Time x Distance

Time and Distance met from time to time in one of the many out of the way nooks that existed between both, where the world looked sepia from a constantly setting sun (or was it rising?) the place was shady which agreed with Time, no longer a young man, and was cramped in narrow alleys like the backsides of unused buildings filled with the items people had either willingly or carelessly cast off. That agreed with Distance, who had grown perverse with Time (another story entirely) and had a fetish for tight spaces.

Leave it to say, Time and Distance could meet in the narrow shady recesses beneath the amber sun, low in the sky, and pick among the flotsam and jetsam for anything they needed, a low stool, a leather backed chair, brushing errant tube socks aside which were always inexplicably abundant in this In Between spaces. Space had brought her own bottle of top-shelf Tequila; time found a dusty room temperature case of RC Cola and seemed altogether too pleased. They sat for a while guessing what the other might be thinking.

It was Distance, always an expansive conversationalist, who broke the silence first.

“We are kin as you know, Mr. Time.” She thought of him as a kindly uncle despite how he eyed her lean waste as she perched lightly on her stool. “And the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, as they say.”

Time raised an eyebrow. Who’s “they” he was wondering. Time and ambiguity were a deadly combination.

“And you came before me in this,” she gestured widely as she could in the alley. “Well this whole thing. So you’ve clearly had a head start. But I believe my sphere has expanded quite beyond yours. I believe I cause more suffering for these sons of Adam than you ever could.”

Time still didn’t speak. This irked Distance. He was poor company. Tended to keep his own counsel. She wondered why she bothered but she had a point to make. “Well,” she began again, “these people have made a mockery of Time. They’ve invented every contrivance to defeat you. Once upon a Time a person had to content herself with one task at a Time. Then they got the nerve to ride a horse. Yes, I swear that’s where it began. And it became a matter of space, not Time. Distance.”

Time raised one eyebrow like a necromancer raising the long dead—slowly and to some great effect. He had a way of making her nervous.

“And from horses, carts,” Distance was up and pacing now, she preferred to be in motion. She was taking small sips directly from her bottle. She hadn’t stopped long enough to grab a glass and hadn’t taken the Time to poke through the rubble to find one.

“Carts naturally begat cars, from cars to planes. And then phones! You cannot deny the detrimental effect of the phone! Now they can spend their Time doing one thing while they discuss another. Making descriptions, decisions, turning corners, in short making their way through your precious maze in half the Time. You, my old friend have been marginalized.”

Time seemed somewhat crestfallen. He was playing with the gold pocket watch he kept in the pocket of his old tweed vest which never seemed to work worth a damn.

Distance was galvanized by her friend’s unexpected reaction. She wasn’t used to winning in these friendly contests. She was pacing faster, striding nearly around the corner out of his site, to the overturned purple couch at the end of the bottling building, and back in great loping strides. She wasn’t sure what was working but felt now was the Time to explore her new advantage.

“And now that they can do two things at once, it became important to do three. So they invented new items. Smaller phones that didn’t need to be attached to the wall. Computers that could talk to each other. Then computers inside of phones, so now they can talk to their dear old aunt, nearly dying, while checking their work memorandums and waiting for a taxi while talking to a friend. They have nearly no fear of you at all; they live four times at once, much more than you ever meant to provision for their sorry states.”

She stopped her rapid pace and put one lanky leg on to her stool, standing before Time in triumph, grinning a wide smile like an expanse of brilliant cobble stones. The soles of her trainers were predictably worn, though the top leather shown as white as ever.

“So what do you have to say to that, older brother? Take your Time,” she gibed.

Time turned a little in his swiveling leather-backed chair, the kind owners of small businesses placed behind their desks in 1986 as a sign of their rank. He craned his neck with some apparent strain, shifted uncomfortably (he suffered from sciatica since the 1500s) and licked his salty lips. The effect was not altogether pleasant.

“In the Time it has taken for you to tell me your little tale—full of flaws, half truths, and incorrect timeline as it was—the two mortals to whom you are closer than anyone else in this century have fallen in love, though they won’t know it for another three months and when they learn, it will be too late.

Her mother, who is busy planting her garden in anticipation of spring, has developed a tiny fissure in the capillary in her frontal lobe. Within two weeks she will develop a sudden headache. She will call the doctor to ask permission to take an aspirin – she has an antiquated relationship to medicine. She will lay down but when they find her she will already be in a coma. She will wake twice in the hospital, not know her own children and die within a month from an aneurism.

Her husband will leave his cell phone in the car, as he always does, and will linger as he gets his hair cut, taking a full 45 minutes. He will miss the call from their children and won’t catch up with his wife until she is already in the hospital. Already in a sleep from which she will not awaken, senses intact. He will never have Time to say goodbye.

His son-in-law has a phone, a computer, a headset, a pager, and a personal assistant to maximize his effective use of Time. He takes coffee to work longer hours, and sometimes cocaine. He finds he can’t concentrate on any one thing for more than a few fleeting moments. Yes, don’t look surprised—I have my petty revenges.

His wife, your friend, will be so distraught by her mother’s sudden illness that she will quite forget about the man she fell in love with, who is not her husband. He will be hurt and never understand. By end of year he has quit the city altogether to start a new life with a broken heart.

Her husband of course, is sharing sex and cocaine with his assistant. He will have neither the focus, nor the inclination, nor the Time to be there when she needs him most.”

Distance was agog. “But that’s cruel…”

“No,” said Time, “This is you and I working together. Time and Distance – the abuse of Time and the abuse of Distance in one’s own heart. My work doesn’t come until the end. As she sits alone next to her mother’s deathbed, unsure where her husband is— don’t look shocked, you keep him away just as I do—the hours will drag on interminably. That will be my gift. No TV, no radio, no contrivance of any sort, just your friend and her heart alone ticking away her mother’s final moments in silence. I would not deny her full experience of that Time together.”

Time fumbled with a dusty long-neck bottle of RC Cola. Is he really going to drink that? How long has it been sitting back here in the twilight sun? How long would those things remain potable? His old hands fumbled with loose skin trying to twist the cap. She suddenly had the urge to kick the old man in the face. Break his nose and leave him laying in the dirt. Maybe he would be too feeble to find his way out. Maybe she could spare her friends, and all the other humans for whom she suddenly felt a swell of sympathy, the pains of this bitter twisted old man.

A strange rasping sound echoed from the back wall of the bottling company and resounded through the alley, slow, unpleasant, and no guttural. The old man was laughing. He had cut the sagging yellow flesh of his palm and was sucking on the wound like a child in a playground.

Distance’s mood changed despite herself.

“I wonder when we’ll have the opportunity to meet like this again,” she mused merely to break the silence. Time opened his mouth to speak but she silenced him with a finger. “Strike that. Let it be a surprise.”

Time smirked, lips pulled tight over yellowed teeth. “I was merely going to say, that depends on you as much as I. You supply the Where, I’ll bring the When.”

She took another sip from her bottle waiting for the sun to set – or rise – though she knew it never would in this place.

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