The Gossamer Effect

Oh, the things he thought he would never forget.

There were, of course, the magnolia trees, standing like prized statues along his driveway. He loved the way the petals drifted to the pavement and buried each other. If he could he would sit at the window for hours at a time, watching those petals storm toward the creek until the sidewalks were bare and he forgot who he was. 

They looked like schools of fish. 

In the autumn, the tangle web spiders crept toward the magnolias and spun seas of gossamer within their branches. It took every ounce of him to tear them down before they froze over, but you insisted he did it. And he’d be damned if he didn’t.

And then there was you, you and the magnolias and the gossamer. You were the center of his world. Back then—he couldn’t tell you what then even was; the word, like the world, has since slipped away—you were all he knew.

In the dark of his garage, he couldn’t see the trees or the spiders or anything else he had grown a love for. But you were there, and soon the twins, newly three years old, found him, wrapped themselves around his legs like ivy. His smile blended in with the concrete walls.

He should have stayed longer. He should have said goodbye. 

But the quick mornings passed like meteors. 

In some time, he forgot. 

He thought the trip would take him much longer, but it was only a heartbeat between life and Venice. He looked outside his time machine, the first of its kind, and he realized that the hours and seconds were things he had to disremember. That would be the first of the forgettings—the time, the ring, and everything else. 

Venice was life, sun, a palette of living colors. Red roofs, balconies dripping with rust, canals that looked like melons. For hours, he walked, but he might as well have been floating. 

Like a child, he had to blink twice and pinch his cheek to remind himself that he was there on his own two feet, in the year 1600, and it was all too real. He was a common man: he thought he’d know when he was dreaming, always lucid, always awake. But time was a soft, sleeplike state, and now he was living in its bosom. 

To stay grounded, he held your whispers behind his ear: Go and see Venice for me. 

Without much realizing, he had been tugging on his wedding ring, twisting it around his finger over and over again. Loosening a promise.

He was careful in Venice. With each step he took, he imagined the changes in the making. All that late-night science fiction came back to him now, so furious, the words running around his head until he realized they were really all the same—What was it, something like a butterfly effect?—And so he counted every touch, every pardon that came as he pushed through the masses. He counted every second without you.

By the time he was back inside his machine, it was too late. He was too far gone into changes of his own. Why stop here? he thought, because he couldn’t help himself. Why stop here when I could go anywhere? 

It may not seem like it, but he was thinking of you then. He was thinking of everything he would tell you and the places you would want him to go. But he was not thinking of the truth. 

All you wanted was him.

Kyoto: everything ancient, or paper-thin, or accompanied by a scent of what he imagined was squid.  

Never had he dreamed there was anything this extraordinary hiding away in the folds of the past. He dwelled in the shadows of market stalls, feeling more of a mouse than a man, trying to teach himself how to breathe again. By the time he had made his purchase—a Tokoname bonsai vase in exchange for his wedding ring—the pressure of the air and everything else made him feel as if he was dying, slower than he had ever been.

He made his rounds in and out of the city, alongside a river he wished he knew the name of, thinking of his magnolias. They looked like the sakura trees that now brandished their roots through broken gates. For a moment he wondered if the trees knew they needed those heavy gossamers, or if never knowing really was a sort of bliss.

His machine was intact in the alleyway where he had left it. Snug inside the leather chair, he applauded his own genius; he was the first of his kind. When he turned on the lightbulb over his head, when he dragged himself to a distant time, he was thinking of you. Don’t you ever think he wasn’t.

He went through life as a series of things lost. Losing things was all that reminded him of that twisted humor, how the world was slipping away from him even as he ran toward it.

It was in the middle of the South Pacific that he dropped the bonsai pot. He thought it would be something like sleep, that unquestioning solitude, that noiseless sky. But in truth there was nothing much to see there but blue and green and a simmering silence. The vase fell off his lap as he leaned forward. He did nothing except watch it sink, sink, sink. 

