“I bought a clock at a thrift store.”
“You did what?” I responded to his statement. A statement that had no bearing on the question I asked him.
“I bought a clock at the thrift store, then,” Mathew flashed that disarming smile at me, his eyes dancing with merriment. “Then, the next daylight-saving time. The one where we fall back, I discovered it had powers.”
I watched Mathew’s blue eyes. Something was different. The last time I saw him was just a couple of days ago. He asked me a question that still breaks my heart. He asked if I thought it was a good idea if we break up after he moves out of town.
His parents sold their house and Mathew was moving out to the country. I truly loved this boy, and the very thought of us breaking up ripped me apart. He was funny, kind, forgiving, patient, spontaneous. A dreamer. Sure, we are still just kids, but I knew, this was the man…boy I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
But now, as he sat there, patiently waiting for me to respond, I noticed a difference. He seemed wiser beyond his 13 years. I couldn’t quite place it. His eyes were still the same mix of intensity when he was serious, and merriment when he wasn’t. His blond hair was still as long as his stepdad would allow. It just seemed as though he matured.
Aside from looking different, he also seemed to have lost his mind. I asked him what changed his mind about breaking up with me, and he answered, “I bought a clock at the thrift store.”
“Let me see if I can get this straight. A clock you bought at a thrift store before the last change from daylight savings made you change your mind about wanting to break up with me two days ago. Mathew, I was in your room last weekend, there was no clock.”
Mathew smiled again, this time it was more like one of those assuring, humorless smiles parents give you before they tell you about the birds and the bees.
“Marie, I am sorry for not making any sense. None of this makes sense to me.” Mathew took my hands in his, my dark tan making his skin look pale in comparison, “Before I go on, promise me you will keep me…forever.”
My heart fluttered at the thought. That is what I wanted from the day he asked me to go with him. Sure, I made him wait a few days before answering, but that was because I wanted to see how bad he wanted it. “That sounds like a proposal.”
Mathew sat up straight, his eyes wide, his mouth working as if words were alien to him.
“Yes, I will keep you. It is up to you to make it forever,” I responded, letting him off the hook…for now.
“Thank you, I am so sorry if I hurt you.”
“Apology accepted,” I kissed him briefly, then asked, “The clock?”
“Yes, the clock.” Mathew took a deep breath, let it out slowly, buying time while he indexed his thoughts. He was one who let his mind wonder off and at times like this needed to pull it in.
“The clock in question was purchased at a thrift store in 2021.”
“I am serious,” he shot right back, no chuckle, no dancing eyes, just a tone and stoic look that told me he was. “In another world, another time/space dimension, whatever you want to call it. I did break up with you. I didn’t know at the time how much it hurt you. You hid that from me…really…really, well.”
Mathew sighed, then continued, “Karma knew how bad I hurt you, and punished the hell out of me for the next thirty-five years. I endured a lifetime of bad relationships, bad life choices. Many of which lead to some really dark periods.
“When I finally escaped the longest nightmare, I was almost fifty, and starting over. And I did start over. I met someone, and we hit it off. Then I learned you were miserable. That you too had endured pain. But, we were both trapped in our current relationships, for different reasons.
“Once again, Karma got the last laugh.”
Mathew released my hands, stood, and started to pace the small space the loft in my parents’ garage offered. He reached the small window and turned to face me.
“I wanted you, but could not have you, even though you were available,” he crossed his arms and continued, the light from the window shadowing his features.
“My wife and I went thrift store shopping one Saturday afternoon. I found this really cool looking steampunk style wall clock. I hung it in the garage, my sanctuary.
“The next daylight savings turn back came and I turned the clock back. It uses this really neat looking key. You insert it through a slot in the face just past the sweep of the second hand. Then I did it again, an hour later. Then again, another hour later, and once again.
“Each time, I had the sensation of Déjà Vu. Each time there was this vague recollection that I just did it. With each do over, the memory of the last time became clearer, then it hit me. It wasn’t just the clock I was setting back, but time itself.”
Mathew walked back to the couch where I was sitting and kneeled before me.
“By this point, I had quit dreaming. Quit living in a life of what ifs. I got up every day and went through the motions. Learning the possibilities of what the clock could do awakened the old dreamer in me. I could undo so many wrongs. Without thinking, I spun the clock back to just before I met my last wife.”
I could tell by the expression on his face, it didn’t go well.
“I met someone else…who was awful. When I arrived in the year I was shooting for, I knew not to follow the path that led me to my last wife. I also reached out to you via social media, but it went unanswered. So, I started dating someone from work, and like so many relationships, it devolved into misery.
“I got lucky. I found myself at the same thrift store and spotted the clock. But this time, I had an inkling of what it could do. I thought long and hard this time before spinning that nifty looking key backwards.”
“Then it dawned on me, Karma was pissed at me because of what I did to you.”
Mathew rose, his arms spread, “And here I am. Ready to undo all my wrongs.”
* * * * *
I am not sure what introduced that memory into my dreams. That conversation was twenty years ago. Mathew did keep his promise, he kept me, and I kept him. I could feel his warmth as he lay beside me sleeping. On more than one occasion in the last twenty years, I wondered if Mathew hit his head before coming to see me that day. All the crazy talk about clocks that turned back time.
He doesn’t have much memory of that conversation. Just that he remembered asking me to keep him. The rest, it’s lost to him. Like it never happened. Most every other memory if I poke long enough, he goes, “Oh yeah.” But that one is lost to him.
I am almost certain the love of my life never traveled back in time to undo his single biggest wrong. But there are times when I wonder. Like tonight when that dream pulled me from my slumber.
I turn to my love, his face pointed towards the ceiling, his features peaceful in the gray that is predawn. I recall some of the dreams he tells me about. The ones he forces himself to awaken, so he can escape the hell that is life in those dreams. Of woman he never met, the things they did to him. Where would such dreams come from?
“How many lives have you lived?” I whisper. Then roll over so I can watch him sleep. Glad he is at piece this night.