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Going Back for Seconds

Styler leaned towards the clock and pinched something from the air. I felt the room move. Everything move. She held it out to me and I dropped the paper plane I'd spent all afternoon folding and refolding and never getting right.
"A second," she said, pushing my grasping hands away and plucking the handkerchief from the top pocket of my jacket. Pinstriped, my suit a perfect miniaturized copy of my father's. Styler wrapped the second in it, made me put it in the inside pocket, the one that carries things closest to your heart. Usually a man's wallet. Figures.
"Don't waste it. And for goodness sake, if you feel a sneeze coming on--use your sleeve."
It would be wrong to say I forgot about that second, right to say I didn't give it more than a glancing thought every now and again.
What value a second when life ate up minutes, galloped through hours, gorged on days and....
"What do you want to do with this?" Helen asked, holding up the tiny suit. "Did you used to do ventriloquism?"
"It was mine," I said and saw her face was troubled, yet fascinated. The suit was the only thing in the room cut in my father's image. I hadn't gone out of my way to disappoint him--like all things financial were his natural gift, mine was falling way below people's expectations. Helen pulled a paper plane from the pocket. Badly made, a waste of the time I'd spent trying to do it.
"There's something in the inside pocket. It's a handkerchief. Urgh, there's something in it."
She held the handkerchief up by its collected corners and I reached forward and grabbed it before it could unfold whereupon what sprinkled out would not be dried snot, but the second that Styler had given me.
"The suit?" she reminded me, after I'd spent a long time staring at the handkerchief.
"Throw it out," I murmured, not looking at her or the suit. Helen huffed and left to file it in the charity or the shredding pile, with the rest of my father's belongings.
Styler hadn't been there at the funeral. Or, she might have been. There were many there to pay respects to my father. I stood at the front, Helen by my side, my relatives hanging back in other rows in order to be noticed but not appear too keen to find out what my father had left them.
Here to "pay" their respects, I thought, and wondered if the expression had once had a financial element to it. My father would have approved of that.
"A second?" Helen asked me during the drive back from my father's house. "Your nanny left you a second? How are you going to spend that?"
And there was that thought again. That we "paid" our respects, "spent" our time....
"Saved" our sinking men, I thought, contriving in order to complete the list.
"She wasn't the nanny. She was the cook. I didn't have a nanny--I was supposed to keep myself busy."
Employed. My father had always used the word "employed." Usually preceded by "gainfully." "Earn" his respect, I quickly added to the list.
Oh, god....
Helen was driving and so only noticed the tears when they had finished.
"So?" she said gently. "You know what you want to do with it?"
"Let it go," I said. She nodded, realizing I was referring to more than just the moment wrapped in the handkerchief.
"He never has time for me! Not even a single second!" The complaint of any child, never mind if it had been true in my case.
And Styler, not one to play games, not possessed of an enormous imagination--reflected in the solid, chunky meals she produced from my father's kitchen--reaching over to the clock and plucking a second to give to me.
"Not here," I told Helen. "Back at his house."
She bit her impatience, performed a U-turn, drove us back there.
Helen stayed in the car, sensing this was a moment that her presence would either break or force into ridicule. I went up to my father's office, wanting to hand back the second so I wasn't left owing my father even that.
The handkerchief had gone stale in that tiny jacket pocket but the second had preserved its color. I opened it, let the second be sucked back into that past time.
And as the door to that past moment opened, I saw my father, sitting at his desk. The clock before him showed the time was the right one, the calendar on the wall the right day. He was always working, always surrounded by paper, but in that second the floor and his desk were littered with balled-up sheets. The latest attempt was before him, half-completed and already on the way to something that would never fly straight, never take to the air, never impress.
I saw the anguish on his face as he tried, though.
The second ended, but I had already lost the scene to my tears.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

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