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.
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.
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: