Basil and Rosemary's Infinite Goodbyes

Submitted into Contest #253 in response to: Write about a character who has the ability to pause the passage of time.... view prompt


Contemporary Fiction Speculative

There'd been no warning. That’s what was so strange. None at all. One moment smiling, and then…

Sitting in his armchair, Basil stared at her photo. Something so big - so life-changing and catastrophic - there should’ve been a warning. Some tremor in the earth, or darkening of the sky, to herald her departure from the world. But it was just an ordinary day. A day like any other. The sun was out, the sky a brilliant azure, weightless above their heads as they'd negotiated the gap in the bramble. Basil had held Rosemary’s hand to help her over the dilapidated wooden fence. She’d rolled her eyes, the way she always did, at his gallantry, even though they both knew her quite capable. They’d only just qualified for their bus passes but preferred to go rambling. Traversing God's earth and soaking up the sights and smells of the countryside.

Rosemary, not even slightly out of breath from the uphill climb, had taken the blanket from Basil and spread it out on grass. Basil had already started on his jam sandwich, drawing laughter from Rosemary as she unwrapped the scones. Basil joined her, but then stopped when the smile slipped from her face, the scone falling from her hand. 

The sun continued to shine as his wife took her last breath, cradled in his arms.

A heart-attack, they'd said. His wife, who never smoked, who only had the occasional glass of wine, who had always been active.

Basil looked away from the photo in his hand to root through his memories. There was something there, he was sure of it, something to help at a time like this. Mad ramblings they’d seemed at the time, but what if Grandad hadn’t been as mad as he thought? 

Heaving himself off the sofa, Basil returned the photo-frame to the sideboard. His knees groaned with the effort of climbing the stairs. Astonishing, how he’d aged in the last few days, without her by his side. He was sure he had a bunch of old trinkets from his grandfather up in the loft. Grandad had been an old man when he died, and it had scared a then-fourteen year old Basil to see him delirious in the grip of heavy painkillers, shouting about Nazis climbing through the windows.

Basil pulled open the loft hatch with the cord, extended the built-in ladder, and began his ascent into the past.

On a visit to the hospital near the end, Basil had been alone with his grandfather when his dad left to get a coffee. The old man gripped his hand and told him about his hour-glass filled with magic sand. “I’ve left it to you,” he’d said, an intense look in his startling-grey eyes. “You can’t change anything though, only live through it again.”

“Live through what?”

“Life. You can do it again and again.” His eyes glowed at some recollection. “I got to live life with my daughter, again and again and again and again.”


“She was my world.” 

Basil hung his head. A strange shame always filled him when his mum was mentioned. He’d never met her, and though he knew it wasn’t his fault, the weight was still there. 

“The sand dwindles, though. You might think you have all the time in the world, but even time has to end sometime.”

Basil stared at his grandfather’s face, the deep fissures in his skin, grey hair curling from his nostrils, and wondered why he’d been listening so intently to these crazy machinations.

A huffing Basil emerged from the loft with the box marked ‘Grandad’, half hoping he’d fall from the ladder and tumble down the stairs, snapping his neck. But there was no such luck. 

Alone in his empty kitchen he began searching through the musty-smelling kick-knacks with the fervour of a drowning man searching for flotsam. His fingers brushed against the wooden casing. It was smaller than he remembered. Tiny even. A dark mahogany frame with an hour-glass within, filled with pure white sand. There was a note attached, tied on with some yellowed string. The writing was large and spidery but still decipherable. A list:

Think of a moment you want to start your life from, then turn the hourglass;

Never mention this to anyone or the magic will be undone;

The sand depletes. Even this will end.

Basil held the trinket in his calloused hands and wondered how something so unassuming could capture his grandfather's imagination. Even so, Basil held tight to Rosemary’s face in his mind's eye, and her generous smile. He thought back to when he'd first seen her, shining brighter than the girlfriends whose company she’d kept, and turned the hourglass. The white sand began to fall and… nothing happened.

Basil swallowed his disappointment and choked back a sob with a watery smile.

He fell into a dreamless sleep that night. An ordinary man, with an extraordinary hole in his heart.

Upon waking, he was met with a feeling of running late. He threw on his clothes and rushed out the house. Only later that day, after his studies, when he was killing time at the lake, his world was shattered… and reimagined into something beautiful and wondrous. He saw her laughing with her friends. Their whole life slammed into him, stealing his breath at the recognition. He wiped his damp cheeks and approached her with fear in his heart.

