Photo Credit: Anton Darius for Unsplash (@thesollers)

To Build A More Efficient Clock

Margaret Elizabeth and Vett Hatcher were exactly one and one-half years apart, to the day.

In a few months, Margaret would turn six-thousand-twenty-six, SpentTime. Vett would be six-thousand-twenty-four-and-one-half, SpentTime. Margaret had always called him ‘baby’, not as a term of endearment, but rather as a chastisement, a reminder to her husband that no matter how quickly the couple approached immortality, Margaret would always be that much older.

Through the window and off in the distance, beyond that great tawny expanse of dust, Topeka KA baked under a high summer sun. In their kitchen, a calendar hung from the refrigerator handle on frayed twine, swaying with rote dispassion aloft the hushed draft. A stained-white countertop stood across from the fridge, fractured in all the right, predictable places by appliances and cabinets thickened with dust. The cracked window bore ropy scars of matter and scoff and chipped paint. The sash had been propped upon a dowel at some unremembered moment earlier that day, and the shy breeze had swirled about the kitchen all morning, cooling it just enough to offer slight reprieve from the heat.

Vett Hatcher shuffled toward the sink, gingerly placing a coffee mug at the bottom of the basin. He turned on the faucet, pausing ever-so-briefly to regard, with a demure sort of disdain, the veiny texture of his hands. They bore the residue of glory-day callouses, veiled beneath the sheen of daily-applied moisturizer. He rubbed them together under the lukewarm water, watching the tendrils and droplets trace their way out and over his knuckles, skim down his palm-lines, snake down through his protruding veins until they eventually careened off wildly and came to a tentative rest upon the brim of the mug. Vett closed a fist and shut off the water. He wiped his hands on a blue dish-towel slung over the sink, staring intently at the furled tributaries ringing his ruined cuticles, half-expecting them to buckle and snap in the breeze. Almost instinctively, Vett spent a glance on the calendar, tracking its pendular movement with humid, hazel eyes.

They hadn’t owned a clock in years. The calendar had sufficed.

“I was thinking we can make an appointment next Tuesday.”

Margaret stayed silent. She hovered intently over a husk of thick canvas, her legs crossed childishly underneath her, speckled eyes never wavering from the broad, barebone parchment sprawled upon the floor.

“I thought next Tuesday could work because we could run the marathon afterward, on the 29th. Gotta’ be in shape for it, you know.”

Margaret gestured noncommittally and continued examining the paper at her feet.

“I was going to call tonight.”

Margaret waved her hand over the parchment. A holographic plane appeared below her hand as if propped upon invisible stilts, oscillating, parallel to the blank surface. The hologram shimmered in the heat. She made a motion, a pirouette, contorting her wrist to reveal a small ring cupped tightly against the base of her index finger. Built into the crusted jewel was a miniscule portal; a glinting gem that served as the projector. Margaret spread her fingers wide, caressing the air in a cephalopodan movement to make the hologram stutter closer and closer toward the patient canvas. The smoldering membrane juked and dodged — a vibrant meniscus of light — until it finally kissed the paper.

A gentle hiss accompanied an almost imperceptible aura of smoke and the faint scent of campfire. A dawny brume lit the stifling summer air for a moment before it frittered whimsically and faded away. The canvas now bore a colorful burn, sheared and sculpted by the photons’ heat, colorized in certain sections by some prismic attribute of those light beams. The image possessed the vivacity of a painting, but the texture of some topographical globe, cresting and troughing in certain positions as to create a subtle three-dimensionality.

Margaret sat back, rocking her heels out from under her body and resting supine upon her elbows. She bent her face toward the finished canvas as the midday sun shone resilient through the delicate drapes, illuminating all her crow’s feet and happy wrinkles.

“Where is that?” Vett asked, now too looking down at the smoldering etching on the floor.

“The playground by our elementary school,” Margaret said flatly, “the swing set.”

“Oh. Oh wait, yeah. Yeah.”

