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"Perhaps clocks weren’t misbehaving. Perhaps time was."
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Published 2 years ago

Clocks had a way of misbehaving in the house.

Clocks often misbehave, particularly mechanical ones. The clock in the car that is two or three minutes slower than the clock last spied before leaving the house. The clock on the oven timer that never quite matches up with the always correct digital clock on the iPad being consulted for a recipe. The unused coffee-maker clock forever blinking 12:00, from now until the end of time itself.

Even digital clocks can be unreliable, when variables such as Daylight Savings Time and time zones come into play. Cellphones and laptops are not infallible.

So Alice Lamb naturally assumed this is what was going on inside her own house.

At first, anyway.

She noticed initially while getting the girls ready for school. Her analog bedside alarm clock woke her up at 6:30 every morning. She dressed, started the coffee-maker, and sat at the kitchen table enjoying her coffee in solitude until John’s alarm clock rang at 6:45. His alarm told her that her solitude was over, it was time to wake up the girls, feed them, and get them ready for school. Last bell at school sounded at 8 a.m., and as the drive took around 15 minutes she had about an hour to get the girls ready.

This routine had been well established before they had moved into the house. Right after moving in the routine began to develop small cracks. Alice would awaken, start the coffee-maker, sit at the table with her cup of coffee, and when John’s alarm went off she go to awaken the girls, only to find it was nearly seven o’clock. Sometimes time did not shift at all, sometimes just a few minutes, sometimes fifteen or twenty.

Not a huge problem, but one warranting further investigation. After it had happened several mornings in a row she made sure John’s alarm was set accurately, and the girls’ black cat wall clock with the moving eyes and tail was set accurately as well. They both were. Their accuracy did not change the shifting time-frame of her mornings.

Perplexing. Still. They still had plenty of time to get ready for school. The cause probably had something to do with the cheap plastic gears of the wall clock cat, or the bargain alarm clock bought at Walmart.

She noticed next that time often shifted when moving from room to room. Alice would glance at the clock in the study, decide it was time to start supper, and walk from her desk to the kitchen, only to find ten minutes had passed since she had left the study. Obviously, she thought, ten minutes had not truly passed; this was a simple discrepancy between clocks in different rooms.

Even more odd: she sometimes left a room and walked into another to find it was actually earlier than when she had left the first room. She did not believe that she had moved backward in time. That would have been lunacy. She again assumed that the clocks were set at different times. Even after approaching the problem as she did with her children’s and husbands clocks, by resetting them to make sure they were accurate, time remained stubbornly unpredictable.

What was she to do? She had to live her life. It made no sense, there was no place in her life to put this information, it didn’t fit in with the laws of the everyday world. Best left forgotten. She did tell John, who said that he had occasionally noticed the same thing, but he worked eight hours a day, nine including his commute, and spent less time inside the walls of the house than she. He had less chance to notice.

Sometimes time shifted without her changing rooms at all. Sitting in the family room, reading, a few minutes would seem to pass, and she’d glance at the clock and find that hours had gone by. She’d be in the kitchen, making supper, and suddenly it would be dark outside, the family would be gathered, ready to eat, and she’d only barely started. The water hadn’t even begun to boil. The oven hadn’t yet pre-heated.

Perhaps clocks weren’t misbehaving. Perhaps time was.

Alice and John were once getting ready to go to a party, and as she sat down in front of her mirror to put on her make-up on, John informed her they had to leave in about a half an hour. Plenty of time, thought Alice. Seemingly seconds later, he stood behind her, hands on her shoulders, smiling into the mirror, asking her why she hadn’t dressed yet or done her hair yet. It’s time to go, he told her.

She had, according to her husband, been sitting at the make-up mirror for thirty minutes.

No time had passed for her; she had just sat down a moment ago (though did she remember something else, distantly, some face in the mirror other than hers?).

She said nothing, quickly put on some mascara, fixed her hair, slipped into a dress, and was ready to go.

How to explain it? She had gotten lost in her reflection in the mirror and somehow could not track the passage of time? Again: it made no sense. No place in her life to put this information. It didn’t fit in with the everyday world.

As events progressed in the house, fewer and fewer things made sense. The past intermingled with the present and the future. Time and space bent and shifted with ease. No one knew what was then and what was now. What was real and what was false. What was dead and what was alive.

Within the walls of the house, none of that mattered. The walls of the house contained another universe, governed by its own internal laws, shadowed and lit by its own internal fires, privy to the whims of its own internal God.

Within the walls of the house, time was a lie, and clocks a convenient fiction.

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