Winter inspected her sun room anticipating her sisters' arrival. Spring, Summer and Autumn were due for their annual planning session. Being the eldest, Winter wanted everything in perfect order.
She dressed in traditional black. Her sisters preferred the graceful styles depicted in Arthur Rackham’s fantasy illustrations. But Winter dressed formally, especially when entertaining.
Her style complemented her orderly home, decorated in white. Snow draped every surface. Her servants followed instructions. Every detail received its due.
But for one item, everything stood ready, a frozen wonderland.
Winter recently spent a fortune on her prized possession, an amazing clock. The art piece revealed its intricate inner workings. The delicate landscape painted on its face changed as the day progressed. It also transformed with the seasons. Arching over the landscape, the moon displayed its phases.
The clock did everything but keep time. She wound it, shook it, and did things not often done with delicate works of art. She called the designer to complain. He did not pick up.
And her sisters were due. They might be late. Had she a working clock, she would know.
Bluster, her butler, appeared at the door.
“The ladies have arrived, Ms. Winter.”
“Thank you, Bluster. Show them in. You may serve us…”
He withdrew and moments later, her sisters peeked in.
“Come in from the elements, my elementals!”
With ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhhs,’ in they swept and danced in swirls, kicking up mini-snow flurries.
Winter pointed to the table. “Sit, my wisters.” Her contraction of ‘witches’ and ‘sisters’ had become her pet term. “Come see what I bought…”
Spring said, “I’m telling the girls about a schoolboy I knew, Win.” Dressed in muted greens, she pranced to the table in laced-up boots and swayed like a willow.
Autumn said, “Yes, go on…”
“This boy narrated his life in the third person. Mounting his bicycle, he would say, ‘And he got on his bike and rode away.’ Or, looking at us, ‘he looked at them thoughtfully.’ You see? But for all his narration, he did little. He busied himself so, in observing his life, he barely lived.”
“Always in the moment, though…” Autumn settled next to Spring. With cascading red hair, she always looked posed, awaiting a portrait painter.
Summer asked from beside the fire, “Did he outgrow it?” She favored short skirts and peasant blouses. Though always underdressed when visiting Winter, her fashion sense held steady.
Winter interjected, “I don’t have time for this, Twig.”
Spring laughed, “Yes. I think he fell in love.” Everyone laughed, but Winter. Spring said, “You would have time, if you wished, Win. People say, ‘I don’t have time...’ as if the choice isn’t theirs. Desire sets the clock.”
“Thank you, Twig.” Winter addressed the group. “Speaking of which, let me show you my new prize.”
Spring would have continued, but for Winter’s icy stare. Winter detailed her new clock’s features, including the fact it didn’t work.
Summer said, “Maybe it’s frozen, Win. You keep it unseasonably cool…”
“Don’t give it up. Kick-start it.” Autumn looked about. “Clocks have so many moving parts…”
Spring said, “Autumn’s right. We time binders live in the present, but predict those quarter-hour chimes.” She nodded at her sisters. “We tell stories about the past.”
Winter rolled her eyes. “So many big words, Twig. Don’t trip on them.”
Spring continued, “Cave men knew things we’ve forgotten. They read the stars and clouds, built the Stonehenge…”
Autumn interjected, “Yeah, the Rolex of pre-historic monuments.”
“…and did what they needed. They listened to their hearts…”
“Oh, that ticker…” said Summer.
Winter extended her arms and spun around. “I don’t care. Did those cave women entertain in splendor like this?”
Summer said, “If time is money, this is well spent.”
Autumn murmured, “If you have the money…”
Spring jumped in. “…I’d rather have the time.” They laughed together.
Spring continued, “But really, people say, ‘when I have the time…?’ Why not now? You plan to ‘make time.’ But of what will that time, be made?”
“Or what will you make of the time?” said Autumn.
“Exactly! There’s a trade-off. Time for this means less for that. On one hand is a watch. On the other…”
Winter said, “A wand!” She felt her control slipping. “Focus girls. We’re here to plan.”
Summer said, “Funny name, ‘watch.’ It takes your time checking, setting, testing, telling...”
Winter said, “Watches are so ‘last century.’ Smart phones replaced them.” She tapped the table. “Enough small talk. How will we start the New Year?”
