If You Have the Time
The main things I
remember in high school: bullies and weirdoes.
bothersomes that never bothered me very much. But I did worry about
being the brunt of them. I should have been bullied because I was
a science geek since before I can remember. I liked math, science,
chemistry, radio and space. While the science was always practical
and truthful, I didn’t learn much about people and was a social
zero. I should have been the target of bullies but something
happened. Early in middle school I was the science geek that became
the better-watch-out-for mad scientist.
Carolina, we hunt and fish at an early age. I wasn’t much of a
hunter or fisher, but I was dissecting and studying the animal’s
carcass as we cleaned them.
grade Christmas gift of a chemistry set began to grow. Soon the
chemistry set occupied the entire basement. I set off an 11 foot
rocket in 7th grade that flew 12 miles and I was
arrested. I blew up my Mother’s washing machine by accident. Then
there was the x-ray machine I made during 11th grade in
the ecology lab because I was bored and once again wound up
In high school,
I worried about bullies and shied away from them, but in retrospect
I didn’t have to worry about bullies. Bullies are scared puffed up
people trying to muster through their fear and test their exercise
of authority. And they can be pretty mean about it, especially in
groups. However, they are truly afraid of people that really do
blow up things, make real rockets and do surgery on animals.
I was never
bothered by bullies in high school.
That only left
the weirdoes. I was one of those, I suppose. But I was nothing
like the guy living out in the orchard.
The weirdo of all
weirdoes was this guy named Peter. He was small and had this
sundial on a chain around his neck. He was white, so white, I
thought he would get melanoma from fluorescent lights. He was goofy
and walked around with this semi-smile on his face that made you
think he was in a constant state of humor. He wore that sundial and
cradled it constantly. I guessed the guy had a time or sundial
fetish of some sort… but I couldn’t really understand it. He never
wore a watch, just that damned sundial. The sundial was a deep dark
wood with a little lever on it that was the prong for standing up to
make a Sun shadow. He showed it to me once. Made of hardened teak,
it was small, deep brown with a little gnomon and no markings for
time. I guessed with no numbers, you’d just go round and around 24
hours forever and ever. The forever part of it intrigued me. It was
pretty cool, but he made it feel weird with that semi-smile of
knowing something secret.
He did have a
secret. In 11th grade we were on a class field trip to a
lake for Biology biomass. Biomass is bio – biology- live and then
mass – as in stuff. So that meant live stuff. We were supposed to
be looking for biomass and logging in animals and insects. I was
looking at the girls, we were asked to wear swimsuits and would be
getting wet. Live stuff, women in swim suits… the very thought
rocked my boat for sure.
The bus ride was
great, I got to talk to some girls. I was secretly thinking about
them being in swimsuits when the teach comes over the loudspeaker,
“Ladies go over to the beach where the grasses are and Gentlemen go
to the locker room change and meet at the beach!”
Aw Man! Dudes
were supposed to use a net to get minnows and other animals from the
lake so we had to get wet. No wet girls. But I was teamed with two
manly jocks named Mike and Toby. That meant I could hang with them
and eventually get over to the girls collecting plants for this
Biomass, my ass, the girls were the real biomass in this dude’s equation.
No wet girls in swimsuits sucked a plenty. But what really sucked was that the three of us got teamed with geek ridden Peter. Out he comes from the locker room, he looked like a dead zombie ghost in a pair of plaid red briefs. If we didn’t play this just right, we would be guilty of geekdom and the future of the day would be gloomy.
Geekdom stuck his
foot in the water and whistled. I noticed that sundial was around
his neck and cradled in his hand.
Mike says, “OK,
let’s go guys, get this over with real quick and go over to join the
“Yep.” So we
started dragging the net. Eventually Peter caught up to us,
flailing in the water, making waves and plenty of noise.
scare the fish!”
He took his pole
and began to drag the sandy bottom.
We caught a couple of turtles that scurried quickly. The jocks went after them and caught them many times just to have them wiggle out and dart into the reeds.
The sheer speed
and agility of the turtles was amazing as these experienced
sportsmen wrestled and grappled. The turtles were like the water
trickling through their fingers.
Peter said, “No!
Relax and give them time!”
“Give them their time, not yours!”
them!” We did but Peter made no effort at all and began to smile at
us catching the turtles and them escaping so swiftly.
He sat down in
the water and simply said, “Stop. They will come.”
