Short Story – A Timely Tale – Issue 32

Freddie liked to be on time, and the term liked is used in a loose, casual way to understate what was actually an obsession with punctuality. Freddie had cried at his own birth simply because he was a few hours overdue. It didn’t help that the delivery person wore an ostentatious timepiece on the same wrist just above the hand that slapped Freddie into conscious being, after his ordeal of timelessness in the womb.

All his life, Freddie prided himself on his punctuality. Others were, to varying degrees, unnerved by his attention to time. Here, now, he was on his way to the most important interview of his twenty-nine years old life; a job opportunity with EMIT, the giant corporation and globally influential magazine group. He was, as usual, immaculately dressed. You could spread butter straight from the fridge with the crease in his trousers. If you could find a blemish in his shirt, you would qualify for astrophysicist of the year. His shoes shone brighter than hope, and his watch, his own pulse, measured in its controlled fashion, his very being. But wait!…

He suddenly froze. The world around him stopped. It zipped simultaneously. His head, still held at a strict ninety degree angle to his chest, began to pulse like a Belisha beacon. A bead of sweat marched down his face, making an audible sound on his jacket as it landed. He felt he was rolling, like a pair of dice. Someone suddenly entered his line of vision, and, outstretching their arms, said something indistinct to Freddie in his earthquaking cocoon. Anyone overhearing would have confirmed the person saying, “Are you OK? Can I get you some help?”

It was the bizarre colouring of Freddie’s face. The stranger had never seen anyone display this hue before. Freddie, helpless, could not resist the assistance as the stranger led him to a bench, just outside the building that was Freddie’s destination. Freddie, now a fine example of the flux that is quantum physics, slumped onto the bench, and was only prevented from falling off the edge by the quick arm of the stranger, barring Freddie’s fall. It had been raining; one of those brief summer showers, so the bench was still wet. Freddie’s trousers soaked up this natural resource, as his mind tried to soak up his terror. Freddie trembled in the stranger’s proximity and could not respond to inquiry.

Freddie couldn’t see clearly. Replete with utter dread, he dared not contemplate what he felt, let alone relate it to a stranger. Fumbling with his right hand, he snapped up the cuff of his left arm and…

His worst fears were realised. A slight tan-mark mocked him. He’d not encountered such cosmic disdain since seeing his first clown pop out of a shop right in front of his pram. He had cried incessantly for a day and a half. Had they been able to afford it, his parents would have called in the infant cognition experts there and then.

Thoughts bounced around his skull like manic bingo balls; a hyper speed table tennis game began in his hypothalamus; a flock of woodpeckers, trying to nail down a host of fireflies went to work on his thalamus; and an attack ship disintegrated on impact with an asteroid in the Orion belt. Freddie’s frail corporeal body convulsed and emitted a sound – one hardly describable through human or animal cognition – that erupted in a kinetic outburst enough to make a nuclear explosion an occasion for mere anti-reflux elixir.

Debt clocks all over the world, even for an infinite moment, forgot to count the numerical demise of nations. Big Ben chimed its opprobrium. The clock in Times Square clicked ‘Jeez Louise’. A satellite above the earth blinked in surprise at the phenomenon of Freddie’s hideous, piteous cry. Then a series of frenzied, albut incoherent exclamations and questions emanated from Freddie’s now emaciated lips.

“My watch, my life, is goneit’sbeenstolenhowcouldthishappenI’mfinisheddeadtotheworldwhattimeisit?” spewed from the fellow’s mouth in place of vomit.

The incredibly patient stranger caught the last strains of the outpouring and checked their own timepiece securely fixed on their left wrist. Well, as cosmic coincidences go, this was a doozy. A look of controlled horror on Freddie’s face had the stranger’s eyes flickering and spinning upwards, and when they settled they showed three sevens. It was exactly, to the ironic second, eight minutes after the official end of their own morning break: a break benevolently bestowed upon them by their owner/employer, despite the fact that she had never smoked in her life. Her own face, although to a cruel person could have convinced her that it was the face of someone else, turned a similar hue to the fading Freddie’s. In this dark jape, a punchline had apparently hit both timeless participants in the solar plexus.

In this horrible moment of yin and yang, black and white, humanism and Toryism, the stranger and Freddie were conjoined in being tortured by time. Freddie’s exclamation had informed us of the absence of his timepiece due to being purloined nefariously, had a sickening resonance for the stranger as she acknowledged the fact of her own time being stolen by her employer. Ironically, the same employer to which Freddie was intending to sell his anal-retentive expertise.

