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Autumn Woman

I didn't need my policewoman training to see what would soon cause this footage to cut out. A woman, dressed for the late fall while everyone else was dressed for the summer heat. Parents and children swam by, some giving her a second glance. Even the summer breeze seemed to avoid her clothes as she stood by the pool gate, looking like she waited for a man on horseback from a distant era. Her face twitched, and the footage ended.
They found her body with the rest of them. Another camera recorded the same woman--no, surely a twin--five months later. At the ski resort, holding flowers from the kind of wedding I used to want. She moved the flowers over the left side of her face.
They found her body, too, under the wreckage with the skiers.
In the spring I tracked a third sister to Croton Point Pond. I watched her hold a gentleman's outfit under one arm and an empty basket in the other. I smelled old perfume as she dropped the outfit and smoothed it out, then walked away with the basket. A small boy ran up to her, curious, until her eyes offered him nightmares. He ran toward me, shivering, and his eyes offered me a piece of lost innocence.
I turned my gun to the woman, or rather, the broken grass where she'd stood.
I radioed for backup. I later found a wrecked squad car with the remains of two officers. They weren't friends, but I prayed for their souls like the religious girl my parents tried to raise.
The trail led me to a labyrinth of wheelchairs and senescence, a place I wouldn't leave my nasty Grandpa Tom. I navigated my way to a woman with a recognizable, if eroded, face. I held up my pictures of the bombers. Are these your daughters?
I had three tumors over the years, she said. I suppose they were like daughters. Even named them. Dorothy, Harriet, and Hazel. There's more on the way.
Who are those three women in the pictures, I pressed, who look like young versions of you.
She showed me evenly spaced pustules across her arms. Not pustules--little volcanoes. Three of them old and erupted. Two more stirred and leaked cream-colored ooze. The first death I'd ever smelled came back to me, along with the vomit-prone stomach of my rookie days.
Dear, she told me, there are memories so strong that they survive their hosts and withstand time. An angry man or woman with an untold story can become a memory. The memory can become a worm's meal, then a flower, then an infection, then a festering boil on an old lady's arm, and then... have you heard of dragon's teeth?
I drew my gun, wondering what it would be like to shoot my way into desk duty, or worse. About time, my former patrol partner would say. Or was that my mother's voice, talking about something else? Light years of what might have been flashed before me as my finger approached the trigger--rooftop weddings, art museums, working on a science fair project with my little boy. The thing about time is, there's so much of it between so little.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, November 12th, 2018

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