“timeclocks” — (chapter from my feminist novel/memoir “whitegirrrl”)

Your mother hires professional photographers after she leaves Daddy.  To take the pictures of you and your little brother.

She has you pose by the vintage oak timeclock hanging in the dining room.

Later, looking at yourself at fourteen you think about the years you spent with a real timeclock.  The kind you had to punch going in and out of work.

You look at the photo and wonder why she had you do that pose.  What was she trying to tell you?

Your face looked serious, then.

Your face was a clock, to her.  Maybe.

Your best friend is pregnant the year you marry.  She wears a denim dress that is stretched so tightly across her stomach you just want to reach out and touch the shape growing inside her.

“I’m so sick of people doing that,” she says.

“Why can’t they just leave me alone?”

“It’s like I’m their property or something.”

She is so brave, you think to yourself.  Brave.

Each of you has a cottage to go home to, now.  She says she will marry him after the baby comes.

Each of you has a garden to tend.

But you are working, strapped to the first computers that arrive.  Trapped in a dungeon.  You question how you will ever be able to get out.

She lives so far away from the beach where you planned to push strollers together.

* * *

The fact that he doesn’t really want any children with you dawns slowly.  He doesn’t want the responsibility.

She calls you crying from her cottage one day.

“How much do you make?’ she asks.

“How much are you making now?”

She keeps asking until she pries it out of you.

Your life of meetings and timeclocks and responsibility seems so free.  So unencumbered.  So happy.

So valuable.

Her husband leaves her five dollars in the middle of the kitchen table each day.  For the market.  It’s impossible and you can see that when you drive to go and see her.  It makes you afraid of what it might be like to give up your working self.  You have no idea how to.  Maybe you can’t.

“All I do all day is talk babytalk, ” she says.

“All day long.”

Maxwell stares at you across the dungeon.  He flirts and flirts and flirts until you are almost ready to cross that bridge.  You are almost ready to say yes, as in yes you will take a chance and you don’t care about outcomes.  He’s handsome.

He’s also younger, and you are strapped into all the responsibilities your own cottage entails.

With its dogs and its cats and the boat and the endless dungeon days you spend paying for all of that.

Your half of all of that.

“Tell me how much you make,” she had said.

You didn’t want to because it would make her feel bad about that five dollar bill on the table.  You didn’t want your life to look better when she had so little.

She leaves him after the birth of her second child.

You don’t know what to say.

You can’t say anything because you are looking at Maxwell across the dungeon and he represents a chance you could take and a different life you could escape into instead of this prison that yours feels like.  You put the music into a tape player and strap it to yourself so you can listen and escape the room while you sit at the machines solving problems.

You read articles about how these machines aren’t good for babies.

You try to not look Maxwell’s way, but, he’s looking at you and you…

You are 35, and you are miserable, and you want to be a mother and there isn’t going to be any chance for that, not like this.

It’s a timeclock inside keeping track.

A clock that screams at you and no amount of salary will ever fix that.  That scream.

You sit at her kitchen table and look at the velvet curtains she has up.  She always had those, even when the two of you were little, in her room.  You look at the five dollar bill and wonder how he can do this to her.  How he can put her in this situation.  She says, “I can get some hotdogs.”

You think, let me go to the store for you…

You say, “I can’t stand this.”

What you mean is that you can’t stand it for either of you.

You can’t stand what happened to the dreams you had, or the dreams you wanted, or the promise inside songs that you listened to as girls.

You are shopping for Christmas presents and you buy Maxwell one.

You just wanted to, as if a gift could sum up all that you felt about an affair that you weren’t going to have, after all.  It was green like the surf.  It was woven from cloth made in Guatemala.

You got an identical one for your brother.

“Here,” you said.

“Merry Christmas.”

Whatever it might have become passed silently between you, as it stopped in its tracks.

Maxwell with his love of Sinatra songs and his writerly ways and his piercing green gaze that saw inside everything you could never say out loud.

“At least you aren’t saddled with children,” your mother says.  “Look at it that way.”

She tries to tell you that you are free to do whatever you want, and that she had never had that opportunity and when your best friend who threw rice at your wedding had to move into a tiny trailer with two infants because she left him, and when she had to marry a different man just to raise them properly you think about that.

“You’re free,” she says.  “You can do exactly what you want.”

“Why did you have kids if you didn’t want them, mom?”

She doesn’t have an answer for you on this.  All she has ever said is, “You kids are the best thing that ever happened to me.”

* * *

“timeclocks” — copyright 2009 by Valentine Bonnaire — all rights reserved.

Songs from that era that go with this piece:

24 thoughts on ““timeclocks” — (chapter from my feminist novel/memoir “whitegirrrl”)

  1. omg, this is so powerful Bonnaire..

    so poignant……so true….

    my mom

    one day…

    no money…little children….


    tumbleweeds and a duststorm..

    He did the same thing to her…..

    my dad did.


    you have made me cry…


  2. Oh, I’m sorry that I made you cry. I can tell you that writing this is like extracting something from my soul, and maybe, it is my tears you are crying?


    I just want to thank you for being a reader at the level you are, and a friend.
    You know it!

    thanks Robin….


