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Winter/Spring 2019

Nick of Time

 

by Tom Hearron

 

Stem wedged into an Aquafina bottle, bud tight as her nerves, a yellow rose sat atop the computer monitor. The flower leaned over pictures of Amy.  Amy as a blob of baby, at her third birthday party, on her first school day, on the quarter-a-ride mini-carousel at Wal-Mart the day Kelli filed for divorce from Rob.

Kelli fingered the florist’s note clothes-pinned to the stem: “Meet me at five-oh-five.  Level four, lift three.  I have time for you.”

The wall clock’s minute hand quivered, hummed, and jumped three notches.  In a couple more leaps, five o’clock.

Babs drifted over from the next cubicle, settled beside the desk, and announced, “Quitting time, Kelli.”

“For you maybe,” Kelli sighed.  “Big Boss changed the bid.  First one, too high.  This one, too low.”

“He’s a regular Goldilocks,” Babs said.  “Do it Monday.”

“Emergency, he told me.  Better be on his desk before I leave tonight–”

“Or else,” Babs finished.

“And surely,”  Kelli deepened her voice to mimic his tone, “I won’t mind staying late.  Damn it, this is an Amy weekend.”

Babs swung stocking-less legs in the air. Not quite a midget, Babs was short, and her body parts didn’t quite fit, as if put together with leftovers. The head with frizzy red hair was okay, but the neck was MIA, the torso squeezed like an accordion, and the legs looked like they’d been dried at too high a heat. She’d had polio as a girl and still had a limp.

“Big plans?” Babs asked.

“Pizza tonight, if she’ll eat it.  Rob loves to stuff her at his TGIF office parties.  Then ballet tomorrow.  Giselle.”

Babs shook her head. “In your state, I’m not sure that’s a good idea.  The tragic love of a doomed woman.”

“Isn’t that what every ballet’s about?”

“No, some are about doomed swans.  This Giselle’s particularly tragic.  She goes mad, lets down her hair and dances.  Of course, you’d have to go mad to dance like that.”

“You have to go mad to do a lot of things.”  Kelli handed her the note.

“Another one, huh?”

The first rose had materialized on her desk a month before.  Its message: “Meet me for good time.”

When Kelli had showed that note to Babs, she’d looked up over her reading glasses, one lens askew, and said, “Sounds Asian.  It should be ‘for a good time,’ but Asians often leave out ‘a’ or ‘the.’”

“That’s all I need.  An inscrutable admirer.”

Babs acted like she didn’t hear.  “Could be a transcription mistake.  Maybe it’s the flower shop clerk who’s Asian.”

“The card doesn’t say where it’s from.”

The second note came two weeks later: “Don’t you think it’s time?” The withered rose that had accompanied it still rested in the trashcan, ants parading on the brown-edged petals.

“Well, this time your mystery man gives a rendezvous. Level four, elevator three.”

“Elevator?”

“Lift–British English.  Got any Limey secret admirers?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Then he’s really secret.”  Babs’ smile revealed a capped tooth.  She tapped a pencil against her lips.  “Asian and British.  British and Asian.  Hong Kong, or maybe Singapore.  Go find out.”

“Nah.”

“Take someone from Security.”

“I’m not that desperate.”  Kelli gave the flower a flick.  A petal came loose and hit the keyboard like a drop of blood.

“Go on, take a risk.  You know you’re dying of loneliness.”

The clock hand trembled, lurched like a crash victim stumbling from the wreckage.  Exactly like sex with Rob.

“Yeah.”  Kelli kneaded her neck.  She needed a massage, which she couldn’t afford.  Well, being alone wasn’t so bad, she told herself.  Lots worse things.  Typhoid, cholera, murder.  At least loneliness was a slow killer.

“Look,” she told Babs, “this guy could be a psycho, a serial murderer, a paroled rapist.”

“He could be the man of your dreams. You chicken?”

Kelli clucked.

“You know,” Babs said, looking into her eyes, “at your age you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than of getting married again.”

“I’ll take my chances with lightning.”

