In Which the Time Passes

Alexandra Groff

An old man sat in his rocking chair, his face stuck in an uncomfortable looking frown. He pushed his slipper-covered feet against the hardwood floor, occasionally slipping, but he paid no attention to it as the crick and creek of the chair swayed his body back and forth. Eyes fixated on the window in front of him, he watched as the crisp leaves danced through the bleak, gray atmosphere and land in their respective place on the ground. It was autumn—or fall as some liked to call it—and the old man had little else to do but fall asleep in his spot in the rocking chair. In his younger days, he might have gone for a walk around the block with his wife, but things such as that had become difficult. He was quite old, and quite lonely. How lovely it would be to be young again.

When young, most people can’t wait to grow up. The old man himself had valiant aspirations for great things, but despite them, somehow he got stuck running a local convenience store for much of his life. There at his counter, he’d set himself on his stool and read the newspaper, holding back from spouting his opinions on the news aloud as he awaited customers to arrive. Though it was dull for the most part, someone had to do it, and he had done it up until he was well into his seventies. Now in his mid-eighties, he spent much of his time by his lonesome at home, the tube mumbling The Price is Right across the room as he nearly fell asleep in his chair. Today, the old man simply opted for enjoying his rocking chair and the barely decent weather just outside his window. This old man’s name was Harvey.

With a few more squeaks of the old wood of his chair, his bony toes clenched and his feet brought him to a slow stop. Harvey cleared his throat, the sound of phlegm rumbling around in his windpipe, and he smacked his lips a few times. He shakily brought his wristwatch up to his face to check the time. The wristwatch itself had been a relic or sorts, having belonged to his father for some time until he left. It was Harvey’s treasure, and you would rarely see him without it clasped around his left wrist. The face of the watch was scratched and worn and the golden trim was dingy, but the big hand ticked with the same conviction and accuracy as it always had. If inanimate objects could talk, this one would have its fair share of stories to tell. Eyeing the old watch for the time, he breathed a slow breath on its face and rubbed it with his sleeve so he could perhaps tell the time a bit better. It only helped a little. He squinted, and he frowned after reading the time. It was just about 5:30 p.m., and it was time to get up and find something for dinner. Maybe he’d have egg salad tonight.

Carefully pushing himself up from the rocking chair, he struggled gaining his balance. He teetered slightly, his leg going wild with shaking until a few moments passed and he was steadied. With a grumble, he rubbed his leg before shuffling and sliding his feet across the slick wooden floor. The old man’s pace was slow, as it would be with his bad leg and joints. Though he was used to it by now, it was frustrating and tiresome. Having your own body give out on you was certainly not something you would ever look forward, but it was inevitable. Perhaps he lifted a few too many heavy cartons in his time at the convenience store.

Fingertips gliding across the back of the sofa, his fingers brushed the hand-knitted blanket his wife had made back when their daughter still lived in the house. He always hated the colors of it, but even he couldn’t deny that it was a wonderfully warm blanket. In a desperate attempt to steady himself further, Harvey quickly leaned his palm against the fabric to give himself some support on the way to the kitchen. A puff of dust came off the blanket. With a grunt, he looked down at his hand on the sofa, and back to the kitchen door frame. He was nearly there.

Taking a hand off the sofa, he sniffled, the dry scent of dust and old yarn filling his senses. Almost there. He tried hobbling faster, getting frustrated and tired of his own body. He detested how difficult it had become for him to get some blasted egg salad. Almost there. Suddenly, with another sniffle and a few hitched breaths, his body welled up with the uncontrollable urge to expel the dust inside his lungs. His nose flared, his face scrunched, and finally Harvey let out a loud—AAAAAACHOOO!

With a flash of bright, warm gold in front of his eyes, Harvey let out a bellowing sneeze. It felt as though he jumped out of his own skin he sneezed so hard. The old man’s slippers slipped on the hardwood floor, and he only barely caught himself from falling on the doorframe to the kitchen.

Leaning more of his weight on the doorframe to recover, he took his time gathering himself. He wiped the dust from his eyes, water welling up in them after his reaction to the itchy dust. But it was odd. Rather than the scent of dust continuing to fill the air as it did before, the warm sweet smell of apple pie replaced it. Harvey looked through the kitchen with curiosity. Something was different. Something felt off about this whole situation, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to bitterly spout a comment about it quite yet.

“Harvey? Is that you? Harvey, the pie is done. Could you get it out of the oven for me? My hands are full,” said a woman’s voice. The sound of clanking dishes and running water came from the other side of the kitchen.

