First of all – MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! I hope that all of you are able to experience some true holiday spirit at the end of this strangest, most stressful (at least in my memory) year (no, I will speak the digits of the year that must not be named…)
I would use a Christmas story for today’s Fractured Fragment Friday, but the only story I’ve written for this holiday is “Sleep with the Snowmen.” BUT – I already featured that story a couple of weeks ago (here’s the post if you’d like to see it), so instead we’ll sneak a peek at another of the stories in the same collection (it has the word PRESENT in the title – that’s close enough…)
My Significant One, was joking one day that I should give her a gift, and I was letting her know that I was already giving her my time, and made a play on words with “There’s No Present Like the Time”, which seemed like a good title for a story, which grew from there. It carries echoes of a children’s story I’m fond of – “The Magic Thread” about the value of patience and living in the moment (ALL of the moments.)
Here’s the Blurb
What constitutes a true waste of time? Peter and Vanessa have different ideas. While on a rare vacation, Peter chances to meet a mysterious woman who brings these differences to a head.
And Here’s the Excerpt
Peter entered the shop and was surrounded by ticking – time marching along in mechanical resonance on multiple pieces. He was pleased to see that all the clocks were in sync – they weren’t running at odds with each other like you would see in most shops. It would have comforted him if it didn’t also remind him how long he’d been searching, and how little time he had.
He leaned over the case at the back of the store and admired the watches. There were some nice, old style pocket watches, but he knew that those would wind up in Vanessa’s purse after the initial novelty wore off, and then she would go right back to ignoring the watch, along with the time it represented. No, he needed something she could wear, so it would be right there where she could feel and see it – a constant reminder.
He moved over to the second case, where there were fairly modern looking wrist watches with their LED readouts. Peter had never cared for digital displays – it made time seem like it was jerking from one instant to the next, with none of the seconds or minutes truly connected to each other, instead of the inexorable, steady flow represented by the smooth sweep of hands in a traditional clock face.
He looked in the third case, which held men’s traditional analogs, many designs that he would not mind having himself, but then this wasn’t about him. The fourth case was filled ladies’ watches, many of which would have appealed to Vanessa. There was a gold Etruscan design that he thought she might have cared for in her twenties, but her tastes had gone more Celtic or Renaissance since then, and it was their silver anniversary. He needed to find one that would appeal to her so strongly that she would pay more attention to it.
“You know it will not work,” a gravelly-smooth voice said from behind the counter. The accent had an old-world feel – perhaps eastern European?
Peter looked up from the case at the woman who had just spoken. She had waist-length, reddish-blonde hair that she wore tied back in a braid. The hair framed a smooth face of indeterminate age; Peter had never been good at judging this, but there was something about her that made him feel she was older than she looked. Maybe she’d had surgery to smooth things over, but those intense green-blue eyes were also at once wise and youthful.
Her dress looked like it had been thrown together from a slew of diaphanous scarves, and as she turned and set her lunch bag on a shelf behind the counter, the colors seemed to change as the layers shifted back and forth over each other. It was interesting to watch – a bit too interesting, and Peter felt his face getting hot as he turned his attention back to the case.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t even realize you were there,” he said.
“Hmmm, I do not hear that often. I wonder if I’m losing my charm,” she said.
“No, I don’t think so,” Peter said, and then realized how that might have sounded. “I was focused on the watches, not that I was looking… I mean.”
“Do not worry – she won’t mind that you helped out a sister with her self-esteem issues,” she smiled, and extended her hand with its sharp, red-enameled nails across the counter. “I am Magda, and you are?”
“Peter,” he said. He clasped her hand with his, but he found himself looking too deeply into those green-blue eyes, so he quickly released her hand and returned to looking at the watches. “What did you mean when you said it won’t work?”
“You cannot make someone care about time with a watch,” she said.
“I think if it’s appealing enough…” Peter said, then stopped and said, “Wait – I don’t recall saying anything about why I came here. How did you…?”
“You are looking at the women’s watches,” Magda said.
“And most women are not particularly conscious of seconds and minutes; they tend to linger,” she purred.
He half-expected her to roll her tongue over those full red lips of hers, and then wondered why he was even thinking about it.
“That seems a bit sexist,” Peter said, but he was so pleasantly uncomfortable that his mild objection didn’t even convince himself.
“Do not worry yourself – I will not tell her why you are giving her a watch,” Magda chuckled. “But do not be disappointed if she keeps wasting time.”
“You’re right – and I’m wasting mine,” Peter said.
He turned to leave, but she reached across the counter and her long nails latched onto his shoulder.
“Wait! Would you like to keep it from going to waste?” she asked.
“Wouldn’t we all?” Peter asked.
“I mean it – her time and yours,” she said.
“How?” he asked.
“I have something for you. Wait here,” she said, and he watched her flouncing scarves slide over her curves and each other as she disappeared through the curtains at the back of the shop.
