By Sarah Hansen
I don’t know who I am. I’m not quite sure where I am either. All I know is that I must be a time traveler.
I’m fairly certain that my name is Eleanor. It’s written on the door leading to The Room, embroidered on a cross-stitch above my bed, and sometimes written in black letters on a bracelet that appears and disappears around my wrist from time to time. I’m also fairly certain that I am about twenty-five years old.
It happens while I sleep, the time traveling. Almost every night, I fall asleep in The Room I wake up in another place, at another time. The place where I wake up is wonderful, and I am convinced that this is where I’m from. There is a lake, and the sun is usually shining. It casts shimmering light over the water as the waves ripple in the breeze. Up a small hill from the lake is a cabin with a fireplace and enough room for everyone who comes to visit. A narrow path leads from the cabin to the lake, with tall grass growing on either side. The lake is quite large, but it is calm and placid. There aren’t any motor boats out on the lake, probably because they haven’t been invented yet. At the end of the path there is a small sandy beach where I can sit.
At the lake I’m surrounded by people I love. Even though I can’t think of their names, I know who they are; it’s strange how time travel works. Sometimes I’m holding a baby, sometimes I feel like a child myself. My mother and father are both there. The cabin near the lake is filled with brothers and sisters and cousins from a childhood I can’t quite remember. Sometimes I am with a young man; he offers me a ring and I agree to marry him. We walk out onto the pier together and watch the sunset, all the while talking about our wedding and the life we’re going to build together. Even though we’ve just met, I feel as though I have been missing him for a very long time. Everything seems right while I’m at the lake.
When I wake up for the second time, I am covered in sweat even though my body is shaking from cold. I am in The Room again; I find myself here after every time. It’s nighttime and it’s quiet except for the occasional sound of footsteps coming from the hallway. My body aches and every movement is difficult, but I always manage to get out of bed and stumble to the window. Each time I hope to catch a glimpse of the lake, but it’s never there. Instead, I see the ghost of an old woman looking back at me. Her eyes are green like mine, and her face is covered in wrinkles. She floats in mid-air on the other side of the second story window, hovering above the trees and the streetlights with her nose only inches away from my own. I can’t see her feet, her body disappears below the shoulders. She has a look of alarm on her face, almost as if I’ve startled her. Sometimes I am afraid of her, but not always. She looks familiar, and she has never done anything to hurt me. Nevertheless, her presence is unsettling and I wish she would go away.
In The Room, the old woman’s ghost follows me. I see her when I walk past windows or look into TV screens when the TV is turned off. She stares back at me, always with the same startled look on her face. I reason with myself that this haunting is the price of being a time traveler. She haunts me when I am in The Room, but she goes away when I am at the lake.
I always find myself in the same Room when I return from my travels to the lake, nothing ever changes. The Room has four beige walls and a small window with pale yellow curtains. A few girls who are around my age come to see me a few times a day. They’re quite strange, but I like them very much. Sometimes I think they might be my guardian angels, protecting me from the ghost of the old woman while I’m in the Room. They ask how I feel, if I need anything to eat, or if I’d like to go spend some time outside on a warm afternoon. They all wear the same blue pajamas with name tags hanging from the pockets. When the afternoon is over they always bring me back to The Room, where my name is embroidered on a cross-stitch above the bed and there are pictures of strangers hanging up on the walls.
The people in the pictures are strangers, but not really. I’ve met them all but I don’t quite know who they are. There are three women who come to see me, sometimes they come with their husbands or children, and sometimes they come alone. They are all much older than me. They hold my hand and take me for walks in the garden outside The Room. We talk sometimes, but I can never remember what they say. Sometimes they smile, sometimes they cry. The three women have seven children between them. The children play near me, sit next to me, and show me their drawings. The oldest has a clarinet that she sometimes brings and plays for me. She is very good for her age, I’m proud of her without even knowing her. I almost know their names, but as soon as I think of them they are gone. It makes me sad that my memories escape me so quickly, I’ve asked who they are so many times.
I think that someday soon I will have to stop being a time traveler. It is so exciting, but it is also so exhausting. Every time I visit The Room I become more and more tired; every time I go to the lake I wish I could stay just a little bit longer. Although being in The Room can be scary and confusing, it makes me sad to know that soon I will have to leave for good. I wonder what will happen to the three women and their children, my visits with them are what I will miss the most.
I hope that I will remember who I am when I give up my time traveling and decide to stay at the lake permanently. I hope that my childhood memories will come back to me, I will know how I met the young man who proposed, and I will find out if my name really is Eleanor. Things always make sense at the lake. I am not afraid to go there for good, but I think I will keep traveling for just a little bit longer.
Born and raised in northern Illinois, Sarah Hansen is a recent Carroll University graduate. She is an alumnus of Portage Magazine, serving as the 2017 Poetry Editor and 2019 Editor in Chief. This is her first publication.