“Want me to go with you?” Babs asked.

“Would you?”

#

While Babs lingered in the stairwell, Kelli clattered on her heels across the asphalt to elevator three.  A sparrow’s chirp echoed from the beams.  Grease stains spotted the floor littered with McDonalds wrappers and crumpled Dasani water bottles.

The garage was deserted.  So, it was just a cruel joke.  She imagined security guards guffawing at the TV monitor–a fat, aging woman desperate enough to show up for an invisible blind date.  Tears scalding her eyes, she jammed the mace can into her purse just as the elevator door groaned and slid open.  Inside stood a short, dark-complexioned man in green overalls.

He beamed.  “You came!  I thought you never would.”  Light from a buzzing fluorescent bulb gleamed off his balding head.  “It’s about time.”

Kelli just looked at him.  Oh, brother.  About fifty, paunchy, crooked teeth, brown hair like grass clinging to an eroded sand dune.  “You’re the one that’s been sending flowers?”

He nodded.  “Gather ye rose buds while you may. I have time for you.”

“Sorry, not interested.  I’m in a hurry.”

“No time?”

“No time.”

“I could get you some.”

“Some what?”

“Time.”  His brown eyes sparkled as he grinned.

She echoed what he’d said with a question mark.  He repeated it with a period.

“You give away time?”

“Small charge only.”

Who was this guy?  A badge clipped to his overalls strap said he was “Nick.”

What kind of scam was this?  “Yeah, right.  I just give you my Visa number and–”

“No Visa, no MasterCard.  Automatic deductions.  Might say time payments.”  He chuckled at the joke.  “Sign you up?”

Parolee from a loony bin.  “Sure.  Why not?”

“Just say ‘more time,’ and it’s time you got.  You’ll have time of your life.”  The elevator door slid shut, popped open.  “Oh yeah, when time enough, say ‘enough time.’”

The elevator light’s “4” blinked out, but neither “3” nor “5” came on.  The door opened when she pushed the call button, but the elevator was empty.

Babs tapped her on the shoulder.  “Well?  What’s he like?”

“Didn’t you see?”

“He didn’t leave the elevator.”

“A real loser.” Kelli described him.

“Yuck,” Babs said.  “But looks aren’t everything.  Sometimes a kiss does wonders for frogs.”

“Said he could sell me time.  I don’t think he’s dangerous, though.”

“That’s what the neighbors tell the police,” Babs said, “after they dig up the dismembered bodies.  Meet me at Monique’s before you pick up your daughter? Happy Hour until seven.”

“Gotta redo the bid.  Be happy for me.”

Back in her cubby, Kelli attacked the revisions.  “More time!” she snorted.  Well, all the time there was, all the time there ever would be–that was all the time she had.

The work went fast.  Spellcheck done, formatting verified, printing initiated, but the printer complained there was no paper.  Rummaging through drawers produced only a couple of rumpled sheets, so she slipped into Babs’ cubicle.  Her basil plant looked sickly, leaves celery green and no bigger than a parrot’s ears.  Kelli ruffled it to extract summer’s fragrance in this land of eternal winter but got only an echo of basil.  It needed more sun.

As do we all, she thought.

After she loaded the paper, nothing happened.  She checked that the printer was powered, but a boxed-in message on the monitor said an error had shut down the program.  The only choice offered, the only choice she seemed to have these days, was “OK.”

She put her head in her hands, and tears moistened the fingertips. Kelli stroked the tight rose bud.  She’d be late picking up Amy at Rob’s.  Lost time with her daughter.  God, why was there never enough time?  But when she glanced at the clock it wasn’t all that late.  The second hand crept, and the minute hand looked like it was wedged on the rocks.  She’d saved all but the bid’s last page, and that was easy to re-do.

“Yeah,” she said.  “I’ve got enough time.”

The minute hand grunted and leaped to vertical.

