Daybreak. Start your morning with a coffee you will promptly forget. Wake up the kids for school one – two – three times before dragging them out of bed. Pack their lunches. Drop them off at the school entrance your hair and mind in tatters. Then drive… and never look back.
“How’d it go?” he asked me.
Before I was down the street, I had called my husband, stopping to strip off my blazer with my briefcase tucked between my legs. The Friday afternoon sun bore down on me, slowly melting the makeup on my face.
“Really well!” I told him, excited. “…Of course, that probably means I didn’t get the job.”
He let out a mirthless laugh.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” I said. “It’s so perfect for me. Honestly, it hasn’t even been two weeks since my retrenchment.”
He paused. Only three days before he had been the symbol of strength, telling me to leave the money worries behind and focus on me.
“So tell me all about it,” he finally said.
Monday morning at 8am, I received the call. “How’d you think you went?” the recruiter asked.
I knew from the question I had won the position.
I was right.
Daisy trembled as the tap, tap, tapping on the cellar door matched the fervent thumping of her heart. She took a swallow of wine to quiet her nerves, but an unexpected metallic taste made her retch.
“What do you want?” she cried.
The door breathed in and out.
“You,” it hissed.
The knob turned slow, deliberate. But when the door swung open, nothing was there.
“If you wanted to set your life on fire, there wasn’t a better combination. That‘s what I should have told him. The fool. The day had been long; I was in no mood for violent or rude people. And he was both,” I confess.
“Don’t you think you took it too far, Death?” Father Time asks. His palms rub his glorious beard; long strands fall to the floor with every stroke.
An array of clocks cover the expansive room from the floor to the walls and the ceiling. While a thick sheet of plexiglass protects them, the sound is far from muffled. Grandfather clocks chime, seconds, on the analog clocks, tick, and digital clocks hum. What might happen if I smash one? I make a mental note to carry my scythe next time they bring me here. Mother Earth knows, no punishment can rehabilitate me.
I snicker at his question, “I don’t! He totally had it coming.”
I thought about the fool. His jerk face made me so mad I wanted to punch it.
Earlier that evening, I sat on a bench outside the Fish ‘n Chips shop waiting for my order, when I heard him slap his wife. He stumbled out of his house and demanded, “Keep the door unlocked, ya slag, I won’t be long!”
I watched him kick a leashed dog on the footpath and push the owner out of his way.
Father Time, the old bugger, shoots me a disgusted look.
“I honestly don’t know why you’ve got your panties in a bunch. I didn’t reap him,” I say with a sigh.
The fool crossed the road and walked into the shop the same moment my order was ready. He snatched the wax paper package from the shopkeeper and threw a $10 note at him. I grabbed his arm and demanded he hands over my meal, but he spat at me as he pushed me away.
“Fuck off, cu-”
Before he could finish the detestable word, I blew dust into his face and sent him stumbling across the street. He was oblivious to the minor changes around him. He walked to his house and turned the knob only to find it locked.
A giant grandfather clock appears in front of me. Father Time opens the lower door. He pushes the bob, and the pendulum clangs so loud it echoes through my whole body.
“Do your worst,” I shrug, as I recall the rest.
The fool banged on the door, screaming obscenities, until it opened, revealing a large, tattooed man. “Who the fuck are you? Where is my wife?” he yelled.
“This is my girlfriend’s house. Kindly remove yourself from her property,” the tattooed man demanded.
A woman walked to the door. Her eyes grew wide as she recognized him; then she burst into hysterics, “You‘re a bit late. Only took you five years to bring home dinner.”
I hold my stomach and let out an boisterous laugh. “See? It was funny because she had already moved on and forgotten the trauma of him disappearing.”
Father Time’s nostrils flare. “I gave you access to time so you could do your job and be in multiple places at once, not pull pranks on unsuspecting innocents.”
He ushers me inside the clock. I lower myself down the hole in the bottom and take a final look at Father Time’s angry face.
“Twenty Earth years, Death. Let’s see how you like that.”
I indulge in one final laugh as he slams the door, “Totally worth it!”
I sat in the rear of the auditorium with my parents. I graduated earlier that year and yet here I was back at my old high school. I was only here for my brother and sister. I wasn’t one of “those kids” that couldn’t leave my high school behind me.
It was a long two-hour show. The sopranos were quiet compared to the powerhouses of the last year, myself not included, but the tenors had been amazing. At the end, I knew what happened next. Every Christmas, the Paris High School Concert Choir sang “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah, and every year, the music director invited alumni to join in the song, on-stage.
I am not one of “those kids.”
I sat and watched as a handful of people walked onto the stage. “Losers,” I whispered.
The music director said it again. Is she trying to coax me onto the stage?
Nope. I’m not doing it. Can’t make me.
I stared at my sister in the alto section. Her eyes looked focused on me.
“Don’t do it, Mel.” “Do it.”
Do you really want me up there with you?
“No. Yes. No. Yes.” I couldn’t tell what she wanted.
A final call came out, and Dad patted my shoulder. “Go on, Mel.”
It’s a long, agonizing walk to the stage. I’m holding everyone up now.
I tried a casual jog. I reached the stairs and took one. Hurry up!
I lift my foot to the next and tripped.
My knees and palms dropped onto the hard cedar steps. Ow!
Laughter erupts in the auditorium and on-stage. Jeezus, everyone’s laughing at me! I found out later that I exaggerated it in my head, but boos are louder than cheers.
Can’t back out now. I swore, bit the corner of my lip, and rose with a groan. I took the rest of the stairs at a deliberate pace.
I stood at the end of the sopranos with my heart in my throat. I swallowed, trying to regain my composure, and declined the sheet music. I gave the music director a half-smile and a nod when she asked if I was okay. She lifted her hands, and the music began. Soft, be soft. You have nothing to prove.
We sang the song. I had to admit I enjoyed it, but I also was never, ever, going to do that again. I left the stage, sure I dropped my pride on those steps.
On the ride home, Dad admitted, “You sang louder than everyone else.”
“Great,” I said with a blush. Of course I did.