“It’s a time machine” Said the old man placidly, his face not quivering in the slightest as his doleful eyes looked the rectangular metal box up and down.
“A what?” asked Shirley, her brain refusing to comprehend what her ears had relayed.
“A time machine” he repeated with a sigh. “You lift the lid here,” he continued, shuffling over towards what looked, for all the world, like a chest freezer and running his hand over the smoothly polished lid. “And the controls…” he heaved the lid half open with a grunt, holding it there briefly until Shirley scurried up behind him and helped push the lid fully open. “Are here, on the underside of the lid.” The inside of the box, unremarkably, also looked like a chest freezer, the only difference being a crudely screwed in keypad and digital display. “Just tap in what date and time you want and then climb in.” He let the lid fall again and it snapped shut firmly. “Doesn’t work now, of course.”
“Of course” Said Shirley, trying to keep her voice level. ‘This guy must have forgotten his pills this morning’ she thought to herself as she scanned the rest of the second hand furniture store, ‘he’s a drummer short of a rock band’.
“No, it needs to be plugged in first.”
“Right,” she said slowly, “look I just came in here for a bedside table. I don’t need a freezer.”
“A time machine” he corrected, “Although you could use it as a freezer too. You just zap the food forward to when you need it.” He looked her up and down disapprovingly; his eyes grazing passed her tight fitting black t-shirt and her short, thigh hugging skirt without the usual lingering flight path, “you would have to plan your meals in advance though.” He finished with the smallest hint of a sneer.
A moment of silence protruded into the room, the clamour of the busy street outside sounding infinitely far away. The old man licked his dry cracked lips, and turned from the freezer, edging his way over to a collection of small beaten up looking tables. He waved his hands uninterestedly in their general direction. “There you go; tables. All of those work without being plugged in.”
“Thank you.” Shirley replied curtly. Slowly she wandered around the pile of unloved tables, trying to find at least one that had both all its legs and an intact surface. She could feel the man’s sad eyes following her as she browsed. It wouldn’t be fair to say he was creepy, he wasn’t; he seemed like quite a nice man, even handsome in an old kind of way, but time had caused a crust of bitterness to form over his personality and every kind word or gentle look seemed edged with judgement. Maybe it was just world weariness; life seemed to do that to everyone.
Shirley’s dad had been like that towards the end. He had been so full of life when she was growing up, trusting the world, not just the people, but the whole world. Yet, Shirley could still see that look in his eyes, the last look she saw cross his face. It wasn’t sadness or concern of what was next, it was a weariness. It was like he had finally seen that the world was not the carefree adventure he had thought, but was really a constant battle that we would all inevitably lose. Shirley’s hand drifted to her left wrist as she remembered those tired eyes, fighting back the tears in her own.
Shirley shook her head, and the moment of sadness past, as it always did. She didn’t want to forget her dad, but she couldn’t let herself remember him. As long as she kept her mind occupied on the inanities of life she could control herself. In the search of mind dulling inanity, she casually wandered, her hips swaying like a model on the cat walk, back over to where the so called time machine sat. It was a freezer. There was no doubt about it. It even had one of those quick freeze buttons on the outside.
“Fifty pounds” Came the man’s voice from over her shoulder, making Shirley jump. He was stood right behind her, the scent of stale pipe smoke clinging to his clothes.
“How do I know it works?” Shirley said automatically while wondering if she should tell someone, the doctor or something. He probably wasn’t safe by himself, the poor man.
He let out a sigh and then silently wandered away. Shirley let her hand run over the lid of the freezer, the cold metal chilling her hand, dulling it to the world and making it seem like she was wearing a glove. The sadness gripped her again and her body stiffened. ‘Pull yourself together’ she thought forcefully. She needed to get out of here, the stillness was getting to her. She needed noise and things going on around her. She turned to leave the store but the man was coming back armed with an extension cord. She waited dumbfounded as, with lots of heavy breathing and groans, he cleared a path to an ancient wall socket and plugged in the cable, running it back to where Shirley stood.
“Would you mind?” he asked, holding up the end of the extension chord. “I don’t think I could reach behind, and it’s too heavy to move.”
