THE CLOCK MISREAD
She died at 8:04 p.m. He was watching the digital clock on her nightstand. She told him that she would die at precisely 8:00 p.m. She had ordered him to lean against the door frame and watch her—not sit in the armchair pushed up alongside the twin bed, not stand next to her while clutching her hand in his—until she died and then he was to pick the small black box off the foot of the bed and give it to his father.
He leaned and watched obediently, his eyes flickering every so often to the red numbers of the clock, until 7:59 was 8:00 and she was still breathing and staring back at him. As the seconds passed and the sharp rasp of her exhales still cut the air, his eyes started lingering on the clock, only retreating to her face when guilt pricked him.
He didn’t say a word when it was 8:01 and her watery green eyes still held life. He didn’t dare. It was unlike her to be wrong, and he thought she must have been as upset as he was surprised when the seconds disappeared and her heart refused to grow still. Her eyes narrowed, then closed, and she tried to control her breathing—as if she thought looking as like a cadaver as possible would help make her one.
The clock read 8:03 when she opened her eyes and used her elbows to push her skinny body up so she could sit back against the headboard. She spread her hands in front of her, studied the bony fingers—the long nails painted red, not a hint of tremor to ruin the picture—before knotting them into fists. She looked at him, and he had time to wonder if she was trying to find the words to explain what had gone wrong before her head sank down against her right shoulder, her eyes went empty and even colder than they’d been moments before, and the room grew quiet.
The clock read 8:04. He looked at her still body and then at the clock and wondered if maybe it was running fast. It read 8:05 before he pushed back against the door frame and let his legs take him to the box nestled between two white feet the heavy quilt didn’t quite cover.
The box was the size of a deck of cards. It was surprisingly heavy, and he let it sit on the palm of his hand for a long moment, feeling its heft, wondering why it was so cold. He thought about throwing it against the wall, seeing what damage it could do to the sunflowers papering the large room. Would they rot in front of him, or would he have to return weeks later to find withered brown petals settled against the baseboards? But he didn’t throw it, only slipped it into his pocket and shivered.
He left the room at 8:08 and closed the door behind him, knowing he wouldn’t open it again. The bedroom hadn’t been warm but the hallway was so cold he could see his breath in the air. In the time it took him to walk down the hall to the top of the staircase, his fingers were almost too stiff to cling to the banister.
He carefully put one foot down in front of the other, his body feeling heavier with every step. The air grew colder and colder. Soon, he couldn’t feel his feet. He started counting steps to fight against an urge to close his eyes and give his lungs a proper rest. He didn’t know how long it took for his count to reach one hundred. He squinted into the darkness, discovered he couldn’t see the stairs anymore or even his own hand on the banister. He couldn’t see anything anymore. All was pitch.
He realized he had lost count. He started over.
©2016 by Nazifa Islam
NAZIFA ISLAM grew up in Novi, Michigan. Her poetry and paintings have appeared in Anomalous Press, Flashquake, The Fat City Review, and The Harpoon Review among other publications, and her debut poetry collection Searching for a Pulse (2013) was released by Whitepoint Press. She earned her MFA at Oregon State University. View her website or find her on Twitter and Instagram at @nafoopal.