The stranger, in spite of herself as compassionate fellow human, felt compelled to abandon Freddie. Her wave of guilt was staunched by her own growing dread of being grilled like a lemon sole by her manager. The ignominy of having to justify herself as though a time-thief herself, drained her of resolve. She threw away a sentence supposed to comfort Freddie,  “I’ll get you some help…” trailed off as she sped through the revolving doors at the mouth of the behemoth. Freddie, left again to himself, although this simple referent to personhood seemed cruelly inappropriate in the circumstances, began to sob. Whilst thus engaged in visceral disintegration, particles of thought were flinging themselves around his pulsing cranium.

Maybe he’d just forgotten his watch this morning.

No, that’s absurd as he put on his watch before showering and brushing his teeth.

Maybe it was that person he had been bumped by only twenty-one minutes ago.

Yes, that was it. The fellow had looked like he had all the time in the world on his not so idle hands. 

Did he realise he’d stolen Freddie’s soul?

But why? He had no use for it..Oh, of course, he’d sell it on and live off the proceeds without any need to refer to time.

These thoughts chilled Freddie – how could anyone survive outside of time? How primitive to merely depend on light and dark as a speaking clock.

Freddie’s demeanour, or state of temporal flux, was interspersed by a feeling of pride. This sensation had been activated when he had followed, at least with his eyes at the time, the stranger’s urgency in being compelled to dance to the rhythm of time and particularly the small industrial revolutionary devices loosely called clocks and watches.

In his current vulnerable state of distorted sensibilities, Freddie even stretched his normally flaccid imagination, to consider it was he who was at fault in affording a feckless profligate communist an opportunity to run around in agitated anxiety to avoid retribution from someone as ordered and upstanding as himself. This power mediated, in and through the appropriated possession of time, was significant to Freddie’s desire to work at such an establishment as The Emit Corporation.

Meanwhile, Freddie, through the wet bench and his increased lachrymose expressions was soaked through. He now resembled the manic comedian he secretly admired for his wholly off-the-wall, yet superbly crafted presentational style mayhem that rendered him as if he’d been under a shower. Also, the mildly melodic strains of one of his favourite tunes – due to its being a tidy, convenient, three minutes, forty-two seconds long, the time being exactly the same as his shower in the morning – hovered in his derelict, war-torn mind. His latest shiver disturbed an alien craft – a dragonfly to us – and it fluttered off the top of his head, having landed momentarily in the midst of Freddie’s existential maelstrom.

Had he been capable of looking round and taking in his surroundings, Freddie may have noticed the digital clock on the new commercial market building not far from where he was festering. Although, between Freddie and this grand, red-glowing display, was the old church clock that still pointed to eleven minutes past eleven – a time it had registered ever since its house had run out of money, depriving anyone of repairing time. Some speculate still that it is the time of the second coming of JC. However, critics point out the church has become a place the saviour would actually disapprove of as it now has money transactions and less spiritual mechanisms at its base. These same critics say that this is the time when all spirituality left the place.

However, despite any accuracy, Freddie wouldn’t, couldn’t trust any timepiece but his beloved Penelope: yes, he’d given his watch a name in a stiffly worded letter of complaint to the local bus company after he’d narrowly missed being transported by a vehicle that had departed, according to Penelope, fourteen seconds prematurely. Freddie raged for a good four minutes and twelve seconds over that disappointment.

Freddie’s sobbing had grown to fully-fledged weeping.

Passers-by gave him a wide berth, having their own time-based itineraries to fulfill. In a different time, Freddie would have appreciated such dedication to the clock, but currently he was outside of time though not free, as each tear was a grain of sand falling in the egg-timer of life.

Twenty floors above this tragic scene, Freddie’s appointee was drumming his fingers, marking time and playing an impatient piano, fingering a series of minute waltzes that was quickly turning into a sorrowful, sombre etude that was negatively evaluative of Freddie’s apparent careless, lackadaisical attitude to punctuality.

Freddie’s heaving shoulders were now being covered by a member of EMIT’s on-call paramedics. Freddie’s fevered, dissipated mind had already heard the digital clock cruelly chime ten o’clock. He was now officially fifteen minutes late for his appointment.

Freddie’s last conscious connection to the world came when the paramedic called in the time to her employer as a duty to the vitality of the clock and the time-is-money dogma.

As he was carried inside to the medical emergency room, Freddie heard, “This is Jen, Jen Uine, at head office, attending a medical event, first-aid process initiated at Ten-o-one and forty-four seconds…”     ■

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