Time is of your own making; Its clock ticks in your head. The moment you stop thought Time too stops dead. —Angelus Silesius

Time is of your own making; Its clock ticks in your head. The moment you stop thought Time too stops dead.

—Angelus Silesius

One evening, at a banquet held by my great uncle, I met Time. The vestibule clock had just rung midnight when, hours late and unaccompanied, I entered the splendid drawing room. Buoyed by wit, elegance, and charm mirrored on all sides of me, I sensed, not for the first time, maturity surge within my person. I would have lingered, had not presently some intimation drawn my steps to the smoking-room, grottoesque with its oak panelling offset by a peacock fire screen.

I must have known that it was Time; present at balls, salons, and galas—everywhere vanities congregate—he was an inconspicuous guest, not in the least the august personage one might imagine. He materialized as well at those seedier soirées known to me only secondhand, but was roundly shown the door there; at politer parties he was shown, if not impatience (at his wearing on) or fear-lined deference (as at birthdays and wakes), then well-mannered indifference—rarely, however, the respect due one keeping watch over their interest at all times. The precise circumstances of our introduction have since slipped my memory. Our sporadic encounters gave little occasion to go beyond pleasantries, much less become better acquainted. I had, meanwhile, come of age and was able to hold my own among the grey-bearded: In principle, I could entertain Time with discourse as grave as it was original. Seeking to impress, I could not help noticing how unfussy he was in the company he kept, discriminating against none save those who wanted to buy him, or else wasted him too much. As for the rest, he never tired of demands placed upon him in the ordinary course of an evening, but had no time for supplicants, stopping for no one. Some he turned away demanded satisfaction, then found they would need seconds ... I chuckled at this from some recess, awaiting the moment to strike. It was on a New Year’s Eve that curiosity finally prevailed over my natural diffidence. The instant he was left alone, ever fleeting, I seized him, so to speak, and in no time had his full attention. Our talk engulfed us, and we soon forgot the here and now; we might have lost track of time itself, but for the somber themes toward which, like stones, we gravitated. Some fruit is best savoured overripe, and so it proved with Time. Our propitious exchange was to form the basis of enduring sympathy. For Time confided in me as he had never before in anyone. Perhaps my making light of his likeness to a grandfather clock made him feel closer to me. More probably, I was able to put him at ease by talking philosophy without an arrière pensée, an ulterior motive—not certainty, not vain assurance, most certainly not youth and turning back the clock. Scholars of temporality may dismiss my claim to intimacy with him who “heals all wounds” and “brings all things to pass.” But I would think that any true melancholic will find this fragment of our dialogue-fleuve sufficient document.
Time. That is in fact one aspect of my existence I do not often broach. [It was I who began speaking candidly of death. I affected surprise, lifting my brow to encourage him to keep going.] This neglect you people have in common, all living beings share it as a matter of fact. Perhaps not all can form an idea of finitude, but all sense it just the same. For the most part, however, each goes about as though death did not personally concern them, and with dying breath aspires to be passed over. I. If there really were death for you, regardless of when you faced it, you would not be alone. My life is utterly contingent on your being, as is that of every mortal. We would all join you in death. But when we die, we are alone. Dying with everyone would seem cheerful, dignified, fortunate ... But all this is nonsense talk, since you have always existed and will do so long after those now alive are dead. It is we humans who come and go, while you remain as though eternal, immemorial. Unless, of course, you are ... convinced of the contrary. Time. I am, my friend ... Transience affects all without exception. None escape their appointment in Samarra. My time will come, when I will be no more ... A time without time—at all. I. But—pardon the interjection—our lives are but fractions of your own, seconds or less; we have, for that matter, only bit parts in the world. Our lives are mere stories, fragile memory-threads. You, however, fill the world, and define ours. You have the privilege of seeing and knowing mankind, nature, and yourself, for all time. That knowledge is, I must say, extraordinary, incomparable to the little possessed by all humanity brought together. Yet you seem to have no appreciation, no gratitude, for this fathomless experience, this wonder bestowed upon you. Time. What makes you think it was bestowed? And to whom should I be grateful? You mean a deity, do you not? But here you are mistaken; my expiration is an empirical certainty. I do not intend to lecture you on matters of theology. Foi sans foi is what I recommend, to borrow a Gallicism. Also known as “science.”
None escape their appointment in Samarra. My time will come, when I will be no more ... A time without time—at all.
I. I ... I have not yet given much thought to faith. [Though it was high time; I was flustered.] However, hearing you deny it, I can understand your unease about dying still less. Either Epicurus speaks through you, or you spoke through that great man. [At this Time frowned and replied:] Time. Not a day goes by ... [I smiled incredulously yet cordially] that I am not consumed with thoughts of finitude. Everyone else would rather live forever if they could, or so they believe. If I do not remind them of the end, who will? Knowing neither the day nor the hour, they never budget me well. They mark time that has elapsed, worship tomorrow, and squander the present, whose value seems to lie only in future returns. They would rather not think about what is left to them, which may not be much. They are ingenious at subdividing me into infinitesimal units; they invent ever new ways of keeping me; I have flown, fallen, and crawled, trickled, burned, swung, and ticked ever more precisely. By reifying me, they hope to profit by me. They treat me like property, instrumentally. They want to make better use of me; but what use are they to me, and why should I care and constantly put myself at their disposal? And when I do not obey, they call me their devourer, and make unmeaning attempts on my life. “Punctuality” above all, everything “on time”—but let death be late in coming! I speak so candidly because you do not seem to be of their mind. There is one thing I must tell you. My own life is as long as yours, and not a minute longer. I am not ageless. I have made my peace with death much as you will have to, and my nature is much like yours—anguished, curious of the unknown, perplexed, and prone to melancholy. I dream sometimes of winding down, taking off, my work here being done ... But my hands have never been as full as now. How can I ready myself for that ultimate travail—that “departure” that in truth is an arrival—when I am chronically occupied ... I ... with passing? Time. Yes. [He nodded to accentuate his answer.] I am ever running out of time.
Thus began our friendship, and when at last illness called me away from society, I followed gently, Time by my side. I no longer thought him facile, idle, ruthless or elusive, and altogether refrained from judging him. He had my deepest trust, carrying pensively the weight of his responsibility, fulfilling himself in obedience to an inner calling, undergoing his own consequences until his own inevitable self-termination, his end a mystery even to him. Nevertheless, I freely own here on this private page that I would give my life to see Time simply pass away—pass away before me. But the clock keeps ticking. And will not stop as long as I can hear it. And it keeps on ticking—I cannot hear it enough!

About the author

S. D. Chrostowska is the author of, most recently, The Eyelid, published by Coach House Books. A Cage for Every Child: Stories is forthcoming from Sublunary Editions in Spring 2021.