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The Illusion of Time

by Erica Nicolay 5 months ago in immediate family · updated 5 months ago

It's often been said that time is money, but what if time is love?

Mr. Durvey hurriedly put on his coat and hat, caught up his wallet and threw open the door. Your keys! Don’t forget your keys! His mind chided him, as he was just in the act of flying into the street. Shaking his head and checking his watch at the same time that he bounded back up the steps, he made a dash back toward the coat rack, where his keys resided. He paused, just in the act of leaving again. Be back in time for supper. Susan will want you, his mind chided him. He hesitated.

His dear, affectionate wife—sweet though she was—had a way of reminding him of all his faults and always trying to correct him. Every night she worried over him, and talked with him about his struggles in business and work and everything that had to do with every detail of his overtasked life. She meant well, but she simply could not understand that some things could not simply be “fixed” by tightening a screw or hammering in a nail. Things took time. Susan did not understand that Time was everything. At a moment’s notice, there could come an unexpected business call, another work order, a bill to be paid, any host of things to do, and they all took one thing that simply could not be sacrificed—time. “But your dreams, dear. When will there be time for those things if you don’t sacrifice something less important here and there?” Oh, yes…she had a way of nagging him about it, as though somehow she thought this should prod him into action. It did exactly the opposite. It made him want to work longer hours so that he would not have to hear from her much about it. When she did pose these questions, he said, “Maybe, one day, Susan. Maybe one day…but now, I have to work. I have to work. It’s fine. I don’t have time for that. I—just have to work, that’s all.”

Coat, hat, keys—thus prepared, Mr. Durvey dashed down the steps into the street once more, and was on his way to work at the office. Aleck’s school project, his mind would not let him rest, but insisted on giving him another reminder. He cringed at this next thought, checking his watch as he chewed on his lip. He cast a tense glance toward the public school on the next block, knitting his brows in brooding silence. His son, Aleck, had a school project to work on, which he had naively asked his father to help him on. Mr. Durvey, a man of his word, had promised he would…at the time. Yes, he had meant to help him, only—time was of essence, at the moment, and there were too many other pressing things he had to take care of that he had thought he wouldn’t have to deal with. I don’t have time for it, he reasoned, but I can’t let the boy down. He’s counting on me. I’m his father…it simply—simply isn’t fair. He sighed at this. In his mind, he knew what he should do, but then again, his circumstances kept prodding him to do other things. It was as though fate were always pulling him in another direction. Everything he wanted to do he couldn’t do, and everything he didn’t want to do seemed to always fill up his time. Maybe next week. The project can wait until next week, he shook his head.

Mr. Durvey really did want to spend time with his family…but lately, the extra time he had intended to spend with them had to go to other things. “I just don’t have time for it right now,” he would tell himself. “Besides, I would just fail them miserably.”

In a word, Mr. Durvey was afraid—afraid of letting his family down. He had tried many times, in the past, to help other people and to encourage them with a kind word or a gift, or for him, the most precious gift of all—his time. But every time, he felt he had let them down. That made him feel depressed, forcing him to retreat to the only thing he knew he could do well without letting anyone down—his work. His time had to be completely absorbed with it, utterly swallowed up in it. If he were not constantly busy doing some mental exercise of some sort, he should have to think, and thinking would always bring him back to thoughts of how he had failed himself and those he loved. “I don’t have time for this,” he would tell himself incessantly, so much that the words would sometimes come to him in his dreams. “I have to keep working. It’s fine. I just—have to keep working.”

So, work he did! And now, he was about to be late for it. He couldn’t be late. He had to get to the office on time.

Down the street, Mr. Durvey ran, his breath coming quickly, his mind going through his mental checklist of all the things he must be sure to do between the place he was at on the street, and the third floor of the complex.

All of a sudden, he stopped short in his thoughts, throwing out his arms to stop himself as he nearly ran into a man. An elderly man had decided to stop in the middle of the crosswalk. Wow—and just when I’m three steps from the other side! Mr. Durvey thought wrathfully. He should have passed by him, but thinking the man might be deaf or have a disability that prevented him from moving forward, he stopped to make sure he was all right. “Excuse me, sir, are you all right?” He asked in a rushed tone. He watched the traffic light turn green.

The man apparently did not hear Mr. Durvey, for he continued humming a low tune to himself. His dark eyes were focused on the ground. Realizing that there was nothing wrong with the man and angered that he had bothered to stop, he started to hurry past him.

At this, the man suddenly looked up. He grabbed Mr. Durvey’s arm, drawing him forcefully toward himself. His eyes seemed to bore through Mr. Durvey’s, their stare so intense that he forgot all about his pressing work. He stared back into those eyes with his own full of fear.