    1. Well, your writing covers so many levels…and you are very in touch with your feelings….

      and this comes through when you write..your feelings…this has to be very hard..

      of course i cried..

      and to be honest, I really cried…..

      Obviously I was there as I read it..

      and then, you took me back to memories as well..

      but you always do…

      I always wish I was there for you Bonnaire…

      as your friend.

      Ah well…..

      better late than never.


  3. Robin, maybe what I am writing is a film that can really help women in my gen, dunno. I want it to be.

    Maybe what I am writing is something that can move an audience to a feeling place or a place of understanding?

    I hope I am. I do. It’s a tuffie like I said — but, my idols also write tuffies.
    I think they really do. There are harder parts to come, so, I am glad you are the reader?

    I am.


  4. ps: there was this thing in my astro, that I read — check this out:

    [..] You need a vocation which allows you to know and see, on a tangible level, that you are making the world a better place. You would not have a lot of patience with groups which pursue the ineffable while floundering on the practical level; you want to see action and results. It is […]
    [..] You could do this through one of the creative media -writing, painting, working in theatre or film – provided what you create is able to convey a message rather than being merely pretty or pleasing. Or you could create structures such as a school or business which is solidly […]
    [..] Most importantly, you need work which stimulates your mind and your imagination, and keeps you moving from project to project. You need to communicate and to educate, in literal or metaphorical ways. Fields such as publishing and media might suit you, provided you can promulgate […]

    maybe I am doing what was intended for me right now, after having lived some of life?

    I hope so.


  5. Well, I am glad you are glad…

    and I can see the idea of film very clearly….

    It is an Trinity…….the 3 women and their lives.

    looking back to the three gens…..It would be a complex film in terms of the production, how to move
    to the different points in time, from your mother, to you, to your grandmother, to your friend..to marriage, to your mother…

    The question is, in film where would we anchor your POV, that triggers the coninuum of the story..what are the ways the camera would explore the dialogues, monologues, how can we bring the memories forward..
    in seamless ways…

    There are ways this can be done…..obviously.

    you have the music, and the timeframes intact because of your sonographic (word?) and photographic memory..


    Sometimes Adrienne, I know I tend to be too objective, but that is absolutely impossible when
    I read your writing….

    so they say there is a heart in the mind

    and a mind in the heart…


  6. the screenwriter works all that out!


    see I told you I can’t do it! But I sure do know somebody who can….


    going to run out to the store — it was great talking, too…
    tomorrow is Monday can you believe it?


  7. Of course you will finish it….

    It is already better than “good”…….

    As for thanking me?


    no need to thank me doncha know.


    1. Good morning!

      Glad you enjoyed the little blip on my blog.

      My choice of favorite restaurant is what you choose.. What is your favorite??

      that is my choice.


    2. Sounds so wonderful you couldn’t know…the fog?

      uh huh

      still in the 100’s here so this will be cool for moi!


      I am soooooo excited.


      but my friggin’ hair!



      and I really want to go to your favorite restaurant…

      Whatever you want!




  8. Song?

    You should choose?

    Your fave style? Anything is okay by me, truly.

    We have it all?

    You could just say your fave thing and then I will know which place, I swear…..

    I am really bad at choosing without a clue and besides…
    you are the guest here?

    If I were there, you would know?

    see that?


    Just say a clue of the fav thing?


  9. my fav thang?

    well, I prefer a quiet restaurant, where it isn’t noisy..

    as my lead perception is Audio

    probably French….since I never eat French here in Az…

    Somewhere I can talk with you without yelling?



  10. Hey this fog is going to change your hair!


    I know just how you feel. It takes a week to get used to a haircut and after the first month you have forgotten any angst you had…..

    I love the non-fogged dry desert heat on my own hair?

    Straight! Non-curls. The fab!
    Ah well….

    yes, it will be much cooler here…
    It’s our “fall” in a way, not that we have one but, this is it?


  11. Noise is probably in the Harbor?

    those are seafood?

    quiet old sb Italian?

    have heard this place is very good?
    (by a pottery teacher)

    very good spanish style food…

    classic sb fare:
    (near downtown — so can walk a bit)

    all of these are within 5 min drive of hotel?

    Emilio’s has a prix fixe? sounds very nice — it right near the harbor?
    I have a convertible, so I can drive and you can see town if want?
    Emilio’s is only one I have not been to?

    see what looks good to you?

    if not, I’ll find others?
    we have a french one and a chinese one too?
    going southerly from hotel — also 5 mins…


  12. 6:55 Just got home since we talked today. Can you believe it. Had a lot to do..

    whoa huh?

    how are you tonight?

    I will check back in about 1 hour…


  13. I’m back now. Ps: I have the phone near me and will check it tommorrow off and on. It’s great about tomorrow and don’t worry dinner will be easy and simple — it will be!

    If you really want french there are two I can think of?
    one just makes crepes and is across from Paradise cafe and the other is Stella Mares but that is fancy?

    Easy is best?
    Truly and the town is quiet right now — even the harbor is?
    Everything is 5 minutes away from hotel truly! This place is pretty small, it really is so don’t worry — you will be surprised how small it all is when you see it!


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