Saturday, 15 June 2019

'Telling Time' by Lesley Stuart-Gammie

My mother had snuck into our room in the middle of the night and stuck labels on our clock. I was eight and was having trouble learning to tell the time. All of a sudden this seemed, to my mother, very important indeed. I lay on the top bunk and frowned at the clock's cartoonish numbers and saw that she had arranged little slips of paper next to each digit: five past; ten past; quarter past... She had printed the words simply, like she did when she was helping Olly to practise his letters. Her handwriting was usually so full of wild loops and whirls. I saw the carefully controlled formation of the letters, pared down for me, and back then I didn't understand why I felt sad.

I started counting minutes on my way home from school that autumn. I tried to time the scrape and wet-leafed slap of my boots to mark the seconds passing. Sometimes I counted up, to see how far I had come. And sometimes I counted down, to see how long we had left.

When I was a bit younger, dad would call upstairs, "Are they not asleep yet? What time is it?" And she would call back, "It's now!" and wink at us. She must have decided that this wasn't good enough any more, that I really needed to understand time. She wanted precision; for me to mark each hour and not let even a second pass unnoticed.

For a while afterwards, my mother slept in the bottom bunk. At the time, I thought it was to stop me from being lonely. A few months later, I peeled the dried out labels from my clock but didn't throw them away, not even once I understood why we keep time.

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