Theresa stares at the windup clock, its fat convex belly reflecting the painting Dan had made just before he left for Canberra. Six seconds before 12:35. For her, lunchtime. For him, nearly breakfast the following day.
Eighteen hours between Carbondale and Canberra.
She pictures him asleep on his belly, hands tucked beneath the pillow, his hair standing straight up.
“Let him go, Theresa.”
Theresa whirls as her mother pads into the kitchen in fuzzy pink slippers. A thin housecoat is buttoned over her pajamas.
“It’s been nine months, honey.”
“He’ll come back.”
Her mother pats Theresa’s arm. “And I’ll get better, won’t I? Tomorrow, I’ll suddenly leap from my bed and get dressed and go out to mind my basil.” She nods out the window towards the garden she’d spent years bringing to life.
“You need to pinch back those flowers if you want more basil.”
“I don’t want more basil.”
“You can make a mess of pesto. Put it in the freezer for the winter.”
And this one word brings her thoughts rushing back to her husband. “It’s winter in Canberra. What could he possibly be painting now?” Theresa slaps the counter.
Her mother worries the tissue she holds between her knobby hands.
“Why is everyone disappearing on me?”
They fall into silence. The clock’s ticking swells and fills the kitchen, chasing away the quiet and replacing it with a mechanized heartbeat, steady and strong.
“Can I make you some coffee, Mom?”
She shakes her head. “You know I wish I didn’t have to go, sweetie.”
“That’s what Dan said.”
“But he didn’t mean it, did he?”
“No,” Theresa whispers. He’d said he had to go to paint, that the light was better there. “I believed him.”
“You have a beautiful soul. Don’t let it get hardened by betrayal.”
“I think I’ll lie down for a bit.”
Theresa watches her mother limp from the kitchen before looking out the window at her mother’s garden. A swallowtail butterfly alights on the basil.
The ticking of the clock slows.
The second hand struggles forward before before succumbing to a silent stillness.
Theresa reaches for the clock, prepares to wind it.
But then she changes her mind.
Perhaps she can stop time, if only for a moment.
Perhaps her mother will live long enough to meet her first grandchild.
Perhaps her husband will come home.
She cracks a hard boiled egg against the stainless steel, flakes the shell into the sink.
This was written for this week’s Write on Edge prompt: “Time is the longest distance between two places.”
~Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerieby