I’m sitting in the Melon Café, drinking a skinny latte, when the first touch of pain hits the back of my head. Instantly, the ghosts appear. There I am 4 years ago over by the window with my cousin James the first time we ever ate here (I know it’s the first time, because I never ordered the full breakfast again – too big). There we are again a few months later the time I accidentally banged my head against the pillar (never sat in front of it again). I’m here in groups, in twos and alone. There I am last week with Carol, discussing the film she wants to make. And then there are the future versions of me, some of them with people I don’t recognise. None of them look any older than I am now, so I know I won’t be coming here for much longer, but I don’t speculate as to the reason why. The possibilities are endless. I know from experience that I have at most half an hour before the pain becomes excruciating, so I pay my bill and go home.
One of the interesting things about holograms is that if you break one into little pieces, each fragment still contains the entire image. One of the many interesting things about life is that it works in a similar way. One instant of a life contains the image of the whole – past, present and future. This is not common knowledge however. Just as you need a special light in order to be able to view a hologram, you need a special form of sight to be able to view your life.
I developed this ability at the age of thirteen along with the headaches. The pain came out of the blue and with it the visions. I was in my bedroom in my childhood home. I saw myself as a baby, a toddler, a young child, as I was now, as a young woman, with others and by myself. My mother must have heard my involuntary gasp, because she soon appeared at the door. She explained that both the headaches and the “gift” as she called it ran in the female line of our family. She answered my questions as best she could, although she knew no more that I do now of the origin or ability of this power.
The ability is location specific. My first experience was in my childhood home, and I saw only times when I was there. I only see other people’s lives where they intersect with mine. I can’t see the future in places I haven’t been to yet, and I can’t tell you your future unless I am a major part of it. I’m no fortune teller.
The gift cannot reliably tell me what will happen, but it can often indicate what won’t. For instance, I never saw myself in my parents’ house older than perhaps mid-twenties. My mother cautioned me not to speculate on what this might mean: she said that way lay madness. As it happens, my parents were both killed in a car crash when I was 24, and I sold the house shortly afterwards.
I didn’t have a headache at their funeral, and there were so many real-time people there that there would have been no room for ghosts. However, I visited the grave on my own many times afterwards, and on several occasions felt the familiar pain at the rear of my skull, and saw the many times I would visit in future. I saw myself a lot older, with white hair and a stick, which was the first intimation I ever had that I would not share my parents’ fate of dying young.
When I’m introduced to Michael by a mutual friend I recognise him instantly. I have seen him in my flat many times. As we make love for the first time, I play these visions over in my head and for once allow myself to speculate as to why I have never seen him look much different. A year later we marry, and move into a new home together. I see us decorating, doing the garden, cooking together, relaxing in front of the fire on a winter’s evening.
When I fail to get pregnant after two years, Michael wants to discuss options – fertility tests, adoption. I know there is no point. The time has come for me to tell him what happens when I have one of my headaches.
He listens attentively, but I think he finds it hard to believe what I am saying. I can’t blame him for that. “Look,” he says. “Even if I accept that everything you say is true, it might just mean that we will be living somewhere else when we have a baby. Let’s move. Let’s put the house on the market tomorrow.” He is shouting.
I take his hand and try to speak very clearly and calmly. “Michael, it’s not just this house, or this town. Do you think I would never bring my child to visit my parents’ grave? A defeated look comes over his eyes and he pulls his hand from mine and leaves the room. I think he doesn’t want me to see him cry.
Six months later we move to Australia. Michael wants to go, and I would do anything to save the relationship at this point. On our first day we go to the beach, and I have one of my headaches. To my delight, I see us building a sandcastle with a little girl. Six months later I am with child.
It’s 20 years later. I’m standing at my parents’ graveside with a young woman, my daughter. It took us this long to make the trip. Even now Michael wasn’t able to accompany us. My vision was correct but my interpretation had been all wrong. I did bring my child to visit my parents. She just wasn’t a child at the time.
In the distance I can see elderly me with the white hair and the stick making her way up the path. She is alone. I don’t try and figure out what that means.