It amuses him on some intellectual level to watch the second hand on the grandfather clock rush forward and pull itself up to a sudden halt. Then repeat its haste and its doubt, exerting itself in a sound known universally as the seamless lurch of time. It can never speed up or slow down. It can never fatigue or stop.
When he draws this idea forth from the void of his unconscious memories (that never occurred and never ceased to exist), he is unable to exude the same enthusiasm that had so excited the voice in his head. They had been discussing breeds of dog.
“That’s an interesting notion, David;” says Jenson Parker while his fingers patter against his wife’s slender shoulder. “But then time can slow down and speed up. The seconds can sound further in-between. It is all just a matter of perspective.”
“And besides,” says his wife, “the ticking of a clock is a human invention. I mean time itself doesn’t lurch. It is smooth.”
He looks at her smiling at the lounge room and at the same time her lips are contorted so she is smiling back at herself. She is smiling down the windpipe from which her words emerged, tinged with red wine. There is an absence in her eyes; they are so pale against the mash of red and blue spat across her cocktail dress. He presses her.
“But time itself is a human invention.”
“Would anyone like another glass of wine?” asks his wife. She stands up and sinks David deeper into the wrinkles lining the couch. She refills Jenson and Matilda’s glasses before she turns to him. He knows what she will say. She will question him as to why he is not drinking. She will point out that everybody else is; their guests. Then she will feel a silence brood which he cannot think of any syllables to fit into the space except for the tock tocking of the second hand. Then she will finish off with some snide remark, such as “watching your weight are you?” or “worried you might let something slip,” or maybe she will just laugh through it all; little bursts of laughter.
But she does none of these things. She sits down. She does not even look at him.
“How is your mother?” she asks Matilda. Almost instantly she jams her lips shut on her tongue. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I shouldn’t ask questions like that. I shouldn’t pry.”
“She is fine,” says Matilda. “The doctors are surprised that someone in their eighties could be so healthy.” She takes a sip. “And so active all the time.” Both women bare their teeth.
David isn’t listening. He struggles to patch up the rabid desiccation of his idea. Jenson and Matilda are his friends. Surely it is their duty as a friend to support him. And his wife. She always acts funny around the Parkers, as if suddenly he is inferior, a joke to be laughed at in the small silences between paragraphs. Then with a sudden jolt he realises he is staring at his corneas and behind them is the arc of Matilda’s breasts pushing out the folds of her dress. Something hard is pressing against his underwear. He hurriedly looks down, at its sharp curl and the rivet at its head. He hopes no one has noticed. But how could they not. The clock is silent.
“They say she will live to a hundred or more.”
“They are not sure how she does it. Must just be luck. I hope I’ve got those genes.”
“Would you really like to live that long?” he asks. “I mean, you would be in pain and constantly tired and bored. You would be useless.” The silence invites and forbids him from going on. “I mean, do you think maybe that the one worse thing than death would be to live forever?”
His wife braces her knees to pour more wine but the Parker’s glasses are already full.
“I disagree,” says Jenson. The clock’s beat falls into line with his syllables.
“Then do you think,” he begins. He can feel his cheeks raise and part his lips like theatre curtains to display the stage of all his thoughts. “Do you think then, that it is possible for me to say something or do something so emotionally wrenching that will stop time?”
“David,” says his wife. She slaps him hard against the shin. But he is smiling still.
“Only for a second,” says Matilda.
“Have you felt that?” he asks. “That for a second you will live forever.” Jenson comes forward.
“You make an interesting point, David, that in its own flawed logic is true, but I’m afraid it just doesn’t work that way.”
But he is smiling, he cannot stop smiling.
“You never take me seriously,” he says. “Any of you. I am a joke with a shit job and a nice wife.” He stops. “The dinner tasted awful.” He stands up. “I have a hard-on,” he says. He looks at Matilda. “You are beautiful, has anyone told you that in a while?” His smile is retreating. Has cheeks are deflating; saggy and wrinkled and old. “I love you,” he says, but he can’t lie to himself.
“I think we better go,” says Jenson. He pulls his wife’s limp hand onto her feet and walks from the room. Some time later the couple hears the door clink shut.
His wife shads up. She raises her fists and puts them back by her side and raises them again.
“What the fuck was that about?” she shouts; but he can’t speak.