Those who wear old-fashioned watches, like my parents, are disturbed. The hands are gone, they say, both hands, long and short. Even the very thin finger that counts the seconds. Their watch faces left as smooth as stupid moons.
As no one happened to be looking down at their clocks then, no one can tell us exactly when it stopped being the time.
My mother says it was sometime after 4:00 pm. She started pulling weeds around 3:10, and she said she could tell it had been more than an hour when the sun stalled, when shade failed to move across the yard.
I believe it was closer to 3:30, as I had been waiting for the rice cooker to finish and had started it around 3:00. I was certain because if it had been 4:00 or 3:45 or even 3:35 when the clocks stopped, the rice would have finished. I was making just enough for my leftover yellow curry, and such a small amount never took more than a half hour. The little light on the rice cooker would have switched from cooking to warm if the clocks had gone blank at 4:00 and it hasn’t.
The glass lid with a hole for letting the steam out as the rice cooks tipped over at some point in or out of time. Half of the rice cooker lid is up in the air while half is lowered into the rice cooker. The lid looks like a swimmer frozen mid-stroke. I am afraid to lift the lid up and right it, as I normally would, because I don’t understand what the rice is up to. It could be any temperature in there, I tell Charlotte, it could be any consistency. There’s no way of knowing how long it’s been.
It hasn’t been any measurement long, Charlotte corrects. She was driving home from work when it happened. The clocks could have disappeared at almost any point between the city she works in, Greenville, and the city we live in, Fairview.
Do you think they still have time, in Greenville? I’m not sure. They had time when I left, but who knows when that was. They may still have it, or they may be like us.
Here the sun is everywhere. As the afternoon continually fails to pass, I am more convinced that the time stopped somewhere between 3:15 and 3:30. This is what the light in the living room looks like between 3:15 and 3:30, I tell Charlotte. The light means we are locked between those two stopped numbers. Certainty makes a window.
The room is yellow with sunlight, like we are living on the petal of a giant sunflower. Is it getting more yellow in here? More yellow than what? More yellow than when it started. Charlotte may not understand my question. Now that we no longer have time, it has become difficult to discuss the time when we had it, and the time when it must have stopped, and now.
Should we knock on the door, ask our neighbors if their time is out too? It’s not like a power-outage, you know. It’s not like we forgot to stock up on flashlights. We cannot borrow the time from them.
Even if they had the time, they wouldn’t give it to us. Our neighbors disliked us, we knew, because we complained about the loud, group singing they did on Saturday nights. We now believe that the singing is part of their religion and that we deeply offended them by pounding on the thin white wall we share when they sang past 9 pm.
I don’t understand if or when I’m supposed to go to class, I say. I’m not sure when it would count as tomorrow. I try to start my homework, but all the papers float around in my hands like stupid fish. I can’t get my fingers around anything. That doesn’t make any sense, Charlotte says. Well, I was planning on starting my homework after an early dinner, I say. I have no energy around 3:15. So nothing will stick.
Charlotte’s hands tremble. She runs them over her arms again and again as if she is cold. It is not cold in our yellow apartment. I take her two thin hands and put them underneath my thighs to warm them and to make them stop shaking. I feel the way I felt as a child in church, when we were supposed to cross our arms and bow our head for prayer but the child next to me would not stop moving around, keeping her eyes and mouth open, when it was time to be still.
We donated a bench in the park.
Rather, the bench was there before we donated it and part of what we donated was a plaque that was placed by someone (we do not know precisely who) on our bench to show that we donated it. The plaque couldn’t have cost as much as we spent in order to donate the bench so we imagine the park used the rest of the donation on one or more benches that others can later donate to the park (though the park will let the benches still be in the park before they are officially donated. They just stand around without a plaque. We have seen some of these).
We know our bench was a lot of money that could have gone to something better and so we feel a little bad that we did not spend that large amount of money in a better way. It feels nice to make a donation, but it also feels bad to make a donation that you know could have been a better donation, given the amount of money you had to give. We said, the trouble is, there is always a more worthy cause. And a bench was a donation that still made us feel a little good but also coincided with our own desire for the bench.
It feels good to sit on our bench and know that we made the bench possible, somehow, with our plaque, but it feels bad because our bench is more for us than anyone else and we understood that we would enjoy it very much when we made our donation. Our bench makes our lives better, because we go out for a walk in order to visit it most every day. We feel happier on our bench than we do on other seats, even other seats that we have bought, such as the seats in our home.
In fact, all park benches make us happier than any seats outside of the park (though our own bench makes us the happiest). Other benches make us feel good because they feel related to our bench. The very happiest we are with our bench is when we walk to it and discover that it is taken by someone else. This happiness helps us to feel like we were not so selfish in our donation of the bench.
If the persons on the bench are a couple, we say that they look like us, only older or younger, because they are sitting on our bench. When we walk past, we watch them as much as possible without appearing to before selecting another bench to sit on nearby. On the days that our bench is taken and we sit on other benches, we think about the names on that bench’s plaque, unless it is a bench without a plaque and then we imagine other versions of ourselves with other names living elsewhere in the city. We create ghosts and give them names and say that they are the ones who will someday plaque this bench and the rest of their donation will perhaps go to the spreading of other plaque-able benches or perhaps help with the maintenance of the park.
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