The Woman of the Sunset
I have encountered a great many things.
I have encountered thieves and magicians, crooks and heroes, people rich and poor and wise and ignorant. I have encountered renowned scientists and scorned ones, and I have listened to them both. I have lived many lives, one for each person I have ever met.
It is a strange thing, to reach out for someone's hand. To watch them bare their soul to you, unknowingly. The moment of contact, my last sense of grounding before I am falling into them. It is a much more natural thing to brush against skin accidentally, grabbing an arm when I trip on the subway, sinking into memories.
I am a strange thing, but that has never bothered me.
Thousands of lives have been mine, but there is one that always eluded me. The Woman of the Sunset, she was called, in whispers from voices no one but me would believe. She was said to read a soul with the touch of a hand, to bring death with a breath and return it with the next, a goddess of change come to walk the earth. In short, she was the closest I had ever found to someone like me.
I did not have a name like hers. I had lived dozens of lives before I could force my infant mouth to speak; I knew the value of silence. No one had ever known my secret, and no one had asked. Disappearing is a simple act. I can talk to a shopkeeper about my daughter, to a friendly mom on the train about my grandfather, to a temporary coworker about my oldest sibling, and then I will return home to a house that will always be empty save for me. There is nothing to ask about, so no one asks.
Of course we did. I had been chasing the Woman of the Sunset for years and years, I knew every step she would take before she took it.
I followed her for over a week in Barcelona, a month across the Southern part of Africa, a fortnite in the suburbs surrounding Shanghai, but when we met, it was in Los Angeles.
The City of Angels welcomed us. She sat down for dinner, and I sat opposite her, and she did not say a word, but she did smile.
She was beautiful.
She was terrifying.
I was also both beautiful and terrifying, but beauty and fear are masks that will always be hard to see through. No amount of experience could allow us to see each other clearly from across a table. She did not offer me her hand, and I would not have taken it.
"Well met," she said over dessert, after a meal of silence. I left my spoon balanced on the side of the plate to look at her. She looked back. We both saw nothing.
"To you as well," I said.
"You have questions."
"You will answer them."
"Dependent on content."
"No," I said. "You will answer them."
She tilted her head, as if she would see me clearer from an angle.
"How long has it been since anyone asked something about you?" I pressed.
A long silence.
"You're right," she said. "I will answer."
There was no world beside us. The table was inconsequential, the dinner just a game, the whole conversation just foreplay for the most important night we would ever have. Two souls stared at each other to see whose would blink first.
"Are you Death?" I asked.
She looked surprised. She looked confused. And then she laughed, and it all crashed back, the half-eaten plate of chocolate cake in front of me, the bowl of sorbet in front of her, the noise and the light and the humanity.
"The question, dear stranger," she said, after wiping her eyes on her napkin. "Is this: are you?"
She held out her hand, and I took it. We exhaled, and nothing happened. She was unreadable. I was a mystery.
We went our separate ways.
In the news the next day, I saw her picture along with an obituary. Ava Carden. Just a person, like anyone else, but now dead. Like anyone else. Like the doctor who had first held me, the one facing an abusive husband she could not escape forever. Like my parents, doomed to a car crash days after they first held me. Like my childhood neighbors, victims to disease and disaster just as I knew enough of their secrets to become attatched.
For the first time in thousands of lives, I wondered that I never met the same person twice.