“I want to grow old with you.” Gabriel said.
Miranda felt likewise.
So they booked their fast-forwarding that afternoon.
In spite of the name, it was not really time travel, but rather a radical cosmetic change. It had been developed as a process to help actors “play older,” though it had since been refined to become less expensive, and rolled out for public consumption as well. Along with being cheap, it was pretty much painless, which meant they could both remain conscious throughout. The surgeon kept chatting and telling them jokes, but seemed wholly sincere when he wished them good luck.
They were discharged from the clinic in under an hour, and made their way out of there hopping and laughing; despite their appearance, they had no fear of falling or breaking their hips. Internally, they felt the same as they had done that morning, and even the same as the day that they met— which, after all, was only a week ago—but now they looked as if they’d been paired up for years.
The people they passed in the halls and waiting room, and the others who trudged through the underground car park, all of them stopped for a moment and stared. Well, aside from one teenaged couple, who were actively, pointedly doing the opposite: not making eye contact and not holding hands. Miranda watched them instead, with a curious mixture of pity and pride. She had avoided that moody, insecure stage with Gabriel, and could look forward to a future of comfortable love.
He flashed her a smile as if he’d had the same thought, and it was exceedingly gummy and almost too big for his zip-puckered mouth. It was just how she’d pictured him. She smiled back even wider, till her face was a filigreed crosshatch of wrinkles, which reminded him, pleasantly, of the doilies his gran used to put beneath cups.
Their new shared apartment had a musty aroma and was furnished with things from their old, separate flats, which had also been aged by a crack team of craftspeople, an extra they’d chosen as part of the deal. They traced wizened fingers across each piece in succession, oohing and aahing at the finely-honed shabbiness, and how well it all suited this stage in their lives. While they were afflicted with sagging and creases, the sofa was burdened with crumples and stains; while they bore the leopard-print of liver spots and faint jaundice, the wallpaper was sun-bleached and starting to peel. The rustic kitchen table matched the texture of their skin.
The double bed was the only unfamiliar item, because neither had actually owned one before; the mattress had a uniquely chaotic topography, as if they had used it together for years. They fit into it perfectly and still had the zest for other things besides sleep.
It was just as they’d hoped: they felt nervous, excited, and yet settled, content.
Afterwards, across the gap between both of their pillows, Gabriel smiled and Miranda smiled back.
“Did you ever really think that we’d make it this far?” She squeezed his fingers.
“I wasn’t quite sure,” he said, squeezing harder, “but I certainly hoped.”
Much as they might have preferred it to do so, the procedure did not speed them on to retirement, or even to promotions in their respective careers. Miranda was still technically on a three-month internship, and Gabriel was a blogger for a gossip magazine.
What he found, though, increasingly, was that in-office gossip was focused on him. He got fewer assignments, and was told to only conduct interviews via email or phone. It might have been discrimination, but he wasn’t sure on what grounds. It couldn’t really be ageism, because he was, for all purposes, still twenty-three. So he didn’t complain, and just hoped to win favor again through his work.
Besides, it perturbed him much more when his friends acted strangely. As Miranda’s did, too. When they met to go shopping, or popped down at the pub, they all seemed standoffish, or even ashamed. They were reluctant for Gabriel to go get a round in, as if the effort might strain him. And Miranda often went to the toilets alone. It wasn’t appealing, it seemed, to have a chat by the mirrors with someone much older; strangers might think you were out with your mom.
A few people mentioned this, and other worries, in private.
Aren’t you concerned that it might be too serious?
Don’t you think that you’re moving a little too fast?
“They’re just jealous,” said Gabriel, when Miranda got sad.
It seemed to make sense, so Miranda agreed. Of course, they would be a target for envy, having found the right person to be with through life, while their friends were still sleeping around with whoever, and accruing emotional stress and regret.
Gabriel never made use of the hoover. And Miranda never emptied the washing machine, let alone hung the clothes out to dry in the yard. Gabriel wanted takeaway six nights a week, and on the seventh expected Miranda to cook.
All that she liked to make was seafood paella, but Gabriel wasn’t a big fan of rice, and found shellfish disgusting, especially shrimp.
“Sometimes,” he told her, “it’s like you don’t even know me.”
Miranda felt likewise, but never said it out loud.
Whenever she went quiet, which was increasingly often, Gabriel reached for the TV remote. They binged new seasons of shows that she’d watched in the past, though most of them not since a previous breakup; the characters that remained had all noticeably aged, and whether this was a result of the procedure or not, she couldn’t help being curious about plotlines she’d missed.
“Do you remember what we told each other the first time we met?” she said, in a gap between series.
“Of course,” he replied. “That we were searching for someone to share our adventures, and it felt like we’d found them.” He gave a brief flash of that bright, gummy grin.
It was hardly surprising they recalled the scene vividly: it had happened a month ago.
But they couldn’t really name other exploits of note.
They sat across from each other at the antiqued kitchen table, feeling as weathered and drawn as they looked.
Miranda had cremated the toast, yet again. And Gabriel hadn’t put enough milk in her coffee, and three lumps of sugar instead of just two. They had their first proper argument, which was also their last.
“I’ve given you too much of my life,” she said, crying.
“If I could do it all again, just the same,” he replied, “then I don’t think I would.”
He noticed she’d put her cup straight on the timber, instead of on one of the doilies he’d bought.
At six weeks, the procedure was still under warranty, so they booked their rewinding at no extra cost.
On their return to the clinic, they avoided all eye-contact, especially with patients who were heading back out. They didn’t feel remotely like hopping and laughing, and Gabriel was purposely dragging his feet.
The surgeon seemed just as reluctant as they were, and a bit disappointed, if not entirely surprised. He didn’t crack as many jokes in the operating theatre, but at least remained affable enough to assure them that it wouldn’t really hurt any more than before.
“You might still have a few extra lines,” he admitted. “But I guess that’s just often the way of things, isn’t it, whenever a serious relationship ends.”