My dad is waiting for me as time catches up. It probably hasn’t even been a minute for him, but I’m still shocked that he’s there. The room is different completely, it’s hard to believe that my mum was standing there, just a minute ago. Years have passed and no one else realises. The world around me has completely changed.
“How did it go?” my dad asks.
“I think it went okay. I saw you and mum, and spoke to her for a second.”
“Good,” he smiles. “I’m glad. Are you going to go back again.”
“I don’t know. I think so. But not now. Another time. I need to remember to bring money next time. That could have gotten awkward.”
“That’s something you’ll learn,” he laughs.
My heart is still racing, the watch is still firmly in my hand. I can now go and see her whenever I want to. I don’t have to wait, or get permission. I could see her at any point in her life, I could relive my early and only memories of her. Make new ones. Everything I’ve missed is available in front of me. Everything I could have ever hoped for. But how do I know it’s not too much. My dad’s words keep on floating around inside me. That he didn’t want to ruin the time she spent without him. That she became that person through that time, but nothing in the past can be changed. It’s already happened. So surely I can’t change anything.
“I know what you’re thinking,” my dad starts, snapping me to attention. “The past has already happened, and you have to accept that. Every moment up to this point has made you who you are right now. I don’t want to think that I had anything to do with creating your mum into the person she was when we met. As much as I’d like to go back and see her, just one last time. For me it’s not right. That would be like I was trapping her. That it somehow wasn’t natural. It’s already happened, so you cannot change anything that has already happened. I know that I’m never going to see her again, and that’s okay with me. I also know you didn’t get your time with her, and maybe you seeing her will make her the person she was. But that wouldn’t matter either. To me, or her. I’m sure without doubt that seeing you, is the only thing that she misses.”
Everything about this just seems to good to be true. My life will finally be complete, but surely there has to be a price. Nothing in this world is free. No one is special. There are so many people in the village, in my school who deserve better and they don’t have anything handed to them on a plate, and yet this is. I trust my dad, but it just seems too good to be true.
After finishing the drinks we start walking back towards the wall. School has already started, and I don’t want to miss too much. I could freeze time and get there with ease, or even reverse it a little so I can just get to school on time, but dad warns this isn’t a good idea. That we shouldn’t abuse the watch. I understand what he means completely but it’s so tempting.
School is the same as always. Same lessons, same stuff. I take notes and try to stay interested but my mind is not in it. I’m miles away wanting to see my Mum again. Wanting to travel back and try to speak to her again. It would be easy to do it, easier than before. Now I know what she looks like. Not something I’ve created in my mind, but a real living and breathing person. I’ll be able to speak to her, to hold a conversation and to have her understand me.
School ends and I start walking home, faster than normal. I want to go back again, see her again. I can’t decide, when to see her. Around my age, or just as my dad was meeting her, or later in her life. I could see it all. There is nothing stopping me. I could watch my parents fall in love, or go back to when she was younger and then become friends with her. As sad as that sounds. Or I could go later when she’s a little bit older, and she could actually be the mother I always wanted. A mixture of all three maybe. No that would be stupid. I couldn’t just show up at random points in her life, she would start to suspect something. That would just confuse her, unless she knew about the watch? I don’t know maybe she did. I will ask Dad when I get home and find out, because if she did know then anything is possible.
I run through the front door of the shop, not stopping to let the ticking annoy me, I drop swing my bag over my head and drop it on the seat behind the counter and race up to my dad.
“Hello, school okay today?”
“Same as every other day. I have a question.”
“Did Mum know about the watch?”
“Yes, I told you that before. I showed it to her early in our relationship. She didn’t understand it completely, not that I do. Some unknown power, that shouldn’t be used by anyone.”
“Wouldn’t she want to see me?”
My heart drops, breathing slows and a dark heat-filled pain starts to spread over my body. For a split second I want to rip the clock from its chain and throw it to the floor, shattering the glass.
“Of course she would. That was all she wanted. Look, give it to me here.”
I hesitate, but take the watch out of my pocket. I look at it, somehow feeling like handing it over is handing over everything. Even though it’s just my dad, the person who gave me the watch, and the only person I fully trust. Slowly, I pass the watch over to him, letting the chain run through my fingers as he pulls it away from me. My arm retreats to my side, like dead weight. The watch is away from me, even though I can see it. Just there, right in front of me, in my dad’s hands.
He lifts it up and closes his eyes. The world around us goes black, the shop disappears. The ticking blends together, and fades away in one dull thud.
And then, in a moment, it’s all back. But different. The clocks aren’t the same ones on the wall, the floor is cleaner. The counter less cluttered. I look in my dad’s eyes.
“The shop is closed. At the moment. No one will ever know we’re here. Open the door and go upstairs. No one will notice you, sit just outside where you room is. The door should be slightly open, and just listen. Don’t do anything, and then just come back down.”
I move behind him, and through the door. Everything is so different, even if it is still familiar. The floorboards feel less creaky than in our time. There are pictures on the wall, small paintings and actual photos. I didn’t realise we had photos. Who are these people. The little room at the back, we call a kitchen looks so bright. I stop on the stairs, staring at what looks like a family photo. Who is this? That kind of looks like my Mum, just younger. So is that her family? I’ve never seen them before. I can’t remember ever meeting them. They look so happy here. I’ll have to ask Dad about them when we get back.
