Countdown

Ten. Funny how a clock unnoticed for all of history is now the clock counting down the seconds left to live. It rises above the world, ancient face peeled, bronze pendulum swinging. Make it stop, they shout, but they might as well struggle against fate itself. These are the steadiest beats you will ever hear, and each one cuts through your skin, carves out the breath from between your ribs, cleaves your heart in two.

Nine. More time, more time,you scream, but time is immutable. It cannot deny itself for your pleasure. You do not matter so much.

Eight. Everything is going so fast that you are blinking and blinking and your head goes dizzy. At the same time it is too slow, so sickly slow, like a video sped up and played back to you in slow motion. Or maybe there is just too much screaming in the streets, a sobbing man, picking up his umbrella and slamming it against the wall of a building over and over again. He is drenched by the torrent that sleets from the sky.

Seven. A family huddles together by the intersection, their arms intertwined like ivy creeping along the walls of an ancient church. But this church is not ancient; still they have built enough ivy to last a century, not realizing how quickly a century ends. Their eyes are famished. Have they ever seen a human being, one as human as themselves? Blue eyes… green eyes… the color does not matter so much as the hunger in them.

Six. A teenager stands alone against the bewildering backdrop of the world. He straightens his shoulders. He sticks out his tongue to taste the grey rain and holds out one hand as if to salute the world one last time. One last time. Then he takes a bite from the donut that he just bought from the nearby bakery. It is all soggy now from the rain.

Five. Another teenager stands across the street from him, eyes shut, breathing fast, he reaches out and grasps a stranger’s hand—he needs someone. His lips are moving and you strain your ears in an attempt to hear, but the sound is coming from within you.

Four. You remember strange things from long ago that have waited for just this second to return to you. Racing rubber ducks on the creek with your best friend. Being the one to break the piñata. The two boys who had to walk the longest distance after getting off at the bus stop. Sticky summer afternoons spent laughing with friends and eating smooth, sweet popsicles; the snack stash on your desk, and the pack of Wrigley’s gum on top, as if your mind has saved the best for last.

Three. You remember the girl with the wistful eyes who drowned at age 10. She was too good for the world, they all said. You remember the girl in 10th grade who told you good morning. You had hated her because she was made of gold, and you were only silver. If you could do it over again, would you have loved her? You remember that a cashier in Chicago also told you good morning.

Two. What have you accomplished in your life? What a funny question! Why should it matter?

One. Two lovers run to each other with tears on parched eyes and words on parched lips; in one second they must say everything they failed to say for ten years. Maybe they will stay like this forever, gasping bodies flung upon each other in a frenzy of perfect love. All around them, for one second, the world is perfect, too; then the second is over and their memory is gone.

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