Where to next?—that was his question. The answer should have been clear. But right there, he chose to wonder about the vase he sent to the bottom of the ocean and how he had ended up with it anyway.

He was sick of losing things, sick of going places. He was sick of the irony that he would ever want to settle down. 

For a while, he lived in England, in a townhouse with three other Victorian families wearing turtlenecks and drinking chamomile like it was holy nectar—his eyes grew weary from it, time’s excruciating misrealities. But it rained too much there. He went to Morocco and lived in Casablanca, though it may have been the world’s best-kept secret. He made no friends. He left that place because it was hot as the devil and the sun blinded him every morning. 

What he really wanted was a place with no rain and no shine. A place with people like him—people who pretended they breathed their own air, who were running from things that could never hurt them. People who had forgotten what it meant to be human.

That is how he ended up on the moon. 

They called it Luna. It was supposed to be glorious. 

He had never been to the future before. It troubled him, knowing the unknowable, gazing through a window that wasn’t supposed to exist. Or maybe he figured he would make it back to you someday to tell you all about it, and you hated sad endings, didn’t you?

This time he found it imperative that he jump ahead. What kind of fool would he be to have all of space-time in his hands and never make it to the moon? You wouldn’t have it. That was the first of it in a while, the dreaming of you—the first dose of poison. 

The only way he knew to get there was by shuttle. He found himself a broken-down parking unit in a city that had long gone to sleep, a place so infested with the un-beautiful kind of sadness that he tried not to think too much about it—a home for his machine. Once he had made it out of the hatch, he planted a kiss on its steel bones. He said goodbye. 

All he brought was his own self, whatever cash he could surmise from all his travels, and a change of shoes. There was the one pair of red-striped sneakers, violently worn-in, and his good pair, the leather dress shoes he had plucked from the shelf of a Moscovian haberdashery when no one was looking. 

He spent most days in the Lunar Lounge, looking up through the glass ceiling. He saw the stars and wanted them to stop shining. To pass the time he inspected the ins and outs of those who came through the doors. Most of them were white faces, purple lips, dead eyes. 

It was a hotel and it was a fortress, a thing with four outer towers and lavender balustrades. Magnificent as it could have been, the place was nothing but a theme park in a purple jacket, the commoners only goldfish shepherded by nothing but neon letters. 

There was a garden beside the Lunar Lounge. A single window allowed him to look into it. All he could ever see was the green of canopies, of palm fronds sticking against the glass like the hair sticking to his scalp. But he wouldn’t go in there; he was planted perfectly into the waiting room sofa as if paralyzed. A permanent crater in the cushion had formed from all the hours he sat there, half-dead. 

Around midnight he would walk up the steps to his hotel room and convince himself he was sleeping. Three flights of stairs upward and it was impossible not to be tired enough.

The moon was a frightening place, never to run scarce of its own wonders. He saw most of it through the lobby television with the twenty-four hour newscast, a fraction in the eyes of the drifters moving in and out of the Lounge. Sometimes, in waiting, they would sit beside him and tell him their stories. They spoke as if they hadn’t seen another soul in decades. A ragged old man with a gash underneath his tattered shoulder pad went on about the time he survived a pipe explosion in a colony to the west of this place. Only the gods would have found him, the old man said, if it weren’t for the loose iron pipe that he had held into oblivion. 

He asked the old man why he ever came here. The old man said, “Are you stupid?” Then, casting a look to his side, “the world is ending over there.”

“Don’t I know it.”

He soon thereafter realized he had no clue. 

He wanted to tell these people of his travels, too. He wanted to tell them about you, and he would have, if it wasn’t for the lump in his throat that came up whenever he tried. Occasionally, however, he wondered if it would be any use; it seemed from the way their heads turned toward him and then right back that they knew him better than he knew himself.

These lunatics, they had seen too much. But he had seen more. 

She hadn’t seen enough.