At the top of the stairs, I slow down. Even though history is already written, I don’t want to tempt fate, and find out they discovered me. That they chase me out of the shop, not knowing who I am. That would be kind of funny, in a way though. I crouch, knowing that every character I ever read in a book does the same when they don’t want to be seen. I reach the crack in the door, and try to see through it. There is a lit candle inside, but I can’t make out anything, other than its flickering flame. Different from the electricity we have now. I’d just assumed we always had it, but there’s not light out here either, so it must have been put in recently.
There are voices coming from inside, but it takes a while to actually focus on them.
“She’s sleeps so quietly, we’re so lucky,” a female voice.
“I know, she’s perfect. We’re going to be so proud of her.”
There is a long pause. Just sitting in silence, listening to their breathing, picturing my parents standing over my crib, smiling. Probably holding hands, looking down together lovingly. I could just burst in right now. Knowing everything I’ve ever wanted, is just on the other side of this wall. An actual family.
“Please, look after her,” starts my Mum.
“You know I will, and don’t speak like that.”
“I know you don’t like it, but it’s the truth. Things aren’t getting better. You know I don’t want to leave her, but all I can do is trust you to look after her.”
“You know she’ll have the best life I can provide.”
“I’m going to miss her so much, and you as well. You know that right.
“I know, and she’ll know it to.”
“Just look after her.”
Another silence, and all I can do is hold back tears. Hearing her speak, knowing the end is so close, I just wish I could do something. That there was something to save her, that even though I know the ending, that the story would change somewhere. That I’m going to wake up in the present, with no stupid watch, and just my Mum greeting me. Somehow this could be the dream, a nightmare, and I could wake up. I know it’s not going to happen, and I’ve wanted it for so long, but right now. Hearing her voice, at her most motherly, in her final days. I just need to see her. I can’t believe the end is so close, and that will be it. Even with the watch, she won’t really be there. I’ve been lying to myself, thinking she would be. That the watch would change anything really.
“She’ll see you again one day,” my Dad states.
I wonder if that’s my queue, if I should stand up and burst into the room. That we would have a massive family reunion and everyone would be happy. Smiles and laughter all around. But it’s not. I know that.
“It won’t be the same, for me it’s already happened. I know I get to see her, and I love it. But I should be there for her. I’m letting her down, so she can waste her years chasing me down in the past.”
“Don’t think like that. None of this is your fault. You know that. Right? You know that. It’s horrible, but we can’t do anything about it. That’s just the hand we were dealt sadly. I wish it was different, but it isn’t.”
“I know, I know. But it’s easy for you to just see it like that, but I’m not going to be there. When she grows up. Seeing her become the woman I know. It’s not the same. I’m going to miss so much. She won’t ever know me, and every time she comes back to see me, this is all she will be thinking about, how I’m no longer there.”
“Did she tell you?”
“No, of course she didn’t, she’s still your daughter. Stubborn, and knows what’s best. But it wasn’t that hard to figure out. She came back so many times, a couple I could understand, but to that extent. I knew something had happened. I couldn’t place it at first, but eventually it all clicked.”
They both went quiet. Is this time for me to go back? Sulk back down the stairs unnoticed. Or should I just burst through the door, and give my Mum one last hug goodbye.
“I wouldn’t change it though,” my Mum says, stopping me in my tracks. “I couldn’t imagine not growing up with my Mum, so I’m grateful that she got those fleeting chances, or will get them. It may not be normal, but nothing in our life has been. I know you look after her, and that she grows up into a good person. I need to lie down now, it’s too much. Help me get back up, and to our room.”
I take that as my sign, and silently move back to the stairs, gliding down them one at a time. My dad hasn’t moved from his original position. He’s already lived through this once, and that is more than enough. I can only imagine how many times that conversation has replayed in his head. I wipe the tears on the rags of clothing I’m wearing, and hug my Dad. The hug I wanted to save for my Mum. Every time I see her from this point, will be in her past. Every word I will ever speak to her, has already been spoken. The path is already set. It will almost be like a play every time I see her. Scripted, even without us realising. But that doesn’t make it any less real, or meaningful. I know I’m not going to regret a second.
“Thank you,” I state.
My dad just holds me tighter. He doesn’t say a word, and he doesn’t need to. He brought me here for one reason, and that was achieved. He knew it would be. The past has already been set, but he made it happen.
“Come on, lets go home before I come down stairs and find us.”
Dad lets me go, reluctantly, and pulls out the watch. He doesn’t even think about it, we’re just back in the present, as if no time has gone at all. I’ve just come home from school, but I feel exhausted. Even though all together we’ve added about half an hour to the day.
“I’m going to go and read, and probably fall asleep.”
“Don’t you want any dinner?”
“I’ll come back down if I get hungry, at the moment I’m just tired.”
“The watch does that to you. You’ll get used to it eventually, but the first few times it will drain you, and you’ve used it twice in one day. Probably best to wait a couple of days before using it again.”
I don’t respond as I open the door behind the counter, leading me away from the clocks and into our actual home. The light switch is back on the wall, and I’m glad to be back. Even if I was still stood in the same crooked shack, that looks as if it’s about to crumble at any second. This is my home. I slink my way upstairs, dragging my feet up every step and collapse onto my bed. Not even shutting the ticking out behind me.