We were tired
anyway so we rested on the poles of the seining nets. Peter waited
as he stroked that stupid sundial. He moved slowly toward the
He paused and
then flash disappeared. I saw another flash of ancient writings,
like hieroglyphics and trigonometry. I saw a fabric with a Sun in
the bottom of a rubberized sheet, shimmering and spinning then a
flare of light, not so bright, but I was startled. The sheet
inverted and turtles appeared covered in more hieroglyphics and
numbers. The whole gimmish just spun like a top that was bent in
one direction and then collapsed inside of itself. Just for the
I blinked. I
knew I saw it. But it was no more. I felt like a block of solid
granite, couldn’t move and couldn’t figure what was real.
Peter waited and
calmly picked up the two turtles. He walked them over to the scales
and weighed them. He carefully recorded the weights and they
watched him as he thumbed through the atlas to identify what turtle
I could not
speak. What is going on? Did no one else see that? The lake was
there, the people were all there. The turtles and Peter were fine.
The turtles were quite patient, rested and curious. The concept threw me, patient turtles. When Peter was through, he stroked the sundial, carefully picked up his little charges and gave them a ride over to the reeds where they were returned to home. They swam away disappearing into the darkness of the overgrown pondscape.
I watched all
this in utter amazement, “Damn!” I looked at the other two and just
laughed, “Look at that! Didn’t anybody see that?”
“Look at that my ass! I was ready to beat the hell out of them damn
turtles! Must’ve been snappers anyhow?”
I directed toward
the murky marshes, “He really did control them. It was like they
knew him or even liked him? I don’t know, pretty weird… but in a
really good weird way or something…” My voice trailed off. “You
mean you didn’t see that other thing?” I wasn’t too sure what to
Mike goes, “Hey!
Fancy pants! You are on with them turtles? I would have trashed
them for sure and still got the biology stuff!” He was flexing and
posturing, sort of like he had something to show.
Peter just shrugged with that silly grin he always has: “No. Just used strong stuff.”
“I whup anybody!
And I’ll show you if anytime, anywhere! We wore the things out for
you anyway. They were too tired to fight anymore.”
“No. Just time.
Strong stuff.” He was stroking that sundial again.
Mike stared at
Peter, “I just told you: we wore out them snappers. You just
picked up the spent carcasses after we were done with them.”
Peter looked at
me. He knew I knew. His monotone was disturbing, “Time. Nothing
Mike shrugged off the weirdo, “Nothin more powerful, Huh? Well? Come on, Sir Charles Atlas. Let’s finish up with all this biomass crap and join with them girls.”
We did finish
up. We found a way to pad the information to take up three pages.
Three pages. Why could somebody assign three pages if there aren’t
three pages of information? Five fish, two turtles, twenty mosquito
larvae and three dead worms do not three pages make. Hardly three
sentences of biomass. But you learn good in English to pad up
information for the teacher. Stretching out three sentences for
three pages is a snap.
Anyways, we went
over to the girls. The two turtles became two vicious big snappers
that the jocks beat up and wore out, Sir Atlas over there cleaned
up the mess and the pair escaped, ran like hell.
From then onward
Peter was called Sir Atlas.
Atlas lived over
by the apple orchards. The big orchards over on Lyneborough Hill.
Their house was half way through the orchard, hidden from the road.
The whole farm was beautiful. Riding up to the house you could
easily tell a lot of love and work went into this property. The old
farmhouse was old in foundation and framework, but brand new
looking. The barn and tractors were the same, so clean, so freshly
painted. It was a picture post card of antiques brilliantly
The orchards were
not just neatly mowed down the middle of the rows, but almost
manicured. The trees were trimmed and weeds mowed right up to the
trunks. There were bird houses dotting the hilly green landscape
accented with an occasional salt lick.
If you walk up their hill the view is outrageously awesome. The hills off to the West and at night: Jeeze, at night it is so dark… so perfectly dark - you feel as one with the Milky Way enjoying a party with millions of dots of light. When you lay there between the trees, you can see the leaves; feel the Earth and the slowly moving tapestry of living Universe. Lay there and watch the stars move overhead as if time is in motion and stopped all at the same time. It is a perfect Universe lover’s lane.
His whole family
were nice people, mostly kept to themselves, but they were friendly
folk. The whole family was a little goofy but nice enough. They
were well thought of all over town, yet somehow not thought of.
Everyone thought they were just “up there by the orchards”.
I’d see him on occasion. Mostly when it was cold and wet outside and there was nothing to do or nobody to hang with. He was more of an acquaintance than a friend.
I just couldn’t
see him as a friend. He was sort of spooky, the all-knowing grin
and then that thing at the biomass lake… well?