Peter was uncomfortable with how this Magda kept drawing his eye; he wasn’t the wandering kind. He didn’t need the ticking all around him to remind him how long he’d been gone from Vanessa, but his embarrassment amplified it. He pulled out his cell phone and checked it. She still hadn’t called or texted, but, like Magda had guessed, the woman wasn’t that time-conscious – it was why he was here in this shop in the first place. Of course, the cell coverage was always spotty up here; Vanessa might be trying to reach him and worrying why he wasn’t answering. He didn’t want to be rude, but he needed to go find her, and had made up his mind to leave when Magda reappeared.
“This will do the trick,” she said.
She set a black velvet tray on the counter. On it were two silver watches – one man’s, one lady’s – decorated in an elaborate matching Celtic snake knot design. They did more than match; when laid against each other, they seemed as one piece of metal, the way the patterns twisted in and out of each other, just as though they were joined. The pattern continued all along the supple metal bands.
“Good – you are pleased with them,” Magda smiled.
“It’s exactly what she’s into,” Peter said. “I’ll take it.”
He set his cell down on the counter and reached for the lady’s watch, but Magda stopped him with a “Don’t touch!”, and then her warm, right hand was there holding his, those nails tickling the inside of his palm. She snatched up the man’s watch with her left hand.
“You will take both. As you can see, they are a mated set,” she said.
He found himself staring into her eyes again, and felt her warm hand lay the cool metal on his arm and then the band slid smoothly around his wrist like a snake. He could feel it throbbing in time with the clocks, or maybe it was the pulse in his wrist racing with his heart.
“No more wasted time,” she said, and she released his hand.
It took him a moment to realize her eyes were no longer holding his. He blushed again, and tried to focus his attention on the watch that was now wrapped around his arm, instead of watching Magda slip the lady’s watch into a silk bag. He turned his arm to find the clasp, but he couldn’t locate it.
I’m too distracted by those scarves of hers, he thought, and then said “I really don’t need one for me.”
“Nonsense! It is the only way the magic will work,” Magda said, and she handed him the bag containing the lady’s watch.
“Magic?” he asked.
“You will each wear your watches, and you will find that when Vanessa wastes her time there will be more for you,” Magda said.
“That’s silly! How did you know her name?” he asked.
She touched a sharp, red fingernail to the screen of his phone as it vibrated on the counter, displaying “Vanessa.”
Peter picked up his phone.
“Where are you? I’ve been looking everywhere,” Vanessa said.
“I’m sorry, honey, I guess I lost track of time,” he said.
He felt embarrassed standing so close to Magda, so he walked to the front of the shop. “I found something you’re going to love,” he said.
“Tell me where you are so I can come see,” she said.
“Uh, no,” he said, glancing to where Magda’s scarves were still shifting about as she rearranged a shelf. “No, the shop is too hard to find. Where are you?”
“Down by the café where we had lunch,” she said.
“At the base of the stairs. Good, I’ll be there in a moment,” he said.
Peter walked out the door and was halfway down the stairs when he realized he hadn’t paid for the watches. He turned around and headed back, but he was almost back to the top when he knew he had missed the opening again. He decided he didn’t have time to relocate Morceaux de Temps right now – he could come back later. Besides, Vanessa might not like the watch.
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
Peter found her sitting on a stone wall just outside the café, in the shadows of an old oak. She seemed under a spell – speechless when she opened the bag, but then she had the watch on her wrist before he could even ask if she liked it – so quickly that he couldn’t even figure out how she had done it. She saw his and pressed the two together, marveling at how they seemed to merge together. He knew he’d hit a home run.
And if he’d had any fear that she would grow tired of the watch and relegate it to her purse or some other storage, that wasn’t going to happen. They went back to the bed and breakfast to wash up before dinner, and she wouldn’t take it off to wash her hands, or even when she joined him in bed that night – really joined him – the watches stayed on both of them.
It wasn’t until the next morning when they went to shower together that they tried to take the watches off, but they were unable to find the catches as they were struggling with each other, and in their eagerness to be together they gave up trying to keep the watches dry. It didn’t seem to matter – the water just beaded on the surface as if repelled, and the watches continued to function, perfectly.
Still, being unable to remove the watches might become a problem, so after breakfast they checked out of the hotel and went downtown to look for Magda’s shop. Their couple of trips up and down the stairs proved fruitless. Peter had to be back to work the next day, and he didn’t like driving in the dark, so they gave up the search and headed home.
You know they’re going to wish they’d found out how to remove those watches, don’t you? “There’s No Present Like the Time” is available at many online retailers, including, but not limited to:
“There’s No Present Like the Time” is also included (along with “Sleep with the Snowmen”) in the collection Goddesses, Sleep with the Snowmen, and Other Fantasies. (The first ten people who purchase the collection on Smashwords with coupon code NQ72T will receive a 67% discount – that’s only 99-cents for TEN stories – such a deal!) (of course, you can still get the collection at 50% off during Smashwords End of Year Sale):
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