I spent the whole school day with my hand around my neck, just feeling the pocket watch. Knowing that no one else had one, wondering what I could do with this new power. If someone tried to cause a fight with me, not that they normally did, then I could fight them. I could stop time, throw in a few punches and then start it up again and see how they like it. It’s a thrilling thought, but I’m not going to start anything. No one has ever picked a fight with me before, why would they now. School is just a means to an end. We all have to do it, so just get on with it. Most people have already accepted their fate. They are never getting out of the slums, the city isn’t for them. It’s been like that for generations. I can’t think of one person who has moved out of the slums, and probably for the better, there is no real false hope then, even if they do promise it. From the first assembly in the first year, we’re told point blank that we can move to the city. Good education equals a good job, which equals a good life, a good partner, a good everything. There is no correlation between the two. It’s just something they tell us to keep us quiet. If we stay quiet and stick to the learning then it’s an easier day for everyone.
But we all know it doesn’t go down like that. No instead, when you get to my age we get separated. The troublemakers just go and sit in a classroom, doing near enough nothing, while the rest of us are actually taught something, in the small hope we might achieve the dream.
I don’t want to work in a mine, or a farm, or even as a servent to one of the city people. I want to be in control myself. Maybe I’ve bought into the lie more than I want to admit, but the possibility of being able to move into the city. It means no more clocks. No more cold winters, where the frozen wind, squeezes it way through the wooden houses, extinguishing any sort of comfort. I can walk out into the sunlight, and buy books. Walk through the park, do nothing except enjoy myself. Maybe I’ll find love, and everything will be okay. It’s all I can really hope for. It’s got to be better than making and fixing clocks for the rest of my life. Even though I’m sure it will break my dad’s heart. There just isn’t anything here for me. Other than him.
At lunch time I pick up an apple from the bowl and start eating it. There was a good harvest this week and a local farm gave the school a bunch of apples. Something most of us wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. We mostly eat scraps at school. Essentially what the city gives to us in donations. It’s one of the only reasons most people force their children to attend. They are guaranteed one meal a day then.
It’s been so long since I’ve had a fresh apple. At home I mostly live off bread and cheese. Occasionally one of the city people will leave us food. Grapes are my favourite. They often leave a bunch of them, after dad has fixed something for them. I still cannot believe how many people travel so far to visit my dad’s shop. He could charge more, and move to the city, but he doesn’t. Instead he stays where he is. Claiming that’s his place. I wonder why he’s so determined to stay there. He could surely make a better life for himself. He can’t want to stay in the slums.
Someone joins me at my table, someone I barely speak to. Dain. He’s one of the kids from the disruptive group. I don’t have any classes with him, so I just ignore him. But today he’s chosen to sit near me. I normally sit by myself at lunch, finishing eating and then spend the rest of my time reading. I don’t really have time for friends, with working in the shop, and trying to get better grades. I have people I can talk to, sure. I’m never alone when it comes to group work. I get along with a lot of people, I just don’t spend time with them outside of class. That makes me sound like a complete dick, but I don’t mean to be. I’m just not around after school, or at the weekends to be involved in anything. When they all go hiking, or camping. I’m working. I’m not complaining, it’s just doesn’t take long for people to stop inviting you, and then you aren’t involved in conversations. And after a couple of years, that leads to this. Sitting by myself reading. I’m sure dad would tell me to make an effort, that I didn’t need to help out around the shop, but he needs it. Since mum died, he needs someone to manage stuff while he’s running errands, or fixing something. As slow as the business is, he needs some time to get away from it and do the other important things he has to do. Without a phone, he can’t call people in the city to tell them the repairs have been made. He spends the weekends travelling to the city and back, carrying their goods. He doesn’t even have a horse. I wonder where the money he makes from them go. They can afford the price, and there must be a reason why they come to him.
I try not to make eye contact with Dain, even though I know he’s looking straight at me. Couple of bites left til the core, and then I can start reading.
“What’s that round your neck?” He asks.
I hadn’t even realised my free hand was running the chain through its fingers. I’ve been doing it all day. I can’t help it.
“Nothing,” I say instinctively.
“There’s something, you’ve been playing with it all day. Other people told me. So what are you hiding?”
“Nothing for you to worry about, now how about you leave.”
“I don’t like the way you’re speaking to me.”
“I don’t like the way you’re looking at me.”
