by Bridgett Mahoney
Her name is Time and she lives wherever she wants to live. She’s not an old man, as the stories claim; she’s thin as air, more beautiful than the morning sunrise, more brief than what you can forget. She’s the girl you see out of the corner of your eye as you laugh with your best friend, She is also the old hag sitting very still in what you think is waiting, but what is really knowing. Sometimes you talk to her, when you’ve just won your greatest dream, when someone loves you back, when your mission in life is well on its way.
You thank her then, no matter what trials and boredom she previously put you through. None of that matters when Joy tries to burst your heart. Because you know it’s all because of Time you got what you wanted; it’s all because of her you love and value what you do.
Time ticks, pulsates like a heart. In fact, Time has a heart — the biggest heart of all. With so many missed opportunities, wasted years, cynics wishing to return to the golden years of legendary bliss — usually time is begrudged, far from being loved in return. She’s too slow or she’s too fast. But despite all this, Time loves. She caresses each and every one of us; she knows no other way.
Her life was simple and predictable, one day after another, one millennium after another. Once in a while something out of the usual happened, though. One day Time fell in love, and that remains a secret to all but a select few. She dressed in pure cotton cloth, woven by the Fates themselves. Her hair she preferred long, fine and fair. When she was happy she was young and pretty. On this day, she was happy.
As well as happy, Time was especially curious this day. While enjoying the sweet breezes of an early spring, Time found herself drawn to a lovely but imperfect face. The nose a bit too long, the ears a bit too protruding. His skin was fair, his lips feminine like rosebuds, and his hair black. Barely more than a boy.
Time peered around trees and benches — no one noticed — just a flicker in their peripheral vision so quick it never passed into consciousness. Time held her golden hair from her face — her eyes as innocent as when they shone at her birth out of the darkness. For now a newness entered her domain. A young human having not yet experienced much of Time’s grace, yet still enough to return her love — could he ever recognize Time’s existence.
As special and goodly as Time knew he was, the young man could see her no better than the other humans rushing through their humdrum lives. Oh sure, he wasn’t completely oblivious to time. He possessed a wristwatch, but that’s not Time — just a poor imitation of Time. An invention trying to trap Time and nail her to numbers.
A watch was nothing more than a man-made creation imitating a force that could never be touched. It was this lack of touch that kept Time safe, but it also left her all alone. Even the Fates preferred to keep to their clique of three. The exuberant and active Time was only tolerated as an occasional guest.
Time sat beside the young man as he read a heavy book for class. Her creamy cotton sheath started blowing around her in the wind — she wasn’t a ghost, after all.
“Hello,” she whispered shyly, peeking out from under her eyelashes.
The boy never flinched. He could not hear her and she knew he could not hear her, but she still talked, carrying on conversations with herself. She said to the boy in irritation that she wished she could read books, but time always seems to stand still when caught in a good book and Time has to remain on duty at all moments. She talked about the past, her favorite events and those she most feared. Giant wars and sicknesses of children whose deaths she still mourned. She talked about butterflies and their glorious ascent from caterpillars. That transformation was partly her doing, she proudly pronounced.
She babbled on every day, and if she was lucky she got a cough or throat-clearing in response. Sometimes she swore he even looked up from his book and straight into her eyes. Every noise and glance delighted her.
“Oh how I wish I could take you away with me,” she whispered. She’d follow the young man to his college classes, to group outings with his friends. She watched him read and watched him pet dogs being walked outside. Sometimes she’d even sneak into his dormitory to give him a kiss on his forehead after she knew he lay in bed, ready for sleep.
As much as she hated the contraptions, if he forgot to set his alarm clock before going to bed, she set it. After all, she wouldn’t want to risk him missing class. He was especially intelligent, too. Time noticed he always scored one of the highest grades on his tests. He read so much, she thought admirably to herself. Time had always possessed a special fondness for people who used a good portion of their time for reading.
But that wasn’t what made her fall in love with this young man — it was his pure heart. For Time can see many things we humans overlook. Time always has foresight and hindsight. And that made her heart heavy, as Time knew what would eventually come to pass.
She ran to the Fates in desperation, in a place far away, approaching their moldy little cottage in which they did their weaving. “Please, you must grant me permission. You must allow me to cease my work. I cannot tolerate this invisibility any longer.”
The crone chuckled. “Stop Time? Silly child! Time can never be stopped — not there, in that place. It’s direct orders; you know that.”
