You only get one . . .

It was time for Corinna to send her letter.

It would be the only one, the laws being what they were, but she had reached her hundredth year and it was her legal right.

The girl turned up twenty minutes late, her bracelets jingling as she flipped back her hair. Corinna marvelled at her slimness, the gazelle-like legs, the smooth, unblemished skin.

‘I’m here,’ said the girl, and threw her arms up in a gesture of impatience as she looked around the room the visits were held in. Corinna had chosen the ‘Springtime in the Garden’ desktop. Soft sunlight filtered through the tree branches. Dappled shadows spun across the pavement beneath her feet and the plastic chairs had been overlaid with wooden park benches.

‘You must have a lot of questions for me,’ she said, gesturing towards the opposite bench.

‘Yea. We had to write a list of ten questions at school once. I have it somewhere . . .’ The girl was digging though her backpack. ‘Will my phone work in here?’

‘What are you using now? Wi-Fi? I remember Wi-Fi.’ Corinna leaned back into her own chair. ‘There was a big white modem in the kitchen. It kept switching off. We’d have to call the company. We had phone companies back then, you see, and we’d have to . . . report it to them. That the Wi-Fi was down.’

‘Umm,’ said the girl. She pulled out her phone, and the nostalgia that hit the older woman when she saw that clunky square of plastic in its sunflower-yellow case was painful. Tears pricked her eyes. She blinked hard.

The girl was waving her phone around, trying to get a signal.

‘It won’t work, dear,’ she said quietly.

‘Oh.’ The girl slumped back. She looked like a lanky wolf, all restless energy as she read out her list of questions about music, the environment, technology and fashion. Corinna answered them quietly, trying not to get caught up in memories; the scent of her mother’s shampoo, her dad’s cooking, the smell of oceans and seaside cafes. But oh, it was hard. She had to keep blinking.

When their time was up the girl stood to go. She paused.

‘So, did we get married?’

‘Oh yes,’ said Corinna softly.

‘Boy or girl?’

‘I can’t tell you that, dear. Some things should remain a mystery.’

‘But . . . a hint?’ The girl was bumping her arm against her hip, her head cocked to one side.

Corinna hesitated, then; ‘You’ll find them in the place with the birds.’

‘The birds?’ The girl looked intrigued, and Corinna remembered how much she had loved the puzzles of life.

There was a quiet click, and a humming sound as the portal activated. It was time. The girl took a step forward, looked back.

‘So, I don’t get to see you again, is that right?’

‘I’m afraid not. You see, it’s my last . . . I mean, we only have this one time. Let’s leave it at that.’

‘But should I, like, overthrow the government or stop AI or warn everyone about the aliens or something?’

‘Only if you want to, dear.’

‘I’m going camping this weekend,’ she said, and Corinna remembered the feel of new hiking boots and thick socks, the smell of pine. ‘We get to go there in a real airship. Can I do it after?’

‘Just have a nice time. The world will take care of itself.’

‘Oh. Okay, then.’ Relieved, the girl flounced towards the portal the way only a fifteen-year old could, calling back over her shoulder.

‘See ya.’

But she hesitated when she reached the door, and gave a shudder. ‘I hate these things.’

'You only have to do it once more,’ said Corinna reassuringly.

‘And why is that again?’ She seemed to be stalling.

‘Why the one visit? I’m not sure.’ Corinna found herself trying to remember the endless paperwork she had to fill out. ‘Apparently it’s not possible for anyone to make more than one return trip. I don’t remember this meeting, but once you go back, I will.’

‘Because a new timeline will have been created,’ said the girl.

‘Something like that, yes.’ Corinna found herself happy to keep chatting. She had no hurry to leave this room.

The girl took a step forward, then doubled over at the waist. ‘I feel sick,’ she said pitifully.

Corinna rose, her back stiff. Ridiculous to feel maternal for one’s self, she thought, but nonetheless she found herself stepping over to the girl and patting her back.

‘Just take a few deep breathes, and you’ll . . .’

The girl straightened and grabbed her hand. Corinna caught a glimpse of her grin before she felt herself being yanked forward so firmly her shoulder gave a twinge of pain, just before they both tumbled through the portal.