The Short Eternity by Courtney Sender
Today I had a lunch appointment with my old boyfriend who married someone else. I’d called the meeting because I had a discovery to divulge, but he ended up talking the whole time. Then our hour was up, and he left. I’d been too overwhelmed by the physical fact of him to speak.
I should have known he’d leave me: I’d liked him in the first place because he was very literal about joy’s expiry. With other boys it’s always a half-conscious reckoning—I haven’t left their bed yet, maybe in another hour? two?—but his intention to allot me sixty minutes at a stretch was evident, unfailingly, in the hourglass he set on the table when our meetings began. I could spend the whole time staring at his face or playing footsie under the table or begging on my knees, and no matter what, an hour would elapse and he would kiss me twice on each cheek, and once on the forehead, and leave.
I have aped his technique, but always as the sands grow thin I elbow the glass off the counter. “You cheat time,” he told me today over lunch, when with a shrewd look he carried the hourglass to the bathroom. This from him was a real dismissal. Our meeting was running on a harried quarter-tank by then, so unlike the languor with which he’d set down the top-heavy thing forty-five minutes earlier.
Flushed and returned, he gifted me a fringed scarf he’d recently uncovered from the back of his closet; his wife would be suspicious if she saw.
Nevertheless I was flattered. His wife is a basketball coach who thweets the whistle around her neck at regular, unswerving fifteen-minute intervals. His sole complaint this afternoon was of insomnia. “Though every fourth trill,” he amended, wakes him to turn the hourglass. He’d slept fitfully with me, afraid to let the sands settle for only God knew how long.
Once he bestowed his five kisses and left me with nothing but a new scarf and memory, I twiddled my time. I’d have like to eat, but I was full. Never plan a lunch date with a man who leaves you with that useless kind of hunger, says my mother.
What I’d wanted to tell him was that, in his absence, I have solved the puzzle of the hourglass. I’ve found a fair way to say, “Sit with me till our time runs out,” and set the piece down top-heavy, and keep him until we both expire.
I finger the woolen fibers. I turn my back to the waitress awaiting my departure and remove my shirt and bra. I loop the scarf behind my neck, cross it at the clavicle, and guide it over each offending protrusion, which he once spent the short eternity of an hourglass caressing. When I tie the scarf in a knot at my lower back, I am my own hourglass. Head-heavy. If I focus hard enough on his grip at its threads, I can feel his hands upon me still.
Courtney Sender's fiction appears or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, American Short Fiction, Tin House online, Crazyhorse, and Michigan Quarterly Review. A MacDowell fellow, she holds an MFA from the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. She is currently working on a novel.