“That one was yours,” she said, pointing at the rightmost swing, “and that one — that one was mine. Do you remember?”

Vett smiled doubtfully, “Yeah, yeah of course.” He plowed on, “You know? I remember almost everything from The First Time, but nothing from any of those middle ones. These last few run-throughs I remember clearly enough, but all those middle runs — “

“ — might as well have not happened at all,” Margaret finished.

Vett hung silent. Margaret continued to smile at her canvas, but a sort-of vacancy settled on her eyes, and thick shadows climbed the wrinkles beneath her brow. The ring upon her finger let out a satisfied chime and winked off. She removed the small accessory and placed it upon the coffee table as she propped herself up upon her knees and stood. The frayed velvet of the loveseat sighed as she sat back down.

The hearth-brown Elizabeth / Hatcher living room was a monument to anthropology. Theirs was a kaleidoscope view of all history’s creation; the zeitgeist of a species nested beneath their thatched roofs and shuttered windows and hanging herb-gardens. The encircling walls loomed grand and ancient in the hot murk, and the mahogany finish bowed under the weight of shelves and cases, each bearing some rust-spun artifact from far-flung travels. Their homely museum was not lit as such — the piebald evening sun shining through the window cast unflattering shadows on all the dust, and the whole place was fringed in deep shadow, like vignettes on a needy photograph. But the contents of their collection more than made up for its appearance.

There were Aztecan war-masks and preserved Tibetan herbs. There was Egyptian pottery and a shamefaced Peloponnesian fertility statue. There were rocks from Mars and bottled ammonia from Neptune’s atmosphere. They all drummed with the half-heard dust of memory. Picture frames and holograms and vinyl and even a good old-fashioned 21st-century smart-phone. Each flaunted some perspiratory tale of adventure.

Vett dropped his gaze and brought his affected hands together slowly. He stared intently at the interstices between fingers, at the breadth of his astringent palms and brittle knuckles. Margaret caught him staring –

“How is it this morning?”

“It’s been worse,” Vett replied, “for some reason, running them under the faucet helps. I tried playing the piano and…”

“You know, there’s a Phys close by, outside the city. Only a short drive. We could go and they can take a look.”

Vett looked up from his hands.

“What?” he sputtered, dumbly.

“You know, you might not even need bone grafts. Sometimes CyberPlants can fix the job, or NerveTox. It’ll just be a quick in and out, no trouble.”

Vett’s gaze hung low under an incredulous brow.

“You’re serious.”

Margaret went on, defensively, “We can drive over in the morning they’ll have you better by noon. Treatment is so simple nowadays — “

“You want me to go for Treatment. To go get bone grafts from a phys.”

Margaret kept her face impassive.

“When have we ever gone for treatment?” Vett spat the word like a curse. “What would be the point?”

Now Margaret sat silent, the expression of contentment long gone from her soft features. She looked hard now, on the verge of some bitter commitment.

“You don’t want to go back,” Vett realized. It wasn’t a question.

Vett saw her as if for the first time. His eyes cast rivets into her while his fists grasped the armchair.

“Why now, why all of a sudden — “ he began, but she interrupted with a hand and a breath.

“It’s not just all of a sudden. It’s never all of a sudden anymore, not with us, and you know that. I’ve been thinking about this for years. Lifetimes.”

“I know we’ve talked about this,” Vett reasoned, “just talked, and I know we’ve been unsure before, but we always come out of it, right? Always realize this is the way it should be. Why bandage something you can just replace?”

“Vett, you can’t just bandage up everything. Not forever. And it’s been so long…”

“Yeah, well,” Vett stumbled, “I try not to think about SpentTime. Not anymore. Do you honestly believe, if I asked you, you could remember exactly how old — “

“Six-thousand twenty-five. Don’t act like you don’t know, either.”

