Written for an assignment, an experiment inspired by the novel Version Control. Somewhat of an homage to the ideas that the novel handles with far more eloquence.
She knew the world had gone wrong, had flipped upside-down. She could taste it in the air, feel it in the soft vibrations of the car’s engine—like being barely-aware in a dream. It had been like this for months, as if she were perpetually poised with her foot held high, expecting another stair but finding only thin air.
The first and only time Amelia tried to talk to her mother—the scientist, Dr. Tima—about the feeling was the night before her graduation, half an hour before the dinner party. Her mother, a woman without much love for feelings over fact—the latter of which Amelia lacked—looked up at her distractedly from her notebook.
“I don’t understand,” said Tima. She rubbed at her temple, her sleepless nights staining her eyelids with dark pigments. She was on a deadline, the machine she’d spent the last decade on still stubbornly refusing to work. It weighed her down. “Are you sick?”
“I’m not sick.” Amelia picked at her fingernails. “It’s the world that’s sick.”
“Oh. Global warming, then.”
“That’s not what I—” She threw her hands up, feeling too much like a teenager. “It’s like when you go to fix your glasses on your face, but you’re not wearing them.”
“Honey, I don’t wear glasses,” Tima said idly, barely paying attention to her daughter anymore. “Maybe you just need some more sleep.”
You’re the one who needs sleep, Amelia thought, bitterly, remembering her mother of a year prior, before Astoria died. A mother who didn’t spend her entire life at the lab working on a time machine, a mother who smiled and laughed and took the sisters out for brunch on Sundays.
Scorned, Amelia muttered, “Astoria would’ve understood.”
Those three words cut through the air like a knife. Amelia instantly wished she could go back in time to take them back. Face contorted with a pain still too intense to hide, Tima laid down her pen and fixed Amelia with her metal-grey eyes.
“Amelia,” Tima started, but her daughter was already out of her seat and halfway out of the kitchen. “Honey, come back—”
“I’m going to finish cleaning the lounge,” Amelia said, her back turned to hide her brimming eyes.
Not another word was spoken between mother and daughter until the guests arrived, and even then their conversations were terse. While Tima’s co-workers spoke to her about her work, Amelia pretended to listen with rapt attention as if she didn’t resent the machine for Tima’s distance—or for her twin’s death. When her mother’s colleagues shook Amelia’s hand and patted her shoulder, congratulating her on a successful graduation, she hid her bitter anxiety behind a practiced smile. One she had learned in the weeks following the crash.
Her friends noticed, but they knew better than to ask.
Only once the house had cleared and she’d buried herself in blankets did she let her mind drift back; a summer day, hair blowing in the motorway wind, excitement from seeing her mother’s work bubbling within her chest. The steering wheel was hot beneath her hands, though she didn’t actually need it, the car drove itself—but it never hurt to be too careful. A phrase Tima had murmured to them since they were young.
She remembered it all with more clarity than any other moment in her life: the moment the dog bounded out into the road, followed by a child. When the cars before of them swerved to avoid the child and Amelia’s fingers tightened around the steering wheel, yanking right.
After, as she lay half-sedated in a hospital bed, they told her, “It wasn’t your fault.” They: nurses, police, therapists, her own mother. There was nothing you could do, as if that lifted the guilt crushing her lungs.