You came into the office at 10:04. I opened my eyes when you hung me on the wall, which was at 10:09. You set the time in four minutes –– and then it was 10:13.
First: you were familiar. You had big brown eyes and a nose that went down, and had a slight bump, and ended too early. Thin young lips, lipstick. You looked prettier now. You were very alive to look at. You still had perfect circles in your cheeks, when they stretched into a smile, and you smelled of coffee, and cigarettes, of something contemporary. I watched you; the clicking of the keyboard, the telephone calls, the mornings, the afternoons. I was the clock on your wall.
I began to remember because you came in one morning with a coffee cup (chipped, by the way), and you were stirring your coffee with a small stainless-steel spoon. It is always hard to remember, at first. To recall the beginning, little spoon. But I remembered; I think being a clock helps. I think I turned back my hands.
First: I was a spoon and you were little. I was silver; I had a duck imprinted on my end. You put me in your pocket, and I fell, we fell, you were Alice and we were in wonderland. We ran past the trees, on the sidewalk, the imagined dust on the road –– there were oranges in the orchard, and the sun was setting. Everything was orange, orange is the age of sixes, oh, and you were only six years old. Listen; do you hear? We were free. We were loose, and I fell out of your pocket, and you didn’t notice, you ran on. I watched you from the place where I fell. You got smaller and smaller as you ran further away, only really you were growing bigger and bigger, even if I couldn’t see it.
Then, for six months, I was the stick you kept in the house yard. And then I was your favorite red chair in kindergarten, and then the inkstain on your desk. For a year, I was a stone you found on the street and kept in your gym-bag, until you remembered to empty it out.
And then –– I grew at your window, not quite a rose, but a wild basil. Someone somewhere sneezed and blew –– and so the wind carried a basil seed to your abandoned flower pot, where I settled among the weeds. You didn’t expect me to grow. Nobody planted me.
You named me Osip Mandelstam, when you noticed me, because he was your favorite poet. Sometimes you plucked my leaves and stuck them in your sandwiches, and sometimes you only plucked them to put into your mouth and chew. You were seventeen, and you were living alone. You were working at the waffle-factory, and you came home smelling like cheap praline filling. You came home smelling of goldstar, you came home smelling of haze, of someone’s sweat and cologne. Your eyes were cloudy, and the air was white and it billowed from your lips. You were so adolescent.
One day, when you came home (again, late), you brought back a man named Ben, who had a neck spattered with freckles and moles. You had him over for dinner, and I garnished the overcooked pasta you served. He looked at you the way a dog looks at his bone, the way an artist looks at his model. You crossed one leg over the other; you said his name, you felt powerful. You were becoming a woman, you thought, but you were such a little girl.
Smoke unfurling, your hair stretching through fingers, it smells of warm ash, of aching. You tugged on his arm. Your pupils were big, and frozen, black, flies-in-amber. I watched everything from the windowsill. You kissed him, and he kissed you against the wall, and then you both fell on the couch, and it squeaked. The colors stained your fingertips, bloomed through them, you bled a sweet red that night.
You smoked, afterwards. You sat hunched at the small coffee table; the man stretched on the sofa. You didn’t say much.
I withered a few days later; you didn’t water me, you were so eager about something, and distracted. It was only inside your head, a sweet young future, but you closed your eyes very tight, and focused on the dust settling around you. The sunlight streamed in shafts, and the air wasn’t empty, but full, and you tried to feel life happening to you. And then I was the clock on your wall, here, in your brand new office. You grew up, somehow. I kept wondering, still I keep wondering, about everything I must’ve missed.
You’re working, now. Day in and day out and hour by hour, young body, young waist, young professional. What a pretty girl you’ve become, hm? You dress well. You wore a beige dress, today — I could tell it was secondhand but it suited you, pinched in your waist, showed off your collar-bones. Very deliberate. Earrings, too, neat golden triangles. You left the office at 6:37, and then I closed my eyes. I did this many times, day in, day out. I will do this many times. As many as it takes.
I will be your night-lamp, your favorite yellow shoes, your apron. Even your spatula. Do you remember what I promised you? You were five or six years old, and I was knitting. I was knitting you a sweater. You said mama will you ever leave me and I said no I will never leave you, and I lied. My girl, I’m sorry, I lied, I am already gone, twenty years I am gone. Tipping, tripping, I can turn my hands forward and back but I cannot forget this motion: how a body falls, a weightless wingless flight before impact. I fell from the sixth floor. Freak accident, they said. You weren’t home, then, you were at school, you were going to the first grade, orphaned, and they teased you for it afterwards. A sweet lie, a last kiss on the nose. I did not even say goodbye.
I’m sorry, my little girl. I’ll even be your dustpan, if you ever need a nice dustpan, and I’ll be your ashtray, too. Your bookshelf, when you buy one. And maybe you will be a mother soon, too. Maybe. With speckle-necked-Ben. And maybe, then, you will understand.Only now I am stopping –– do you hear that? Tick-tock. I’ve been your clock for a while. You know what, buy some new china soon, when you’re passing that dingy sales shop with fake antiques. I know you like things like that. I think I should like to be your coffee cup…