You’ve been searching for twenty-eight minutes for the heirloom fob watch, moving from the kitchen to the den to the basement, lifting piles of papers, opening drawers, digging through pockets, upsetting couch cushions, practically running now, scolding yourself because the event begins in thirty-two minutes and traffic will be simply awful. You’re beyond stopping and taking a breath and trying to recall where you had it last, because you know precisely where it was, where it always is, where it should be. In the teak bowl on your dresser. You’ve checked at least six times tonight. But it is not there now. Which is why you are livid with frustration.
You remove the top of the toilet tank, open and close the fireplace flue to dislodge anything, skim through the pages of encyclopedias you haven’t opened in ten years, paw through the crisper, spoon through the sugar bowl. The logic of this level of search detail has evolved and now makes perfect sense. You run back to the hall closet, clipping your elbow against a doorframe, cursing no one in particular, and pull out every board game and empty them onto the floor in a noisy colored mess of plastic and paper. You run outside with untied laces and check the car again: the glove compartment, the cracks in the seats, the trunk, the first aid kit. On the way back you check the mailbox again, feeling all four sides of the interior as though you didn’t trust your own eyes. The phone rings and you glare at it, but run past to check the dryer’s lint filter, between the rafters, the tool chest and the bag of used sandpaper, the boxes of holiday decorations and comic books.
Finally, you give up and mount the stairs heavily. You kick through the scramble of clothes on the floor, refusing to look at the dresser, and sit on the edge of your bed, your vision already a watery blur. All the memories of Grandpa come flooding back at once. The farm, the workshop, his overalls and flannel shirts, his orange cap. His laugh during reluctant hugs. Riding the tractor. Him reading to you in his favorite chair. Going through his things after the funeral.
Sometime later, sure you’ve missed the entire event by now, you get up and begin to search for pajamas, when your gaze happens, completely unintentionally, upon the dresser, into the teak bowl. You notice the darker circle in the fine layer of dust. In exactly the same place you always kept it. Your first thought feels so natural that you don’t even consider anything else.
That the watch is in the same place. But you have moved on.
Your jaw hangs slightly open and you need to sit again.
That you are witness to the first time machine inventing itself.
You try to remember what you’ve read about the history of the area… were there forests here before the city? And before that, maybe a prairie or a bog? You can almost hear giant Paleozoic dragonflies pausing to the mechanical alien sound of the watch. You wonder if it can move more than once. You imagine the timepiece with Grandpa’s monogram encased in a glacier, nudged by a foraging stegosaurus, tumbled in silt by the swift tail of a sea scorpion darting after a trilobite. Will it be melted in the early magma of a violent infant planet, or can it change direction? Maybe it will appear again briefly, on its way forward, if you watch that spot.
You are chilled and hungry, but you feel alive. You want to call a family member. It is very late.