Ten to eleven and I’m on my last half of lager and lime before hitting the road. Team was late (again) with the submission, so muggins here stayed late after work to complete. I’m knackered. And if I’m not careful, I’m gonna miss the last train home, too. Heck, me and time, we just don’t see eye-to-eye.
I used to think Father Time lived somewhere in the sky, sitting with a benevolent, knowing smile in his pristine palace, a vast central stairway stretching out into infinity, each step a step in time, always moving forward and onwards into a future shrouded in mist, cloud and uncertainty. Wrong. Turns out the old bugger lives in a pokey little junk shop in East Dulwich, jam-packed full of random moments of time, stacked up like dusty old books, magazines and periodicals, higgledy-piggledy and in no particular order!
“Here, pick any moment you like!” Cackles old Time, as if he can’t wait to get offload a shopful of wasted moments and retire to his musty lodgings above. “Take ‘em all, why don’t you!?”
A tad fanciful I hear you say? Well, particle physicists, god bless ’em, reckon that at a subatomic level, an explosion can be observed *before*, not after its causal impact. Yet we’ve been led to believe each moment in time is supposed to follow the other, right?! Not one moment here, one moment there, one where good old father time effing likes!
It gets worse. In the subatomic world, there is apparently such a thing as reverse time. Oh and symmetrical time. And by implication, asymetrical time. Or something. Jeez. BaBar, an frighteningly expensive underground tunnel experiment thing in Colorada, was concocted to prove just that. According to Fernando Martínez-Vidal, a physicist at the University of Valencia in Spain. “It enabled us to observe, directly and unambiguously, the asymmetrical nature of time”. Woo. Bloody. Hoo.
Of course, there was no need to spend billions on a huge underground donut with enormous magnets wrapped around it. One look inside a certain second hand time shop in East Dulwich would have told you that time is basically, well, just messed up.
Ding ding! “Last orders please ladies and gents!” Barbara calls time for another evening. I take a final sip of lukewarm beer. I wonder if she knows the different varieties of time as well as her beers, or indeed her sozzled regulars? I doubt she’d take kindly to the idea of reverse time. Probably give me a slap and tell me to get a grip if I even dared mention it. Nope, don’t mess with Barabara and don’t ever mess with her precious closing time.
Preparing to leave, I survey the regulars, giving my usual friendly parting nod. There’s Joe, Pete, Donna, Ziggy, Eric and troubled Mal, definitely worse for wear tonight. Drowning his sorrows, sacked for being late to work, once again. Barb is calling a cab for him. That old geezer in the corner seems a bit out of place though. Looks like he uses Einstein’s hairdresser and shops for clothes at the local tip. That old pair of trainers… euw, definitely seen better days. Oh my god. He’s got a wooden leg! Attention caught, I notice his elaborate, faded brocade waistcoat, a gold chain running from his right hand pocket, over a brass button and into an opposite, symmetrical, pocket to his left. The bulging patch of cloth suggests a gold stop-watch might be stuffed inside. Hmmmmmm.
My interest now fully piqued, I approach the incongruous oldster, seeking to resolve the sartorial conundrum he presents and with which I am now grappling. Most of all, I want to know what it is he has in his pocket. Could be worth a bob or two.
The curious old man is sitting over in the far corner next to a huge marble fireplace, above which is an old railway clock, appropriate really for this pub is a converted railway station waiting room. He is warming his good leg by the dying embers of the fire, a crutch to his right resting on the arm of his battered chair.
“Might I trouble you for the time, sir?”, I enquire, with fake formality, hoping he will reach for his pocket and reveal his hidden treasure.
He does not answer, and does not reach for his pocket as I’d planned. Instead, he glances briefly above the fireplace to the antique dial. The hands of the clock point to five minutes past eight, as they always do, the departure time of the old night mail train.
I take the seat next to him, at which he shrugs sulkily as if to say, “Please yourself”.
“I couldn’t help noticing the unusual Double Albert you have there. A fine example if may say so”
He turns to me and I see now he has only one good eye. Leaning over and squinting spookily, he replies:
“Son, how would you know a Double Albert from a double-decker?”
“Roderick Smythe, good sir, antiques dealer, at your service.” I completely lie, “And I know a good T-bar when I see one! Would there be a correspondingly fine attachment to match? ”
At this point the old man sighs and reaching from his pocket he produces not the gold stop watch I’m hoping for, but an ancient astrolabe instead. My disappointment fades as I realise this might be an extraordinary relic of immense value. Cradling the device it in the palm of his wizened hand, I see it is made of silver and comprises many concentric sawtoothed dials with mysterious protruding markers, roman numerals engraved around the outside and astrological symbols on an inner wheel. A single rotating hand is fixed to the centre, behind which some kind of engraved star map can be seen.
“So you’d like to know the time, eh?”
I nod, enthusiastically.
With a gnarled finger, he turns the hand very slowly around the astrolabe dial, and suddenly there is a blinding flash of light. The flames of the fire flicker wildly, and I glance around. The place is now completely empty and hollow. Above the fireplace, the clock hands now point to six o’clock exactly.
The strange old man has vanished, just his crutch and wooden leg remain. And with a frightening certainty, I realise that those are, in fact, the remains of me.
© Simon Atherley, May 2014