(flash fiction piece I wrote at the retreat. Still in early stages):
A Stitch in Time
Flash fiction story by Miriam Hall
She began stealing watches at a fairly young age – six, maybe seven years old. An only child, with all the time in the world on her hands. She gathered their leather or gold or plastic bands in the basement, in the bottom drawer of a dresser her mother retired for something more fashionable a few years prior. Her father used the top drawer for tools, but as he used them rarely, the bottom two drawers were empty and therefore, safe.
By her 8th birthday she had amassed a collection – would haul them out and count them by the light of the single bulb in the center of the room. 15 gold banded watches. 6 silver. 7 plastic, including a cousin’s Barbie watch, left behind at their house, so not really “stolen,” just forgotten. 10 leather. She’d sort them this way, like suits in a deck of cards, or rearrange them according to size, from the tiny gold face of her grandmother’s watch (she never used it anymore, anyway) to the bold black band and plastic bling face of the watch which had belonged to the mean man who owned the corner store. She never felt it was bad or wrong. No one ever caught her so she was never punished. Because she didn’t think of it as stealing, she never heeded any moral lessons from after-school specials on the topic of theft.
She saw it as saving time, collecting it. She counted up all the hours she could have and hold with all these watches. She noticed them all ticking time at once, and she felt she had an eternity trapped in one drawer. She was aware of both the speed of the passage of time, but also the seemingly endless span of her hoard. She was not sure where she developed this panic or what for; no one else in her family had such habits. Then again, how would she know this?
So she dedicated the first couple of months of her 8th year of life to noticing how adults, in particular, were always stealing glances from their watches and clocks, grabbing extra seconds, always in an unawares way. She began to worry that perhaps she had taken something from them, something necessary and irreplaceable, something more than her limited arithmetic could imagine. What if there was only so much time and she had taken more than her share? She felt regret. Finally, she felt she’d done something wrong. Maybe time could be owned or contained, instead of endless.
She stopped gathering watches and let her collection grow still in the drawer, no more winding, no more inner wars with herself about whether or not what she did was right.
For her 9th birthday, her father gave her a watch.
“I noticed you’ve been asking what time it is a lot lately. It’s time you have your own watch,” and he beamed at what a good father he was, heeding her needs.
She smiled and thanked her father, strapped the watch to her wrist uneasily. Of all the watches she had acquired, she had not yet worn one of them. The purple plastic scratched her skin and wore heavily on her.
The next day she took all of the watches, including the one her father gave her, on top of the stack, out to woods behind their house and smashed each one on a rock. She opened them all the way with her hands, cutting her fingers with glass, repeating a tiny prayer as she did so, made up on the spot: “Be free and return to those who need you.”