We sit there eyes locked. My mind flies back to my thoughts earlier, how easily I could win this fight. Even though I’ve never used the watch, I could still put him into his place without thinking about it. I tighten my grip on the chain, hoping it doesn’t come to that. My other hand fidgets with the apple. My eyes, darting around the room and back to Dain, making sure he hasn’t moved. Some other people have noticed he’s sitting with me, and have stopped talking to stare. The wind, sweeps and curves through the courtyard, pushing my hair. Heart beat racing. What am I going to do? It seems like nothing is going to happen, so I take another bite out of the apple, the crunch echoing in the air around me. I spot a teacher standing in the window, looking at me. He knows something is wrong. That something is about to happen, and yet he does nothing. I try catching his eye to try and get him to come out here, to calm everything down, but he either doesn’t see me, or doesn’t want to.
Dain hasn’t moved, he’s just stares at me. Not blinking, not making a sound. He thinks he has the upper hand, that he could beat me in a fight, and on any other day he could have done, but then on any other day it wouldn’t have come to this.
“So I’m only going to ask one more time and then I’m going to just take whatever you’re hiding,” Dain states.
I have nothing to say back. My moment of confidence has dwindled. If I tried to speak nothing but a gurgle would come out. He’s won the stare off. I don’t want to mumble and look weak. I’m not given the opportunity either. Grack, Dain’s best friend, grabs me from behind, I can tell it’s him, because he’s the only one would would willingly help Dain out. He grabs my arms, and pulls them back, leaving Dain to grab the pocketwatch from under my shirt.
“A watch. Is that it? It doesn’t even work. Why don’t you get your daddy to fix it for you. Stupid little bitch, why cause so much trouble just to hide a watch. I thought you had something worth looking at, but it’s just a watch. What’s the point. Can’t you just read the clock on the wall if you have to know the time.” Dain shouts, so everyone outside can hear.
I look back over to the window, the teachers gone. He’s probably on his way out here now. I try squirming, but that does nothing. Dain yanks on the chain, snapping against the back of my neck. I lurch forward, and he drops it in my lap. Laughing both of them walk off. I take a moment to focus myself and then quickly shove the watch deep into my bag, pulling out my book in the same movement.
I sink myself into the pages, ignoring everyone else around me. The world becomes silent, and all I can see is the black ink flowing in front of me. I turn from page to page, escaping the world. My heart calming over time. At first none of the words stuck. I was seeing them, but not reading. But after closing my eyes and slowly breathing, I focused. The words became real, taking me away from the school, and the shop, and life. For a moment nothing else mattered, just the story in front of me.
I finish a couple of chapters, and then look up. It’s been a while, surely lunch should be over by now. Everyone around me has frozen. Everyone stood still in place, no one moving from when I first picked up the book. I’d been trying so hard not to notice the outside world, I didn’t even see that I’d frozen it. I don’t remember doing it, or even trying to. It just kind of happened. Now I don’t know what to do exactly. Just think: Start. That doesn’t work. Move? The movement of the other people slowly racing to life? The watch. It’s still in the bag. Dad said I had to be holding it, for anything to work. Slowly I reach for the watch. For some reason I’m hesitating. There’s no reason I shouldn’t start time again, I’m okay now. I don’t need any more time to calm down. The situation is over, and yet I don’t want to see things animate. I want them static. Just for a little longer. I stand up and walk over to Dain. He’s walking away from me, back to where I was sitting.
I stoop down and lift Dain’s foot that’s still firmly on the ground. Hopefully this will make him fall when I do start time again, everyone will just think he’s tripped on something. It might get a few laughs. I just have to be silent. Don’t want him blaming me for it. I return to my seat and clasp the watch, still inside the bag. I close my eyes and think about the people around me moving.
A loud crash echoes in my ears, followed by a more silent moment than before. I turn and see that Dain’s fallen. Smacked his head of a table, blood sprouting out of his forehead. A lot of people start laughing, a couple even throw things at him. The clatter of the courtyard continues, as he stands back up and faces me.
“You pushed me,” he roars. “You all saw it.”
“You fell over,” someone shouts. “We all saw that. She hasn’t moved.”
I turn back to my book, trying to ignore the world around me. I hear Dain grunt loudly, and then another crash as he throws a chair.
“What’s going on out here?” The teacher from the window asks.
A blanket of silence is placed over all of us, as if I had stopped time again. The teacher is standing in the doorway to the school, looking at all of us, expectingly. I look around, not wanting to be the one who speaks.
“I saw you messing around from the window. I don’t want to start handing out detentions, so everyone can stop it. You’ve got five minutes left of lunch. Make the most of it, and get to class. No more messing around.”
I look quickly at Dain, he’s staring at me, breathing heavily through his nose. I turn back to my book, feeling quite happy. Not just with what happened to Dain, but the fact that I’ve read more than I thought I would have done today.