5:32pm. Monday. I’m walking to the subway when she’s struck by a car.
“I didn’t see her!” The driver is frantic.
The woman reaches for me as I kneel next to her. The lab coat she wears is torn and bloody. No one else has come close – they watch from the sidewalk, some taking pictures.
“Please,” the woman whispers hoarsely. “I’m in an accident.”
“You’re going to be all right,” I say, squeezing her hand. “Help is coming.”
“I’m in an accident,” she repeats. Her eyes are wide and stunned, but I feel like she doesn’t quite see where she is, like she’s looking around for something.
Then her eyes aren’t seeing anything at all.
12:04pm. Tuesday. I’m in the grocery store buying a pathetic boxed salad.
And there’s the woman, the one I watched die yesterday. Her basket is full of batteries and she’s frowning at the calculator in her hand. She shrugs and tosses five more into her basket.
“Ma’am?” I ask tentatively. Some hair has fallen out of her bun and she looks exhausted, but she’s alive, her lab coat only lightly creased. I look down and see that she has covers on her shoes, the kind you wear for a realtor at an open house – or in a clean room.
She looks up at me, eyes wide. “Yes?”
“Did you – I thought I saw you –“
“Possibly,” she says wearily. “I’m in an accident. I have to go.”
She hurries with her basket to the self-checkout. I see her leaving shortly after, weighed down with four dozen batteries and her calculators.
I come across her abandoned bags between 12th and 13th, in front of a coffee shop. The reclaimed-wood tables are full of twentysomethings conversing over their phones. If a woman disappeared in front of them, they don’t seem very bothered by it.
I have to get back to work – goodness knows I see weird stuff daily in this city – but I also have to know if I’m going crazy or not. I approach the tables.
“Do any of you know how these bags got here?” I ask. “Did you see the woman who was carrying them?”
They glance, almost in unison, from me to the bags and back. “I didn’t see anyone,” one man says.
“No one’s been by in a while,” a woman adds. “And I’ve been watching – I’m waiting for someone.”
I debate taking her purchases with me – if she can come back from the dead, maybe she’ll find me again – then decide to take them inside and leave them with an employee. There’s crazy, and then there’s anticipating-being-haunted crazy.
I regret my decision before I’m even out the door. I already feel a certainty, like a prologue to déjà vu, that I’m going to see her again. I look over my shoulder, expecting to see her lab coat billowing.
But the sidewalk is deserted.
I return to work.
6:37pm. Wednesday. I was stuck late, I’m hungry, and the crowds going down to the subway seem worse than usual. I have no new texts, no emails worth reading. I’m scrolling through a collection of makeup I can’t afford when I catch white out of the corner of my eye.
It’s her, again, but she looks different: her bun is tidy, her makeup simple but professional, her coat pristine. The shoe covers are gone.
She catches me staring. “Can I help you?”
It’s the icy tone we usually reserve for men being creeps and I look away, flustered. “Sorry. I just feel like I’ve seen you before.”
“You might have,” she says. “I’m in an accident. But I’ll get it fixed, nothing to worry about.”
The train arrives, screaming past us and dragging the first few strands from her bun. Her coat whips against my arm. “The machine just needs more power. I’ll get it fixed.”
We get on the train and she sits, hands folded, calm. It was the last seat; I stay standing and grab a strap. The crowd flows around me, packing the car. I almost don’t notice the usual jostling. What machine? Is she crazy?
“Ma’am?” A man catches my eye and points. “There’s a seat if you want it.”
The woman’s seat is empty.
I sit slowly; it’s still warm.
I’ll get it fixed.
The feeling of déjà vu is gone. I won’t see her any more – but I have seen her again, last week, last month, in my childhood.
Then she is gone.