I met the man again. I used to think his name was Time, but now I’m not so sure. I see him often, out of the corner of my eye, hovering just on the edge of this plane of existence. He’s hard to catch; you have to slow down into one solitary moment and turn yourself inside out like a contortionist, confident that you will be able to slip through the loop in your mind and emerge unknotted on the other side.
He sat on a bench at the lower playground in our park, watching the ducks hunt for water bugs in the makeshift pond where the melting snow drains poorly. He looked older now than I remembered and grey streaked his black hair. He wore distinguished black dress pants and shined shoes with a soft grey scarf around his neck, the end of which he twisted around his fingers. He could have been a diplomat for a well-known international organization or a child’s visiting grandfather on sabbatical from some learned, ivy-league college, but I knew the truth.
His air struck me as more wistful than cruel, but when we spoke the same fiery twinkle lighted in his eyes.
“Are you happy?” he asked me without preamble.
“Yes, I am.” I’ve learned about Time’s gifts and how they cut and I won’t be fooled a second time. I want nothing from him.
He steepled his fingers above his knees and listened to children scream down the slide, their cheeks bitten bright red by the cold. “Are you happy?” he asked again.
“I’m sad,” I said, “because my last baby died.”
“Ah, grief,” he nodded. “Are you happy?” His tone never wavered and his eyes fixed steadily on mine.
“I’m safe. I’m loved.” I started hesitantly but grew bolder. “I’m rich in experience. I have so much that others lack. I feel beautiful when Matt holds me. I feel lucky to be alive when the wind blows and the leaves rattle off the trees. I have a fireplace to sit in front of and books to read. I adore my children. I have friends and laughter. That’s a lot of joy.”
“It is,” he agreed and the silence stretched so long that I thought perhaps I’d mastered the art of conversing with Time at last. It never does to get cocky with Time; he’s seen your beginning and your end.
“That kind of joy is bought with a hard currency.”
I raised my eyebrows and bit my lip, not wanting to ask.
“Tears. So, are you happy with what you’ve bought?”
“I am.” My voice might have cracked a little, but I didn’t falter. “Perfectly.”