Twelves

by Tony Sciarini

A cool, windless autumn night thick with mist found Andrew meandering the streets of Brooklyn. His heart had been broken, and he wondered nowthought hard abouthow he could have lost her; and while the vivid neon signs and raucous sounds of street life surrounded him on all sides, to him it was a blur. Mindlessly, he dropped a gum wrapper in the trash bin next to him, and was about to move on when he spotted something glistening under the flash of a street light changed to red. Intrigued, he tunneled under the refuse to find an old pocket watch. As marred as it was from age, Andrew could still make out an inscription on its back: The wisdom of a thousand seers Has bound me here for countless years But wind me forth until at last You strip from time your sullen past. Stunned by the cryptic message, Andrew thrust the thing from his hand. It landed, open, to the side of the bin as he stepped backward off the sidewalk. Andrew turned to continue walking, and while his steps quickened at the onset of a disquieting wind, his mind labored to recapture the one thing that brought him peace. Still, the one he loved had already left him, and memory was all he had left of her. It was enough for him to think of her, but he hoped now with a grasping hope that a final apology would bring her back. Now standing, frozen and head bowed, at the door to her apartment, he could not bring himself to knock, and it was a full thirty minutes before his weight shifted to leave. He heard then, suddenly, the turning of her door handle. I thought I could talk to you one last time. As quickly as the door had been opened, it was shut again, and Andrew was alone. He had spent so much time inside his head that he actually believed something would come of this, that what could not be reconciled with pleading and promises could be healed by time. Time. Like a beggar prostrated and starving in front of the glass of a baker's shop, Andrew faced the one thing that could redeem his life, but which was locked behind the intractable vaults of past. He could see the memories, but could do nothing to change them. An irony surfaced. Time had until now been his persecutor, but-- what if-- Andrew thought, it could now become his savior. He returned to the watch. Resting still in the neon effusion of street signs, Andrew kneeled to examine its aged face. There were no numbers. In fact, its face was blank. The hands, too, surprised him, the minute and hour hands moving opposite directions in a perceptible-- albeit slow-- cadence. He noticed, too, that there was no knob to wind the watch. Upon closing the lid, however, Andrew heard a distinct click, and saw the knob protruding now from its chamber. He began to wind, and doing so, found the task increasingly difficult. Andrew had often been described by friends as credulous, listening with unabated awe to the stories-- fanciful or not-- of any passer-by. This, he supposed, was no different, but without the knowing judgment of his friends to hold him back, he let himself indulge in this hope that in calmer times he knew would be fruitless. One, then two minutes passed, until Andrew stretched his arm back to thrust the thing again from his hand. He noticed as he did, however, that the street was no longer wet. The wind, too, had died again, and the familiar sound of traffic had faded. The only sound he heard, in fact, was the ticking of the watch-- louder it seemed-- than before. Something had changed. He looked again at the inside of the watch to find numbers now on its face, all of which read twelve. The hands had aligned at the top, both stationary, but still ticking. ....... Andrew awoke late the next day to a knock, one with which he was familiar. She stood there, in the same manner she had just four days ago, donning the same simple dress and the same shy smile. It had begun again. That evening with her, sitting at his dining room table, he listened again to the same anxiety she had expressed upon learning that her parents were divorcing, and the same apprehension as she told of her reluctance to let the same happen to her. She no longer knew whether she believed in marriage, she had said-- just as she had before-- and wondered how he had weathered his own parents' breakup. This time would be different, he thought. He would be understanding, would not jump to conclusions or enumerate the many reasons he felt she was being irrational and weak. He would be thoughtful-- patient-- he told himself, not impulsive; and so he began a discourse he had rehearsed in his mind for four long days after the selfsame event had shattered him to irreparable pieces. He told of what his parents' divorce had done to him, how the move with his mother to a new state had over time left him without a clear notion of true masculinity, and how this had left him with the belief that toughness requires a boy-- and later, a man-- to depend on no one but himself. This perspective, he continued, made him intolerant of anyone who could not face the world with the same attitude. Far from blaming her for her reluctance to be with him, he understood all too well why she felt the way she did. He understood, too, just at this moment, the extent of his own hollowness. How fitting, he thought, that despite his perennial efforts at guarded independence, he found in his loss of her only four days ago-- or, rather, four days from now-- just how dependent on her he truly had become. He stood, kissed her on the forehead, and walked out the door; and a cool, windless autumn night thick with mist soon found him meandering the streets of Brooklyn. His heart had been broken, but he knew now what he had-- whom he had-- and counted himself loved that such treasure came in the form of someone with whom he could share his very self. Thinking again of the marred watch, he understood now why it had shown only twelves on its face. Time may not heal all wounds, he thought, but it gave ample room to begin again.

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