Vett silenced once more. He sat repose in his chair, his unresponsive fingers no longer able to clench the woven fabrics, useless cuticles and rotten joints hanging limp from the cushions. He lumped there, all of his mass; the sum of his trim clothes and shaggy hair and frozen bones and frantic thoughts. He felt the cool breeze from the propped kitchen window bleed curiously out from behind him, rising up and blossoming out into the living room.

Their windows were adorned by thick red curtains like bloodied flesh, too dense for airflow. Margaret’s side of the salon was stifling and dull and nearly inhospitable, while Vett clung protectively to his oasis of an armchair, banking on that thin sliver of cool breeze from the propped kitchen window one whole room away to temper his suffering pores and ease the sweat off his skin. He waved away the heat, half-rising from his chair, intending to return to the temperate kitchen and allow himself another moment of relief under the rejuvenating balm of the faucet.

“I don’t want to go back,” Margaret breathed, “not again. I can’t do it anymore.”

Vett paused a moment before he sat back down. He should have known. Margaret wouldn’t let him leave that hot, suffocating place, wouldn’t let him run away from the encroaching heat and the impeding crudity of rusty wall decor and carefully-placed heirlooms, all those acquired relics and stories recounted by photo-frames and fertility statues and original paintings collected over the last six millennia of searching, exploring, discovering, learning and making history. Some paradigm shift had occurred within Vett during those moments of pensiveness, for suddenly he realized how tacky all their sundry seemed: a hackneyed display of nostalgia and forgone adventurous spirit captured post hoc by dozens of hollow souvenirs. He hated them all. Like a mausoleum.

“Look, maybe it’s just this place,” Vett tried again, steadfast, “we’ve been in Topeka too long. Let’s go back to Australia, we haven’t been in a few lifetimes.

Vett began wringing his hands; not to abate the pain, but to postpone the emergence of a very new wound, one yawning hungrily from just beyond his threshold, clawing eagerly at him, waiting for the denial to subside…

“Or you know what, we still have a lot saved up,” he continued, “we have enough for the Dorian Procedure for the both of us and plenty left over — let’s book a flight up to the colonies. We haven’t been in what, five LifeTimes? Almost six now? I heard Europa opened their first desert, somebody was telling me about this resort on Titan… we can go back, call in a few favors so we don’t have to worry about our savings…”

“I’m not going with you, Vett.”

Vett felt his throat catch. A scalding lump stemmed the cool airflow from the kitchen, plummeting from gullet to stomach. He became inescapably aware of a sinister sanguine tint seething out of his curtains.

At the time, thought Vett as he desperately attempted to retroactively justify his decision in drapery, I thought they would warm up the room. The sun comes right in here during the middle of the day… it would have looked five hours later. I could have had dusk at noon. Sitting in my armchair. Watching the sunset at noon.

They remained silent for quite some time. We must note: the phrase “for what felt like an eternity” cannot be accurately applied to these two. Expressions such as “back in a bit” or “this might take awhile” or “this feels like forever” fall laughably flat, but suffice to say ‘quite some time’ implies an awkward silence of an unimaginably painful duration.

“Alright,” Vett finished stupidly.

He rose achingly from his armchair with revulsion webbed across his face. He squirmed as he rose, to ignite his idle blood. His joints trembled, micro-tremors riveting up his spine as he made a move for the kitchen, banking on sheer will alone to ferry him away from the immobilizing heat.

“We can still go get Treatment tomorrow,” Margaret said again, equally stupidly.

“Why?” Vett asked, still facing away and into the kitchen, hauling his deadened joints toward cooler air. “If you don’t want to go back, if you don’t want to get the Dorian, then we might as well kick it right now, right? I can just sit there staring out at the meadow, bones boiling away until I can’t even move anymore, trapped there in my own skin until one day I die looking out at those ugly red curtains. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go out like that, not after all this.”


“What do you expect me to do?”

“I don’t know. That’s your decision. Not mine.”