#

Music gushed from Rob’s office windows. Squealing guitars dueled with thudding drums while a singer screamed, “Work sucks!  School sucks!  Life sucks!”  After the third horn toot brought no response, Kelli drummed on the wheel, took a deep breath and went inside.  A giggling blond bimbo beside him, Rob sat on a desk, holding an empty plastic glass.  He brushed back brown hair that dangled in his eyes, a gesture she used to find charming.

Kelli stepped between him and his latest.  “All right.  Where is she?”

Rob smirked and pointed to a computer in the back, where Amy sat engrossed in killing swarthy men who swarmed across the screen.  One looked a lot like Nick.

“You know I don’t like her playing violent games,” she told Rob.

He shrugged.  “Her choice.”

“Don’t you ever tell her ‘no?’”

“Never have to.  The kid’s perfect, why get on her for things?”

Kelli got Amy’s coat, pulled her from the game, glared at the young blond, who grinned and waved a little finger, and took Amy downstairs.  “Hi, Honey.”  She kissed the tiny uplifted lips and helped Amy into the Honda’s back seat.

“Breathe on me.”  Amy’s curls fluttered as she tightened the seat belt.  “Daddy said you’d be drunk.”

Anger flared. “Well, Daddy’s got his head up . . . in the clouds.  Doesn’t he drink at these TGIF things?”

“Mountain Dew.”

Yeah, laced with something harder than dew.  Divorcing Rob, she was beginning to think, was a bad idea.  She should have killed the son of a bitch.

At home, after Kelli removed the pizza from its plastic wrap, Amy whined, “It’s got peppers. I don’t like that kind.”

“It also has mushrooms, Honey.  You like mushrooms.”

“Daddy gives me sausage.”

“Sausage’s bad for you.  Chemical additives, and it’s made from dead pigs.”

While the pizza heated, and she hung up the coat Amy had tossed on the couch, money fell from the pocket.  A fifty-dollar bill.

“Honey, where’d this come from?”

Amy glanced up from the Frogger video game, which she said was boring.  She pointed to a missing tooth. “This.”

That damn Rob.  Always trying to buy Amy’s love.  “Wow, honey.  The Tooth Fairy must be rich.”

“Mommy, there isn’t any tooth fairy,” Amy explained patiently as a video frog got squashed.

When the pizza was ready, Amy sulked, ate only one tiny piece with the peppers picked off.  Bedtime was a tussle, too.  Amy wailed that she couldn’t sleep without Bernie, the stuffed bear she kept at Rob’s.  Freddie the Frog, Ronnie the Raccoon, even Minnie the Moose–none would do.

Kelli stroked Amy’s neck while she cried herself to sleep.  She pulled the covers snug, leaving exposed only a cheek, flushed and glistening, blotted the tears with a Kleenex, smoothed the tiny blond curls and kissed her daughter good night.

“Ame, Ame, Ame,” she whispered.  “Sometimes we don’t get to sleep with the one we want.  I could teach you that if only we had more time together.”

She did the dishes, drank two glasses of merlot, read Working Woman for a while, but still wasn’t sleepy.  She kept thinking about Nick.  He’d sent those flowers, and he was charming in an oddball way, but so were most men when they hit on her, which, she realized, men didn’t do anymore.  She examined herself in the bathroom mirror.  Was that wrinkle deeper?  A new gray hair?  Why were her mother’s hands, veins protruding like swollen blue cords, dangling at the end of her arms?  Was she going to grow old and die alone and bitter?  At least someone–even a weirdo like Nick–was interested in her.  But what did he want?

The Amy weekend was a shambles.  Babs was right about Giselle, a naive woman in love with a man that wasn’t who he seemed.  Once the secret was revealed, Giselle saw the world of her dreams disappear in a heartbeat.  She went mad, let her hair down, danced, and died.  That reminded Kelli of her life, except she didn’t know how to dance.  She wasn’t sure if she even knew how to die.

When she dropped Amy off at school, Kelli bent to kiss her but got only air as Amy raced into the building without looking back to see her waving.  Something big and heavy was lodged in Kelli’s stomach, as if her life was a sand castle and high tide was crashing at its base.

