Umbrella #1: Tomato-red with wooden handle
The first time Amar invites me to time-hop into the future with him, he holds a dusty umbrella rescued from some dark corner of our closet. Out of the blue, after 30-some years working as a time hopper, he wants to take me along.
“Isn’t that against company regulations?”
“I’ll be our little secret.” Amar still has the eyes of a 12-year-old, sparkling pools urging me to jump in. I’ve never been able to resist.
Time hopping involves Amar activating his hopper implant, holding my hand, and both of us stepping forward. Our feet move from the woven carpet of our tidy apartment to the pebbly pavement of the nearby downtown streets. Cold wet strikes my head and shoulders before Amar unfurls the umbrella. Rain pebbles against the red fabric inches above us.
“Sorry it’s not sunny.” Amar shrugs. “Rainy days are the best for time travel. People tend not to look closely at faces or linger long outside, so it’s less likely we’ll be spotted.”
Wet drops bounce off rounded brick sidewalks to peck at our ankles. The air’s cold, so there’s none of that earthy smell that comes with a spring rain; just an icy damp tickling my nose to the verge of a sneeze.
“You brought just one umbrella?” I grumble.
He pulls me close, my cheek scratching against the gray speckling his chin, his breath warm on my neck. Mischief in his eyes, but also a drop of sadness.
I want to ask what’s on his mind, but Amar starts to walk, and I match his stride to stay within our dry haven. This is the future, but there are no flying cars or holographic advertisements, just the familiar downtown shop fronts: Mama Lucia’s neon lights, the coffee shop’s soft glow next to it. This street could be one year or five years ahead of our time for all I know, but I suspect it’s not too far off.
Amar’s right that people move through the drips with downward glances. We’re invisible beneath our red umbrella. Despite the cold and wet, we linger, talking about my recent retirement, when Amar would retire, where we would travel. Imagining our future.
When Amar activates his implant, we step back into the present and drip on the carpet. His hand stays blanket-warm on mine. I squeeze my love back.
Umbrella #2: Giant purple flower, black plastic handle
Two weeks later, we jump a bit further into the future. The coffee shop’s now a nail salon, but Mama Lucia’s sign still glows triumphantly. Rain feathers onto the purple-flower umbrella above us, softer this time. The warmer air lets me smell wet asphalt and assurances of spring.
Amar’s eyes are distant oceans as we huddle close. He’s started taking job-issued vitamins, and almost overnight, his beard’s gone gray as a rain cloud. I want to ask if everything’s okay, but he signed all sorts of non-disclosure agreements when he joined the company. I’m not even supposed to be hopping with him. I stay quiet and worry.
Amar’s quiet as he holds my hand and we walk in step through the streets. I let myself imagine us strolling down here again in a few years when our own time catches up to this future. When he’s done with time hopping.
After all our years together, we can walk without words down a rainy street, hand in hand, and it’s perfection.
Umbrella #3: Blue skies with white clouds, blue plastic handle
It’s a dark rain for this jump, with street lights forming hazy circles to guide us down red bricks. It’s hard to tell when in the future this is. The Mama Lucia’s sign is dark, and I can’t see the coffee-shop-nail-salon-whatever store.
“How far are we in the future?”
Amar just pulls me close under the fabric of blue skies. His eyes are bottomless, holding too much in.
I can’t keep quiet anymore. “Amar? What’s wrong?”
“The vitamins aren’t really vitamins.”
My stomach drops, but I had suspected.
“The agency’s discovered risks with long-term use of my hopper implants. Just the implants— you’re completely safe—but the treatments aren’t working. They want to send me far ahead to find a treatment.”
He was supposed to retire. We were supposed to see the world. I want the raindrops to slow down, the wet streets to last forever, to have our future stretch forever into this moment under the umbrella.
Eventually, we return to drip on the carpet, still huddled under the blue-skies umbrella, frozen in our hug as though letting go will jump-start time once more.
“We’ll have future days together,” he whispers. “Remember to look for them.”
It takes me a while to recall those words, for my life becomes daily calls to Amar’s office. A buttersoft-voiced woman explains they don’t know when he’ll get back. Time travel’s complicated. They don’t know if the treatment worked.
Time scrapes forward like skin on pavement. I grind ahead, waiting, until the day I glance through the rain-streaked window at the carousel of umbrellas outside.
There’s color galore: spots and solids, cartoon characters, galaxies, and paintings. I step outside, letting the rain drip down my cheeks, eyes scanning for tomato-red, giant purple flower, blue skies.
Amar told me we’d have future days together. One rainy day, I’ll spot one of our umbrellas, watch us meander down damp streets. I’ll stay back, so as not to disturb the rules of time travel, but I’ll devour every movement of his body, salty rainwater on my lips.
Time passes smoother, like raindrops on a windowpane, for looking ahead with anticipation changes how time moves. I walk faster toward the future, waiting for rain, looking for our umbrellas, looking for when Amar himself returns to walk alongside me. I dare to hope.
Carol Scheina is a deaf speculative author whose stories have appeared in publications such as Flash Fiction Online, Escape Pod, Cossmass Infinities, and more. You can find more of her work at carolscheina.wordpress.com.