"You wanna make a baby?" he whispers in my ear.
You're easy to convince to play outside. Mom tells me I always wanted to read, from before I can even remember; you always want to get your boots on and run around. I have to nag you to do your homework, to study, to come in and learn things that aren't how light spills between your fingers if you shade your eyes from the sun. Heptapod doesn't interest you at all; you think it looks like coffee stains.
One of my colleagues makes a remark about regression to the mean, when I bring you to a conference with me when your father cancels suddenly; it's all I can do not to hit him.
I don't nag you very much, because I know, and you deserve every minute of splashing in the water you can fit.
I don't tell your father I'm sorry, not once, I'm not sorry, I can't be sorry, can I? You deserve every minute -
He doesn't fight very hard for custody. Maybe he thinks it will hurt less if he detaches early. Maybe it does. I don't fight hard either, I don't need to, I know -
And then you are mine, and it's just us and a wave-kissed backyard and presents I know you'll love before you open them, and I need every minute.
I miss him.
You miss him. Divorce is an adverse childhood event; you pretend you can shrug it off, like weekends of him are enough, like you don't think it's about you.
It's about you.
I know how this conversation goes and I can't not tell him. I can't turn away and say never mind, because you're his too, he loves you, he has to know.
"Did you ever get any better at reading Heptapod?"
"No - not after they were gone - it's not my specialty, really, without the urgency. I can decode it pretty quick with the program they whipped up for us, though, why?" He's chewing a celery stick, he's not even looking at me, he doesn't know.
"Do you remember what I said about time?"
"You said something about time? Was this when you were loopy having breathed their atmosphere and all -"
"Did you ever wonder, about how I called General Shang?" No one ever asks how I get the number. I am cleared of suspicion of spying - I know I have to be to show up at the party - and no one wants to know how I could call China, no one obstructs me from going home.
"I figured Costello gave you his number and you phoned him up and ranted in Chinese."
"I don't speak Mandarin." Yet, but this is how this conversation goes.
"I can pronounce the phonemes and the tones, but I don't speak it. I knew what to say because he told me what to say later at the celebration. Heptapod consciousness is outside of time, it's because of their language, if you learn to really read it you can too, I remember the future."
"Does Shang read it too?"
"I don't know. Maybe. He's not a linguist but he's multilingual, reads a character-based language, he might have been able to learn it before then."
"Okay, Louise. Predict the future."
"Hannah's going to slip on the rocks there and come in with a scraped left knee. You think the scrape looks like a car and make her laugh while I disinfect it." You're playing in the yard, just past your fifth birthday, not as surefooted as you will be.
You fall and cry and get up and run in with muddy shoes, tug at the cuff of your shorts to show us, and it's shaped like a blob with wheels but he thinks it's a perfect Toyota and you giggle while I wipe away blood and then you go back out with a band-aid on and he looks at me like I've grown a second head.
You get the flu when you're eight and I know you will be all right but I make chicken soup and have decongestants and you ask how I guessed. I say it's mother's intuition and you don't buy it.
I tell you you're unstoppable.
"What if she was going to die in a car crash," he hisses at me, late at night long after you've gone to bed. "Would you give her the keys?"
"It's not like that. There's no way to not give her the keys for this one."
"Early detection matters -"
"I try it. I can't find a doctor who'll even run the tests before she shows symptoms and she starts insisting on being seen without me in the room."
"It doesn't work. I try anyway. Do you think I want her to die -"
"You should have told me before we made her."
"How could - sixteen -" Pacing, clutching at his hair.
"Ian I couldn't I already loved her."
"You should have loved her enough to stop her wasting away before she finishes high school!"
"I love her I love her this is not a problem I can solve by having there be less of her Ian -"
"How does this end," he asks, gesturing between us. "Tell me how it ends."
I close my eyes. "You go stay with your sister. You divorce me, no fault, can't tell a judge about it - you see her weekends -"
He calls your aunt Megan.
You visit them on Saturday.
At your funeral he takes me aside and asks me if I ever loved him or if I only wanted you, was only using him to make you so that I could have your bright eyes and play-doh animals and crayon drawings and tickle fights and poems - He doesn't say that part. He stops at asking whether I used him.
"I love you," I say. I never do lose the skill of speaking in the past tense, but it's still true then, I love him. I love the way he holds me and the way his mind works and the way he trusts me when I shout a language I don't speak into the phone.
"You could have said anything, when I asked. Anything other than 'yes, yes I do'. You could have said 'tomorrow', and it would have turned out differently."
"That's not what happened."
"Did you have no choice or did you want her too much to use it?"
