– What exactly is this?
– It’s an advertisement, you see.
– Yes, but why? I am not lost at all, I’ve been coming and going from my parent’s house every day since I got their letter!
– Well, yes. But you’re also lost.
– I am not, I tell you. It’s my parents who have been lost at sea for a few years now. I sent letters to Paris, inquiring if they ever got there. Many good-willed people wrote to me, captains checked their passenger counts, others sent me copies of their rescuees. Nothing. After a year, I decided to let go.
– Ah, yes. I see.
They sat for a while. Neither of them were particularly bothered with the silence, nor with the occasional chirp altering its fine surface.
– So, who are you, anyway?
– I was about to ask you the same, but apparently you’re the same Catherine this ad is talking about.
– I could be lying.
– That means nothing. Everyone can lie. Therein lies the immense value of trusting someone: there’s always the possibility that someone is lying to you. The difference is that you’re openly and manifestly deciding to believe in someone.
– Why would I lie? I gain nothing from telling you that I’m the one they’re looking for.
– I cannot know. People lie for financial gain, for lust, for fear, for hope… why, even as a joke.
– No one could be so cruel as to lie just for a laugh.
– Not even if the joy and laughter gained is greater than the lie?
– Not even. Anyone who would laugh from a lie is a sinner. The devil himself is a liar and the father of lies.44
– Ah, yes. So nothing good can ever come from lies and lying, that’s what you’re saying?
– I only say that I cannot believe you when you say someone would lie for a laugh, or as a joke.
– That doesn’t change the fact that anyone could lie.
– I’m not lying: I am Catherine Haggerty.
– And how is that proof enough? Anyone matching this description could claim to be Catherine Haggerty: young, with dark hair.
– This description matches me, isn’t it?
– It does, but I have no proof that you’re the same person this ad is talking about. Would you believe me if I told you I’m the descendant of the first Englishmen who came to these shores? You have no proof other than my word.
– I could check the birth registries, make inquires like they do when someone dies and an inheritance is on the table.
– That’s dependent on you leaving this bench and going off. It would also depend on the registries being true.
– And why wouldn’t they be true?
– You said it yourself: if I could inherit a fortune with the right name, it makes some sense to bribe the adequate people into changing a registry. Whoever changes the registry stands to gain some money from altering the truth, betting that no one will ever check such minute details. And on and on the world has reasons to lie. It’s only natural to lie. God himself sends lies to the lawless so that they may be condemned.11
– But that is only an instrument against those who were previously wicked! The truth is revealed to the righteous so that they may be free.31
– If truth is only of the righteous, it stands to reason we can all be wicked. Else, being good would not be a conscious act, but a predetermined path!
A young lady sat at the other end of the bench, unwrapped something from a napkin and proceeded to eat in silence, without acknowledging them. They all sat, waiting for the stranger to leave, her chewing as fast as her jaws would permit, but the meal resisted valiantly against its own demise.
– This young lady here could be Catherine Haggerty as well. She matches the description.
– But she is not, I am.
– Excuse me miss, what’s your name?
– I should be asking you the same, since you seem to know my name. It’s rude to intrude in someone else’s life like that, you know.
– So you’re Catherine Haggerty?
– I am, since you must know.
– Thank you, miss.
A heavy fog fell, and they could see nothing beyond a few feet. One could hear footsteps here and there, but no one producing them. The birds still defied the silence.
– Why would you believe her and not me?
– Who says I believe her? If anything, I have even less of a reason to believe you—or her—are the person this ad is referring to.
The young lady packed what was left of her meal with obvious disgust at the other two speaking of her and not even having the common indecency of doing so behind her back. She left without saying a word.
– There she goes.
– You offended her.
– Me? I merely asked for her name, and I spoke directly to her. You, on the other hand, started making a ruckus only because she claims to be Catherine Haggerty.
– But she’s not the one!
– Who said she were? She merely answered to my asking for her name. Unlike you, she minded her own business and didn’t read the papers over my shoulder.
The young lady returned, picked up something—a locket—lying where she sat before. Without returning the gaze, she picked it up, saw it with loving eyes, and left again.
– You were saying?
– I was saying: you seem to believe her more than me.
– You seem to think I believe anything just because it coincides with this ad.
– But my parents’ names also coincide! Isn’t that enough proof?
– I have no proof that your parents are Hugh and—what’s her name?—it doesn’t say.