July 4, it was
raining cats and dogs. Buckets of water poured through little
valleys in the dirt, “a gully washer” my Mom called it. The parade,
picnic and fireworks were cancelled, so I went over to Sir Atlas’
We were in the
barn watching the rain, laying on hay bales. I asked him about his
trick with the turtles: He stroked that sundial gadget around his
neck, “Yes, I noticed your notice. I was hoping you’d forget about
His face melted
into a low toned, zombie like, far away look in his blank eyes;
“Very powerful time is. So powerful we don’t even notice it
passing.” His gaze hit mine, “Did you see that minute? It just
went by. Gone forever.”
deeply, “Gone. Gone mostly. But it can be given or taken. Buried
or beginning.” Stubby fingers rubbed and caressed the ever present
sundial around his neck. “It can be altered. We live in an altered
state of time.”
He looked right
through me as if I was swallowed in time, his fingers strumming the
sundial in full octave harmony: “Tune it, alter it we may. Rev it
up, tone it down. Direct it or fend it off. Given or taken.”
spoke, “Forget about it.”
His pause took
way too long as he stroked the sundial, “But you probably won’t
forget all about it, even with time.”
“I don’t think
I’ll ever forget what I saw.”
Sir Atlas took a
sip from the soda, “No you probably won’t.” He shrugged, ”Heck! We
are probably more the same than you think.”
He hopped off the
bale, “OK. All I did was; I simply gave the turtles their time and
took time away from me. You probably know more about it than you
think. You’ll feel better about it… all in good time.”
In that moment I
realized he was much stranger than I had imagined and I knew I’d
Fortunately, most people grow out of high school.
. . .
Hold up your chin!” She adjusted the tie, patting my chest with
profound finality, “There!” She pointed me toward the hotel
mirror, “ Now you’ll look all pretty for the reunion.”
“I’m not so sure
about all this. But you sure look pretty.” I looked at the in the
mirror, then at us in the mirror, “Real pretty. Are you sure you
are with me? That is one lucky man standing right there in the
glass.” I reached for her.
“Now stop! We
are getting ready to go! No foolishness, for now… “ She stepped
away from me, “we have missed so many of these! I’m excited! Don’t
you want to see everybody from thirty years ago? Find out how they
all turned out? Think about it: What are they up to? Where did
they move to? How many children and grandchildren do they have?
Who is divorced? Who is on their third marriage? Some didn’t turn
out you know… I see another one in your class has died or
disappeared or something.”
I hadn’t really
thought of it much that way. “Honey, I purposely moved out of here
so I wouldn’t have to answer all those questions! Not a single one
of them! We aren’t going to volunteer to them we aren’t married?
If we do, they’ll piously ask; “For 15 years?” It’s none of their
She picked out
pink lipstick, “Well I want to meet all of them! I feel like I know
some of them already.”
“Go ahead and
meet them! Have lots of fun… just remember we are going home in
two days. Don’t say anything about us. Don’t give them any
ammunition to launch an attack of moral judgment. We are not open
for discussion. We are none of their business.”
And it wasn’t any
of their business. I did move out of Monadnock Valley to get out of
it. Off in an escape to university taught sciences then on to chase
those rainbows in science. One research lab after another. Which
is strangeness all in itself; science has been my life love since I
was about 6 years old. The maths are more solid than the women I’d
known that were lovers and eventually came to leave me. I had not
invited that loneliness and was saddened by it… but I always had the
rock solid Universe.
Each new city the
same as the last one and yet different in temperament. A brand new
research project and a new me in every move. The slate wiped clean,
a new beginning, a new memory and traverse of time. Omar Khayyam’s
“Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on”…
Out of the small
town twenty questions game. Away from smelly old ladies who
remembered birthing me and how I sucked my thumb or walked on my
toes. Away from embarrassing childhood pictures and stories of how
I ran down the steps of the gazebo with my pants down when I was 5
years old. Out of it. I went far away from any criticism arising
from a childhood history that I would never be able to put away or
disposition. Away from none of their business.
I liked the fact
I had become anonymous into the numbers of the university, the
research for the government and the city.
There is a
strange solace in being hidden in plain sight. Blending into the
crowd, a chameleon among the masses; hiding in the niceties of
trivial friendships while being moved from city to city in the
government moving game. Only knowing the neighbors by name, there
are no relationships to dissolve. No relationships to maintain or
nurse for the currency of favors… just work for the paper currency,
pay my own way and owe nobody. No love, no crying, no pity or
discord to work over, just the ever smiling superficial friendship.
No complications, just move on when it was time. Like a grey cat at
night, totally blended into the matrix and you are fully functional,
adjusted and satisfied. I liked it.
