The day ‘it’ arrived is inked onto my memory like a tattoo. The delivery man, dressed all in black his face obscured by a dark motorcycle visor, knocked at the door, handed me a large, heavy box and an envelope, then vanished.
My recently deceased grandfather always joked he would leave me his most prized possession but at the will reading my name was not amongst the beneficiaries.
Recognising my grandfather’s handwriting, I ripped open the envelope to find a single sheet of paper with a cryptic note.
‘BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. HAVE FUN! GRAMPS
I opened the box and had to gawk
for it was a construction with clocks in a flock.
As an inheritance it was quite a shock,
and I wondered if it was something I could hock.
If Gramps was still here, I'd give him quite a sock
because leaving me this was a total crock.
The case wouldn't open as it had a lock
but a seam on the back was sealed with caulk.
I removed my fingers from the package in horror as a current scrambled my thoughts. I backed away from the innocuous-looking box. Was it the missing mischievous Pandora? No, surely not. It was just a myth. I laughed. nervously. Gramps the custodian of the most powerful thought weapon ever created. Ridiculous. I reread his note in trepidation.
I was afraid to touch the monstrosity again. A devotee of modern poetry, I abhorred the silly rhymes which had spewed, unbidden. However, the clock was WRONG. I had no idea what the plethora of dials meant. No one had wound it in ... how long? The time was two hours slow were it ticking now. I wound it. After three turns of the winding dial, the entire contraption ... DISAPPEARED! Something felt different in the light from the front windows. I looked at my watch, and the time matched the now missing clock. Goosebumps erupted on my arms. The phone rang. Mother. She’d called two hours ago, and she began relating the SAME family news I'd heard then.
I tried to interrupt. I urgently needed to question her about Gramps, but she continued without pausing for breath. I usually tuned out, put the phone on loudspeaker while I replied to emails, checked Facebook, poured a drink or perform whatever sundry housework within earshot of the phone so I could still make the appropriate noises as and when.
Now I listened intently. She droned on and on. Still, wearing only a flimsy summer nightdress, I shivered as an icy chill seeped into my bones... I remember now. I'd left her talking to herself while I went upstairs to find a sweater!
Oh, by the way; Julia. Gramps bequeathed you his 'box of tricks' or as he lovingly referred to it as his Pandora's box. Silly old fool. I swear it was dementia... or was it Alzheimer's? Why would he leave you that? The funeral is on ... I was tempted to put it in the skip with the rest of his poetry books, furniture and other rubbish but he threatened to come back and haunt me if I didn't send you the box before he was cremated. It will be with you this morning. Hope you are not going out as I don't want the bloody thing returned to me.
'Mum', I must go there is someone at the door.
I found, confronting me, the same delivery van. Mum's veritable rush of verbal rubbish had taken all two hours! Something had changed. Mum had only talked for a bit over an hour "the first time". The first time? I accepted so confidently an event I could be locked up for relating. I began considering possibilities. I could relive sections of time, but I must be careful. If something happened and I weren't here to meet the delivery, it would all be over. How many times had Gramps undone a mistake or an accident? I started thinking about close calls the family survived. Oh my! The time he appeared out of nowhere to drive us to the airport, ran out of gas, we missed the flight, and the plane crashed! Wait … he insisted? I knew he thought me the family’s most clever. Gramps died from a brain bleed after he stumbled over his cat … and Gramps always looked older than his years. How many times had he lived the same hours twice?!
Yes, I could still save him.
When did he die?
When was he admitted to hospital?
More importantly, WHEN, did he have the accident?
I still had time to reset the clock.
I stared at the box looking for inspiration. Which dials did what?
I relived most of that day thirty times before I finally stumbled across the dial that set me back days. I wound up not answering Mum’s call—just sitting waiting for the doorbell and the clock. I’ve now gone back to Gramps’ fatal (fateful?) day ten times, trying to get to his house that morning before he set out to clean his gutters. The first time, I was stopped for a speeding ticket, and when I got there, I found him—on the ground. The second time, I tried a different route—an accident blocked traffic. Each time, some excuse I’d have used when late for work made me too late for Gramps. No matter how I set that last dial, I couldn’t go back further than when I woke that morning. I had to try something different!
I looked at the box for inspiration. What would I normally do when I needed advice? I picked up the phone and dialled his number! Wow!
“Hello, Julia. Pleased you rang. You'll be receiving a package from me in the next month. Use the enclosed wisely. I forgot to include some instructions but you're a clever girl and I'm sure you'll figure it out for yourself.”
The next evening, I received an email from Cal Fetlock …
Photo © 2004Tom Kirsch, opacity.us