Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Flash fiction: Timeless

A story taken from a collection that I submitted for a Creative Writing assignment.

The alarm clock purrs from the nightstand. Joe smacks the top of it until it falls silent, rolling over and doing the same to the twin clock on the opposite stand.

He washes his face and slips into his suit, throwing a glance at the clocks. Three minutes to spare, and that's considering that they're set five minutes fast. He smiles to himself, padding downstairs. Breakfast is usually a fifteen minute affair, depending whether or not he decides to make eggs. He wants to be early today, so he fills a bowl with Cornflakes.

Before he leaves he bunches his sleeves at his elbows, inspecting both watches to make sure they're set to the right time. The one on his right wrist is for work, and the one on his left is for more relaxed time-keeping. Or in case the first one breaks.

He grabs his keys and leaves the house six minutes ahead of schedule.


The office is quiet today, so he packs up in the afternoon and heads to a retro café just down the street. It's mostly families inside, children flinging around kids' menus and crayons. He spares a glance at his watch, the left one. Shouldn't they be in class? What time do schools close these days?

He slips into a barstool, leather creaking under him, and rests his elbows on the counter. He glances at the pegboard menu on the wall.

"Erm...a cheese toastie and a cappuccino please."

The waitress has something sixties about her, red curls pinned up on her head and the demeanour of Kate Winslet. She offers a lipstick-smile, grabbing a porcelain mug from the stack.


His eyes linger on her bare wrists. Not a watch in sight. A shame really. Everything else about her is quite attractive.

Joe watches curiously as she slides the sandwich under the press and pulls down, holding it there for exactly two minutes and fifty three seconds. When the plate appears in front of him with a gentle clink, he glances up at her.

"How long did you toast this for?"

The waitress smiles, brows furrowing slightly on her forehead. "Um...three minutes?" She plonks the mug down on the counter. Joe shakes his head, frowning at his watch.

"No no, that can't be right. You didn't even time it."

She looks up from where she's cleaning the counter, head tilting curiously and mouth quirking up at the corners. "I just eyeball it," she shrugs. "Roughly three minutes, until it looks toasted."

Joe is silent. He picks a triangle of sandwich from his plate and turns it in his hand, inspecting it.

"Are you wearing two watches?"

He starts, mouth pausing mid-bite. She's holding the cloth stationary against the countertop, staring at his exposed wrists in amusement. He chews the mouthful slowly, before clearing his throat.

"I am, yes," he says proudly. He tilts his wrists so that the clock-faces flash in the light. "It's very practical. One for work and one for relaxation."

He's not stunned by the question. He's been asked it before, whenever people notice. They usually all do the same thing after he explains - nod slowly with narrowed eyes, and then announce their excuse to leave. Maybe give him a pat on the shoulder as they exit. The waitress doesn't seem like the kind to pat him on the shoulder. 

She smirks, quirking an eyebrow. "Wow. That's extreme."

"Thank you."

She's quiet for a moment, folding the cloth into a neat square and tucking it into the pocket of her apron. "I gave up on those a long time ago."

He frowns, taking a sip of coffee. "Watches?"

She shakes her head. "Clocks."

Joe splutters, spraying cappuccino across the counter. His cheeks prickle warm and he dips his head but the waitress simply chuckles, wringing out the cloth again.

"Sorry," he says, wiping his mouth. "You startled me. Why don't you like clocks?"

She shrugs. "They're horrid things. I don't like how restricting they are. How people let them control their life. I mean, look at you, walking around with two watches, probably with two alarm clocks by your bed..."

His head shoots up and he looks at her puzzled. She laughs, eyes wide, clapping a hand over her mouth.

“Oh God. You don’t do you?”

“It’s practical,” he murmurs.

She struggles for a moment to contain her laughter, but then composes herself. “Yeah well, I just didn’t want to live like that. As a slave to time.”

Joe chews thoughtfully. “A slave…”

           “Yes,” she nods, folding her arms across her chest. “You’re letting these…things control you. Control how you live your life. You wouldn’t die without them you know.”

Not far off, he thinks. He glances at her curiously. “Then how do you tell the time?”

She laughs again, a strand of hair falling loose over her face. “How do you think cavemen knew what time of day it was? Or tribes?”

He glances around, shrugging his shoulders.

“The sun!” she says, so excitedly that it startles him. He’s regretting this discussion now but he doesn’t have the heart to watch her smile fade. “And your body.”

He stares at her blankly. “My body?”

“Yes,” she chuckles. “You get used to doing things at a certain time of day. Think about it. After you wake up it’s time for breakfast. You don’t need a clock to tell you that.”

He realises that he’s been chewing the same bite of bread for the last five minutes and it’s turned mushy on his tongue, but he’s too distracted by what she’s saying. She has a point.

“Well it’s the same for everything else,” she goes on. Another customer has come and sat at the counter a few stools along but she hasn’t seemed to notice. He doesn’t tell her. “You just get used to when you do things. You use other methods to measure time. There’s a young woman who comes in here every day after she drops the kids to school. When she walks in I know it’s half past nine.”

He downs the last of his cappuccino, scraping the empty mug across the counter. He shakes his head, pointing at her. “That’s not an accurate system.”

She watches him for a moment, drying her hands on a tea-towel. He struggles to hold her gaze as she smiles at him. “Want a bet? My boss is going to come down now and tell me it’s my lunch break.”

He opens his mouth to protest that that’s ridiculous, and besides, there could easily be another explanation-

“Ivy, it’s your lunch.”

He stares open-mouthed at the head that pops around from the back and then disappears. Ivy simply smirks at him. She doesn’t need to say it; the words are as vibrant as her red lipstick. I told you so.

“Come on,” she chirps, ducking under the counter and grabbing hold of his sleeve. “I want to show you something.”


The sunset is beautiful. Paintbrush strokes of orange and pink smudged together like watercolour. He’s never taken much time to look at the sky before, but he’s beginning to wish that he had. He’s never really taken much time to look at anything before, always too distracted by ticking clocks and countdown timers.

“See how peaceful it is,” Ivy breathes, sitting cross-legged on the grass beside him. She tilts her face towards the sun and wisps of her hair glisten gold in the light.

Up here, on the hill, he feels completely at ease. His shoulders slope from their usual rigid hold.

What he loves, is that he hasn’t checked his wrists once since they got here. But what he loves more is how the only sense of time he has – the only indication of just how long they’ve been sat here, chatting nonsense – is the way Ivy’s shoulders have bloomed a rosy pink colour.

“You know what,” he says, turning to her. “You’re right.” He reaches down to unbuckle the watches from his wrists. She traces his movements as he tosses them over the hill and they blur into the valley beneath them. Her mouth gapes and she stares at him, eyes crinkling delicately at the corners when she grins. 

He turns to her, his smile matching hers. “Let’s do it your way. Timeless.”

 Thanks so much for reading and I hope you're having a wonderful day!


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