Hildie S Block and Jim Doran

Jim Doran

Inspiration Piece

Stopped In Time

Hildie S. Block

Response Piece

“Just another hoop,” Daria muttered to the sign-in sheet at the nurse’s station as she scratched down “Community Service” in the column marked “purpose.”   Her sleeve dripped rain onto the clipboard.

The nurse inside the glass cage turned away from small TV which was showing a plane crash– the line under it said “25th Anniversary.”

“Is it the 21st?” Daria looked up.  “December 21st, right?”  The nurse nodded.

“Mr. Boulangerie in Room 103, he could use some company today,” the nurse said looking at the surface of Daria disapprovingly.  “His eyesight’s bad, he’s failing.”

Daria shook her head, causing her black hair to spin around sending cold rain careening, and pulled her messenger bag tightly around her and headed down the hall.

Absentmindedly, she chipped black nailpolish off her thumb with her other thumb as she went, leaving a strange Hansel and Gretel like trail to follow back.  Time, she was convinced, has slowed almost to a stop. Another couple months and she’d be out of this town.  Out of that house.  Away from those kids at school.

Certainly, away from the smell of this nursing home and school required “community service.”

Room 103, she checked the door twice. There was only one resident, Mr. Boulangerie – Mr. Bread, The Bread Man?  she thought, and the other name slot was empty.  She steeled herself against what she might see when she entered.  Death, she figured.  Dying.  Boredom.  The end.

She looked down at her wrist and realized she’d never gotten her watch, with its awesome skull face and riveted band back from Manson after lunch.

Damn. She felt her pocket.  Cel phone in the car.  No way to know when this sentence would end.

She pulled open the door and stepped inside.

The first bed was neatly made, smoothed.  Perfect.  Daria subtly untucked a corner as she walked by.

The second bed, the one behind the curtain, contained the frail remainder of a man.  He sat up partially, propped by pillows.  A copy of Kafka’s The Trial sat on the window sill.  His eyes were red rimmed and swollen nearly shut.

Not from tears, Daria thought.  They looked “rheumy.”   That was a word from a book she just finished.

“I’m reading your letter,” his voice rang out clear as a bell.

“I’m sorry?” Daria asked quietly.  She put her messenger bag down on the floor.

“Your letter.  I’m reading your letter.  It’s quite good. I feel like I am there.”

Daria raised her eyebrows — she wasn’t sure how to play this.  She wasn’t sure what difference it would make.

“Oh, my letter,” a decision of sorts. “I’m glad you like it,” she said more clearly, with more energy.  She tried to maybe channel the spirit of a blonde cheerleader who loved high school.  A happy person who wants to be here, in this life, in high school.  Someone other than Daria, Daria who was eager to get out, to see things, to make art. She tried to become that bubbly person who might write a letter to a dying grandfather in an awful smelling room.

“Yes, yes . . .” rheumy eyed Mr. Boulangerie faded.  He started again clearly.  “It’s like I can see it.  It’s like I’m there.”

Daria paused.  Was the man dying, like right now?  Was he seeing . . . . what was he seeing? Immediately, she became curious.  If this was the end for the Bread Man, what was he seeing?

“What can you see?”  her voiced dropped back down an octave, now she was just Daria, the investigator, the recorder.  Daria the trapped.  Daria, the one who wants to know.

“Just like you said, it would be .  . .  the town square. The cobbled marketplace.  The tower.  I can see it so clearly.  I’m sitting right in the patisserie, outside.  And she’s bringing me a coffee.”

Daria’s head spun. The what the who?  Okay, so he’s just delirious. Should she call a nurse?  Maybe he’s feverish. She wondered if it mattered. She saw the 8.5 x 11 printed out sheet that said simply “DNR.”  So, I guess it doesn’t matter.

“Do you want me to read to you?” she waved the book him from the windowsill.

No answer.

Opening her messenger bag, she got her sketch pad and started to draw him lying there wrapped in the white sheet.

The cold rain pelted harder against the window.  The wind had shifted.