Looking at her watch, Summer said, “Where’s our tea? Wait, my watch stopped. Is it late?”
Checking their smart phones, the others stared, mouths agape. And in unison, said, “Ours too…”
Autumn whispered to Spring, “Like a bar of soap, we use it daily, never noticing its slip, until only a sliver.”
Spring announced, “We’ll be late for the Early Bird Special… Oh, wait, I’m not hungry.”
Bluster brought the tea.
Winter asked, “Do you have the time, Bluster? It seems our clocks have stopped.”
While serving, Bluster said, “Apparently, it’s contagious. The news says the world has stopped.” They stared. “Well, not the world. I presume it still spins. But clocks, everywhere…”
Winter said, “Everywhere? So it’s not only my wonderful clock?”
“I’m afraid not, Madam. Time will tell, of course. But they suspect it’s permanent.” Bluster withdrew.
“So sad. I loved it. How can it be? Everyone, take a pastry.”
Summer moved from the fire to the window. “What happens now?”
Spring said, “Everything, if you let it.”
Winter stared at her cup. “Grief suspends time. Borrowed by Pain on permanent loan. You lose interest. The loss keeps pace, won’t recede, and you cannot move forward.”
Spring gestured with her cup. “Can you imagine the folly of inventing a time machine? And traveling back, only to rediscover those injuries you thought abandoned to the past?”
Winter looked up. “The only way out, make time meaningless.”
“Stop caring about it…” The others balked. “…Let time hook you, and spend your days regretting. Stay busy, so its nagging can’t distract. One day you’ll stop and say, ‘My God, it’s Christmas, again?’
Unconvinced, Autumn said, “I once found lost time, but never recouped the time I spent searching. Expired shelf-life.”
Summer moved to another window. “But does it mean time has stopped? What now? Is aging in the past?”
Spring stood and pirouetted. “It’s about time. Never believed in it. Won’t define myself by counting swirls about the sun I’ve spun.”
Summer shook her head. “My son’s almost old enough to drink. He’ll be ticked.”
Spring said, “Youth rides on attitude, not a birthdate.” She juggled two pastries.
Autumn caught one midair. “People will stop fretting and simply live. March Hares be gone.”
“And egg timers.”
“They’ll surely grow. But remain ageless.”
“The sand glasses ran out on us.” Winter poured the last of the tea. The dribble slowed to drops.
“Time to live our lives in full. No eking precious moments. Wallow in them.” Spring balanced a butter knife on her finger.
“It goes faster every day. Last year, a week took a month. Now calendar pages flutter like leaves.” Summer shook her head.
Bluster brought more tea. Winter touched his arm and smiled.
Autumn sugared her tea. “We mistake thinking any minute is mundane, caring less than a toddler sifting beach sand.”
Spring added, “You can find the universe in a grain of sand. Finding the grain in which it hides is the hard part.” Summer passed the pastry plate. “Time accelerates as repetition saps the awe from our lives. Time does not pass for a two year old watching hourglass sand pile and shift. When did you last wonder when the land slide would trigger?”
The others sipped and listened.
“Awe’s presence or lack marks time better than a clock’s sleight of hand.”
Autumn said, “Nothing happens ‘suddenly’ or ‘in an instant.’ That instant might be years in the making.”
“…with a cast of thousands.” Spring and Autumn grinned.
Winter said, “So it’s attention which comes of a sudden.”
Summer finally sat. “But has the sun grown weary of setting?”
Spring reassured her, “No. Waves will always march to shore. The moon will always run its paces. Worry changes nothing. Time cares for itself.”
“What about music? Will musicians stop keeping time?”
Winter said, “You must be kidding.”
Spring said, “Have you heard music lately?”
Autumn said, “It’s been years since time held musicians in sway.”
Winter stood and invited her sisters to hug. She said, “I hope you know, your presence or absence marks my time.”
Spring said, “Time hasn’t vanished. We’ll replace the clock’s tick with the whisper of our falling hair, rippling water, or the music of falling leaves…”
“Watching for pots to boil,” added Autumn.
“Or wine, at last, to ferment…” said Summer.
Winter pulled them closer. “We’ll have a party… and have the time of our lives.”
They all cheered.