People erode when they move together, like competing glaciers — angling with paced diligence toward one another in a slow trek toward collison. Theirs was not the sort of partnership beguiled by all those superficial woes that bedrock even the most impassioned of marriages; pettiness and passive aggression and backbiting. But enough time spent racing together acclimated one to the other, and they had come to internalize each other’s ticks, tells — a psycho-emotional telepathy that, after six-thousand years in development, could be called “instinct.” Speech became obsolete. Therefore, when Vett or Margaret resorted to words during their more intimate arguments, one might assume they had reached a seemingly insurmountable impasse.

An example of which: Margaret’s following plea; not desperate or tactful or veiled, but naked and vulnerable — poised for judgement like a lamb upon a stump.

“Please, Vett, please just try to understand.”

“I’ve wanted to stay with you my whole life,” Vett said, turning back to face her. The cracks on his face grew larger, too dry for tears.

“Why don’t you want to stay, Margaret?” he asked.

“We’ve done everything together, Vett. I love you, and I wa-”

“I love you too, please,” Vett began, but Margaret raised a hand. Vett looked down at the floor. Sunlight circled about their feet, undulating with every breath of air jostling the crimson curtains.

“This has nothing to do with you. My decision. Nothing. I’ve seen the whole of everything with you, Vett. There’s just this one last thing we haven’t done yet. The last thing.”

As the sun sank lower in the sky, it angled sharply into Vett’s precious red curtains. The room’s light was positively ruddy, blasting both their faces with rosy mattes. The collection of memorabilia lining the walls appeared sinister. What little light rose above the wooden floorboards pockmarked the walls, fossilizing their museum pieces in the bloody glow, preserving them there upon the walls like smoldering images on some sun-baked retina, scarcely visible in the dwindling peripheral of the curtain’s lenience.

“You’re serious. Oh no, oh no, oh no.”

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” she placated, trying to mask her condescension. Margaret was pandering now. She finally saw him for what he had really become, hunched there, forlorn and pitiful. Under the auburn light, he looked far more childish than his wrinkles claimed. His face had never lost its youthful bliss, and he still hoped uselessly for that draft of cool air leaking in from the cracked window. At least he finally looked up at her.

“Can’t we just go back? One more time, one more run through,” he pleaded, too ruined to even know how to grieve.

“No more ‘one-more’s”, Margaret shook her head, “I’m done. I’m sorry, Vett. I’m sorry you can’t make this choice on your own, and I’m sorry I’m forcing this on you, but I’m done.”

“We can work this out together -”

“It’s not a decision we can make together. You’ll either come with me to the end, or you won’t.”

Vett tried to raise his voice but it broke. He settled for a dull whisper.

“Not us.”

Even us,” Margaret countered, “everybody.”

She grew angry now, frustrated, as if losing her patience with a particularly incorrigible child. She clenched her fists and groped at the thin folds of her dress. Her hips locked and her lips parted. She stood over Vett, determined, steady, reproachful.

“When was the last time you felt anything at all?” she said.

Vett shook his head, still trembling. His hands began to quiver.

“How long ago? Ten lifetimes? Twenty? A hundred? We weren’t meant to live this long. It’s wrong.”

“What about all the others — ” Vett began, but Margaret raised her voice once more.

“There are no ‘others’. Everyone else from the beginning is gone. Everyone else stopped going, died, faded away, couldn’t afford it, decided to give up. Why shouldn’t we go, just like everyone else? What makes us special? We’re just people! People don’t keep living their lives over and over and over again — why have we had so many chances? What have we done with them that they really mattered? Why do you and I have to do this — why are we so much more frightened than everyone else?!” It was all rushing out now, broken levees and shattered sieves.

“Stop saying that. Stop saying things you can’t take back,” Vett could barely speak. His hands burned with cold fire. He tried to rub them together but they shook too much to clasp one another, so he stood there, arms awkwardly raised in a half-salute, prostrated in front of him as if in prayer.

“I don’t feel anything anymore,” Margaret strained her voice, “I have nothing in me. It’s time to go.”