#

Work took Kelli’s mind off her troubles, so she threw herself into it.  She didn’t believe in magic or fairy godmothers, but when she said, “more time,” it seemed like she got it.  Jobs that normally took hours took no time at all.  Big Boss thought she must be staying late, and she didn’t correct him.  She got a raise, which allowed her to buy something special for Amy, that new talking toy all the other kids had.  She couldn’t wait to see Amy’s face when she unwrapped it.

But while she worked, she worried.  Why did it seem like she had more time?  And what about the mystery payment?  Her checkbook balanced as badly as always.  No unexplained charges on her Visa bill.  She remembered a story she’d read in Intro to Lit about a painting hidden in an attic, which secretly decayed while its owner stayed young.  Could it–?  She gave her imagination’s lease a yank.

Nothing was different, she told herself.  Including the absence of men in her life.  Nick the mysterious rose donor sent no flowers, and she found herself missing him.  One thing that definitely hadn’t changed was wishing that someone would love her, a wishing that became a constant longing.  There are different kinds of longing, she thought.  Some are subtle like a Vivaldi concerto, and mine is a Beethoven symphony.

#

“Ta-dah!”  Kelli beamed while Amy ripped open the package, oblivious to the cute teddy bears dancing on the wrapping.  “Like it, Hon?”

It was darling, well worth the mammoth price.  Fuzzy blue ears that wiggled, eyes that fluttered, a heart-melting voice that repeated anything you said.

“I already have one,” Amy said.  “And it’s my favorite color, green.  Blue’s a stupid color.”  Amy tossed the toy aside.  “The one from Nick’s better.”

A chill ran down Kelli’s spine. “Nick?  What Nick?”

“Uncle Nick.  He lives in the elevator at Daddy’s work.”

“Amy, you know I’ve told you never take anything from a stranger.”

“He’s no stranger, Mommy,” she chirped.  “He’s Uncle Nick.”

“But, Amy.”  A look crossed her daughter’s face, the one Kelli saw when she told Amy to finish her homework, to put her dirty clothes in the laundry basket.  The look of someone starting to hate you, so she swallowed the rest.  “If you see Uncle Nick again, you tell me.  Don’t talk to him, don’t let him touch you.  Don’t let him make you do anything.”

“Uncle Nick doesn’t make me do things,” Amy said.  “He isn’t like you.”

“Well,” Kelli said, “we have pizza tonight.  With sausage.”

“I’m sick of pizza.”

They went to McDonalds.  While Amy played on the jungle gym, and the Happy Meal turned to gall in Kelli’s stomach, she worried.  This hostility in Amy was new.  Sure, at times, she was sullen, resentful, like all kids.  But she was acting like that more and more, just like a teenager, and she was barely eight.

A sudden fear chilled her.  Kelli, she thought, you’re losing your daughter.

At bedtime Amy didn’t want the freshly-ironed Spice Girls nightshirt.  “Spice Girls are old stuff.  At Daddy’s I have an In Synch one.”

“But it’s cold, Honey.  I don’t want you to get sick.”

“Daddy lets me wear whatever I want.  Why do you always tell me what to do?  I hate you!” Amy shouted, mouth an ugly snarl.  “I wish you were dead!”

Kelli gasped.  That was what she’d shouted at Rob just before they broke up.

While Amy slept, Kelli’s mind circled like a dog that can’t pick a place to sleep.  If she lost Amy, she’d lose everything she loved.  Yes, she knew that someday Amy would grow up, move away, eventually become just a Sunday afternoon phone call, just a Christmas card.

But, dear God, did it have to happen so soon?

When she talked with Rob on the phone, he denied knowing anyone named Nick.  Not at his house, not at his office, certainly not in his office elevator.  “And as you might have noticed, Sherlock,” he said, “I’m in a one-story building.”

“So, you gave her the Talking Tina?” she asked.

“What Talking Tina?”

“The toy with the ads that blanket Saturday morning TV.  Who gave it to her?”

The phone was silent a minute.  “Beats the hell out of me.”

