The snow is static in the sky. Frozen around us, as we sit on the roof of our house, watching. The air was cold before, the harsh wind, but none of it continues. Everything has stopped. My dad plucks out a snow drop delicately, with his clock making hands, and brings it down to my face. I stare at the delicate design, the small pattern, that most people will never see. Once this drop has melted no one will ever see it again. The little fragile moment, gone forever. I’m amazed. I’ve never seen snow before, and to see it like this. Completely still and just in front of me, hovering. My breath fogs up, and slowly moves through the air in front of me, pushing the snow drops as it hesitantly stampedes through.
Our house is one of the tallest in the village. The wooden houses in front of us are crooked and stretch out in every direction. The pathways move around them, with no real sense of direction. As if generations ago people just stopped and built their houses and the streets just wind around them, curling up close to the buildings. The lamps are being lit, keeping the streets alive. The lamp-lighters are about halfway through their nightly routine.
The smoke that has bellowed from the cracked chimneys is frozen above the houses, the dark cloud mixing with the light snow, creating a barrier between the village and the sky. The snow would break through though. It must have, most of the houses have snow settled on top. I don’t know why everything has stopped.
I reach out and touch the snow drop, but with my clumsy fingers it melts. Gone forever. My dad laughs, it doesn’t matter. I’m just in awe of the world around me. So quite, still. I wish it could be like this all the time. I lean over on my dad, and wish I could just live like this. Maybe when I grow up I can. In my thirteen years, I’ve never seen snow. Maybe it can last forever. Thirteen more years of this white sheet, shining on top of everything I see. Giving new wonder to the world. My dad moves his arm around me, and holds me. Keeping me warm. We look out over the neighbourhood. In the distance, I can see my school, it’s a big building with two floors, echoing over the surrounding huts and cabins we call home. It’s the only building close to us made of brick. Everything else it wood and steel. Not as bad as it seems.
In the distance beyond the fog is the city. You can usually see it from up here, but the snow, just about blocks it out. If I strain I can see the tall buildings reaching up into the sky like stretching arms. I try to ignore that though, it’s the rest of the view. All of the small houses, and one room shacks around us. Simple.
“I wanted to give you this,” my dad said, while rummaging in his jacket’s inside pocket.
“What is it?” Trying not to sound to excited.
It’s not often I get random gifts. I’m aware that we’re not the richest family, so I don’t ever expect a new book sitting on the side when I get home from school, or anything outside of birthdays. That’s the one day my dad does surprise me. Every year without fail. He just gets the perfect gift. I have no idea how he does it.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to give you for a long time, but it seems, right, to give it now.”
He pulls out a gold pocket watch. I stare at it as he holds out his hand. Not able to look at anything other than the shining beauty. I don’t understand. I haven’t done anything to deserve it. Slowly I pick it up, my eyes darting between his smile and the shiny prize in front of me. I bring it closer to my face, running over the delicate engraved lines. A rose, engraved over the front case of the watch, with lines swirling around it. So perfect. I almost want to cry. I don’t even understand, it’s just overwhelming. I click in the little button at the top, and the front part of the watch opens. I gently flick it open with my thumb. Revealing the delicate arms of the watch under a thin layer of glass.
For generations my family had been clock makers. I’d seen my dad work on pocket watches, just like this. I know how fiddly the hands can be, how precise you have to be while touching them, especially with ones that are carved so intricately. Each hand, starts of fat at the bottom, and then thins as it moves outwards, with little engravings, making them look like tiny swords. The second hand was the thinnest, like a fencing sword, and the hour hand a dagger. None of them were moving.
I look up at my dad, surely he knows they’re not moving. He spends all his life around ticking, he wouldn’t miss that.
“I wanted you to have this, just as I have one. I know it’s broken, but it’s not for that. You don’t need to be able to tell the time, because there are more important things in life than time. I don’t know who discovered it first, but it was my dad who showed me. These snow drops, they’re not moving. I did that. You can too. No one else around us is moving. It’s just us. All you have to do is think, and then it happens. The watch, it’s been passed down for generations, and anyone who holds is can control time. It’s broken, but you need to remember that isn’t important. I want you to have it now, you’re old enough. Don’t abuse it, make sure others don’t find out about it. That’s all I can really tell you.”
