Why is it that horror movies always seem to include some version of skipping records, spiral staircases, or ticking clock faces?
The train made a loop counterclockwise around his basement. Tiny treetops, some of their foliage dotted in reds and yellows to signify the start of fall, stand erect throughout the scene; a testament to the countless hours spent in the basement repeating the same tasks. Dot glue, dip in flocking; dot glue, dip in flocking. The water in the falls, suspended as if time didn’t exist at all. Yet, every minute the train would return to the victorian inspired station with its hand-painted domes and ornately decorated frontispieces, its central clock face marking the hour. A key kept it running in real-time so he would know when to come upstairs for bed. 10pm. She was always there, knees propping a book, a helicoptering LED clamp light over the pages that would carry her unseen into the bedrooms and secret societies of the upper crust and celebrities.
“Ten already?” She would ask.
“Ten already,” he would say while heading into the bathroom for fifteen minutes then to bed. He would inhale the familiar scents of lavender face cream and lingering Herbal Essence shampoo while wrapping around her fragile frame. This all he found as reliable and satisfying as the diminutive world inside his fall landscape.
They were still young he felt, having just received tenure in his economics department. Though he knew having a child now may present some difficulties. The conversation always brought them back around to “let’s think over it just a little while longer.” They moved together to Toledo just over a decade ago. Since then he has found himself slipping comfortably into the routine of a life with her that he sees no end to.
It’s late in December and she no longer is around. He only realizes, as he is yawning, that it can’t possibly be 6:12pm as the clock insists but rather his phone tells him it’s 11:03pm. After winding the clock and setting it to the appropriate time he goes to bed without the scents of lavender and Herbal Essence.
When he awakens the door between the bedroom and bathroom is ajar while the shower is left running. Unnerved, he pushes through the threshold. She is there, barely visible through the steam.
“Don’t forget,” she says to him through the shower door.
“Mike is coming in. He’ll be arriving-“
“-at three,” they say together in unison.
He had been here before not in space only but in time and had been here on this day.
Mike, his brother-in-law, will come in from Portland. They will cook steaks on the grill despite the bite in the air. Mike will tell them about his travels and she will listen leaning on one arm with hungry eyes and ears. In the evening She and Mike can be heard through the vent laughing hysterically as the train rounds the bend. He allows them their time alone; dot glue, dip in flocking. She rarely laughs with him anymore, just chuckles at times. It’s so nice to have her voice ringing through the home.
The clock face is silent. It’s stuck on 11:03. Odd, it’s only 9:15.
He wakes. She is agitated.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, just fine” she lies. I’m going to be late. She is wearing an old dress with a pink gingham pattern that fans out at the skirt when she turns. She’s just gotten a new haircut. The one with the short harsh bangs that make her look like a different being. It’s sexy but uncomfortable to him. Her office friends like it, she tells him.
Towards midday, he receives a text. Reminder of your anniversary reservation at La Rouge this evening, Wednesday, September 15th at 7pm.
It’s where they shared their first meal together. He wanted very much to impress her that night. It worked. She seemed to grow less and less so with every passing year. It wasn’t the best of anniversaries this time around. At dinner she is distracted by what she says is a project at the office. Her fingers trace the outline of her glass as he adjusts the tie around his tattersall collar. Another year together come and gone.
The train makes another round. Her birthday. He wants to go back to see her eyes aglow when she opens the delicate box, to feel the nape of her neck as he wraps the chain around her. She looks at him with affection and appreciation or maybe it’s pity?
That day she convinced him to spend at the beach. She wears a yellow suit and seems to glow like the sun. The sand feels so hot to the touch while finding its way into parts he rarely considers, reminding him of the feeling of lust he nearly completely had forgotten. It's 3:09, 7:18, 5:11, 2:28; he visits all the days of the past year that hold in their hours sweetness and fondness and saccharine-coated memories.
Then, after countless smiles, glances, and a few listless gazes he visits 12:05 - the day she disappears from the circuit. It’s late on a Sunday as he enters the room. She lays on her side, back to him, limp. The afternoon light coming through the blinds streams around her slender frame hugging her while eating at her silhouette until she grows so thin that she nearly disappears from his eyes. She’s taking a rest. He sits by her on the bed watching her ribcage lift slightly with each breath. She can sleep so much. It’s the early hours of darkness and the bitterly stinging winds that steal her lightness, she says.
Later that night asleep at her side he hadn’t initially heard her leave. But now that he knows she will go he lies awake waiting. When it comes time for her to leave he finds himself unable to reach out, unable to derail the oncoming event. She doesn’t even look back to learn if he is aware of the cavity in the sheets left behind in her absence. Where was she ever going to?
After she is gone he runs barefooted and unclothed from the bed. Hurdling across the frigid tile of the basement floor he finds his way to the miniature train station and pushes against the clock hands, past the resistance they have to offer, enraged. 12:45. What now?
He is floating. The view, reminiscent of the landscape in the basement is contained, quiet. Below him sits her car, steam escaping the hood. Its front end has knocked into the side of a sturdy tree trunk. He sees a gleam from the streak of black ice the police had told him was to blame. Circles of tire tracks decorate the pavement. It must have just happened. She is trying to suck in air but her breaths are too shallow and the oxygen escapes as a white mist right back into the cold night air; each breath carries a bit more of her away with it. The fight in her eyes is subsiding. He says nothing. He doesn’t know if he can and if he can he doesn’t know what to say. It’s her that speaks. She seems to be looking right through the elongated and gnarled skeletal arms of the bare trees as if she can see him. “I want to be sorry,” she utters. “I want to be sorry for you though I was leaving every bit behind to begin again in Portland.
This is when he realizes the thing that scares him even beyond death. She left him and took with her all reassurances. The comfort of lavender and cheap shampoo. The comfort of weary chuckles. The comfort of an eye roll when he made the same bad joke, twice. The comfort of his repetitious days, his repetitious life. Instead, he finds only agony for them both. The countless nights he will spend without her. The grief that will flow like waves through his chest for whatever days he has left while she, having spent her whole life encircled by a continuous loop that slowly tightened around her like a noose, will never make her escape, will never know contentment. It may seem innocuous but to be sure, there is little more terrifying than a loop.