The letter came in an unassuming envelope. Plain white, garnished with plain black lettering. No flourishes were necessary; a letter from the Ministry of Certification needs no introduction.
Looking inside took me longer than I’d care to admit. The mail arrived around noon, but I could not find the strength to open it until you were just about to come home after work.
“This attempt was unsuccessful. Your Wish Form should be attached to this letter. Have it filled and sent back by week’s end or forgo the opportunity.
Our sincerest apologies for the inconvenience.
Memento facultatem defectum.”
Hands shaking, it took all I had not to drop the pages onto the floor. I started over from the top. I must have read the letter a dozen times, hoping somehow, the words in them would shift. Praying that I had missed something, somehow.
But the words, their meaning, stayed awfully still.
This attempt was a failure. Of course it was. So were countless other ones before, and that was no secret. To expect anything else was to rely on miracles.
Why would our future be any different?
Was it selfishness, then? Was it that, that made me hope that this possibility, one where we could live our lives peacefully together, would be the one?
Oh, what a sorry sight you must have seen on that day. A zombie, holding a wrinkled sheet of paper, the rest being strewn across the floor. It wouldn’t have changed much, but I regret that I could not soften the blow for you.
As a distraction from the thoughts swirling around in our heads, we started discussing what we’d wish for. Thank goodness, two forms had come with the accursed letter. That meant one miracle for you, and one for me.
It was still a difficult assignment. When everything’s on the table, narrowing it down to a few options felt night-impossible.
Of course, if we wished for world peace, that was probably impossible. But then again, how would we know? What if it was possible, and nobody had tried it yet?
I thought back to my parents. They were so proud of being wishless. How they would beam, in my youth. How they shouted from the rooftops the wonders of an unplanned future. Maybe that was the wise thing to do. Keep the pieces where they fall. Accept the next world as is, warts and all.
You didn’t seem convinced, of course. We couldn’t know when the Rendez-Vous point was, but we were pretty young. You wanted us to use our wish to make sure we could have a shot. We just needed to request to be born into the next world.
Ever the pragmatic – that was one of your many qualities.
But this time, we didn’t see eye to eye. The stakes were too high. Should a wish of mine be fulfilled, I would want it to be selfless, I guess. Or at least it should be something that benefits someone else. Maybe it was a weird way of looking at it, but I couldn’t shake that feeling.
Plus, even if we’re reborn, would we end up as the same people? It’s almost the same as helping a random stranger. It’d be nicer to know I’ve helped someone I know and cherish.
“Maybe we could swap wishes,“ I found myself saying. “I wish for something for your sake, and you do the same for me.”
You laughed. It was a hesitant sort of laughter, but laughter nonetheless. A sight for sore eyes.
“Isn’t that just wishing something for ourselves with extra steps? I trust you, but I’d rather have the flexibility at that point. Who knows, I might end up granting you a wish anyway!”
There was that practical sense of yours again. We kept bouncing ideas for a while. By nighttime, we still hadn’t come up with definitive answers. I told you one last thing before we drifted to sleep.
That I’d always stand by your choice.
We never even discussed the wishes again. I didn’t want to betray these last few words I said on that day.
And in any case, the decision made itself for me. On Thursday, I got a call from my mother. She was bawling. I could barely comprehend half the words she was trying to say.
The emotions still came through, however. She wanted to apologize. She thought I would feel coerced not to fill the form, because of what she’d said to others before. She needed to repent. For being a hypocrite, because she’d just filed hers. She was worried she was lesser, weaker, than her predecessor for doing so. She wondered where she’d gone wrong.
She wanted to know if she’d been a good mother. She wanted me to know I’d been a good son.
The call was overwhelming. Mum could barely keep a train of thought together, and I struggled to comfort her appropriately. Humans weren’t meant to be so direct with one another, I think. With the selfishness and selflessness of love on full display, we could only fumble our way to awkward goodbyes.
I’m still glad we had that call, however. It helped me figure out what my wish would be.
My parents were genuinely the happiest people I’d had known. Not knowing about the future, thinking everything we’d accomplished came from our own hands… It was a genuine boon for our family.
So, I sent in my form. It ended up extraordinarily simple. On it was a wish, for my parents not to be aware of what they’d wished for, come the next life.
I did feel horrible about not using my one wish for your sake. I still do. Hopefully, you kept yours to yourself.
A week can seem like such a long period until time starts to matter. It felt like you were always gone to work. And the moments we shared were so fleeting.
And now we’ve reached the week’s end. The mayor decided we should all stay together at the critical moment, that we wouldn’t have to face it alone. So here we are, standing around in a makeshift circle with friends, family, and acquaintances.
To tell the truth I’d rather be anywhere else. But at the end of things, there are few other places to be. At least I can be by your side.
My hand reaches unconsciously for yours.
The mayor starts talking about our town, its history, and the wonderful things we had accomplished together.
I can’t help but think of our own little history together. Such as when you used to care for that adorable cat: the one with the tiny spots. I thought about our first date together, at the local café. And that time we both slept at Frank’s place after I lost the keys to ours.
In the background, the mayor’s speech slurs. It’s so hard to focus on what she’s saying. Even the scenery begins to blur before my eyes.
Your hands are so warm in mine. They feel damp.
I look up to you.
I thought we agreed not to cry.
Look at that. You got me to break that vow as well.
I guess that’s one of your many qualities too.
I love you s