Harvey’s eyes darted upward instantly upon hearing her voice, his expression turning to that of shock. He leaned more of his weight on the door frame, trying to understand why his dead wife was standing there so casually in the kitchen. Staring fixatedly at the woman at the sink, his lower lip quivered and his eyes glossed with emotion. His wife, Glennys, glanced around to check on him. He jolted backward slightly at her movement, loosing his breath for a moment.

“Are you all right?” Glennys paused briefly before her eyebrows furrowed, and went back to her business washing dishes at the sink. The salt-and-pepper gray curls of her hair were frizzy and pinned out of her dainty brown eyes, and her favorite blue floral apron was tied loosely around her waist. The pattern matched the kitchen itself, which Harvey always thought was ridiculous. It looked as though she had been working in the kitchen for hours, and her attitude certainly matched that assumption. It was strange to see her so vividly after several years of life without her.

She said with an irritable tone, “Go on now, and get that pie! We wouldn’t want it burning!”

The old man sniffled a few times more, both out of confusion and the dust built up in his nose. He was trying to rationalize what was going on. Was this some sort of crazy déjà vu? The very shock of seeing Glennys was enough to give him a heart attack. Taking in a breath, he shuttered in an attempt to calm himself. After clearing his throat and a few moments of hesitation, Harvey let his body do what it so desperately wanted to—and that was to let his old habits sink in with his wife. He figured he might as well go along with this fantasy. Straightening his posture, Harvey walked with a wary gait over to the oven. “I’ve got it.” One last large sniff, he slipped on an oven mitt and briskly took the pie out of the oven.

“Now put it on the windowsill, dear. And be careful not to drop it—it’s very hot.” “I’ve got it, I’ve got it! Yeeesh…” Bringing the hot apple pie over to the window, he set it on the sill and opened up the window to let in the autumn air. He stopped briefly, watching the bright leaves float to the ground. Harvey found himself with a half-smile trying to find its way onto his lips. Though the sky was dim and bleak as it was when he was sitting in his rocking chair, the autumn air was crisp in comparison to the warm kitchen, and felt good against his skin. It was familiar in a different way, however. He couldn’t for the life of him figure out what he was experiencing. It felt like an old memory, but that certainly wasn’t possible. Oddly enough though, unlike his past self, Harvey found himself actually enjoying the nagging tone of his late wife. He had nearly forgotten what her voice had sounded like, and as grumpy as he always was with her around, he had missed her. Truthfully, he was probably even grumpier without her. The house was cold, lifeless, and dusty without her presence, and the kitchen was never so bustling without her and her baking habits.

Curious, Harvey checked his wristwatch for the time, the gold of the watch shimmered with an odd brightness in the dimmed sunlight; the little hand was still on the 5, and the big hand on the 6. The face of the watch was missing a few of its prominent scratches, but Harvey thought little of it. His half-smile faded as a thought crept into his mind: What should he do now? In some miracle, his wife was busy at work behind him, and this was either a dream or a memory—or perhaps both. Scrutinizing the situation at hand, he let his mind wander momentarily as he stood at the windowsill.

That’s when the doorbell rang. With a bing bong, Harvey’s head whipped around in realization of what memory this was.

“Is that…?” he muttered, his wife catching his statement in her ears.

“Lily? Yes, our daughter’s apparently here with some news… And dinner!”

Glennys huffed while taking off her apron and placing it on a hook in the closet. “Go get the door, for heavens sake! I’m busy cleaning up!”

Still in slight awe from his rather sudden time-jump, Harvey decided to go along with how he remembered the memory, as much as he would have liked to change it. Lily was here with her husband to announce that they were moving from their quaint place in Pennsylvania, only thirty minutes from Harvey and Glennys’s house, to Massachusetts for work. As happy as he was for his daughter to take this opportunity, he had also always somewhat loathed her decision to desert her family in their old age. He would hardly see her anymore, and she would eventually be absent during Glennys’s struggles with her eventual cancer. He had gotten on her case about this before, passive aggressively remarking on her choice to leave Pennsylvania, and had managed to make quite a bit of tension between them. Despite this, from the few times she had managed to contact him, Harvey heard that Lily had made quite a lovely life for herself in Massachusetts. There, she and her husband bought a nice house and adopted a child. She was happy there. And that was good, though it was hard to admit at times.

“Yes, yes, I’m going there now. These old legs don’t work as well as they used to, you know!” Harvey glanced down at his golden wristwatch briefly and sighed as he headed to the front door. As soon as his foot passed the doorframe of the kitchen, another flash of bright energy hit him. The light’s warmth coursed through his skin briefly, like a summer sun’s rays being absorbed by black pavement. Dazed, he snorted and shook his head, flailing a hand slightly as if to chase away the brightness and sensation.