“You don’t have nothing,” he said, knowing no answer would return, “you have me, right? Right? Right…”

Vett struggled to shuffle his sleeping legs. He managed a turn and waddled toward the kitchen.

“Vett,” she called softly, “Vett it’s been long enough. More than long enough.”

Margaret turned away from the empty armchair and bit her fist. She felt a warmth skim across her knuckles. Surprise chased away her furrowed brow as she watched the cut slowly dilate. The blood ran down her fingers and vanished into the thin shadow between digits for a brief moment before re-emerging, stubbornly undaunted by the endless precipice below her suspended hand. The blood matched perfectly the curtains, and so the red hue of the entire room cancelled out the crimson shiver, leaving Margaret staring coldly down at a gray wound, dripping listless blood from her skin.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Vett fought a bitter war with his defunct joints. The tap-water flowed freely over his hands once more, and the cool breeze from the propped window assuaged his flushed face, but no amount of wind or balm could repair him. It was all Vett could do not to whimper. The arthritis seemed sown beneath his bones, as intractable as a parasite, yet even it could not distract him from the cold truth. Vett’s mind still reeled, barely processing, as if some creeping realization that had stalked him for the past millennia finally pounced.

Out the window, Vett caught a glimpse of the Topeka skyline — a seemingly endless stretch of skyscrapers rolling out along the desert, shielding any view of the true horizon. Vett could almost smell the sea air from the other side of that urban sprawl, the miles and miles of artificial coastline formed out of the apocalyptic bisection of the American continent some two-thousand years prior.

The whole view cast blurred like some schoolyard daydream. The silvery buildings looked more drawn upon the sky than built through it, as if poured out by some painter’s hand many eons ago and left there to be admired by those too small to recognize their true magnitude.

Vett marveled, truly marveled, at those wonders outside his window for the first time in that or any LifeTime before it. It struck him briefly, though poignantly, that that was the first instance in which he had marveled at anything in a long, long, long time.

His wife approached from behind and clung to his arm. She ran her other hand through his hair.

“I want you to know,” she said, “I never regretted any of it. Not one second of those long years. It was all worth it.”

Vett spent another few moments staring out. Finally, he leaned over the basin and carefully removed the dowel from below the sash. The window slammed shut.

The last momentary gasps of cool breeze ducked beneath the falling pane, washing up and over Margaret and Vett. After, there was only the thundering shudder of heat and stillness.

“Do you really still remember your elementary school playground? Was that really what it looked like?” Vett asked, as his shaking slowed and he felt some semblance of mobility return to his fingers.

“I do. I can still name every single one of my teachers too.”

“Still? Really?”

Margaret smiled and took a step away from Vett. She clasped her hands behind her back, straightened her shoulders, and breathed in big: “Mrs. Bush, Mrs. Brown, Ms. Hausmann, Mrs. Cusick, Mr. Diegnan, Ms. Washack, Mrs. Zambito, and Mrs. Geller. And then high school, and I don’t remember anymore.”

Vett gave some slow claps of approval as Margaret took a mock bow.

“Now did you really remember the playground?” she asked.

Vett shook his head.

“Not really. I guess I don’t remember much from The First Time.”

“You don’t remember being twelve years old? Fourteen? Getting your driver’s license? None of it?”

“Flashes. Little glimpses, bits and pieces. But no, probably not. I do remember the first time you and I went for the Dorian.”

“How old were we?”

“I don’t know — but I remember the feeling of walking out of there. Of being able to run a mile without my knees falling off… of not having any gray hair. Smooth skin.”

“I’ll miss looking in the mirror. Right after we were done,” Margaret added.

“But that feeling really is incredible,” Vett blustered, “it got a little old after awhile, and I got used to it, but for the most part, just starting all over again, totally fresh…”

Margaret smiled reassuringly, “You’re right. It was good.”

They stood in silence for awhile. Vett had not even noticed the lack of breeze in the kitchen, but just then he felt the heavy heat settle on his shoulders.

“But what would you do with everything?” Vett asked.