I really liked
But now, here , I
was turning the car into the parking lot with my love interest
beside me and scared to shit. We entered the tent, placed name tags
on. Then the obligatory meeting of people I assumed I must have
known before, but they didn’t look the same at all.
I was hugged by
people with names I vaguely remembered. Even hugged by women who
paid no attention to me at all back in high school. Scared for no
reason. Thirty years of absence made me born again and in the eyes
of the Valley natives, we were strangers that were distant
Everybody was so
old! Grey, bald and fat. I had grown fat for a while, but then
lost that weight. All the pretty people and those of the in crowd
had spread out adipose tissue so that it filled out a small mu-mu.
All in all,
everything was pleasant enough.
Then here comes
up Sir Charles Atlas. He didn’t seem to age very much. A few
wrinkles, some grey around the ears. He even looked better than he
did years ago. And Good Lord! This was his wife? His wife looked
about 30. Damn! They looked out of place here, they looked so
good. He recognized me with a warm, “Hi, haven’t seen you in so
long!” His handshake was solid and firm. Where in the heck did he
find her? I thought I had seen her before, but she was in amazing
shape and looks also!
We caught up on details of our lives. He and his wife were still on the farm. They had to build another house for his and her parents. Life was good, the orchards were producing. He had married only once, had four children, three grandchildren and two more on the way. The children were handsome and lively. I couldn’t help but notice one had a small silver medallion bouncing around on her neck, it was a sundial.
He kept talking
but my mind just couldn’t shake thoughts of his wife. A familiarity
was there and a disjointed occasion or something that just didn’t
seem to add up. This beauty had reared four kids, while living on a
working farm; had watched after their parents and looked like this
at say 49 or 50?
There had to be
something in the water.
He related all this and finally he began fingering around his top shirt button. He still had the sundial! He had found an artisan to make one out of gold! It was beautiful and very unique. Obviously he passed his fascination to at least one of the children.
I was admiring
the sundial, “Did you have one made for your kids?” “Yup, one for
each of them.”
over to our group. Was good to see him. We chatted a while. He
was in business and wanted to buy the hill up on top of the
orchards. “Sir Charles, come on now! You’ve got to go in with me
on a hotel there! We’ll share the profits, you can retire from farm
life and just live easy. Like I have all my life.”
Atlas replied, “Yep! You have had a good life. Haven’t you?” He pointed his finger toward the orchards, “Can’t do that Toby, life is good the way it is. A little work doesn’t hurt anyone. Don’t want to go messing with the harmony, ya know.”
Toby looked to
me. I postured with palms up, “Hey Toby, not me! We’re going back
to Minneapolis in two days! No partnering for us.” Secretly, I
didn’t want my private view of the Universe for sale.
Sir Atlas turned
to me, “Why don’t you come on up to the house tomorrow? We’ll have
a nice cook out, some music or something?”
“I don’t know,”
I turned to her, half hoping she would politely decline. “Hon… want
to go over?” She was delighted! So tomorrow we would go see the
farm and the hill. Hon would love it.
The rental car
steered along an apple tree lined drive leading to the farmhouse.
Spooked a deer reaching up nibbling at the treats. The orchards
were pristine. The houses and barns were clean and painted like
new. The grass was green, hills were a hilly carpet landscape of
apples, startled deer scattered and a trio of crows called out
their warning of our approach. We could smell the attraction of
meats slowly roasting in an oak smoker. There were tunes of a
country radio station wafting in as we pulled up.
Sir Atlas, wife,
kids, some neighbors and Toby were already milling about the grill.
Beers flowed, kids played off in the distance and adults stood
around talking. Women went off to talk about women’s stuff and men
went off to talk mostly about women.
I helped Peter go
inside and lead Grandpa outside. Grandpa was frail, ill and
couldn’t quite straighten up to walk, but he was still going. We
shuffled him over to the wooden tables in the sunshine.
Introductions made, the conversation turned to food… really good
food, complimented with pleasantries.
We were eating at
the tables, “Gosh you look great! Almost like I remember you from
high school days!” I spoke to the ailing grandfather.
“Well thank you.
It’s all about good genes and good food, good mountain air and of
course…” he held his glass of single malt high, “Good time!”
He brandished the
glass, “To a good time!”
“It’s all about
time ya’ know. How you spend it, how you donate it… It’s what you
do with it and who you do it with.”
“I ask, “So
that’s the secret to a long life? Genes, food, air and time?”
He gestured to
Toby, “Son… let me see your watch, please.” Toby took off the
piece. It looked like a Timex, one of those heavy duty ones.
“Ya see… Here’s the thing.” His finger pointed to the face of the watch, “All you have to do is go from here to here,” as he scribed over the crystal, “and you have time.”
