Elias never forgot the day.
His mother sewed by the fire.
His father oiled a saddle.
He told the therapist, “I was twelve. I’d been ill. Measles. The fever shifted something. I remember all at once feeling my mother’s presence like a tangible force. She sat peacefully mending, but pulses of heat emanated from her, hitting my skin. I seemed to draw them to me — and everything changed.”
Before pushing her glasses back up the bridge of her nose, Dr. Cruz surprised him with full eye contact. Her lustrous hair and golden skin reminded Elias of an El Paso barmaid he’d known long ago.
“Everything changed?” she asked.
“The fever broke. I felt well, beyond well, incredible! Words can’t tell it. The world transformed: more spacious, more alive than ever before, as if my senses had cast off some inborn lethargy and woke up for the first time. Colors pulsed. I heard my mother’s needle prick the cloth. The linseed oil from my father’s rag, the tannins of the leather he polished, hung so thick in the air, so rich, I could taste them on my tongue.
When she saw I was better, my mother served me cornbread and clabbered milk. I took over an hour to eat it — the aromas, the flavors, almost overwhelmed me.”
Dr. Cruz scribbled in her notes, probably the latest clinical term for ‘crazy as a loon’. Over the decades so many different psychologists had analyzed him.
Elias smiled. “Sounds like drugs, doesn’t it? It took me years to understand. If only for a few minutes, I’d somehow absorbed my mother’s energy. I tried to forget the experience, the strangeness of it. I was a kid. But it happened again, a few months later with my teacher at school. She wrote a math problem on the board, and as I breathed in the chalk, I felt the beat of her heart flowing into mine. I seemed to expand, filling the room, absorbing every cough, every yawn, every blink. I had to watch my feet when I stood and walked, afraid I’d float above the floor. By the time I was eighteen, I could will the experience — target someone — feel that surge, that expansion. I considered it a lark, something unique to me, fun, quirky enough to be intriguing, but useless and harmless. It was only when my girlfriend dragged me off to a carnival, insisting we see a fortune teller, that I found out what I was actually doing.”
“A fortune teller?” said Dr. Cruz.
Elias laughed. “The old fortune teller glanced at my palm and made the sign against the ‘evil eye’. She’d wanted nothing to do us then — called me a ‘thief of time’.”
“What did she mean by that?”
“That I can steal time from another person,” said Elias.
Dr. Cruz paused in her notes, stared at him, and Elias knew he’d just graduated to a higher level of neurosis.
“I stole time from my mother that day. The momentary high was from the influx of her life force.”
The doctor closed her notebook. “So she lost time and you gained it?”
Elias nodded. “That’s the way it works. I don’t take much. People experience a momentary amnesia, but most don’t even notice. They don’t question time’s flow in their own lives. They take it for granted. I learned to be careful, to borrow small amounts — a minute here or there — to gauge the circumstances so each person maintains a sense of continuity.”
“Is this ‘care’ you take worth the high?”
“It makes me virtually immortal. I know it sounds ridiculous. But in a given day I borrow hours from other people, almost without effort. It’s slowed down my aging. Eventually it’ll catch up with me and I will die, but it’s still a long way off. How old do you think I am?”
She blinked, hesitated. “Thirty-five, thirty-six?”
He chuckled. “I was born shortly after the Civil War. My mother mended by the light of a kerosene lamp — high tech in those days, far better than whale oil or tallow candles. I’ve outlived three wives and a dozen children.”
Dr. Cruz scribbled in her notebook again.
He said, “Of course you don’t believe me.”
She looked up. “My beliefs don’t matter. What matters is if we can work together, if you’re committed to therapy.”
“That not why I came.”
She took off her glasses and her dark eyes made him wish he could commit.
Elias said, “Every few years I see someone like you just to be able to tell the truth, to ‘unburden’ myself, as we used to say, when there’s no one else I can talk to. Sometimes the grief, the loneliness, seems too high a price. I’ve tried to stop before, but I always fall back.”
“Mr. Alfred, please—”
He interrupted. “Do you know I once saw a pupil of Freud’s? He was good. I went to him for over a year. I thought I could give it up with his help. I left when I realized he intended to write a paper on my ‘delusions’.”
She leaned forward, almost beseeching. “Mr. Alfred, please consider a course of treatment; we have certain drugs now that—”
Her words stopped, hung in the air, dissipated like smoke. She stared into space.
Elias came over and knelt beside her. “You’re so lovely, but you’re so young, not just in body, but in spirit.” He touched her cheek. “These are the only times I take more than a few minutes.”
He tore out the notes. “You won’t remember me, but thank you for listening.”
As he left her consulting room, the middle-aged receptionist asked if he wanted to schedule another appointment. He went to the desk and noticed she had his information up on the computer screen.
He smiled at her — only a few minutes here.
Shera L. Hill lives in central California and has recently retired as a library branch manager. Always an avid reader, she’s written poetry, short stories, and novels, since she was a child. Her work has appeared in national and international publications.