Friday, March 7, 2014

The Time Given You

For her first five years, the hours in Katie’s days held the correct number of minutes. So too, the days in the week, the months in the year.  And every day during that final normal autumn, Katie and her friend, Sonia, walked the seven blocks to kindergarten, napped side by side after story time, traced leaves on colored paper, ate half-sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper. They walked home together too, their shadows falling evenly on the sidewalk, their giggles at a similar pitch.

Then without warning, with no perceptible catastrophic event, life sped up for Katie. Her summer clothes were in her closet one day, her winter clothes the next.

“But, but, but,” she stammered, opening the door.

“But what, Katie? Summer’s here, Sleepyhead,” her mother said, smoothing the summer bedspread where winter’s quilt rested yesterday. Putting an extra blanket on her bed a few hours later, she said, “They’re predicting the first hard frost tonight. Brrr.”

“It all goes by so quickly,” her father said.

You have no idea, Katie thought.

 Katie grew too tall for her skirts, and in days her pearl-like teeth were replaced by larger ones. Her old friend, Sonia, found a new friend who still played with dolls, still walked hand-in-hand.

No one once noticed these frequent transformations. Her parents bought new skirts, put quarters under her pillow, and packed her dolls away.  She never knew what teacher would be standing in front of the blackboard, what model car would be parked in the driveway, what album would be playing on the turntable:  THE BEATLES, BLONDIE, U2

“You’re an expensive child, Katie” her father puzzled for a second when he wheeled in a blue bike a few weeks after the red one. But then his face cleared.

That bike’s too big for me, Katie started to say. But it wasn’t.

No one ever remembered the Katie of day ago. A questioning look or two, and they accepted what was right in front of them.

When a boy asked her out, she told him she was too young to date.

 He laughed. “That’s the first time I’ve heard that one.”

Things sped up even more. Years seemed to pass in the space of a day or two. The odd thing was that as far as she could tell, no one changed with her. She existed in a time zone of her own. And it was hard, very hard, to keep any idea of her actual age in her head when the leaps she took were so unpredictable. After a bit, it hardly seemed to matter.

She knew she’d never marry, never have children. How could she impose her inconsistency on someone else? 

Katie moved far from anyone who might question her progression, from anyone who should notice but didn’t. Because that was the hardest part. Why did no one notice? She took the odd job, made friends who quickly forgot her, lived a quiet life.

Walking along the lake one day, she heard the clicking sound of metal wheels, and looking up she saw a baby carriage careening down the hill, a woman in dark clothes fleeing the scene.

Had her cramped and unnatural existence all been for this one moment? Tentatively, and with some rancor, she put out a hand. She wanted to see what was inside. Whose life was so much more valuable than hers?