Father Time

See, what most people don’t realize is that Father Time does not hide behind abstract concepts or age-old grandfather clocks. He mingles with society, a bearded man with a kindly twinkle in his eyes and a monocle perched atop a large round nose. He lingers in society’s hubs—coffee shops, bars, even clubs—and sips a drink in the corner, spinning his finger around the rim of the vessel, drinking in the world around him just as he might the beverage in his hand.

That was how I saw him first, sitting on a tall stool beside a window in a Fair Trade coffee shop, a cappuccino cupped in calloused palms. I did not know who he was then, nor did I much care as I plopped down beside him, hands shaking. Twelve minutes ago, I had received the most devastating news of my life. A carefully crafted tone over the telephone had told me, with a meticulous combination of compassion and impassiveness, that my little sister was found dead in a canyon, ensconced in the blue van I helped her paint beside a winding mountain highway.

“Her car evidently swerved off the trail, and she was undoubtedly killed by the impact.” The officer had told me, as bland of tone as if he was discussing a coffee order. “We think she suffered no pain.”

I had whimpered back into the receiver, unable to say more. The voice had shifted then, and held a distinct edge of awkwardness when it replied. “We are sorry for your loss, ma’am. Please accept our condolences.”

I had heard what he did not say. My superior never trained me for post-suicide calls!

But here was the thing: My sister was a happy, carefree and endlessly optimistic soul. I call her every day after work, and never once did she seem to suffer any lethargy, any anxiety. It was although the horrors of the world did not touch Amy and the sparkling world she built for herself. This was not a girl who would commit suicide. Not in a million years.

“Hello.” My attention was torn away as the elder beside me spoke. He was staring at me curiously, one finger still making an idle circle around the rim of the mug. “Are you alright?”

I looked down at my trembling hands. I must have seemed pale and disoriented, even by coffee drinker standards. I don’t know what compelled me to tell him. I just blurted it out.

“I need to know how my sister died.”

His gaze roved over me. I absently noted that his finger was moving faster now, spinning around the rim with almost nervous energy. “And what would you be willing to give up for that knowledge?”

“Anything.” I choked out, my head in my hands. The strangeness of his line of questioning did not strike my grief-shrouded mind. Not until it was too late.

The room was twirling, faster than the man’s finger on the rim of his paper cup. I next found myself on an isolated road, with a mountain on one side and a steep valley on the other. “What in the—-“

Headlights rounded a bend and washed over me. I did even have the time to shriek, before a squeal of tires sent the wayward vehicle over the other side of the highway. The blue van careened halfway down the cliff before flipping end-over-tail, the glass shattering in tune with my screams.

When I next opened my eyes, I was back at the coffee shop . The old man was still staring at me, endless pity in the depths of his twinkling eyes. Patting me on the back, he pushed his untouched cappuccino towards me and left the shop, his slumped back slightly more pronounced than I remembered.