise Lars made was soft, and wet, and it echoed out. Bouncing against the vast and dark heights of the kindergarten walls, absorbed and deflected in the cold hollow shells of Gems long extracted. And then it was lost to the cavern, that isolated and dark sealed off place. Inescapable.
A hollow wind replaced it.
Lars’s hand traced the shape of a heart in the dust, and the small strained noises from his throat dried up until only tears leaked down his cheeks. His hand stopped once it trembled too hard to trace anything more.