Looking out, she could see her car in the lot.  Almost without thinking about it, without thinking about it.  (she thought about this later, many many times and realized she seriously did not think about it) Daria asked to no one in particular in the room – “Do you have the time?”

Out loud, she realized.  Out loud she said it.  To no one, really.

The Bread Man held out his arm.

He’d heard her.  He held out his arm in a spastic way – as if it took all of his energy to reinvest in the room, in the here and now, and thrust his arm at her – she, of course, leapt backwards, against the window, knocking down the Kafka.

Her black rimmed eyes widened – was he dying?  She anxiously spun her thick silver ring on her thumb.  Was this is his last . . . and then she saw it. On his reduced arm, just bones with skin mostly, she saw it – he was holding out to her his watch to read.

She sat back down on the radiator under the window and leaned cautiously toward the watch, eyes on Mr. Boulangerie’s rheumy eyes.

“I can’t read it,” he said in the croaky crinkled voice of a dying man.  He sounded disappointed.

Daria leaned down to read it.  She looked and then looked more carefully – the watch, it was incredible.  It was old, no doubt.  But the face, the face was 10 times her skull watch.  Suddenly, she never wanted to see that skull watch again.  This watch – it was a watch within a watch.  It seemed to be time itself – the leather band was ancient and creased.  The watch was old but probably Swiss.  Not a Timex for sure.  Not some junk.

But the face, the face had this incredible drawing on it – a sketch?  A woodcut?  It was timeless.  And the drawing was of a clock tower and the actual time piece was small, for it was the clock, in the clocktower . . . Stopped, but still . . .

Daria jerked back again.  Mr. Bread had grabbed the watch with his other hand,    looked at her with those eyes again – and wordlessly, arthritically, undid the clasp, and handed her the watch.

Before she reached for it, as she reached for it, Mr. Boulangerie began to gasp.  She heard 3 gasps, saw a tear leak from his right eye before her hand reached out and took the watch.

The sun beat down on her head.  It was cold, but bright.  She sat on a chair now, not the radiator.  Daria shook her head, closed her eyes and reopened them.  She was there.

She sat in a wooden and metal chair, it teetered on the cobblestones of the plaza.  The coffee was in front of her – untouched – the white foam still glorious on top.  Glancing around, she took in the sights.  The signs were not in English. German maybe? But there were other things on the table.

There was flipped open sketch pad and a pencil.  Half-drawn was the plaza.

There was a large envelope from a US address, ripped open with boarding passes peeking out.  There was a letter on airmail paper with a pen lying across it and the same US address on an envelope to go with it.

She looked around the plaza, confused, dumbfounded, wordless, struck.  She looked up at the now familiar tower, the clock was striking.  Time was ticking down.   This place was glorious.  Daria wondered if Manson had put something in her milk at lunch.

“If this is a dream,” she whispered, “I’m all over it.”  Daria took a swig of the coffee.  She could smell the rich flavor, she could taste the burnt sugar on the top, she felt the warmth from the white ceramic cup.  “And the tiny little spoon!” she gasped, giggling at the size of the demi-tase spoon!

She giggled?

This wasn’t right.  Daria looked down at the table.

She read the letter; it started “Dear Dad.”  It talked of travel of a Eurorail Pass.

Of things seen.  It was, after all, finished.  Signed, even.  The envelope.  It was addressed.  With stamps.

Daria picked up the sketch pad, she stared around the plaza.  “Oh why not!” she said to no one.  A red haired man looked up from his paper, gave her a chin nod and went back to reading.  Daria sat there, in the glorious sun, she finished the sketch.

She thought about wandering around.  She thought about staying here.

She felt her pockets – no id, no money.  Figures as she thought of her messenger bag on the floor in Room 103.  She wondered if the coffee was paid for before she arrived.

Knew I should have taken German.  She folded up the sketch, put it with the letter in a bold act that she could never explain.  Mailed it at the red post stand on the side of the plaza.

It wasn’t until after the letter was mailed, that she sat back down and looked at the boarding passes with the blue world logo on them.

And that’s when it all crashed down.

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