He blinked, and noticed that the scent of pie was gone. Opening his eyes, he jumped at the change of atmosphere. Somehow, he was back in his old living room setup with his daughter of only sixteen sitting comfortably curled up and happy on the couch. There was a rather clunky phone in her hand, and a cord coming from the back of it that was currently wrapped around her finger as she spoke. Taking a double take at the watch, Harvey noticed the time had hardly changed, though he couldn’t say the same thing for his hands. The thin skin that previously covered his hands showed fewer veins than they did only moments ago, and there was certainly more hair crawling up his wrists to his fingers. His hands looked younger, and more plump like that of a middle-aged man rather than an old one.

“What the hell is going on…,” he grumbled to himself, admiring his body further and scrunching his round, ruddy nose up.

Being distracted, Harvey hadn’t noticed that his daughter had already set down the phone and was watching her father confusedly look at his hands.

“Uh, Dad? Are you okay?” Lily said this with that tone of voice Harvey never quite liked.

“Who was that on the phone?” he said changing the subject with a gruff tone. “Uh,” she paused, her eyes darting to the side momentarily, “no one…”

“Yeah, and I’m the Queen of England. Come on, who was it?”

Lily paused again, chewing on her lower lip and shoving a chunk of her brown hair behind her ear. “My boyfriend, okay?”

“And when were you planning on telling me about him?”


He gave her a look, feeling himself falling back into the memory’s sequence of events, only remembering what happened as he re-experienced them. The sixteen-year-old daughter in front of him puffed out a single breath of laughter before answering him with a slight roll of her eyes. “I was going to tell you! I mean, I’m telling you now, aren’t I?”

“Are you?”

“Yes, I am…” She seemed only slightly peeved at his constant questioning. “Look, he’s a good guy. We’ve been dating for about a month now.” Lily couldn’t hold in a smile thinking about her boyfriend, and Lily always had a fantastic smile. Her delicate lip shape and cutely crooked teeth were like her mother’s, but she had that curious curl to the edges Harvey remembered his father having. Harvey hadn’t seen her in so long that he almost forgot about how charming her smile was and how it could light up a room. He imaged she was smiling quite a lot in Massachusetts with her husband and new life, though he wished he could see it more or at least stay in touch to hear the smile in her voice.

With a grunt, Harvey easily made his way over to the couch, brushing his hand across the ugly blanket that looked fairly prettier and less worn. Plopping himself across from Lily, he laced his hands together. “Sounds like you like the guy.”

“I do…”

He treats you well?” “Yeah, he asked me out with a flower during lunch! And he took me to the movies too.”

“Did he pay for your ticket?”

She paused, leaning back in the chair she was seated in and crossing her legs, “God, would you stop asking so many questions? He did okay—does it even matter that much?”

“Sounds like he’s at least got some man in him then!” he said with a smirk. It was oddly refreshing to have a conversation like this with his daughter, despite the fact he was essentially interrogating her. It was fun to hear her talk about something else other than work and the small talk of checking in how he was without Glennys.

“He’s got a name?”

She hesitated.

“So he’s a little punk? Forget it, don’t tell me.”

“No, dad, he’s not a ‘little punk’.”

“You’re sure? He’s not at all like that Jimmy down the street?”

“He—” Lily started to retort, but she immediately clamped her lips shut. Harvey’s face became dark, realizing both in reaction to Lily and in realization of what was to happen in this memory.

“It’s Jimmy?”

He could see her fingers clench the fabric of her skirt as her face scrunch in an attempt to hold back looking upset. She could already tell that he wasn’t happy with who her boyfriend was, and Harvey remembered reacting poorly at the dinner table that night. Rather than answering him, the brown-haired sixteen-year-old pushed herself up from the chair and stomped into the kitchen.

“Forget it! You wouldn’t understand anyway. I’m going to check on dinner.”

In hindsight, maybe Harvey should have opted for changing this particular memory as well. After all, this boy was going to be her husband one day despite his terrible attitude and that awful mess of hair that boy had at that age. Harvey had always assumed he was doing drugs. That stuff they smoke in pots mostly. Regardless, it seems Harvey couldn’t change the past no matter how bad. Whether something mystical was compelling him to follow the timeline, or he merely inherently knew that it would be easier to keep things the way they were, he didn’t change the course of history. As he sat on the couch, he leaned back and arched his head to face the ceiling. His feet slid forward of his body on the slick hardwood floor as he let out a large guttural sigh, trying to figure out his next step. It was enough for him to have seen his daughter’s smile again. To ruin it with a petty argument from her childhood would be a shame.