At work a rose–a white one–sat on her desk, and her heart leaped with joy.  The note read, “You’re wasting time.”

#

At Monique’s men huddled at the bar.  Above the liquor bottles, the head of a trophy fish, nose like a chainsaw, ingested a mannequin’s arm dangling from its mouth.  A shelf supported hunkering twin gargoyles–the gloomy, dreaming demon from Notre Dame–football helmets from Michigan and Michigan State jammed on their heads.  They gazed somberly at an iridescent green St. Patrick’s hat atop a bronze bowling trophy held up by twisted columns like the altar at St. Peter’s.

Seeing Babs in a booth, Kelli steeled herself, felt men’s gazes measuring her as she passed. Assessing and rejecting. Too old, too fat, too plain.

“Didn’t expect to see you.”  Babs waved her to the bench opposite.  “Thought you might have a hot date with your mystery man.”

Kelli ducked under a Tiffany shade.  “No date, hot or otherwise.  No man.”

“You had one, once.  So, what happened with you and Rob?”

Kelli explained how he’d fallen in love with computers, told her bitterly that if a computer had a vagina, he would’ve never come home.

Babs took her hands.  The dent from Kelli’s discarded wedding ring still showed.  “And he left you with nothing.”

“Not with nothing.  I had Amy.  I wanted a daughter.  Rob got main custody because he has money and a better lawyer.  He lives in a district with decent schools, buys her things I can’t and–too depressing.  So now I’m reduced to blind parking garage dates with loonies who say they can give me time.”

Babs tut–tutted sympathetically.

Kelli ordered the one glass of chardonnay she permitted herself.  Babs ordered a second Absolut and tonic.

“Babs, who is this Nick guy? I checked with Human Resources. Nobody works here named Nick, Nicholas, Nikita.”

“Then he’s a temp.  What’s the big deal?”

“Something about him attracts me.  Maybe because he wants me so much.”

“Having someone worship you is a real turn-on, all right.”

Behind the bar, two clocks showed different times.  One shaped like a giant pocket watch sported a logo: “Time for Bud.”  Another hung beneath a fake daguerreotype showing men in bowling shirts, and at the bar beneath sat someone familiar.  Paunchy, bald, green overalls.

“Son of a bitch,” Kelli muttered.  “He must have followed me.”

“Rob?”

Kelli shook her head.  “Don’t look now, but in a second check the mirror behind me, end of the bar.  What do you think?”

Babs stretched, yawned.  “I think he’s invisible.”

Kelli jerked her head up.  A half-drained beer mug sat before an empty stool.  “He must’ve caught me looking. Babs, can you keep a secret?”

“Sure.  I know what happened to Amelia Earhart and Jimmie Hoffa.”

“Well.”  Kelli glanced about.  No one watching.  “Ever since Nick said he could give me time, odd things have been happening.  It’s like when I say I want more time, I get it.  Clocks seem to move in slo-mo. Does that sound crazy?”

Babs said, “Hey, if it works–you know the old joke about the man whose wife thought she was a chicken?”

“He wanted her cured, but they needed the eggs.”

“Well, so long as you’re getting eggs–”

“Amy says she sees him at Rob’s office, but Rob swears he doesn’t know anything about it.  And as much as I hate the slime ball, I think he’s telling the truth.”

“So, Amy has an imaginary friend–”

“Who gives her real, expensive toys.  Nick said if I wanted more time I had to pay for it, and that scares the bejabbers out of me.  But, Babs, if I do good work, I might get a better job where I don’t work under someone who’s a cross between Simon Legree and Mortimer Snerd.  I’ll have enough money for Amy to really love me.”  Realizing her hand was shaking, she set down her glass.  “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in that cubicle where the sun never shines.  I mean, I like you, Babs, you’re my best friend, but working there, I feel like I’m just killing time.”

“Maybe it’s time that’s killing you.”

Kelli stood.  “Gotta pick up Amy.  Look, you gonna be okay by yourself?  The shark shift is starting to check in.”

