It’s been four hours and nineteen minutes since I plugged my alarm clock back in.
I had already been running late and the cable man had been early for once and since life isn’t porn, I couldn’t just strip — while he stood in my tiny apartment — and take a shower. I hurried once he finished reattaching the cables in the cable box because I just wanted to shower, get everything back in its proper place, and get myself out the door. Once I plugged in the cheap, black clock and ran outside, I only seemed to get more frazzled. My hair was still wet and not long after I exited the front door of my apartment, it was frozen in chunks.
I rushed a shower and I didn’t have time to dry my hair, so I pulled a hat over my head and I absent-mindedly plugged the alarm clock back in. Four hours and eighteen minutes ago.
The glowing red numbers blink up at me, taunting me and telling me to reset it. It’s been counting the minutes since I left my home.
I regretted leaving my hair wet as soon I stepped outside into the cold winter morning, but the cable man had interrupted my routine. So I rushed down the sidewalk and darted through the other pedestrians who obviously weren’t as late as I was. With a gust of wind, my hat flew off my head, but I had no time to spare for it and I simply continued to dart through the traffic on the street. From behind me I heard someone shout “Hey!” but it wasn’t until I heard the loud thunk of a body making contact with metal and a shout of pain that I turned around and considered that the shout might have been directed towards me. In the seconds since I’d finished crossing through the middle of the street, it had become a parking lot. A man was standing outside his car, engine still on and door open, talking into a cell phone. Lying on the ground in front of his tires was a man that I’d passed on the street so many times before, I’d stopped noticing him. He usually sat on the stoop outside the Duane Reade and held his cup in his hand, smiling at everyone who passed him by. But his cup of change wasn’t in his hand this time — it was my hat. Four hours and seventeen minutes ago.
Those three little numbers are still flashing before my eyes, counting the minutes, counting the regrets, but I can’t bring my shaking hand to change the time. Because if I change the time, then the only solid reminder of this morning will be erased.
As soon as I noticed my hat in his hand, I put together the pieces of what had just happened. My hat blew off towards the man on the stoop and instead of keeping it for himself, to keep him warm in the night, he’d run after me. But I had been in too much of a rush to care, and his sudden dash into the street after me didn’t give the driver enough time to stop, especially with the ice that seemed to perpetually coat the streets and sidewalks. And so a car skidded to a halt only after colliding with the homeless man who had just been trying to return my hat four hours and sixteen minutes ago.
If I keep watching the numbers, will it make it any less real? Will the moments I spent crouched in the dirty slush at the side of the street, work completely forgotten, with a homeless man’s hand clutched between mine be erased? Will the painfully long wait for the ambulance to arrive go away, and will the bumpy ride to the hospital cease to exist? Will the hours that I spent pacing the waiting room — three hours and twenty-two minutes, to be exact — rewind if I don’t reset my clock? And will those last words that the doctor said to me be unsaid?
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but there was nothing we could really do. Did you know him well?”
“No, no I didn’t.”
I heard the clock counting the seconds away in the awkward silence that followed.
“What time did he — did he, you know — ”
Thirty four minutes ago.
Twenty-eight minutes ago I left the hospital. Hair dry, unfrozen, and unstyled, and hat left along with the only other possessions of a homeless man who used to sit on the stoop outside the Duane Reade and smiled at everyone who passed. And I can’t help but wish that four hours and nineteen minutes ago I had taken the time to reset my alarm clock, blow dry my hair, and slow down.
Four hours and twenty minutes now.
Kathleen Rose writes in Illinois, USA.