I look down at the watch in my hands. I shouldn’t believe him, should I? I don’t think so. It sounds way to crazy. Maybe his brain has melted away with the constant ticking he surrounds himself with. But then I look up, at the snow around us. It isn’t moving. I’ve never seen snow before. It wasn’t moving, I could see that. I hadn’t questioned why, I was just mesmerised by the sparkling. How would some of it covered the houses? It must be true. The sun is setting, behind my dad’s head. But it isn’t moving, just sitting there, as it has done the whole time we’ve been on the roof. The red tint casting the last desperate rays over the day, before descending.
“How?” It’s all I could think to say.
“I’ll tell you how my dad told me,” he wrapped his arm around me. “Generations and generations ago. One of our ancestors, was working on a clock. Late at night. This very pocket watch to be precise. And while working on it, he nicked something in the insides. Sparks flew everywhere. He didn’t know what had happened. He covered the bare insides of the watch in the palm of his hand, hoping it would stop the sparks. It didn’t, he burnt his hand, quite badly. When the watch finally calmed down, he took his hand of, and found the insides of the watch had been marked on his hand, he probably thought it was from pushing down to hard, like when you do that with a toy or something you know what I mean. Like this.” He pulls out a coin from his pocket and squeezes it between two fingers, leaving a little indent in his skin. He cries out in fake pain, making me laugh, before continuing. “But anyway. After a few days he found it hadn’t disappeared. It had been burnt into his palm. And to top it all of the person who’s watch he was fixing. They didn’t want it back. Since it didn’t work. And he had to pay up for it. So not only was he burnt, he was out of pocket and had a stupid watch that didn’t work.”
“So what did he do?”
“Well he did this,” dad said while swooping his arm in front of us, pointing out the snow. “He froze time, robbed some banks, kidnapped his future wife, and had a great time. The End.”
“Seriously,” I cried, sitting up.
“No, don’t worry. I don’t know what he did, but he found out he could control time. He stopped worrying about day to day life and just focused on making the best life he could for himself and his family.”
I looked at the crooked houses around us, hardly the best life.
“Don’t think like that,” dad said as if he could mind read. “There are more important things than wealth and a big house, you’ll learn in time. The watch gives you those powers, and it also reminds you to never let time control you. You are in control of your own life, completely. Nothing else matters. Make the best of it.”
My dad slowly takes the watch out of my hand and holds it tightly. The snow slowly begins to fall again. As the flakes dance around in the air, he gives me the watch back.
“It’s yours now.”
I get closer and wish the moment would last forever. The darkening sky, the sheet of snow falling gently around us. The growing noise of wonder as kids run outside, crunching under their feet. Part of me wants to go down there and join in. But I really just want to sit here and watch the world.
“I remember when my dad told me that story. I would have been about your age. It genuinely only feels like yesterday, but so much time has passed.”
“Can’t you just go and change it,” I ask, while looking at the watch.
“It doesn’t work like that, I’m afraid. You will still age. And it’s not that I’ve had a bad life. Or that it’s right at the end of it, but I can’t go and change stuff. I wouldn’t want to. But I just want you to have the best life you can. And remember that. Don’t miss anything, you have the power not to. Just be careful, it’s your right to have the watch, but certain things musn’t be changed.”
The words didn’t make much sense to me. I have the power of time in the palm of my hands. I can do anything. Even if I do still get older, I will never run out of time to do anything. I can go and see so many beautiful places, so many different things, and people wouldn’t even notice. I could sneak into the city, and return without a second passing. I could freeze time and walk into people’s houses. Just to see what they’re like. No one would ever know, anything.
As the snow continues to cascade around us, I look up at my dad, wondering if we should go back inside. He seems happy. A faint smile hidden on his face. The rough beard, the tired eyes. Somehow it adds up to happiness. I lean my head on him, as he tightens his arm around me. Both of us just watching the world around us, the snow. The sounds of people playing, of the crunch underfoot.
I close my eyes, and try not to fall asleep, but somehow I just do.