Rachel’s Approach to Time (new fiction)

This is a continuation of my novel-in-progress, Human Resources. You can find part 1  here and parts 2, 3, 4 and 5

After a long day of trying to appease Lucy, I head out to Rachel’s desk.  She’s playing solitaire on her computer.

“Tired?” she asks as I flop into the chair in front of her desk.

“I didn’t get enough sleep last night.”

She laughs. “I never get enough sleep.”

I know she doesn’t and I feel bad. Complaining about my life to a single mother of four who’s earning less than I am is something I try to avoid. In my defense, I’m really tired.

“Then how do you always look so good?”

And she does, despite the kids, the derelict exes, the addictions to various social media, she never looks tired.

“I just slow down time when I need to get some sleep.”

“What?”

“Time.” She smiles, closing out her game.  “You can slow it down.”

Here’s how it works, according to Rachel: We invented time as a way to organize our daylight hours.  And because that need to get organized seems to have been a part of our human psyche for as long as there has been a human psyche, the tools at our disposal for breaking the days into manageable, measurable, enforceable chunks were crude at best and had nothing to do with the natural rhythms of life.

And then, because days lengthen and shorten of their own free will, but hours and minutes are static, we had to find ways to extend the day time into the hours of darkness.  And once we did that, well, you see the results – fire, the light bulb, the assembly line. Factory-farmed chickens.

And in all of that, we totally forgot that time isn’t actually real. It’s just a made-up thing.  An invention. Meant to serve our needs.

 

I continued the discussion with Odin that night as we prepared dinner.  “And like most of our inventions, we’ve turned around and let it enslave us.”

Odin stopped chopping for a minute, considering. “But time does pass,” he said.  “Trees grow, people get older…” Odin noticed his first grey hair last week. I think it really bothers him.

“But that’s life unfolding.  It’s not the same as our man-made chunks of time.”

“OK. So we acknowledge our invention. Then what?”

“Rachel says you can slow it down or speed it up.  That there are people who can make it do what they want, instead of always being run by it.”

“Slow it down?”

“So you’re never late for an appointment or if you want to get a lot of sleep before the alarm goes off.  It’s what Rachel does, apparently.  I’ve never seen her tired.”

“Or for sex?” He tilted his head to look at me.

“My parents are due any minute. I’m not sure we could slow it down enough on our first attempt.”

“Pity,” he smiled as the buzzer went.

“But I bet we could make it work for a really great dinner.”  I sniffed appreciatively as he stirred the pan.

My parents arrived bearing gifts: a chocolate cake from my Mum, a bottle of wine from both of them and from my Dad, a bucket of compost. “You can add it to your houseplants!” he enthused as he handed it over.

My Dad is a bit of a quirky guy. A serial enthusiast, I guess you’d describe him. And since retirement, his big enthusiasm has been compost. He reads about it, he experiments with it, he’s joined societies and online forums. And he’s made compost. Lots and lots and lots of compost. And it was only after he was fully committed that he realized that Odin and I, living as we do in an apartment “without even a balcony,” he acknowledged sadly, really have no use for his fabulous finished compost. Mum won’t let him ship it to my brother on the west coast. Or to my sister, even though she’s only about an hour’s drive away. He does, however bring her a trunkload every time they visit.

“Turned out well,” he told me proudly. “Good tilth in this batch.”

I sniffed the bucket, wondering what tilth is.

“Tilth!” he roared, reaching in and grabbing a handful. “Look at how it crumbles,” he explained as it poured through his fingers. “That right there is every gardeners dream.”

“Tilth,” I nodded. “Got it.”

That he used almost exactly the same phrasing to compliment my Mum’s cake is something we all studiously ignored.

“Great cake, love,” he told her. “Great tilth!” He broke off another piece with his fork and watched it crumble.

“More wine?” Odin jumped in quickly, reaching to pour my mum another glass.

Odin is always a little nervous around my parents. I don’t think he understands that they’re actually quite comfortable with Dad’s weirdness. His mum certainly isn’t. Whenever we have to get together, she spends a lot of time staring at him like he’s some kind of zoo exhibit. Well, when I say get together, the last time was at Odin’s dad’s funeral. He died not long after we were married. I didn’t get to know him very well. Mostly because Odin’s mum kept control of the conversation at all times. Outside of the usual social niceties, I only ever heard him talk about golf and then only for thirty seconds at the most.

I don’t think it was a happy marriage. But I may be reading in to it. I find Odin’s mum so difficult that I assume everyone else must feel the same way about her. His dad seemed happy enough, if quiet.

Odin spent a lot of time running interference between his parents when we got together and he does the same thing when he’s with mine. I find it tiring, but I think Mum appreciates it. Dad can kind of leave her in the shadows when he really gets rolling.

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