3:08

by Michael Pelc


Like headless metal snakes the chains slither over the wall, invading and disturbing the serenity of my courtyard world. By my prized and shiny Timex that tells me both the time and the day, it is 3:08 Tuesday afternoon when they arrive.

They bang against each other and scrape the rough texture of the thick adobe, and my world resonates with their tin-ear symphony. Were I Ulysses, they would be my Sirens, and their harmonious melody would beckon me to the unseen, unknown world whence they came. But they are not, and I am not. Yet still the temptation remains.

They are, these chains, as they always are, on time. They are never early. They are never late. It is always Tuesday, and it is always 3:08. For my watch is broken and has no other time to give me. Every day is Tuesday, and every time is 3:08. I consider myself fortunate that my watch should be stuck so on the time that it is, for that is precisely when the chains come over the wall. Were my watch stuck on any other time, the chains might not come at all, or I might miss them entirely, and my life would be as empty as the courtyard where I have lived every Tuesday since forever.

From my hiding place behind the far-corner pinion, I watch them. Study them. Envy them. As I do each Tuesday afternoon when they arrive, I wonder what it would be like to grab them and scamper over the wall, to know the world beyond. I could reach the chains, I think, were I to walk over and extend my arm. My eyes dart up and down, from the ground to the chains and back again, as I estimate the distance involved. Maybe if I stood on tip-toe... or if I jumped... perhaps with a running start... I am almost certain the chains would be within my grasp. And, if they were not — if I were wrong in my calculations — at least I would not fall far. Skin my knee perhaps. Or bruise a knuckle. Maybe chip a tooth.

Perhaps, I think, it would be better if I waited until I grew a little older. A little taller. A little stronger. But how will I know that I have waited long enough? That I am old enough and tall enough and strong enough to get over the wall by myself? How will I know that enough time has passed for these things to happen to me when, in my courtyard world, time never passes and it is always and forever 3:08 on a Tuesday afternoon?

And what if, in my waiting, I waited too long? What if I waited until I was old and frail, and my body no longer had the strength to hoist itself? Or worse. What if I waited until I was dead?

Though I know them not, there are those, I suppose, who would like to know when they are going to die. They are of the kind that would be grateful for the chance to get their affairs in order and mend their fences and make their peace with the world. I do not count myself among them, these people that I do not know, though I wonder if they envy me my plight and my fate — knowing as I do what will be the exact moment of my death. But do they know that I do not wish to die at 3:08 on a Tuesday afternoon?

There are too many thoughts crowding themselves into the tiny space that is my mind, and I am unsure what to do. Shall I go? Shall I stay? Shall I leave behind everything I have ever known or do I remain where I am? And what of myself? Do I suddenly abandon the person I have always been, tossing aside a lifetime of memories as casually as if I were casting aside a pair of shoes that no longer fit?

The chains wait impatiently for my answer.

“Wait a minute!” I scream at them. “Just wait a minute.”

My words echo-bounce off the adobe walls and bring back to me my own solution. At last, I know what it is that I must do. For I am the one that should wait a minute. Yes, that is it. That is it! I should wait a minute, that’s what I should do. I should wait a minute and then decide. Just a minute, that’s all. A minute and no more. No more than that. Not much time at all when you think about it. A couple of heartbeats. A breath or two. Some blinks of an eye.

I look at my watch. As soon as it says 3:09, I tell myself... as soon as it says 3:09, I will climb up the chains and go over the wall.


Copyright © 2006 by Michael Pelc

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