Strangely, the two were standing on the other side of the street, now. It seemed the cars had disappeared, and all the buildings around them, too. All Mr. Durvey could see was those man’s eyes, full and accusatory.

Does this man think he knows me? Thought Mr. Durvey, as he glanced back suspiciously at the man, struggling within himself to find the reason for such a strange encounter. He should have asked the man, but felt it better not to.

“Mr. Durvey, I will make my business short, as I see you are running out of time,” the mysterious man said low, but firmly. He gripped Mr. Durvey’s hand with a strength that compelled him to wait. “You have a choice to make, son. Your family, or your work—which will it be?”

Mr. Durvey’s eyes bulged, his thoughts growing lethargic. What? What was to happen? Did this man know something he didn’t know? “Sir, what are you saying?” He fearfully demanded.

“Well, you have one chance to do the thing right, then—you’re done,” the man said decisively. “Quick! Which will it be?”

Which did he want? Well, he wanted both! Job—family—Mr. Durvey found himself weighing the two on a scale, now, contemplating his fate.

The man started walking away again.

“Wait, sir!” Mr. Durvey shouted.

The man turned around a final time. “You’ve made up your mind, then? I won’t wait. The decision must be made now.”

Mr. Durvey bit his lip in vexation, running his fingers through his hair, at a loss. “I just—“ he sighed, unable to explain. Whatever the reason the man had come, he was about to leave, and he must have an answer. Never mind logic, right now. This was a time for action. “I choose my family,” Mr. Durvey said firmly.

A smile spread across the man’s wrinkled face, a twinkle flashing from his eyes. “Well, have it your way, then, Mr. Durvey,” he said, change jingling in his pockets as he slipped his hands into them. “Goodbye.” And with that, he passed Mr. Durvey.

Mystified, Mr. Durvey turned to look back at the strange man, only to realize he was gone. He wasn’t just lost to his vision—he had actually vanished!

Mr. Durvey hurried down the sidewalk, trying to collect his jangled thoughts. He had been on his way somewhere…where was it? Shoot—to work! He checked his watch. He still had three minutes! “I can make it,” he said to himself, still glancing about to see whether he should spot the man he had spoken to. Hmmm, I wonder what it all means…He thought, but he didn’t have time to dwell on the matter.

Up the steps dashed Mr. Durvey.

No sooner had Mr. Durvey done this then the door opened, and he found himself face to face with his employer, Mr. Carlton.

Without any salutation, Mr. Carlton plowed into business. “I have here an urgent matter that requires a great deal of organization and work. I need these papers reviewed and you to return the document to me promptly tomorrow morning, having read it and written me a list of all the alterations that must be made.”

Mr. Durvey swallowed hard. His hollow eyes stared up and down the tall stack of paperwork his boss held under his arm, then up and down the already piled stack he had on his desk. The the man on the crosswalk rose in his mind. He remembered what he had said, “What will it be, your job or your family?”

Now, Mr. Durvey hesitated. Was this what the man had been meaning? Was there—yet how could there be? He simply must take on the extra work, whether he wanted to or not. After all, if he was to support his family, he must provide for them. This must be right! How could it not be?

“Mr. Durvey?”

Mr. Durvey started, on noticing his boss was still staring at him in the most invasive manner. “Mr. Durvey, I don’t have all day. What time do you think you can begin?”

Again, Mr. Durvey hesitated. He remembered the old man in the street, his earnestness—and then it struck Mr. Durvey. The man, whoever he was, had come to warn him. Somehow, he didn’t feel he needed to know who he was, now. He knew he had been sent to show him the things that truly mattered. He thought of Aleck and his school project, and his loving wife who fretted about him every night. Who were they? Were they not far more important than the extra money that should be laid up by taking this job?

“Mr. Durvey!” The testy voice of his boss rose one final time.

Slowly, deliberately, Mr. Durvey recalled himself. He looked on his boss differently now, not in cowering fear and submission, but doggedly. He could make his own choice in this matter. His boss would get over it. If he lost his position, it wouldn’t matter. “I’m not out of time,” he said quietly, and a smile spread across his face. “I’m just beginning.”

His boss looked at him incredulously. With a twinkle in his eye, Mr. Durvey crossed before his desk, took up his hat and coat, and passed before his boss’s desk. He grasped the knob of the door. With a nod, he said simply, “Time is what you make it—and it’s high time I were making it worth while…with my family.” And with that, he left.

immediate family

Erica Nicolay

I have written stories since I was thirteen and enjoy releasing short stories online. I have published one book about the Hitler Youth Program titled True to the End, which you can buy on Amazon.

Read next: I am Thankful for Love

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