Margaret looked confused. “What do you mean?”

“All of that,” Vett gestured toward the relic collection in the adjoining room, “all of our houses, all the accounts. Interest adds up. Would you just give it all away?”

“I guess I would.”

“It would take so long though,” Vett reasoned, “think about it — imagine what we could buy now. We have too much money to just hand away.”

“Maybe I’ll buy Saturn. I’ve always wanted to own a planet,” Margaret joked.

“You know, you probably could,” Vett said seriously.

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying, let’s go back for one more time. Let’s be young again, just once more. All we need is one more life-time, another ninety-odd years. And we’ll write our wills, pick the right charities, shoot half those old statues into space for all I care… put our affairs in order.”

Margaret raked Vett up and down with a weary sort of exasperation. It was all she could do to not audibly sigh.

“Come on,” Vett struck out one last time, “don’t you want that feeling of looking in a mirror afterward? Of being twenty-five again? One last time?”

Margaret dropped her head and let her charcoal hair fall past her face. She bent her neck slightly to catch the reflections off the tile at the proper angle. When her positioning was correct, Margaret could see all the myriad imperfections hiding in-plain-sight on the floor: small dirt stains like dissected leaflets, dust, stains from botched meals and half-drunken nights. An accidental tabular history of their home together — spelled out in dried wine and bread crumbs and the forgotten waste of beautiful little moments.

For once, Vett caught on.

“I had to try, didn’t I?”

Margaret looked out and away.

“Yes, you did,” she said.

They were back in the living room. Outside, the sun lapped hungrily at the horizon. Vett sat cross-legged on the mottled rug with his suffering hands on his lap. Margaret sat opposite with her legs propped out behind her hips, toes pointing forward. She took care to negotiate her dress toward a more conservative position. Neither of them had ever succumbed to changing fashions, both still adorned in the retro-Americana vestments of the High 21st Century.

“Why didn’t we buy cooling for the house?” asked Vett as he wiped his brow.

Margaret shrugged, “You said you liked a natural breeze. Plus, coolant smells.”

“Well, I’m regretting it,” Vett grumbled. He wiped the sweat from his knuckles on his trousers and leaned back against the rug. His hair draped lightly over his forehead, and his forearms strained with the effort of propping up his slight paunch.

“What do you want to do now?” Margaret asked.

Vett shrugged, “I don’t know, do we just wait?” He gave a little bout of laughter.

“It will probably be worse the longer we wait,” Margaret reasoned.

A tear began to form at the edge of Vett’s aching eyes. He shook it away. He had not cried in centuries.

Vett stared vacantly out at the slowly darkening curtains.

“Oh boy,” he said, “Oh boy. Oh boy.”

There is a lot to be said for the plaintiveness of a simple ‘oh boy’. Vett did it some justice.

“Oh boy,” he repeated.

It was a eulogy and they both felt it. Vett truly did try to make it count. The only witness to his attempt was his wife, and her rather substantial bias prevents any of us from truly knowing how successful Vett might have been in encapsulating six-thousand years worth of life and love within those two unassuming little syllables. But he made that plea with enormous tact and precision, and even the most obtuse and literal among us would have attributed some cosmic significance to his word choice.

‘Oh boy, oh, boy, what a boy you’ve been. What a man you almost grew up to be.’

And perhaps, as he spent those fleeting words on a glib of self-recognition, Vett saw something kind and fruitful in the beginning of those final years of his life. Perhaps he finally felt purpose.

But only perhaps.

“How would you die?” his wife asked.

Vett answered instinctively, so readily he surprised even himself.

“I’d get a ship,” he said, “just big enough for me, with a window. I’d lay back and stare out the window as I flew away from Earth, and I’d play a song. When the song ended, I would fall asleep and the hatch seals would pop and then, ‘poof’!… explosive decompression. And that would be it.”

Margaret went, “Wow, do you think you’ve planned that out enough?”

“Alright, alright, how about you?! How would you kick it?”