Obediently, as if hypnotised, Shirley leant over the box, scrabbling her hand down the back of the box for the freezers plug. She was quickly aware that bending over like this in her short black skirt was probably leaving her in a compromising position, liable to give the poor old man a heart attack and, as soon as her fingers closed on the plug she stood up quickly, yanking her skirt back down. However, the old man seemed not to have noticed and just gave her the same disapproving look he had done earlier. He held out his hand wordlessly as she handed over the battered and chunky plug.
He inspected it briefly, and then pushed the plug home. A sudden whir of a fan broke into the room and the freezer vibrated gently to itself.
“What now?” Asked Shirley, starting to get a little annoyed at the old man’s antics. She was meant to be going out to a gig tonight; she didn’t really have time for this silly charade. The old man gave her a cheeky smile that had flashes of his youth woven in and lifted up the lid. Leaning in he picked something up and handed it to her, winking.
“What’s this? A watch? My watch? Hey how did you get my watch?” Said Shirley suddenly, her hand immediately jumping to her wrist where her own gold watch was still fastened. She held the second watch up and examined it. It was identical to her own. Same size, Same make, same style. She turned it over slowly in her hand, staring in disbelief. On the back, slightly worn but clearly legible was inscribed ‘To my Darling Princess, let this watch tick for me after my time is up and I will always be with you.’
A tear welled in Shirley’s eye as she tugged her own watch of her wrist and turned it over. The same inscription stared back at her, the two watches were identical.
“How have you done this?” She asked thrusting the duplicate watch at the old man, who just smiled sweetly.”
“It’s a time machine, I told you. Can I have your watch please?”
“My watch? Why do you want my watch?”
“Well the watch from your wrist, please,” said the old man. Hesitantly Shirley handed it over and stifled an anxious plea as he laid it in the freezer shaped chest. The man tapped the date into the keypad and then, glancing at his own watch, punched in the time of a minute ago. He closed the lid.
Shirley, suddenly panicked and yanked the lid up again, but the chest was empty. “Where’s my watch?” She yelled, turning towards the old man.
“You are holding it” He stammered, clearly confused.
“No this is the watch you gave me, I want my watch.”
“That is it. It’s a time machine.”
“This isn’t my watch, it’s, it’s different.” Shirley was nearly in tears, a mixture of anger and panic swelling in her breast.
“Other than being a minute older, it is identical. I just sent it back in time a minute. ”
“No, this can’t be my watch, you stupid old man. I had this watch when I had my watch. It can’t be mine. I want mine back.”
“It is yours”
“No, I had this stupid thing when I had my own watch. Listen to me, two things can’t be one thing, everyone knows that. Just give me my watch back.”
“No, you listen to me,” said the old man sternly, “they’re not two things, any more than you are two people because you were a different person a minute ago. Look, time is just a quality” he continued, his tone softening but his voice crackled like that of a biologist who was explaining photosynthesis as ‘a plant eating light’. “Things occupy a particular part of time, like they occupy a particular part of space. You are not a different thing when you are at the end of the street to when you are in this shop, you are just in a different location, likewise when you are in different times you are still only one thing. The qualities you possess change, but you do not. This watch is your watch; we’ve just moved it about a bit. So when you say you had them side by side, you only had them side by side in temporal terms. For them truly to be two things, side by side as you say, they would not only need to occupy the same time but also the same space.”
“But” said Shirley, her anger giving away to disbelief mixed with a dash of confusion, this man was clearly crazy. “If my watch had occupied the same time and the same space, then it would have been the same watch not a different watch.”
“Exactly” Said the man, his eyes glinting and a broad smile on his face. “They could only be two things, truly distinct from each other, if they shared the same qualities but then, if they did that, they would only be one thing.” He glanced towards his own watch again and then kicked the extension cord out of the wall socket. “We are closing now petal, if you don’t want to buy one the tables I suggest you try down the road at the ‘Bargain basement’.”
“What? You’re closing?”
“Yes sorry, it’s six o’clock.”
“But… my watch?”
“It is your watch. Everything is.” With that he shepherded Shirley towards the door and within an instant she was stood on the glooming pavement, the sound of an electric shutter slowly closing behind her. As she wandered home she held the duplicate watch, her watch, in the palm of her hand and, for the first time since his passing, she truly felt her father was with her.