The watch he carries keeps another time, but as long as its gold cover stays firmly closed, little escapes. It can’t all stay any more than air or water will rest where you leave it. On a busy day, when his attention lapses, he may notice tiny changes telling him something amiss—he seems taller and his pants a less perfect length or an acquaintance who should recognize him professes they’re strangers.
Sometimes, the sun takes the wrong path for the season, or the moon, which last night seemed full to burst, is suddenly a sliver, the barest edge of a boot heel. Leaves change without warning. He wakes to a white world of snow, the pale green sheen of spring, or the drunk sway of trees in summer dawn.
Because of the watch, he’s lost four loves, four women who might have shared life with him and instead left, their absence suddenly as complete as if he’d never met them. Houses left too. He returned to find doors locked and keys useless.
At first, he tired of jumping from one set of rails to another. He longed to rest squarely between two perfect parallels advancing past the horizon. Yet he grew. He learned not to expect such an easy journey, and he tries to accept sliding.
His grandfather gave him the watch and told him how to care for it. “Wind the stem,” he said, “whether you want to or not.” He heard the second statement as a warning—it’d do no good to ignore this gift. And he hasn’t. He can’t. Once he decided to leave the watch in a drawer, to abandon it altogether, and his life changed like flickering flame, adjusting to currents invisible and insensible. Events happened, he perceived, elsewhere.
The watch returned to his pocket. Some control is better than none.
He rarely forgets he carries the watch now. Its gravity grows. It weighs more every day and hefting it presents perverse reassurance—he can’t help holding it any more than you might locate a familiar sign near home or tongue a gap between your teeth. If nothing is exactly steady, at least uncertainty doesn’t change. Doubt is a better companion than none, and sometimes he gets a chill thinking that, by holding the watch, he may be holding hands with God.
Or perhaps he’s God. Often, the only truth he believes is in his head. Time seems his creation, the watch unreal to anyone but him, unreal except as he thinks of it.
Once he woke from a dream where the watch was lost. The night stilled. Beside him was a body he knew, and her breath fell in steady rhythms like breakers at the beach. The geometry of shadows, the dim glimmer of sleep, made the room real and not a cell for once. It was new space, boundless and fresh. He thought he might be free if he could forget.
The next morning the watch waited on his bedside table. “Better to hold it,” he thought. He put it in his pocket again.
He’s carrying it now, never neglecting it, never entirely resting.