by Aaron J. Como
It’s still hard to make sense of it. It had happened so long ago. But it had happened today. It was still today, after all of this time.
You see, time stopped.
I woke up this morning and because I did I thought I was one of the lucky ones. I don’t think that anymore.
Some people had not woken up. I can still hear the sounds of the sirens as the ambulances drove up and down the city streets. People called for help as loved ones slept all day and could not be woken. But there was nothing wrong with them, they were just asleep. Eventually we gave up trying to wake them. Eventually we gave up trying most everything.
It took a long time to figure out what happened.
What had happened.
I woke up before everyone this morning. I went to bed early last night; it had been a long day at work and Orus’ mother let me rest while she took care of dinner and got him cleaned up and ready for bed. At the time I thought nothing of her remark as she pulled back the covers and slid under, gently snuggling next to me. I remember it vaguely, as if she whispered it to me in a dream.
“It’s still light out,” she said. She said it last night.
I saw her this morning.
I haven’t seen her in so long.
I don’t think Orus’ mourns her anymore. I still do. It’s hard for me not to. She has only been gone since today, and her leaving is still fresh in my mind. I think about her all the time.
I envy her.
I had woken up and gone about my morning as usual. I recall thinking the sky looked odd for that hour of the morning. It looked more like dusk, just as the sun was about to set.
Later, I made a note of it in my journal. I had tried to document what was happening. I had tried to count the days that never came. I had tried to count the time that didn’t exist.
I don’t keep the journal anymore. There is no point. I noted that we talked about the sky during the work day, how it was not changing and that the sun was not getting any lower or higher. We got through the day, though it had been difficult and confusing and not much work got done.
The clocks still work as if time is still being counted but no one pays attention to them. Everything still works and we use it if we need it. What is needed depends where you are and what was happening when things stopped. If it’s cold it’s cold forever and the furnaces blaze away. If it’s hot it’s hot forever and the air conditioning never rests. If it’s raining the rain never ends and the sewers perpetually drain without filling. If it’s dark it’s dark forever and the electricity flows endlessly.
It’s early summer where we are. The dusk is cool and there is a slight breeze. We don’t need much and we don’t need electricity or heat or air conditioning here. The temperature is perfect.
Sometimes I’ll turn a light on in the house just to see it. Sometimes I’ll turn on the television or get on the internet just to check. But there is nothing on and no one is online.
There is no reason.
Sometimes I look back at the journals I kept, though it is rare now. I sit and stare at them. I notice how orderly they were at first; I had lined them up on the shelf. They are categorized by hour and by day and by month and by year. I remember how I ran out of shelf space and I notice them piled up next to and all around the shelf on the floor, notebooks and reams and reams of paper scattered everywhere.
I pull one by random and notice how I stopped labeling the entries by time because time stopped making sense. I notice I started numbering the entries, then stopped numbering them because the numbers became so large most of the entry was just writing out the number for pages and I hadn’t written about what had happened.
And then I had stopped writing altogether. There was nothing left to write about.
I looked at the journals so many times I memorized them.
First there was confusion. We tried to pretend time was still moving forward. We continued to work as if nothing had happened. We watched as the experts on the news tried to figure out what was happening. They could not.
We noticed that if you were hungry and you ate then you were not hungry anymore. We noticed that if you were tired you slept and then you did not sleep anymore. We noticed that whatever you were you were, and you did not need to do anything about it if you did not want to.
Next, chaos. Breathless proclamations about the end of times. Rioting and fighting and danger. War.
But still, time was unmoving, frozen in the moment. War and fighting and violence did nothing to change our situation. The goals of war goal were meaningless without time. Lands conquered meant nothing because we didn’t need their resources. Religious differences melted away as we realized we only died at our own hands. So we stopped fighting when there was nothing to fight over.
Then, elation. We were immortal. No one died, at least not from time. If you were not sick, you never got sick. We stopped working. We stopped buying. We stopped needing. People did whatever they wanted to do. They vacationed. They traveled the world. They climbed mountains. They created art. They read books. They communed with each other and with nature. They learned everything there was to learn. They did what they had only ever dreamed about. They did things they would have never done because of the constraints of time. When we realized there was nothing to fight over and we didn’t need anymore, everyone became everyone’s friend, and no one worried about the time. It was a good time.
But we used it all up. Soon there were no more mountains to climb. There was nothing left to read. There was nothing left to learn. We knew everything about everything and each other. There was nothing left to do.
The journals stopped when all the entries became the same. Every unlabeled entry said, ‘Nothing has changed’ or some variation.
There was nothing left to do because it had already been done.
I still think, though I wish I didn’t. I wish I could shut my thoughts off but I can’t. The thoughts are jumbled. I think all the time, about time and its nature and what has happened. I sometimes stand in the doorway of Orus’ room. He lies on the bed. He stares up at the ceiling. He doesn’t talk. I don’t know if there are even any thoughts in his head. I envy him, even as my heart breaks.
Orus’ mother saw it coming. She saw that if time did not move forward then our time lost meaning. She saw that if people were in pain, physical or mental, they would be in pain forever. Her pain was too much for her to bear so she left. She left earlier than most. Soon others followed. We called it ‘leaving’ instead of suicide because most of the people who left were nice enough to leave, do what they needed to, and not saddle their loved ones with the thoughts or the sight of it. We used to go looking for them but eventually we understood. So we let them be.
I envy them. We finally stopped counting. I counted longer than most but no one wanted to hear about it; no one wanted to be reminded of time. So I stopped.
Orus and I used to sit on the stoop in front of the house. We stared at the frozen sunset. I don’t know that Orus paid much attention to it. I used to ask him what he was thinking when we stared at the sky but I stopped asking him such questions. We almost stopped talking altogether. There wasn’t much left to talk about.
There was one time, however long ago it had been, that stays with me. It was the last time Orus seemed to think about anything at all.
He looked up at me with big, shiny eyes. When he asked he was pleading for an answer.
“Dad?” He had asked quietly. His eyes haunt me still. “Dad?’ he had said. “Will I ever grow up?” He needed to know.
I put my arm around him and pulled him close. He buried his face into my chest and I felt his warm tears through my shirt.
“I don’t know son,” I said, because I didn’t. No one did and there wasn’t anything that could be done about it. So we just sat on the stoop at the front of the house, holding on to each other in the cool, still, perpetual dusk.
Now I sit and watch the sunset by myself. No one comes around anymore. The crickets chirp perpetually though I don’t really hear them. The sound came close to driving me insane but that was a long time ago.
I try not to think but I cannot help it.
So I hold onto time. Not much but enough to be bothered. I wonder what will happen if time starts again. Will it be smooth as if nothing has happened? Or will it be like starting a cold engine, jerking and sputtering? I wonder if we’ll go back to how it was so long ago, or yesterday, which are the same thing. I wonder if it will happen at all.
I’m holding on for Orus. I’m not sure how long I will.
It seems as if I’ll have the time to decide.
Aaron Como is a writer from Milwaukee, WI. His work has appeared in print and online in magazines such as Drunk Monkeys, Red Fez, Five to One, The Creative Truth, and The Write Launch. He is a 2018 Best of the Net Nominee.