“Hi, I'm Rosemary.”

“Basil.” He extended his hand, and she barked out a laugh.

“A right pair we make.” Her eyes sparkled, pink suffusing her cheeks.

All the while this played out like déjà vu. He knew he'd been given a second chance.

Their life together was beautiful, as he knew it would be. As the years flew past, his memories of the previous life diminished, as though he was living it for the first time. They got too old to have children, despite trying. But that was okay. They were everything to each other. When retirement approached it meant they could do all the things they'd planned to. Go on endless holidays, go sailing, go for long walks. One evening they were packing a picnic for their ramble in the country on the morrow. A panic seized Basil then, a terror that his world was going to end. A waking dream visited him, of Rosemary’s death on a picnic blanket, and a strange hourglass.

The hourglass!

He rifled through his grandfather's belongings in the loft and found what he was looking for.

“What are you up to at this hour?” Rosemary called from below the lift hatch.

“Nothing, Rose. Just wanted to look at my grandfather's things.”

Basil turned the hourglass and watched the sand fall. Was there less of it?

That night he held tight to his wife, unable to sleep, until finally, he did.

The following morning he woke with a start and rushed out of the house so sure he'd be late. The college professor's lecture was vaguely familiar. Then by the lake he smiled before he saw her. His heart beat faster with the realisation that he had his whole life with her again. His Rosemary.

Their life was all he knew it would be, until that night, when readying themselves for their cross-country walk the next day. He crept up into the loft to fish out the hourglass and turned it.

Another life, full of love. Again, the hourglass beckoned. The sand was less. The following life, Basil held Rosemary tighter.

Even this will end.

His breath came in gasps as he climbed the loft ladder - and not from exertion. The sand had diminished further. He turned it to watch the grains fall.

Basil found Rosemary by the lake. If she found the intensity of this stranger's gaze disconcerting, she didn't show it. “A right pair we make.” He often had a lump in his throat at the familiar moments he revisited. Basil found it harder to leave her for work. He sought excuses to get home early.

The night before their walk, Rosemary was making jam sandwiches in the kitchen. Basil pulled himself through the loft hatch, and with a shaking hand, held the hourglass up to the light. Just a pinch of sand. 

When he spotted her by the lake, he paused before approaching her. It wouldn't do to meet her mid-sob. He noted the different shades of brown in her hair: The dark mahogany, deep chestnut, and golden-brown of a fallen autumn leaf. 

Anxiety crippled him when they entered retirement. They'd planned a long walk in the country. Rosemary had baked some scones. She was making Basil's favourite jam sandwiches when he left her to traipse upstairs. In the loft, he pulled out the hourglass and held it up to the dim light. Empty.


“Hold—” His breath hitched and he crushed a hand to his mouth to stifle a sob. A few deep breaths. “Coming, dear.”

He held her all through that night. Breathing her scent, stroking her hair in her sleep. Hair that had lost the warm brown tones, to be replaced with cool grey. 

The following morning they ate mackerel on toast before venturing out with their picnic. He held her hand as she climbed over the ramshackle fence, and didn’t let go. She chuckled at his earnest gestures before spreading the blanket upon the grass. Rosemary brought out the scones and paused when she noticed the jam sandwiches remained untouched. She glanced at Basil who was statue-still, looking on, eyes wide as he gripped the blanket beneath him. The scones tumbled from her hand as Basil let out a wail.

He held her as she left him for the second time.

Not for long, however. Living many lifetimes will wear a man down, until he's nothing but skin stretched thin over memories. But when Basil drew his last breath, later that same evening, his memories burned bright. And waiting at the gate to meet him, hand extended to help him across, was his Rosemary.

June 07, 2024 23:00

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Krislyn Lyon
13:49 Jun 11, 2024

Perfect. Engrossing. Nuanced emotions. Delicate dealing with time. Not cliche; not trite. Exactly what it needed to be. Total love.


Sarah W
11:07 Jun 12, 2024

Thank you so much. I'm so glad you feel that way.


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David Sweet
15:58 Jun 09, 2024

Fantastic first story for Reedsy! Welcome. Such a heart-warming and heart-rending story at the same time. You can see that living it over and over would take a toll on the individual re-living it. I get the sense that somehow Rosemary knew when she met him at the fence on "the other side." Beautifully told. I wish you the utmost joy in all of your hard work in your writing.


Sarah W
11:06 Jun 12, 2024

Hi David. Thank you for the warm welcome and kind words.


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