Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Never Late

a short story by Bill Adler

“Babe, I like that we both wear the same watch.” Betsy tapped the crystal of her Grand Seiko before running her fingers through her long, blond hair causing electricity to meander
 through Vin’s body, starting with his belly, then radiating upwards to his head and down to his toes.

Betsy smiled, her tongue touching her lips before retreating. “I really do like that we have the same Grand Seiko Spring Drive.” She wriggled her hips, took a step toward Vin, and put her hands on his shoulders. She kissed his cheek, then his ear. “Lots of couples have matching rings or matching baseball caps.” She winked. “But matching watches are special. You remember that I thought it was nerdy when you got this pair, and you know that I insisted that a man’s watch would overwhelm my wrist, making me look like a dork. But I adore our watches, with their indigo dials that look like they were plucked out of Saturn’s rings, polished cases in which you can get more lost than in any mirror maze, and a red-tipped second hand that’s just” Betsy pulled herself closer to Vin, nuzzled his ear, and brushed her breasts against his chest. She took his hand and guided his fingers through her hair.
Grand Seiko SBGA 275

Vin gasped. “Yes, me, too.”

“It’s incredible to me that these watches are accurate to within a second a day.” Betsy put her hands on Vin’s hips. “Just incredible.”

Vin nodded. He pushed his shoes off with his toes and rubbed his feet against the pine wood floor to cool down.

“I have you to thank for introducing me to the pleasures of wearing a watch, and you to thank for teaching me about Grand Seiko. It’s like wearing a modern art museum, walking through a Japanese garden, and flying across the solar system in the most modern spaceship ever designed, all at once. These watches are the best. You’re the best.”

“Yes. There is no technology like Spring Drive. It’s as if the watch will be invented in the year 2030, that’s how advanced it is. Tri-synchro regulator, magnetic braking, quartz oscillator, but no battery — it’s wow.”

“And beautiful.” Betsy raised herself on the balls of her feet and kissed Vin. Her lips relaxed for a second so their tongues could touch. When Betsy lowered herself to the floor —a soft cloud landing on a meadow, Vin thought— she took his hand in hers. She rubbed her Grand Seiko’s crystal again, touched her lips, and then rubbed the crystal on Vin’s watch. “It’s lovely, and perfect from an engineering perspective." Betsy inhaled a long breath. “So sweetie, you shouldn’t set your watch set five minutes ahead of the actual time. Go with the flow, love, embrace the Spring Drive’s accuracy and tune it to the actual time.”

Betsy held Vin’s hands again, folding her body into his. “My love, let’s be in sync timewise, too. I want to know that our watches are displaying the same second. When you’re at the office and I’m at the office I want to feel us on the same moment. I want your epoch to be mine and vice versa.”

Vin’s leg muscles tensed, initiating a wave of tautness that flowed upwards like lava in a volcano, stiffening his shoulders and neck. His pulse was a greyhound at the races, leaping from sedentary to a fearsome velocity before his eye completed a single blink. Vin's stomach’s acid-producing cells were a storm that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. The room darkened as Vin’s legs wobbled.

Vin feared being late. Being late was being chased by Cthulhu through pitch black caves into a waiting Cyclops. Vin could walk along the edge of a cliff, dine on pufferfish with abandon, stroll in a city park at midnight, or run with the bulls in ‎Pamplona, but being late was like being covered with a blanket of dread. Even the thought of being late launched a rapid shutdown of his body’s systems. Late was not an option for Vin. It would kill him just as certainly as a bullet to the heart.

Vin kept his watch set five minutes ahead of the actual time. Those five minutes were a buffer, a safe zone, like the space between North and South Korea, which prevented Vin from straying into extinction. Just five minutes, but it was enough to calm his body and mind, a balm for his soul. With his watch set five minutes fast, Vin would never be late. While there was no way to set the time on his cell phone five minutes fast, he could easily manipulate time on his watch. And with a hyper-accurate Spring Drive, Vin enjoyed the extra comfort of knowing that a watch set five minutes fast would remain five minutes fast.

“I could try,” Vin said weakly. But he couldn’t try. Maybe he should buy another Spring Drive and set that one to Betsy’s time, wearing one watch on each wrist. No, that was stupid. He could find a pocket watch and set that one five minutes ahead. No, that was incompatible with his needs. “Or maybe I can’t, babe. I’m sorry.” He kissed Betsy, a shallow kiss whose aim was off by a nearly half lip width.

Grand Seiko Spring Drive "Glacier"
Vin tried to will a smile. “I know myself. It’s been twenty-two years and six watches. Ever since I was thirteen I’ve set my watch ahead by five minutes. It’s who I am, Bets. I’m no more able to wear a watch that’s set to the right time — even a watch like ours that’s capable of holding onto that second all day long — than I am able to convert my legs into wheels.” Vin rubbed his watch with his fingertips like it was a genie’s lamp. “Can you live with that?”
Before Betsy could answer, Vin shuddered as if he been on a roller coaster that abruptly stopped halfway down a steep incline. His head snapped forward and then righted itself, driving a sharp pain down Vin’s spine.

Betsy’s body fogged in Vin’s eyes. “Am I getting dizzy?” Vin thought. Stress, especially related to the mere possibility of being late could easily starve his brain of oxygen “Am I losing a little consciousness?”

“Betsy, is that okay? Can it be enough that we wear the same Grand Seiko every day, even if our watches are out of sync by five minutes? It’s only five minutes.”

Betsy stared past Vin, her gaze penetrating him, her eyes focused on the bureau that contained decorative plates and glasses behind him. She placed her hands over her mouth, then opened her mouth wide. Vin saw, but didn’t hear, her shout “Vin! Vin!” followed by other words he couldn’t decipher. Betsy silently repeated, “Vin!” before spinning around, first to the left, then to the right, and then completing a three hundred sixty degree circle several more times.

As Betsy whirled, Vin reached for her hand, but instead of her soft skin, Vin’s fingers encircled emptiness. He stepped back and, like Betsy, turned around multiple times. “Betsy! Betsy!” Vin spun so many times looking, searching, scanning the surrounding room that he felt like one of the tops he had played with as a kid. Vin planted both palms on the dining room table to keep from falling. He let his breath catch up with him before walking into Betsy’s embrace. Just as with the moment before, when he tried to touch Betsy, he encountered empty space. He passed through Betsy as if she were a movie theater projection.

“Okay. Okay. Clam down,” Vincent instructed himself. “Take a deep breath. Breathe, breathe.” Vincent shook his head like a dog shaking off water after a bath. “No, no, there’s no calm. Something’s wrong.” Vincent slowly turned so he could more clearly take in his surroundings. He stopped turning and his heart nearly stopped beating when he faced the wall clock in their kitchen. The kitchen clock’s large, red numerals read 7:22. Vin cautiously twisted his wrist toward his face, afraid of what he would see. His watch also displayed 7:22.

Vin squinted and peered through the growing wall of haze that was consuming Betsy. The short hour hand on her watch was too out of focus to decipher, but the minute hand was still readable. It said, 17.

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