“If you stop,
say, right here.” He pinched into the crystal, “Then you have no
more time. But somebody else does.”
He stopped again
and looked around, “Ok boys, looks like we better help with the
cleaning up. You boys get with the help, I’m a little tired. Think
I’ll go for a nap. Hah! Maybe I could use some of that younger
energy! Here, Peter, take this watch. I can’t remember where I got
Sir Atlas slipped
the watch into his pocket and helped his old grandfather shuffle
over to the hammock.
Clean up was
easy. The Sun was beginning to get very warm. I found some shade
in the cool barn.
Sir Atlas, Toby
and I rested on some bales of hay, listening to the overtures of a
country station arising from that radio over by the wood smoker.
Some of the kids were dancing to the music, “Yep, this is a good
Toby spoke, “May
be if you like it like this. That reminds me, Sir… could I have my
“You may have your watch, but not the time.” His eyes ran up and down the Toby’s body and settled firmly into his eyes. Looking in, almost peering and searching.
That’s when I
noticed the difference in his gaze, he wasn’t looking for something,
he was extracting it. It was all so fast, time seemed to slow.
looked intently into Toby’s eyes while he extended his hand holding
the watch. The springy crack of his thumbnail piercing the crystal
of the watch was louder than I had imagined. The time seemed to
stop… I could see Toby looking in astonishment. The thumbnail
proceeded to bend the minute and hour hands, the mechanism began to
shake in his palm. Toby contorted for just a moment as the face of
the clock collapsed under the crushing weight of the thumbnail.
Peter tossed the
crushed watch to Toby. Toby caught it, looked at it.
A flash of green
light, a woven fabric appeared then bent into a vortex funneling
toward space, then the hieroglyphics… but I recognized them! They
weren’t hieroglyphics, they were wave functions and maths sending
particles into the vortex as the numbers changed in the furious
maelstrom. Toby’s body leapt toward the vortex and turned inside
out. A loud Pop was made when his body was turned into another
rubber-like vortex inverting to a rotating funnel. The maths
continued and the particles disintegrated into the black hole and
through the singularity, like a bunny going down a hole.
The funnel flowed
internally with a juggernaut storm and immediately I recognized the
event horizon of the black hole into the singularity. I jumped to
run, but the gravitational force held me still.
My hands were of
lead and my legs were like water, my mind could see it all… how well
I thought knew the flux of quantum conversion. But this was the
real up-close and personal, hands-on conversion of momentum! Toby’s
mass grew as it was sucked up into the fabric of funnel.
Hamiltonian complexes rained thick as they converted to wave
functions in the instantaneous warping of time… particles released
then sucked back into the rabbit hole of black. So black, the
light was sucked in. The sound was sucked in, the fire and the
energy winding down the wormhole like a wisp in a tornado.
Crashing, raging waves, the functions, the momenta and the energy of Toby, all sucked up into the whirlpool singularity. So violently and silently it all came and went.
A flash of yellow ionization penetrated the funnel as the worm hole began to close. With a final burp of an expelled neutrino from the last neutron: Toby was gone.
The silence of space demise was deadening, deafening and complete.
Only the time was
left over, a floating pink smoky flume.
Peter petted the
sundial around his neck and wafted the time toward the ailing old
man lying on the hammock. The flume moved closer and closer to the
old, sick man. I braced myself, fearing for the explosion.
A quiet flash of red blurred my vision. I felt at peace. I began to relax.
I was resting on
some bales of hay, listening to the overtures of a country station
arising from a radio over by the wood smoker. I felt inquisitive,
but strangely not frightened, “What the hell? Did you see that?”
Sir Atlas spoke
softly, “I remembered you had seen it before. Ya’ know, we might
be related somehow… nobody I’ve ever met has been able to see that,
except for my family. Strong stuff that time is.”
I stammered, “But
what happened? I mean I saw what happened, but what was that… that
“Forget about it for the time being, we’ll talk about it sometime
when you have the time. Now it’s time for some b-ball. The old
farts versus the kids.” He hollered across the yard, “Come on
fresh and healthy! He had picked up a bushel of apples and carried
them over by the smoker, plopped it down, dusted off his gloves and
scrambled over. “Thanks Son. Feel tip-top now.”
The old man
clapped, “I’m ready to kick some young punk ass in basketball.”
Peter touched my
arm walking over to the basket, “We will talk soon, “ his other
hand placed something in my palm and his hand curled my fingers
tightly around it, “and there will be time for you.” He ran off to
meet his grandfather.
sundial felt warm in my palm.
Copyright © Peter Hughes