“Kelli,” Babs said, “I’m four foot six and I weigh a hundred and fifty.  I have crow’s feet around my eyes, laugh lines around my mouth, breasts like wrinkled ping-pong balls, and I’m fifty-five.  And if my looks don’t protect me, my personality will.”

#

Another note arrived. Clipped to a black rose this time was a poem that Kelli vaguely remembered:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old time is still a-flying:

And this same flower that smiles to-day,

Tomorrow will be dying.

And to this was added, “You’re running out of time.”

While she arranged the flower above her computer, someone knocked on her cubby wall.

“Here. I imagine you’ve come for this.”  She slid the trashcan out with a shoeless foot.  Her big toe poked through the nylon.

A voice said, “Actually, I’ve come for you.”

A short, dark-complexioned man in green overalls stood smiling in the doorway.  The glow in his eyes reminded her of the gargoyle at Monique’s, and she remembered the Poe poem that went “And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming.”

“It’s time,” he said.

Kelli called, “Babs!”

“Your friend isn’t here,” Nick smiled.

Kelli grabbed for her purse.  “I have mace!  Leave me alone!”

“Kelli, Kelli, Kelli.”  He took a step back.  “Alone is how you are, whether I leave you or not.  Do you no know I just want you have good time? You and your little rosebud.”

“She doesn’t want the stuff you give her.”

“Oh, but she does, and she wants much more.  Where the harm?”

“What the hell do you want with me? Sex, is it?  Well, mister, I’m lousy in bed.  My ex- said that screwing me was like fucking an inflatable doll with the air let out.”

“Kelli, Kelli.”  Nick shook his head.  “You don’t have to be so unhappy.  You should ride the wild horses.”  He told her to meet him at eight in the Wal-Mart parking lot.  “And bring your little flower.”

It took three glasses of Maker’s Mark at Monique’s to calm her enough to tell Babs what had happened.  “Tell me I’m crazy, tell me I’m nuts, but I saw him!  Amy sees him!  He gives her presents. Babs, who is he? There’s something about him that–you ever see Faust?”

Babs sipped her vodka.  “You believe in devils?”

“Of course not, but Babs, he wants Amy and me to meet him tonight.”

“Would you like me–”

“Yes!  Please!”

Babs squeezed her hand.  “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

#

On the Wal-Mart lot’s fringes, neon lights from the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Octopus, the mini-roller coaster reflected blue, green, red and purple in the puddles.  Shrill screams cut the air as the rides swooped and swirled.

Kelli scanned the crowd.  Teenagers in crop tops, cargo pants and backward ball caps, children who shrieked as they rose and dipped on the Baby Goldfish while grandparents stood watching them with folded arms and mild alarm. The aroma of hot oil, popped corn and burned sugar filled the air.

“Cool!” Amy cried.  “I wanta ride the Octopus.”

“We’ll work up to that, Hon. Aunt Babs prefers the merry-go-round.”

“Aw, Mommy!  That’s for little kids.”

The ancient carousel was a pulsating neon streak.  When it stopped, they stepped onto the still-moving platform.

“Here, Amy.”  Kelli sat on a stationary bench, a green dragon snorting fire, its curled tail forming the seat ends.

“No, this one!”  Amy pulled herself onto a baroque ebony charger, glossy and sinewy, head twisted back.

“No, honey, I–”

When the carousel surged into motion, Kelli staggered between a snarling panther and a loping wolf onto a white stationary horse beside her.  The calliope played “When you wore a tulip, a sweet yellow tulip, and I wore a big red rose.”

Babs grabbed a stirrup and vaulted onto a bug-eyed frog that impaled a beetle on its tongue. “Any sign of him?” she asked.

An attendant in a khaki jump suit lurched from one horse to another.  “Here.”  Kelli peeled off the tickets.  “For me, her, and my daughter.”

The man pushed back a cap atop a balding head and grinned.  “I hope you have good time.” Him!

“Let us off!” Kelli screamed.

“No time now.”