– It doesn’t say that here.
– But it’s my mother’s name. She’s married to Hugh, and we live—or used to live—in Newtown.
– More asseveration that I can’t possibly verify. You’ve had time to read the advertisement again, and it’s no grand feat to fill in the blanks with an imaginative mind.
The pair sat again in silence. The fog lifted just as night fell. A few lights came and went in what seemed to be a common path for other pedestrians. The young lady awaited somewhere out of sight.
– Where did you get that?
– It was in today’s papers. I read them every day.
– Are there many other advertisements like this?
– This is the first one I’ve read. I can’t recall anything like this being published before.
– Why would they publish it, then?
– I suppose the Printer was paid for it. What other reason would he have to publish something?
– Maybe to help some poor parents reunite with their daughter.
– Or maybe because they paid the sum and it wasn’t anything indecent, immoral or against the law.
– You don’t believe the Printer would help two people in need?
– I believe that is not at odds with getting paid to publish an advertisement. After all, he himself has no way of determining whether the story is true, he merely believes there’s no good reason to refuse payment for his services. Whether this story is true or not, he gets paid the same.
– So you don’t believe the story is true?
– I have no means of knowing it. It’s not my business to inquire on every person on this city, imposing upon their time my questioning on whether they’ve lost a daughter.
– But why would someone waste their time and money publishing a false story?
– Perhaps the same could be asked of people drinking away their sorrows, painting portraits that will inevitably rot, or building houses on sand.26 Maybe some people derive pleasure from it, or distraction from greater pains. Men on hospital beds long not only for a cure, but for something to free them from hours of boredom, even if such relief is temporary.
The moon rose for a while. Someone was robbed and left for dead, while two lovers met to elope to a distant land. None of these events disturbed the conversation.
– So you won’t believe I’m the Catherine Haggerty?
– You yourself told me you’re not this Catherine Haggerty, which—if true—would prove there’s more than one with such a name.
– When did I tell you that?
– You told me your parents were lost at sea, and these parents are looking for a missing Catherine. If both things are true, you cannot be their daughter.
– But every other fact fits, is it not too much coincidence?
– You’re looking for coincidences to confirm your preconceived notion. I’m content exploring possibilities while also trying to eliminate as many alternatives as possible. Whatever remains must be the truth.
– And what, pray tell, is the truth you’ve found?
– I haven’t yet. I know of some alternatives that cannot be. You yourself helped me eliminate some of them.
The sun threatened to rise once more. The lovers climbed aboard the SS Amsterdam. Fishermen returned ashore to sell their nightly catch.
– Once I was like you, sure of myself. I don’t really know what happened to change the fact, the past is foreign to me. All I know is that you too will change and see things not for what they are, but for what they will be. Today you look for the few coincidences you have with this Catherine, despite the fact that she’s lost to her parents and your parents are lost to you. Your grey lock is on the left of your head, yet you comb it to the right. You know something’s wrong with you in this world, yet you refuse the signs and demand reality to warp itself to accommodate to you. You knew this day would come just as you know who I am and why I’m here. You remember the lady next to us, yet act surprised when you hear her name.
Catherine—for that was really her name—gulped. She couldn’t remember the past, only the future; even so she had dreaded the encounter since forever. This day where she existed several times, in many distinct lives. She remembered growing old and coming back to read the papers. She remembered losing her parents in one future, finding them in another, arguing with them in a third one… She remembered meeting with other Catherines, almost but not perfectly parallel to her own life: always coinciding in names, places and circumstances. Not far away, another Catherine was found dead, after a robbery went awry.
She was destined to end imprisoned here, so that other version of herself could be free. Somewhere else, Catharine Haggerty and her beloved land on the other side of the ocean, finally eloping and freeing themselves from their parents and the hellish time-trap. The first and only time such a thing happened—or will happen.
POSTSCRIPT: the most excellent dutchess has pointed out that the Quest talked about «Catharine» and not «Catherine». I immediately thought this was a typical typo of mine. dutchess, in a brilliant move, told me she read this as another clue/sign of the minute differences between Catharines/Catherines that exist in parallel universes. So these protagonists being «Catherines» is 100% my mistake; and that being a sign of «almost-but-not-completely-parallel-universes» is canon, but not my original idea, but dutchess'.
QUEST: TELL ME A STORY