TIME MANAGEMENT, a novel
By S.W. Clemens
Each day a whole world passes away, largely unappreciated, numbly relegated to obligation, commerce and routine. One day seems as unremarkable as the next. It’s only through the inexorable accretion of days, weeks, months and years, that we come to appreciate with heartbreaking clarity how incredibly unique and precious each lost day has been. — SWC
Virginia Porter awoke to the cell phone looping a jaunty marimba tune on the nightstand.
“I didn’t wake you, did I?”
It was her daughter Rosalynn (Rosie), and her voice was chipper, so she knew it couldn’t be bad news. “It’s all right; I should be up by now anyway.” The clock by the bed read 8:31 a.m. Virginia scrunched the pillow behind her head and glanced to the empty side of the bed. Her husband awoke each morning at 6:00, rain or shine, summer or winter, happily adhering to a self-imposed schedule that hadn’t varied in 40 years. “Why are you calling so early?”
“I was thinking about taking you out to lunch. I have to be down the peninsula for a meeting with our broker at 10:00. I was hoping we could meet at the Stanford Shopping Center.”
The center was a high-end mall and Virginia quickly rooted through her memory of restaurants there while calculating the cost. “Can we go someplace cheaper?”
“It’ll be my treat,” Rosie said. Unlike her brother Jeffrey, she never worried about the cost, because she’d never had to worry. She’d married an attorney 11 years her senior (her first marriage, his second). In the beginning they’d lived in San Bruno, and as his practice had grown they’d moved north, first to the City, then to Marin County.
“I don’t feel comfortable in those places.”
“There’s a Greek restaurant in downtown Palo Alto — Gyros — casual, not too expensive.”
“That sounds good.”
“Fine, I’ll see you soon. Love you.”
Virginia rolled out of bed and padded across the creaking floorboards to the bathroom. It would be good to get out of the old house. In many ways she felt as though she were living alone; her husband of 44 years had never been much of a conversationalist. There was a nervous industriousness about him that had not flagged in all the years they’d been together. He was always out in the orchards, or fixing some equipment in the barn, or reading farm journals. And lately he’d been taking unannounced “walks,” disappearing for three our four hours at a stretch.
She showered and dressed and went downstairs for breakfast. Randall had made a pot of coffee. She poured herself a cup and added half-and-half and sugar (her daughter had lately been touting the health benefits of agave syrup, but Virginia had never taken advice from her daughter whose passions seemed to change with the seasons).
As a concession to her doctor, who insisted that she lower her cholesterol, she made an omelette with egg whites and low fat mozzarella. Randall had left a coffee cup, a plate of half-eaten toast and the morning paper on the table. That he left his mess for her to clean up struck her as a mark of disrespect, yet her sense of order would not allow her to just leave it be, and she grumbled to herself as she rinsed his plate and cup and put them into the dishwasher, as annoyed with herself for not being able to let it go, as with him for leaving the mess in the first place.
She checked her watch. It was 10:35. She would have to leave no later than 11:00 if she were to meet Rosie by 11:30. So she went to the back door and called toward the barn for her husband. No answer. She walked down the hall to the front porch where she surveyed their property, looking for signs of movement. Ahead of her the land sloped down to the creek and the vineyard on the other side, which spread out to the edge of a housing development built on land they’d once owned. Beyond the houses loomed the dark eastern flanks of the Santa Cruz Mountains. She looked to her left, to the south orchard and again called her husband’s name. No answer. She stepped off the porch and headed around back toward the barn, thinking that he may have gone off on an errand. But his truck was parked next to her car in front of the barn. She searched the barn, even going so far as to climb the ladder to the loft. She called out once again, feeling foolish now, and a bit miffed. This wasn’t the first time he’d wandered off; he’d been making a habit of it lately. It angered her, because it was inconsiderate. It worried her, because it was out of character, and that could signal a couple of scary possibilities — a brain tumor, or early onset Alzheimer’s.
Back in the house she was beginning to feel a whisper of trepidation. He wasn’t so very old, but when a man reached his mid-sixties, there was always the gruesome possibility he could have had a stroke or a heart attack, or he might have taken a bad fall somewhere and was unconscious. And what then? The thought gave rise to competing emotions — fear, as she contemplated how truly lonely her life would be without him, and annoyance that he stubbornly refused to carry a cell phone.
She took a quick look into each room, noting with dismay her husband’s profligate use of electricity. Lights were burning in the office, in the half bath under the stairs, in the hall and in the dining room, which she now dutifully turned off. In the kitchen she turned off the light over the stove and unplugged the coffee pot, a potential fire hazard if left on all day. She opened the door to the root cellar and peered down the stairs. Another light illuminated the shelves of canned goods below. Ca-ching, ca-ching! she thought. No wonder our electric bill is so high. “Randall?” she called out one last time. But she could see he wasn’t there and flipped off the light switch.
Then she wrote a note and left it under the saltshaker on the kitchen table. It was a note her husband was never to read.
In TIME MANAGEMENT Randall Porter is missing, and forces are conspiring to draw his son Jeffrey back to the house with two cellars. When Jeffrey follows his father down the rabbit hole, he soon learns that gains often come with losses, and to lay claim to the future, he must first reclaim the past.
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