The carousel picked up speed, the spectators became blurs of waves and smiles, the calliope wheezed, trumpets blared, bells rang, felt-tipped hammers thudded into drums.

“Faster!”  Amy kicked her heels into the horse’s wooden flank, gleaming teeth bared, immense eyes red and demonic. “Run like the devil!”

The carousel raced out of control, the horses shifting from trot to canter to full-blown gallop, the figures pounding up and down like pistons. Kelli clutched the pole and dug into the stirrups.  Screams rose and fell as a child slipped and was spun off the edge.  The ride operator yanked on the control lever, which wouldn’t budge.

The man in green ricocheted between horses like a pinball until he reached Amy. “My little rosebud!”

“Uncle Nick!” She leaped into his arms.

“No!”

Babs had slid off the frog’s saddle, desperately holding on, hair billowing, squeezing the inside of her elbow into the pole.  Her purse came loose and shot like a missile past Amy’s ear. “Kelli!” Babs screamed. “Who are you talking to?”

Clinging to Nick, Amy shouted, “Make it go faster!”  The wheel picked up speed.

Kelli reached for her, but too late, the distance increasing as the man pulled himself from black stallion to giraffe to pinto mare.  Craning her neck backward, head bobbing with every stroke, Kelli watched Amy disappearing from view, disappearing from her life.

Think!  Think fast!

Kelli shouted, “More time!”

The carousel froze.  The obese woman on the stallion in front of her hung suspended in mid-air. A man in a business suit, anchored by one shoe caught in a stirrup, tilted out into empty space.  Outside the carousel, a man was frozen wrestling with the machine’s control lever.  Two uniformed cops rushed motionless toward them. Only Nick was still moving.

Kelli gave chase, kicking off her shoes for traction, ignoring the splinters each stride sent into her soles.  She kept up but got no closer until Nick stumbled and slowed enough for her to grab Amy’s arm.

“Mommy, let me go!” Amy’s eyes were wild.  “I want to ride the wild horses until the end of time.”

“God damn you,” Kelli said, “she’s mine!”  They struggled, Kelli tugging, Nick pulling back with his arm around Amy’s waist.

“Who are you?” Kelly panted, “Are you the devil?”

“Kelli, there is no devil.” The man smiled broadly. “I’m the god of time. I measure it, stretch it, squeeze it and, when the moment is right, cut it.”

Grabbing a pole tightly with her free hand, Kelli shouted, “Enough time!”

The carousel’s surge into motion caught Nick by surprise.  He released Amy, flailed for a handhold but, finding none, fell and was hurled howling to the platform edge.  He clutched a silver shaft, body straight out like a frozen banner.

His eyes locked into Kelli’s and he smiled.  “Your time will come.”  Then, beginning with his feet and flowing up his body, he melted into nothingness, the badge saying “Nick” the last to disappear.

The carousel slowed, the horses bobbed to a stop, and amid screams and cries, EMT’s toting stretchers leaped from vehicles while security guards in tan uniforms knelt beside motionless figures.

Amy’s blue eyes looked into hers.  “Mommy?  Where’s Uncle Nick?”

Eyes misted with tears, Kelli gazed at her.  “It’s okay, honey, he’s gone now.  He won’t bother us anymore.”

Puzzlement crossed Amy’s face. “But I love Uncle Nick.  He tells me things. He gives me things.”

“I’ll do all that now, hon.”

“Everybody all right?” Babs stood beside them, putting on a shoe that had flown away.

“I think so. You know,” Kelli added, “if this was a sci-fi movie, someone in a lab coat would explain what the hell just happened.”

Babs chuckled. “We aren’t in that kind of movie. I don’t know about you, but I need a drink.  Meet me at Monique’s?  You got time now.”

“All the time I need, Babs, but no thanks.  Amy and I are going home.”

Awash in the aroma of popcorn and charred apples, swept away by bells, clangs, rock music from a dozen speakers, dazzled by the flashing neon, Kelli and Amy sauntered to their car arm in arm.

 

[Check out Tom Hearron’s back porch advice.]