Timestop (short story)

It was a bad day for the clocks to stop, Jason thought sullenly. The power must have gone out—or maybe a power surge because the time wasn’t blinking 12:00 like he’d expect. It was standing still at 10:11AM. He wondered if the lit up numbers, unused to staying in one place for so long, would bore permanent impressions in the LCD display. “It’s a crap clock. Ten bucks from Rite Aid and I’ve had it for at least five years.”

He heard a banging from the other room. Her bedroom, for now. The distinctive slam of the lacquered lid of an old jewelry box with one wobbly hinge. He could see the black surface and the white..day lilies? He would probably not get the chance to ask her. He listened and imagined her rolling up the Indian prints that hung over the floor-to-ceiling windows in her room, like a gypsy picking up camp for good.

It was still 10:11AM and that bothered him. He had been up most of the night talking – but not to her. And now she knew that. He had been looking forward to a good sleeping in, till noon or 2pm. That was a good time to wake. The kind of lazing about only young men are really capable of.

But she had come back early. The other girl, was sleeping on the couch. He had that kind of foresight at least. But her presence was enough for Julia. He blinked groggily, it was 8:11AM, perhaps she had meant to surprise him. She looked pretty, he had noted, her shoulder length hair bronze in the unwelcome morning light, drawn into two thick pigtails, the effect he supposed was meant to be adorable, along with the ratty denim overalls she favored while travelling.

She had said his name a little too loudly, like someone alerting him to the presence of a small fire. In this case, a fire still sleeping on his couch.

“Jason, why is she here?” he hadn’t the wakefulness to make up a story. Or maybe he was out of excuses. He knew he was just tired. It was 8:11AM in the fucking morning after all and he had gone to bed…when? 5AM? 6AM? It didn’t matter. Changed nothing.

He just looked at Julia without answering. He almost told her she was pretty, but didn’t think it was the right time. Julia shifted uncomfortably perched near his shoulder as she was on the black aluminum frame of his futon. She tried again. “Jason,” she said almost kindly, “do you like her?”

He supposed that was as much of an explanation as any. He nodded his head, feeling numb. Her neck became still and her jaw set. This would have been a good day to pull her into bed, put his hands under her overalls, pull at the buttons and pull the fabric away. He could imagine this clearly, as he had done it many times before. But now wasn’t the time. In fact, that time seemed to have passed quite suddenly like a cloud dissipating in the light of dawn.

She regarded him with some indignation. She was waiting for him to say something. He wasn’t going to be able to go back to sleep until he did. He started and his voice caught in his throat, making it crack. “I don’t want to lie to you,” he said. That much was true. It was exhausting trying to lie. He was far too tired. “I like her. She stayed the night. We didn’t…but yes, I like her. And I guess you should know that.”

He started to mumble “I’m sorry,” but she was already up. The moment had passed. She had all she needed. She marched from the room and he decided not to follow her. Better to get more sleep. When he awoke, she was back with boxes and most of her things were sitting in the hall. They had lived together for two years, but as a perennial student the things she valued were lightweight and folded well for travel. She had her clothes, her books, her pictures, her various wall hangings and trappings from what was her room sitting in four smallish boxes in the hall, clearly marked VODKA. From the liquor store below their apartment, no doubt.

He asked weakly what she was doing. She was moving out. She had already found a place to stay, with friends. She would be gone in less than 45 minutes. Before 11AM, less than three hours since she learned the truth. He stumbled from his bed and stood before the clock. If it had stopped, it may in fact be much later than 10:11AM. He suspected it must be, because she had covered so much territory, found an apartment, found boxes, and all on foot. Julia was always a little remarkable. The other girl was gone. He hadn’t gone out to look for her on the couch, but he could tell by the mood of the apartment that it was true.

He had a crumpled pack of cigarettes on the big dining room table that sat in his room and served as the all-purpose platform for everything he had. He took them and tried to light one, still looking at the frozen numbers. The match burned too fast the first time, flared brightly and was gone before he could bring it to the tip of his cigarette. He tried again. And again. The plume of fire swelled on the edge of his match each time but he never got it to his lips, it was moving to fast, or his arm was moving too slow but either way the cigarette dangled unlit from his lips.

I think it’s broken he marveled, staring at the frozen clock. And at the worst possible time. It was 10:11 AM and she would be gone by 11:00 AM but at this rate, with the digits holding fast, he wondered if 11:00AM would ever come.

This was an eerie thought. Like a child who had been thrown from the merry-go-round, he felt out of step, displaced. He wanted to tell her. Now he was feeling a little frightened and she was always so good to him when he was like that.

“But if we’re not moving, then we could be anywhere.”

She was in the room again. But she had changed. It was two years before, they were coming home from a party. Julia was his roommate, not his lover. She looked very pretty that night, her dark hair lightly brushing her bare shoulders exposed in the vintage 1950s sky-blue dress with thick straps straight cut neckline and flared out hips that she had purchased at the Thrift Store for just that occasion.

He remarked on her face. At that time he could tell her she was pretty, she’d be expecting it and clearly it was true. She was smiling, drawing nearer, touching her hair. She had glitter on her face, sequins on her bodice. She was not a raving beauty in a classic sense with deep olive features and deep set eyes, but she reflected the moonlight and she was getting closer.

She said something quite shocking and…would it hurt their friendship? He had no idea and no desire to speculate. She was now. This was their time and he would have her before it got away. The clock said 10:11 PM.

She was there again, and again, in his bed naked, on the floor, in his closet taking out a shirt, helping him straighten up his damn table, playing music, putting a red scarf over the lamp, threatening fire to heighten their mood. For two years she was there, and it seemed an ocean he would never traverse fully. He could swim the length of it, but he would never reach the depth. There wasn’t time. There had never been.

It was 10:11 AM. He could hear hard footsteps in the kitchen. Her boxes were out of the hall. Before 11AM, she would be gone.

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