This is such a habit now that I do it all on autopilot. I disconnect from the officenet at 5:28pm (special dispensation, medically certified). 5:29, my coat is on. By 5:32 I am walking through Drake Plaza in front of the office, heading for the transit stations.
5:39, I turn the corner of Roshido Street, and buy a Standard Extra from Stan on the corner. We exchange a few sentences. He knows that I can only spare 35 seconds in my routine for him, or all is lost for an entire day.
5:41, another corner and it hits me like a sledgehammer, that same sledgehammer, every day. Bell Street Transitway, the twisted swan necks of its signage curving towards the sky. This is where I lost you, and it is where I come to find you again.
I descend into the neon darkness.
The transitway is quiet at this time of day. Pre rush-hour, a few people mill about aimlessly, workers with dispensations or drifters with nowhere to go. Discarded coffee cups and food wrappers flutter listlessly in the mysterious winds of the transit network. Their rustlings and rattlings are the only constant sound in the near silence. If there were such a thing as a perfect world, none of us would be down here now.
5:42 on the dot. I turn on cue, 47 degrees, to the same spot on the platform. There is a flickering there in the gloom, and your image, your perfect image materialises before me.
You are wearing the suit that was always your favourite. Hair swept up in your "office style", "out of my eyes whilst I'm thinking", as you always said.
"But can I see my Elizabeth undone?", my eyes catching yours, my heart catching each time we connect.
A little shake of your head. Long, golden-brown locks tumbling across your shoulders. And then the kiss, the same smouldering kiss still after ten years, the same passion wound so tight around both of us.
You walk slowly across the platform. No sound, of course, since that apparently "pushed the boundaries of taste". But your mouth moves, and my mind recreates so vividly the warm sweet sound of your voice. You smile as you talk, looking sideways towards me, so close that we might appear as one from a distance.
I have fallen into step as I always do, in my place at your side, just as I was that first terrible night. I look into your eyes but they are ghostly, far away from me. The one thing that isn't quite right.
But oh, these few minutes that you're with me again. You can't deviate from your script, of course, and I might dream of catching you in my arms and just holding you, but to pace the platform here with you, in three dimensions, the nuances of your expression alive again, well, it is better than I could have ever hoped for.
I only dimly remember the decree, although I memorised its tortured words later once I realised what it meant. That first day, it was just another barrage of senseless noise in the news bulletin; shadowy flickering of the press room at District Government out of focus behind a bottle of hard liquor. I paid it no heed, because I had no idea that it would touch me so directly, that its well-meaning parental hand would indirectly manifest itself as the one event in my life to which I cling.
"The Nova District Goverment hereby declares that, as a warning to those members of society who might be deemed careless or foolhardy, the final movements of certain victims of what can only be described as high-profile accidents will henceforth be re-enacted holographically, at the original time of the said accidents, in the original location, each day.
The District Government hopes that such displays will act as a constant reminder to the population to maintain vigilance and care in the conduct of their everyday lives."
I know the exact moment to turn away, before your image begins to slip, before that fateful twist of your feet from under you. There were several painful weeks of watching you, timing to the last millisecond, so that I could squeeze every possible pain-free moment out of your apparition. I must have watched parts of that fatal fall twenty or thirty times, the cry catching in my throat each time, the same word I shout when I wake out of nightmares.
But now, as others watch with dead eyes your ghost sliding onto the transitway tracks, your mouth open with surprise, too shocked to scream, I stand with my back turned, and read the latest sports scores from the platform's infopoints.
The 5:47 northbound glides into the station exactly on time, to catch your apparition in its wheels and send it to sleep for another day.
Sleep well, my Elizabeth, until tomorrow, 5:42, when they will bring you back to walk with me again, another 4 minutes of happiness in a broken world.