I pause, thinking. I know what I say, but the thinking about it still has to happen at some point in time, and this is when. I think.
"I don't know," I say, "I never tried to do something I remembered not doing."
"Never - if she'd died in a car crash would you -"
"I would've tried, if it had been a car crash," I murmur.
"But you wouldn't try for me, you wouldn't try to keep me -"
"I wish I had a sister," you say. You're ten and eating your birthday cake and your friends have all gone home and it's just us and it feels so quiet.
"Oh?" I ask you.
"Yeah. Or a brother, but the boy palindrome names aren't as good."
"Not in English. There are some nice Arabic ones."
"We're not Arabic. I wish I had a sister."
Six years after you die he calls me. I answer him.
"How long have you been remembering the future?"
"Answer the question."
"In flashes since early in the heptapod project," I tell him. "Consistently since the very end."
"So you've remembered - whatever we're about to say to each other, for more than two decades."
"I don't know that I've ever thought about this conversation before. I don't think about things that happened to me in college that often, it's like memory."
"So maybe it doesn't get me anywhere. Fuck it. I'm trying anyway. I can convince you now, of things you would've done then - because you'd already remember this conversation -"
"You don't, I already - we already had her."
"The hell we did, I'm trying out deciding that this is a memory and I can change the past. Louise. I loved her too. You don't think I didn't love her -"
"I know you loved her."
"But we would've loved any baby. We would've loved a son, or one we still named Hannah but conceived a week later, or one who died in a car crash so you could solve it. We didn't have to stand over a grave you saw coming eighteen years early."
"She's the one I know, I love her, she's not interchangeable. She couldn't be without the way she died, Ian."
"You have to lose her either way but I don't - you didn't have to do this to us, to me. Louise. We could have a different baby and stay together."
"I don't have to lose those sixteen years - our Hannah, our Hannah -"
"Won't you remember her anyway?"
"I don't know. I never try to do things I remember not doing."
"I can't pretend you'd be doing it for Hannah. If we don't have her she won't exist. But God, Louise -"
I hang up on him.
"What would you want to name your sister?" I ask you.
"A palindrome. What are more palindrome names?" You taught yourself to say the word fluidly when you first learned it.
"Anna, Ava, Ada. Elle. Eve."
When you get sick he doesn't say anything to me at all. He glares, when we run into each other at the hospital.
I never tell you why.
"You wanna make a baby?" he whispers in my ear.
"Yes," I tell your daddy. "Yes I do." I want to, I want to make you and hold you and have you. And I hold him and breathe in the scent of his skin and love him and love you and love him, so much -
And I flinch.
He catches me before I hit the ground and he's all over worry, I've never hurt him, he wouldn't think it of me.
I try to remember your face and it won't come quite clear and I black out.
I wake up in the hospital. I tell them I'm fine. I can't explain. They let me go, eventually.
Your daddy -
Ian doesn't bring up children again for a while. I go back to work.
You're gone, you're gone, you're gone, I can't ever -
I don't remember -
Just flashes. Your smile, your galoshes squelching in mud, your name.
He catches me sitting in the yard in the rain, staring at the places you like to play.
"Louise," he says. "What's wrong? You're still acting strange. Are you still sick, should we get a second opinion?"
"I'm not sick," I say. "I think. I don't know. I don't know what's happening."
He guides me inside and dries me off. "What can you tell me?" he says, toweling my hair.
"Did you ever get better at reading Heptapod?" I breathe, and I cry onto his chest.
"They called it a weapon," he says.
"If we translated that right. We didn't have enough context to be sure." My voice feels far away. I don't remember saying this. My memory is so murky now.
"Or a tool. They did say it was a gift."
"This isn't a gift, you must be - doing it wrong, somehow, if it does this to you. It's a weapon, or a tool, it has to be usable. You have to be able to use it."
"I don't know how," I say.
He points me back at my work. "Then keep reading."
Eve wants to learn Heptapod. I tell her to wait until she's older, that it can be a lot to handle, that it takes time to learn to use it instead of being overwhelmed, unable to keep everything straight and still make choices.
She reads my book anyway, stares at the sea of coffee-stain marks they left us as their gift. She asks me about you; she says I tell her when she's twenty but she asks now.
I tell her when she's twenty.
"She named you," I say. "She was never made but I remembered enough that she could name you."
You would have loved her so much, if you could have ever met her. If you could have both been real.
"Anna sounds too much like my name," you say.
"It would be pretty confusing," I agree.
"I like Eve. My sister should be named Eve."
"Okay, Hannah," I say, and I tuck you in and kiss you goodnight.