“I’d want to die seeing something I’ve never seen before.”

“Like what?”

“I want to see something totally new, something I could never have imagined before, like nothing that could have ever been described to me without my seeing it for myself. Something like color. And then I’d get a really good look before I died. It would be the last thing, the only thing I could take with me when I go.”

“What would you want to see?”

“A sea monster.”

“Come on.”

“I’m serious! A big sea monster, the size of an island. With skyscraper eyes and a mouth big enough for a star-cruiser.”


“What, that’s not exciting enough for you?”

“I guess.”

The room cooled around the couple. A quiet punctuation set upon them, shadow-dimmed and rhythmic, like the yaw of a billowing quilt. Their hot breath wafted into the darkening corners of the salon and abandoned them to a gentle emptiness.

“But you would want to go?” Margaret asked.

Vett leaned up upon his hips. He opened his mouth to answer, closed it, opened it again. The vacuum of silence drew power from the waning sun beyond the curtain, and silence and shadow whispered at one another secretly, as two forbidden wanderers, having spent eons apart, will do when the point of their convergence occurs amongst strangers.

Margaret’s burned canvas still rested on the carpet below. Vett felt compelled to stare at it. In the dying sunglow, the ashen image of the swing set half in light and half in shadow, firmly trapped in their debate. That poor painting, Vett thought.

“Do you mean, would I go with you?” Vett asked, as if he didn’t already know the question.

“No, not with me. You can’t go with me. I mean, just… would you go?”

Vett looked somewhere beyond Margaret’s eyes, as if spying the dust-cloud of some distant train on the low horizon, waiting expectantly for that first horn-blow to jolt him toward the platform’s edge.

Margaret Elizabeth locked eyes with her husband. She wore a poker-face for the Ages when she said, “Everyone goes alone, you know.”

The night had little concern for memory and assumption. Sunset came early under the tutelage of those red curtains. It would be at least two more hours until the sun fully vanished below the horizon and darkened the world beyond the cottage, but for Vett Hatcher and Margaret Elizabeth, the night had already come, and it was only the last vestigial ghosts of light from behind their red drapes that kept the starglow at bay.

Had these two immortals less patience, perhaps they would have owned a clock, and known the presence of daylight outside. But they were trapped in there with only a calendar to guide them, and the cruel deception of the red curtains had fooled them both into believing the sun was setting. Forever more would they assume they had conspired beneath the conception of darkness that evening, and this last lie would doom them both to a feigned sense of the romantic.

It is in infinite moments such as these (and they do happen everywhere and anywhere) that time ceases all forward-momentum and hangs stupefied within the world.

And so Time floated in through the red curtains.

Time squeezed in between the particles. Time surfed the waning tide of light beams. And Time too felt their cardinal curse, and looked down at Itself, and noticed it had been cast ruby-wine by the red sieve through which it had seeped.

Time sat down beside Vett Hatcher and Margaret Elizabeth beneath a silent sunset that had not yet come. The sinister breadth of the curtain continued to promise darkness, but each passing moment only brought Time the somber promise of monochromatics, of red nights and rosy dawns, of afternoons spoiled by ruddy glow, and of endless scarlet twilight burning away the day. Time missed being colorful. Time grieved for the possibilities It had lost, for the sights It would never see, for the friends It would never meet and for the infinite train, upon which It had long been a passenger, now speeding away into the wild red yonder, leaving Time stranded on the tracks.

At last Time turned to consider Its companions. Older they were, with quickening wrinkles on their skin and blue veins beneath the flesh. Both had soft faces that spoke of long years lived well, and kindly eyes never kinder than when looking upon one another, even then — at the beginning of the end. Margaret Elizabeth and Vett Hatcher sat bare and frozen upon the floor. Time would remember them as such forever more; poised at a singular moment of indecision in which every direction was a terrifying precipice, and every step a glorious leap.

Truly, Time thought, never has there been a more inefficient clock than two people in love.