There was no angel. Julius looked around the sterile, green hospital room in disbelief. The room, he remembered, smelled of disinfectants and latex; he couldn’t smell it now, of course, but his original self, over there by the bed, had locked that smell away in the back of his brain as a permanent reminder of the death of baby Cecillia. It was just as strong in Julius’s memory as it had been that day. He watched as Meg’s tears rolled down her cheeks in silent agony, as young Julius hovered helplessly. The doctor gently folded the blanket over their sweet, sweet baby Cecillia and put his stethoscope back in his pocket. Julius examined every corner of the room, again, but could find no angel. With a final, shuddering sigh, he flickered back to his own time.
Over the next few weeks, every time his name came up on the roster, Julius used his time travel opportunity to go back again. He never saw himself there, except for the one who lived it originally, for the same reason nobody else ever saw him there – each time travel event happened inside its own little dimensional bubble; no time traveler could be seen, or do anything to affect anything in the past. It was a tourist’s dream – or a scholar’s.
Professor Janes, of the history department, visited ancient Rome and stood in the Forum to watch Julius Caesar speaking. Julius Kane visited St. Mary’s Hospital and decided to stand by the door this time while he watched his daughter die.
Professor Kimble, of the art department, went to prehistoric times and watched ancient hunters breathing magical life into drawings in the caves at Lascaux. Julius Kane went to the hospital and stood over his twenty-year-old self as his daughter drew her last breath.
Professor Linz, of the religious studies department, spent several months searching history for evidence of the life or death of Jesus. Julius Kane watched his daughter die, and die, and die, and although his search became desperate, there was no sign of the angel.
They had seen the angel take their baby Cecillia, when she died. He and Meg, and the doctor, they had all seen the angel. Meg had joined a convent not long afterward. And Julius had spent his life working on time travel, swearing he would see the angel again if it was the last thing he ever did.
“Don’t you think this is morbid?” asked Julius’s friend, mathematics professor Arthur Raines. He had been following Julius’s progress, or lack thereof, with some incredulity. “I mean, how can you stand watching your daughter’s death over and over like that?”
“Well, yes, it is her death – but it’s also her entire life. We only had her for a few hours,” Julius said. “And it’s worth it if I can just see the angel again.”
“Perhaps you should try a more systematic approach?” Arthur was an organized fellow, and Julius’s reports had been paining him for some time. “You’ve been going there haphazardly, just looking from different angles. Why not try a grid? The floor probably has square tiles, right?”
Julius nodded. He had done a lot of staring at those tiles lately, along with the ones on the ceiling, and the paint on the walls; he had been trying to see through them, as if to track the passage of an angel that he couldn’t see.
“Then try a different tile each time, in order, so you don’t miss anything. But I still think you’d be better off trying new places. It seems such a waste of a good time machine.”
Julius stood on his designated tile for a while, then walked over to the bed where his younger self was holding Cecillia. He sat down next to where Meg’s knees curled up, leaving neither wrinkle nor dent to indicate his presence, and looked lovingly at his baby daughter. She was wrapped in a blanket, and was beautiful in a little pink hat that completely hid any evidence of her malady. She wasn’t hooked up to any machines, because there was nothing that could be done for her; the thing that doomed her to a scant few hours of life was a genetic disorder that left her with only part of a brain. Young Julius held her nervously and wonderingly, while Meg looked on with a most forlorn smile.
Julius sat there and recorded everything in his memory once again, until it was nearly time, and then went back to stand on tile number two. He’d already stood on tile number one, the first time he watched from that corner, so he felt safe in skipping it this time.
The doctor entered the room and stopped. Everyone looked around in wonder. Julius craned his neck to see what they were looking at, but saw nothing. Anywhere. The doctor moved swiftly and surely to the bedside, and checked baby Cecillia with his stethoscope. Meg’s tears fell; young Julius was silent but for his shuddering breaths. Once again, the doctor covered their baby with the blanket. Still he could see no angel.
“I don’t understand it, Arthur,” Julius moaned to his friend over coffee in the university cafeteria. “I have been there sixty-seven times now, and every time, they see the angel, and I don’t. And I know they saw it the first time, because… well, we did. It’s not just me, dammit – Meg became a nun because of it!”
“You’re a braver man than I am, my friend. I’ve never lost a child, but I couldn’t watch one die that many times.”
“As I’ve said, Arthur, I’m watching her live. Her whole little life was spent in that hospital room, with the people who loved her. I can almost see the room filling up with love. But I can’t see it, you know?”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather take a vacation, go to the California beaches in 300 AD when there wasn’t anyone else there?”
“No, Arthur. Thank you, but I’m happy with my mission. Frustrating though it is.”
Tile number seventy-three brought Julius to the bedside, looking across his family toward the door. He sat on the bed and watched Cecillia’s life unfold, memorized her face for what felt like the thousandth time, then stood to watch the end. The doctor came in, stopped, and they all looked around in wonder. Julius followed the doctor’s gaze intently, and he thought he saw a flicker of something out of the corner of his eye. When he looked at it full-on, it was gone.
By tile number eighty-five, when Julius was back at the side of the bed again, he had seen the flickering seven more times. It was never in the same place twice.
By tile number ninety-seven, yet another bedside tile, he was beginning to see more than one flicker. In several directions, he could see the air shimmering like heat waves in the desert, a maddening mirage that left him breathless. And his time-bubble felt… unstable.
“Julius, you’ve got to report this to the committee.” Arthur looked at Julius’s hands, wrung together on the table, and put his own hands over them.
Julius groaned. “Arthur, I can’t – I’m so close now. I’ll report it when I have definitive results.”
“You’re close to something, all right. I’m just not sure if it’s a mental breakdown or a problem with the machine. Nobody has ever traveled to the same place so many times.”
“I’m going to see the angel. I’m so close.”
Julius was keyed up this time as he sat on the bed, and he watched Cecillia eagerly; it was almost as if he could feel her gearing up to go with the angel. Her sweet little face, framed by the pink hat, seemed even more angelic, and when she moved her hand, he reached out and put his incorporeal hand over it, remembering how her tiny fingers had wrapped around one of his when he was young. He was so intent, he didn’t notice it was almost time until the door opened.
He looked up. As usual, the doctor stopped in his tracks and gazed around in wonder. Julius gasped. On every square foot of the floor, he stood, gazing at his dying baby. In some places, two or three of him, looking, looking.
The room shimmered with the intensity of more than a hundred dimensional bubbles popping into each other, combining and multiplying their power; as more bubbles melded into his own, Julius felt a bright power engulfing him, and then he felt his daughter’s hand and her fingers wrapping around his own, as they had so many years ago.
He looked down and saw her shining spirit, her tiny, beautiful little soul, rising toward him, and he felt the last bubble popping. His own body began to shimmer.
As he rose up toward the ceiling, out of the room, with his sweet, sweet baby Cecillia, the doctor watched in awe, and so did young Julius and his Meg.
He had found the angel, if it was the last thing he ever did.
© Samanda R. Primeau