(Text by Otilia Dragan)
Time visited me today again, during work. She sat on my lap, her long, flimsy fingers playing with a wavy patch of my hair and made me sway along with her in my office chair.
“Time, come on, I told you to stop showing up like this. How am I supposed to do my work?” I had piles and piles of translations to finalise and write up. Very important work about dairy cow mistreatment regulations that inevitably had loopholes in them, the types of steel that were okay to be used for bridge-building, legislation corrections about things that slipped my mind even as I was working on them. This was stuff that could allegedly make or break the European Union.
“You’ll die one day,” she said with a smirk-like smile. I remembered I hadn’t yet decided what I wanted done with my body after. Cremation seemed final and rather boring, and risky in case I was still alive in a massive tightly shut oven. Coffins and that shebang were unnecessary. I heard there were other options these days, like having a suit of mushrooms custom created, to be fed with your nail clippings while you’re still alive. Eat me, friends – I sure ate you all my life and loved you. But that made my skin crawl. Maybe I wanted to be planted around a tree seed or be made into a small diamond, or something like that, that seemed beautiful. Not that it mattered much right now. I opened a drawer and pulled out my cheap grey notebook containing all my recent story snippets.
“I know I’ll die one day, just…Before I die I said I wanted to write more. Maybe now is a good time to write something not-for-work,” I said, and hunched over the notebook, pen held tightly, at the ready.
“On work time?” she teased. She was so annoying, the way she was so confident in her own role and capacities. She was also beautiful in that mind-numbing, mousy ice-queen way.
“Can you stop showing up, sneaking up on me like that?” She seemed to do this a lot lately, and it truly got to me, sometimes. Her big, grey-blue eyes were dull in her face and her ash blond hair fell in soft waves over my shoulders, her breath on my cheek – she was much too close.
“Remember you’re growing older every day and that’s not a bad thing per se, but you do want a baby one day and you also want to write your novel, sorry, novels, and become a writer and a cook or baker and a professional something-or-other while being a true friend and a good daughter. And of course you’ll want a partner one day that isn’t me,” she added, coyly.
“Time.” I stared at her, tense in my shoulders. She pressed her face against my collarbone and giggled.
“I’m not here to stress you out, you know, I’m just here.”
“Why here? Don’t you have someplace else to be?”
She hugged me tightly and I wasn’t sure I was ready just this second to do with her what she wanted to do with me. “Can we revisit this…this conversation later?” I blabbed, feeling her bony body cutting into my thighs as she shifted around.
“I mean…” She gestured vaguely at the sunny outside, her long white-grey robes of gauze and taffeta brushing against my navy work-trousered legs. “Can I interest you in some memories, at least?”
I didn’t say yes, I didn’t consent, and her cold fingertips already reached my temples, her whispers filling my head.
“That one time you woke up terrified of some dream creature at night and wet the bed, when you were ten.”
“Not that one, please.”
“Ok, then.” She tried again, this time I closed my eyes and helped her along, and her cold fingers turned lukewarm against my skin. Her silver amulet bracelet somehow got hooked in my hair and caught a painful little strand.
“Ouch! Time, please.” She changed the angle of her arm, releasing the hair from her bracelet with her other hand, miraculously, without ripping it out. I relaxed a bit.
“The times James put his hand on your knee or leg while he was driving you home, because he didn’t want to stop touching you.” I could feel his stupid, gigantic hand again and that belly-joy of being in his presence.
“Stop.” I breathed out, felt my butt tingling from the bad posture on my chair, and the heaviness of her on me. “Stop touching me, now.” She frowned and shook her head.
“Honey, you know that I can’t. I mean, just in general.”
I knew, but surely she could make an exception for me.
“I haven’t figured it out yet,” I said, trying to push her away, my miserable half-love for her hurting me. “This life business, this entire thing, what I want to do with you. I love you, you know I do, I just…”
Her face was waiting and she was still holding onto me, her long hand slack around my wrist. “Could you not let me do my own thing for a bit? Look the other way, you know, just until I find exactly what I want and need and we pick up from there again.”
“It doesn’t work that way,” she said with sadness in her voice.
“I’m yours, whether you want me or not. And,” she sat up still holding my wrist, making me follow her around the office. “You’re mine, too.”
“I am so many people’s,” I sighed deeply, thinking, feeling strangely trapped by nothing in particular.“Well, if you love me so much, if you’ll inevitably change me over yourself, could you at least give me back some good things from before?”
“Things like what, dear?”
“Like my brother? You know, back to the way things were?”
Time blinked slowly, looked away and then back at me: “I can give you memories of how it was before. You know the rules for the rest, though. Nothing that didn’t come to pass can be brought again in present.”
“This is useless, then. You’re useless,” I tried to hurt her, but I also meant it.
“The concept of usefulness is so passé,” she joked, but I could tell I had a small impact. Her eyes looked deeper, darker and I could smell a different scent in the room, a weird mood. Something like the smell of tattoo ink, or maybe like plasma leaking out of a freshly needled design.
“I am actually useless, but so is your life. I am not saying this to hurt you. Maybe I should give you some time to yourself, to see what it’s like without me.”
Excitement built up in me. “You mean that? Even if it’s against the rules?”
“You and I make the rules of how we work,” she said, haughtily, as if the universe and everyone else didn’t have a bearing on our every move, most days.
And so I escaped the fabric of time at eleven o’clock on a work Wednesday. Hump day – what a strange denomination. As if the sole purpose of working is to get over working and get away from it. It’s funny because it’s true. And so now I was “stuck” but really free for the first time in my life. I couldn’t move a thing, couldn’t change a thing, there was no wind outside my window to move the little bamboo plants planted on the terrace. The grey carpet in my office and even the colours of everything turned a similarly dull colour despite the blocked sunlight. Something had shifted in the faces of my colleagues, and as I peeked into their offices they all had a sleepy little expression on, something akin to peace.
I sat on their desks, rolled around in the quiet of everything, my mind loosely connected to the most creative bits of me. I tried to steal a sheet of paper and put it all down, quickly, before I ran out of time but it felt more like time had run out of me. A sense of deep loneliness grasped me, but as I looked around I saw and felt how little I had to do.
“Nothing” was the only predicament and the only task. In this space it didn’t matter either way if I showered or ate or even thought about things. In fact, I didn’t sweat, I wasn’t hungry, all I had were my emotions but even they gradually loosened and made way for the stream of unyielding, never-ending peace of this void. And was it peace?
Moments, days and months didn’t exist, my watch had stopped. I remembered everything but wanted nothing. I was still breathing, but I didn’t know why anymore. And right before I closed and opened my eyes after a long bout of sitting on the carpet and meditating, I saw her.
I didn’t run after her, I didn’t have to. I just followed her with my eyes. The body of a goddess in thin red shoes.
“Are you ready to go back?” she asked, meekly.
The words jumbled in my head; everything from “maybe” to “justifiable” and “Loch Lomond” wanted to come out all at once, to be witnessed in their full beauty and expression. “You can’t leave me alone like that,” I managed to utter, when my tongue finally settled. “I was perhaps unfair, I’m sorry,” she said, taking my face between her hands. They felt dry but smooth, I felt safe and not too different from how I’d felt before, except that now someone else was listening. And time was on my side.
“Take me back,” I said, but I remembered it all. I still knew the sorrow, the breathlessness of her effect on me. “I don’t like the grey of this carpet.”