Doing time

My son has a yellow plastic clock that I bought in a futile attempt to ready him for kindergarten. It has a face with big numbers and hands but no mechanism—you must use your fingers to mark the time, and once you do, you are already late.

A second has passed.

Now, two.

A storyteller and not a mathematician, my son tells me his clock is magic. That if he leaves it on the shelf long enough it will tell the right time. I know that this is a distraction from the lesson I’m trying to give, but it takes a few weeks before it dawns on me that, yes, that is in fact true. If we leave that yellow clock long enough, there will come a moment when it will align with the clock on our wall and for one brief breath both will mark the time.

What an odd thing time is. How slippery it is to pinpoint.

Our little neighborhood has been in an uproar this week. After a police stop gone wrong, a felon slipped away into our sleepy town. For 24 hours, police from all over the county combed our white-picket streets with assault rifles and German Shepherds. A neighboring town loaned us their drone. I’m not sure we’ve ever had this much excitement. Townsfolk peered out from drawn blinds and texted each other the suspect’s description and possible location.

At dinnertime, they had tracked this unwelcome guest to our block. Officers with dogs and guns were in our yard and then the neighbor’s, checking each bush. But by bedtime everything had grown quiet; the suspect had slipped away.

I did not protest when my 5-year-old asked to sleep in our bed. I pulled him close and listened to the rain falling hard against the glass.

Watching my son’s little chest rise and fall, I found myself picturing that stranger not as a monster but as a boy. I laid there wondering if he was afraid tonight, and if he was, did he think of his mother.

I imagined this woman, and that if she knew what was happening, she might pray for her boy’s life. Or if not, she might not mind if another did. So I asked for peace—over all that had happened to him and by him.

When my son was asleep, I tiptoed out to where my husband was watching from the upstairs window.

Nothing yet, he said, pointing to the police car on the corner.

He’s got no shoes on, I said. He’s been outside for 24 hours in a T-shirt and shorts and no shoes. It’s been raining all day, I added.

My husband shook his head, and we both looked at each other in silence, knowing that anyone this good at hiding has had a lifetime of practice.

I’m going to bed, I said finally.

When the yelling started, I shot out from under the covers and stood next to my husband at the window. Dogs barked. I braced for gunshots, but none came. We watched as the fire truck arrived, and then the white sheriff SUVs, and then quiet—absolute quiet, as though nothing had happened.

In the morning, I reassured my boy that they had caught the bad guy. But as I told him that, my heart broke a little. I glanced at that yellow clock frozen in time, and realized how quickly moments become lifetimes. How a series of choices become an identity. How prison itself is referred to as “Time.”

Then I thought about this stranger’s life. How for one full day, we had been neighbors. This morning I prayed for him.

For hope.

For a warm meal.

For his mother.

Then I put away that yellow clock. What do any of us know of time, anyway?

CLAIRE CAREY DEERING believes less is more, in writing and in life.

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