Seconds ticked by on the clock. One, two, three… After sixty, it started over. In less than sixty seconds I saw her look up from the book she was reading. Her eyes met mine and changed me forever. She cracked a smile and looked back at the words on the page.
Minutes went slower. It took minutes to gather my courage to walk over. My feet shuffled across the floor and I counted seventeen steps it took to reach her. She looked up again and placed On the Road face down in her lap.
“Hi,” she said. Two letters, one word, the sound of her perfect voice. A minute I’d never forget.
Hours flew by. We sat together under a willow tree on a plaid blanket, a basket of sandwiches and sliced cheese scattered across it. She talked about becoming a world-traveling journalist and I saw her golden-brown eyes beam when she talked about having a family someday. My heart felt full when I held her.
Days lingered until the moment I was back with her. At work, I watched the clock between drafting plans for a new skyscraper. Watching each second, minute, hour tick on, tapping anxiously on my desk. No matter how many times I told myself not to look, time seemed to move slower.
Months took no time to pass. We sat in our apartment watching green turn brown in trees and the ground become white with snow. I saw excitement in her as she marked off time on the calendar until our big day. I had never been happier than each day I spent with her. We married that next spring when the flowers were bright pink. That summer she came to me with a white stick showing two blue lines.
Years went by without realizing it. Our children moved out and gray became more evident in her hair. Her eyes twinkled like they did the first moment I saw her. One day, she looked at me with tired wrinkles and trembling hands.
“I think something is wrong,” she said. I’ll never forget that moment, when time sped up even more.
Months marked off on our calendar again. The treatments were brutal and stripped the gleam from her eyes. Her hair fell out in chunks and she was unable to eat anything she once enjoyed. Soon she would be well again; we could take the trip we had always said we would. I held her hand each day and felt it become frailer. But she had to get better. I couldn’t imagine life without her.
Days. That’s what the doctor said she had left. I prayed time would move as slowly as they did on the days my eyes wouldn’t leave the clock. She was at peace, but I was more broken than I ever knew a person could be. Our children stayed with us and spent as much time with her as they could.
Hours before she drew her final breath, things started looking up. “Look at how well she’s doing! She’s going to be okay!” I exclaimed. My daughter wrapped me in her arms and cried.
“She’s not got much longer,” she whispered.
I sat next to my beautiful wife of so long and stroked her cooling hand.
Minutes remained in her hourglass. She made me promise I would take our trip and take lots of pictures. That was the sort of thing I’d always forgotten to do and grateful now for every time she stopped over the years to take a snapshot – it was the only time when time stood still. The only time you could freeze a moment and live in it forever.
“I have loved you every second, of every minute, of every hour that I’ve known you,” I told her. Her smile was small, and she closed her eyes.
Seconds once again grew slow. She opened her eyes once more – they met mine and took me back to the moment our eyes met for the first time. It seemed like only days ago even though it had been forty years. Her breathing slowed, and my heart shattered.
When she took her last breath, I was sure time stopped. I couldn’t imagine the world continuing and time spinning forward
But time waits or stops for no one.
*Previously published in Rhythm & Bones in October 2018
Maddie M. White is a writer and mental health advocate. Her words have been seen in Flash Fiction Magazine, Rhythm and Bones, Mojave Heart Review, Stigma Fighters, and many others. She has a bi-monthly column called “Joined Journeys” on Rhythm and Bones, an online literary magazine, where she interviews people living with mental illness. Maddie married her best friend and high school sweetheart, Shawn. She inspires her readers by creating a safe space in her books where they can learn to better themselves and follow their dreams. She is currently finishing her first novel.