“You’d better stop caring for that human before long,” warned the middle-aged woman. “Eventually he will die as time passes and his string reaches the cutting length.”
“If you stopped Time you wouldn’t even exist!” the little girl answered. “And besides, without you as you are, there would never be anyone else to love that human but other half-dead human hearts, anyway.”
“I know all that, but there must be something I can do. He sees girls sometimes now, but not seriously. Not that I think, anyway. I always run away in a fury at those parts. Someday he might meet someone he is serious about, though, and I could not bear it. My heart would break, and perhaps all Time would cease to exist.”
“If you find a replacement to play Time, then you can be a mortal alongside him. If he will have you, you may love him for a handful of years. But I warn you, it will not be an easy task to find someone willing to be Time. It’s a lonely life,” the crone said.
Despite the warnings, Time searched far and wide, every corner of the earth, as well many other planets yet unknown. No one would be willing to bear the duties of Time — she could see it in their frail hearts. No one would be strong enough to bear the burden of being Time, and no one but the most unstable and fragile would even claim they would attempt it if given a chance. It would never work.
She knew she could force someone to be Time. If she focused she could pull the person out of their fast-paced world and slow things down. She could ask pleasantly for them to agree to be Time, which by reading their little hearts she knew would be a fruitless search, or she could bind them, and, in turn, take their place as a mortal. Take what she wanted by force.
She watched a young child, an innocent free of any sin worse than begging for candy. She knew he would grow into a cowardly man pretending to be courageous by conquesting giggly women.
She watched a woman with a good heart, pure like the heart of the young man she loved, but she was sensitive and frail; her mental faculties would begin to fail her as soon as she took on the baggage of Time.
She watched an elderly man who didn’t want to die, who wanted to live in any way possible, but even he would weep in sorrow if abandoned alone to play an invisible character named Time, with only the Fates to befriend. No matter how good or how bad, how lovely or how sordid, no person fit the requirements of a person fit to live as Time.
Time had been born for this peculiar life. As desperate as she felt to escape, she knew no one would be able to bear her duties and she had to accept it. She could not risk the disastrous repercussions that might result otherwise, for everyone, even other immortals. She wept and wept, still watching over the young man she loved, now in graduate school studying history. History — her specialty.
Even without making herself known in the form she wanted to she managed to influence him. Every class and every textbook showed her he loved her back, in some way. In some way that was special and private — not worship but caring. He sometimes talked to girls about his love of history and time, but their faces would become blank. It gave Time a sense of joy knowing he appreciated her work — appreciated the evidence of her existence.
Eventually, the many girls her love used to spend time with trickled down to one girl in particular. Time didn’t want to intrude, though she grew quite envious, and she never gave him his nightly kisses anymore. She’d just remind herself of how many hours he dedicated to her, in his own way. A way the girls at his college never were able to be loved.
One spring day, sprawled again in the grass with a book, Time placed her hands on top of his, tears spilling down her soft cheeks. “You may not know I exist — at least, not like this. You love history and that’s close enough to me. I will take what I can get, and I know I’m lucky for that adoration you do have. Even if it’s not as I hoped, it’s still something. I love you and I will watch over you for the rest of your days.” She loved as only the greatest of all hearts could love.
For a moment the young man looked up and into her glistening eyes. He seemed to see her and he smiled. She thought the ecstasy would make her burst and die. Then he looked away, and her heart sank back into place.
A few years later, the pure-hearted young man married an ordinary human woman, filled with ordinary thoughts and feelings — perhaps containing a touch more kindness than most. Together they had two children and the young man continued to age, working as a college history professor, which made Time proud. He wrote several well-reviewed books on the ancient history of Greece. Time watched over him every day, just as she promised. She even grew to accept his wife, though a twinge of jealousy and sorrow always remained.
The years flew by uneventfully but happily for the most part. Finally, seeing the youth transformed into a wrinkled and hunched old man, Time once more stood by his bedside and once more kissed his forehead. With that kiss, he died painlessly, and smiling.
She whispered in his ear as he drew his last breath, “As long as I exist, your memory shall be held sacred. I loved you as no mortal could, and you spent your days praising me through the history I created, and with that, I must be satisfied.” She wept, but Time always has the past on which to cling, and her heart was too swept in love ever to break.
Copyright © 2010 by Bridgett Mahoney