She was one of the first to be born on Luna, and it was the only place she ever knew. Some nights she would pull on his hand like the child she was, attempting to drag him into the observatory so he could see the Earth through the reflecting telescope.

He admired the uniformity, the domesticity, of her being. She existed to serve the moon, long before a time when Luna would be “big and strong” like she described the Earth to him. He wished she’d stop saying things like that. He lost you when the world felt bigger than the universe.

In the evenings, she ran off to her mother, left him behind. They lived on the top floor of the hotel with the rest of the squatters. She was a part of this place. How long, he wondered, until he was a part of it too?

When change showed up, it was without invitation. She wasn’t getting younger, she had told him, and he wasn’t either. He sighed but could not disagree. 

They ate breakfast together in the observatory, waiting for the Earth to come into view. She told him it was beautiful as if she was his eyes. He nodded, noting the excitement in her tipsy step, a congratulation that she had finally dragged him from that cursed couch. 

“You’ve got to see the garden now.” 

He shook his head at first, but he could only grunt as she dragged him across the corridor, thinking that after all, he had come this far. Soon enough they were standing in front of those iron doors and watching them open, inch by inch. 

There were butterflies, swinging through the wet rainforest air. Fog hung from his knees all the way to the treetops like smoke out of a chimney. The clouds looked cotton if he squinted, the Milky Way when he blinked. 

And there were sixteen variations of earthly trees, only a handful of which he could pick out—the sakura, the oak, and of course the magnolia. She was at his side all the while, tearing the leaves off their branches. This could not have been the moon; here he was more grounded than he had ever been. 

He realized, after a bit, that he had become deaf to her calls, her jumpings up and down against the plate floors. She was asking him if it was just like the Earth he came from. 

He said yes.

They crossed to a bed of azaleas bordering a waterfall. He let the grasses bite at his ankles until he dropped to his knees, looking down into the ripples over the stones. He saw his reflection, the feather-like thing that had grown in his hair, the bar of silver. He wondered what he had turned himself into. 

“Have you met any other time travelers around here?” he asked her. 

He saw her confusion in the water. She looked up at her eyebrows while she thought, and then she shook her head. “I’ve never heard of any time traveler. If such a thing has been invented, I must be the last one to know.” She was going to laugh, but instead her eyes went wide. “Why? Have you got a time machine somewhere?”

He offered a hand for her to take, and she sank into the grass beside him. They said nothing for a while, nothing until she asked him why he was so quiet all the time, so dry. And you’d better believe he was thinking of you when he told her, “There is somewhere I have left behind.” But surely she already knew that.

Then he pointed to the magnolias lining up the basin of the stream not far from where they were bent in the azaleas. They looked so incomplete. 

She asked, “Are there magnolias where you come from?” 

He couldn’t expect her to know it all, to know exactly what he meant when he said it wasn’t forever in the beginning. Forever came much later. 

A nod. “And gossamer.”

She didn’t know what gossamer was, and so he told her. 

“Well, I’m no expert,” she said, “but I think you should find that place again. Because you haven’t said this many words even on a good day.”

He smiled gently, but then he was touched with a gentler sadness because he thought he saw your figure in the foaming of the stream. “If I left you here, all alone, would you remember me?”

“Of course I would,” she told him. “And you’d remember me too.” Certainly she was right.

He took the next shuttle to Earth.

The next time he saw you, you didn’t see him. He had made himself into a magnolia tree. You were out in the vegetable garden, and you had a straw hat on your head to keep the sun from beating down into you. The twins were there, too, catching pierids on their fingertips. He kept his distance if only to shelter himself from that sullen look on your face. 

Were you still waiting? He wondered for a moment, then decided he would never know.

You weren’t watching when he jumped back into the machine, gone before the thought could strike him. 

He had left his good shoes on the moon. 

Paris LeClaire is a teenaged reader, writer, and thinker. She's been telling stories since before she could hold a pencil, and she never plans to stop. In her spare time, Paris edits for the Paper Crane Journal, learns languages, and obsesses over weather patterns.


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