Harvey glanced down at his father’s golden wristwatch, but not to check the time. He inspected its wristband for any peculiar markings, curiously eyeing it like he never had before. Those two gold flashes he had experienced during his time jumps were golden, which much reminded him of the sheen of his wristwatch. It was a strange and stupid thought of his; to think that an object he had all of his life would cause something so fantastical was stretching his belief. And yet, some itch in his mind said to him that it made some sense.

Rolling his head, he moved his eyes towards the kitchen and listened at the muffled chattering of his daughter and wife, which sounded like it was getting increasingly heated. The experiences he had re-experienced, though not necessarily pleasant, made him realize how much he really did miss even just their chattering. Head rolling back front to face the family room in front of him, Harvey realized it was nearly time to go into the kitchen for dinner. With a low rumbling hum, he looked down to his wrist.

“I’m done here,” Harvey said softly to the wristwatch. He was skeptical of talking to the inanimate object, but it felt right somehow, “I’m not sure how this works or even if it does, but I don’t want to argue with my daughter. Take me anywhere, make me an old man again or to see my father for all I care—just take me away from here.” With that, he got up from the couch at made his way through the kitchen’s doorway to meet with his wife and daughter. Just barely seeing Glennys turn to look at him as he entered the room, as he had expected, another flash of gold hit him as he passed through the doorway. But third flash was different.

It wasn’t a flash at all, but rather a few strides through a golden void. The golden hue, which reminded him of the watch on his wrist, engulfed him in an energy that felt like it was feeding his life through his pores. The area was nothing but a swirling ambiguous atmosphere, his feet standing on nothing, but a solid feeling through the soles of his shoes tricked his body into thinking there was ground beneath him. Confused yet determined, Harvey attempted his strides, carefully placing his feet as the warmth of the gold radiated against his skin as it had before. On his last step, he suddenly landed in a memory once more.

This time, Harvey was in a different location altogether. It was his old bedroom from when he was a child. Tacky airplane wallpaper plastered against the wall, there was a dim lighting from his bedside lamp. The light bulbs weren’t nearly as bright as they would be in the future, a detail he had failed to notice over the years. Looking to his right, there was a pile of dirty clothes, which probably added to the musky smell of that typical scent of a messy boy’s room. The general perception of the room was larger than it would have been as an adult as well. Looking down at his fingers, Harvey could see how young he had become during his last jump through time. He must have been nearly 13 years old. Looking up, his father was kneeled in front of him, clutching a golden item in his strong hands and looking at him with his fiercely blue eyes. The features of face were difficult to see in the lighting, though he only vaguely remembered his estranged father’s face in the first place. After all, this was the day his father left his mother for good, and never again would Harvey see or hear from him. All he ever had of his father was his wristwatch, and why it was given to him, he would never quite understand.

“Here,” the man said tenderly as he place the watch in Harvey’s hands. It glistened in the dim light in of the bedroom, and it looked magical. Staring into the face of the watch with his young, clear vision, he admired the gift. He could feel his eyes widen and his heart skip a beat as he checked the time on his father’s watch excitedly, just as he remembered doing as a child. It was 3:40 p.m.

In sync with the pounding of his heart knocking excitedly against his ribs, a few flashes of that similar gold took him on one last jump through time. He closed his eyes, letting the mystical force of God or magic take him over, and suddenly Harvey felt a jerk pull him back to present day. He was old and frail again, and it as though the sneezed welled back up inside his chest and was pushing him towards the kitchen floor so fast that he couldn’t feel the impact of the fall. His chest felt tight, his body was heavy with old and dead weight. He wheezed a cough, and his lungs expelled the dust that irritated them. The tile floor was cold against the skin of his cheek, and he winced at the contorted and unfortunate position he had landed in. The old man, numb and still, managed to look up at the wrist sprawled in front of him. His bony fingers fanned to move the scratched, old watch’s face to a visible position. Though dimmed in its old age, it was a beautiful gold. But it dulled in comparison to the long-forgotten scent of his wife’s cooking and the brilliant smile his daughter inherited.

“I think Dad would have wanted us to keep this,” Lily said, patting her nose with a tissue before slipping it back in her pocket. Back in the house she grew up in, she was sifting through her father’s things, deciding what do with them after his passing last week. Harvey had been found by a mailman, laying motionless on the kitchen floor and already dead by the time he was found.

It was a difficult task to go through his belongings in the first place, considering each object either reminded her of the past, or left her to wonder about what she had missed in her time away from Pennsylvania. Coming up behind her, Lily’s husband kneeled down on the floor behind her and rubbed her back for comfort. She was taking particular care in placing her father’s wristwatch into a small black padded case.

“You don’t think he’d want it with him?”

“No…,” she sniffled and choked on her words slightly as she spoke, “He would never want something he held so precious to him buried away from the world.”