The headaches began when the dreams began.
In the dreams, people would talk without pauses or inflection. Sentences had no beginning, no end. There were no commas, semi-colons, or colons. No dashes – no question marks – no periods. There were also no compound words – no “can’ts”, no “wont’s”, no possessives.
It made the dialogue sound like that of political pundits. It was delivered rapidly, with urgency. Almost with a despair that all the words would not come out fast enough, that the ideas needed to be emptied from the mind and poured out quickly or they would sour and turn on the speaker.
In the dream she was trying to write it all down so that it could be reviewed later, sorted, and understood. But she couldn’t write fast enough. Or type fast enough. And when she tried to use a tape recorder, the tape ran out before the dialogue and she was out of tape and even if she’d had more tape, she would have missed yards of dialogue before she managed to change it.
The topics were pretty far ranging, from the life span of a maple tree to Luther Burbank’s experiments with plant life to the weather in the Arctic and the destruction of the rainforest. There was also a series of dreams about fertility, and the use of corn to make plastic and biodegradable diapers. Quilting came up quite often, and knitting patterns generated by computer. Brain development was a recurring theme, and the life span of the fruit fly. Time management appeared as ads when the speakers simply ran out of breath, with either a very old woman or a very young one, sometimes interspersed with comments by either a beaver or a newt.
Where did all this information come from? She couldn’t remember having much interest in any of it, and yet it seemed to be there somewhere in her brain. She couldn’t have made it all up – the few facts she remembered, she checked, and they were accurate. She felt as if she were channeling Wikipedia or the nature channel when she slept.
This went on for an entire week, and then suddenly, she stopped dreaming altogether. At least she stopped remembering her dreams. The headaches went away.
She was relieved, and decided that it must have been something she ate, or a virus. She went on a cleaning spree, and started sorting out the clutter that had become oppressive. She signed up for a class, started a diet, and changed her hair color.
People commented about how well she looked, how rested. She found that odd, because she had never worked so hard in her life. But she was pleased. She went on a cruise, to celebrate.
When she got back she found that everything looked a little different. The light seemed to fall in different patterns on the walls and floors. All of the furniture had shifted, it seemed, just a bit – either to the right or the left. Plants in the garden looked as if they had been treated to hormones or special fertilizer. Everything was brighter, sharper. The intensity was exhausting.
She found that time was moving faster and faster, and each day seemed shorter than the last. Soon she was racing to keep up with the hours, to get through the ordinary tasks of housekeeping, cooking, personal grooming. When she slept it seemed like she had only napped for 20 minutes, and it was time to start again. She would have a conversation on the phone and think that it had lasted only a few minutes, and find that it had gone on for an hour, or longer. Water boiled in seconds, and tea turned cold just as fast.
She stopped trying to keep up. She watched the day unfurl and furl, like a stop-motion picture that records a day in two minutes. She was buffeted by time, and was powerless to remove herself from its relentless changes.
Then, quite suddenly, things began to slow. In fact, nothing moved, not even time, when she was still. It was only when she moved, that the day progressed at all. She had to drag the hours forward. And when she finally fell, exhausted, into bed, the dreams began again.
This time the dialogue was clipped, the sentences declaratory, with all the proper punctuation. The themes were now centered on home improvement, the history of antiques, the journals of the civil war, and cooking. The ads were now provided by survivors of the great depression, with graphic pictures of what poverty had done. Extinct animals spoke as well, making blistering statements about pollution and global warming. The Nothosaurus was particularly biting in its comments.
When she returned to consciousness she would find that no time had passed. The kettle was still trying to boil, seemingly just beginning again when she woke up, or the cat was still grooming itself. The clock said 9:00, or 10:00 as it had when she went to bed.
The headaches returned.
She wanted to talk to someone about what was happening, but realized she couldn’t explain it properly, she had no words to make it clear to someone else just what seemed to be either a fiction of her own making, or a phenomenon that was only apparent to her. Of course she wondered if she was going mad. But she was paralyzed in her own drama, unable to reach out.
People still called, she still carried on normal conversations (at least she thought she did) and no one seemed to be concerned. No one ever said “Are you alright?” No one ever seemed to notice the way time had become unreliable, when they came to call.
She did not go out, though. She had her groceries delivered, and started coloring her own hair.
She began to feel as if she were Alice, but instead of eating a pill or part of a mushroom, she had swallowed time, and the results had been disastrous. What can you do if you swallow time?
Wait. She felt the only remedy was to wait, and to keep dragging bits of it forward as best she could. She grew very tired, and each day was able to do less, until finally she just stopped. Everything stopped with her. The cat closed its eyes and went to sleep. The clock ticked one more time, and went silent. The plants shut down their tender roots and stopped taking up water, refused to engage in photosynthesis, and withered.
It was dark as night in the middle of the day. In the stillness and the silence, she slept a deep and dreamless sleep for a long, long time. In the moments just before waking, when the sleep that had dragged her down was lightening and continuing to thin, she had the kind of dream that she had as a child. She could leap huge distances with no effort, and if she chose, she could fly. She skimmed along over a long road and then stretched her arms out and lifted herself, catching the wind.
The wind carried her to a forest, and settled her gently on a path. It pushed her forward, nudging her to walk, until she found herself in front of a kind of hostelry. The sign over the door said STITCH INN. She rang the bell. She could hear it echoing over and over, as if the sound were carried down a long hallway.
An old woman dressed, or rather draped, in all the colors of the rainbow, answered the door.
“Come in, come in…Selene, isn’t that right? Although why your parents decided on such an old fashioned name I never did understand. Oh my, don’t you look worried! Not to worry, dearie. You’re in a safe place, though I can tell you find it a bit odd. Come through.”
She was led straight into a sitting room, with a fire burning in the grate. There was no hallway at all, one room opened directly into another. In this room there was a loom, and an embroidery stand with what appeared to be a sampler in progress. It was quite cozy, and for some reason, familiar. A small moon hovered in one corner, waxing and waning.
“Sit down, sit down. We need to talk, you and I. Or maybe you just need to listen. I do think I understand where you are coming from, and why; although I doubt you have a clue. It’s not usual that I need to actually summon someone, but that’s what I had to do in your case. It was going to be too dangerous to keep dropping hints, and giving you exercises. You kept fighting me, you see. That can have disastrous results. You were getting very tired, and my, my -- don’t you show it! Have some tea, it’s there right by your chair.”
Selene turned in the direction the old woman indicated, and there was a steaming cup of tea. She sipped it, and immediately became calmer, more focused.
“I am Mother Time,” the old woman said. “I know everyone still thinks it’s Father Time, and indeed I used to be Father time, but I found that manifestation of myself pretty cumbersome. Especially after the industrial ‘revolution’ as they call it. Kept getting wound up in the machinery. Wasn’t good for anybody. And there is a general understanding that women can usually multi-task better than men. So I became Mother Time. Funny how few have noticed. Oh well, it doesn’t really matter. But you seem to be having a great deal of trouble just now. That’s why you were summoned.”
The old woman grew silent, and began to work on the embroidery.
The little moon waxed and waned twice, and then the old woman spoke again. “There are people who say they have bags of time, but you are not one of those people, are you? And there are those who say they have no time, but you are not one of those people either. Actually, you have no understanding about time at all. You don’t seem to realize that it’s not a march, or a hall. It is not something you run out of. It doesn’t shift sand; gravity and wind do that, and water. It is not a point, you cannot really bag it or save it. You cannot use it wisely, either. All you can do, actually, is be in it. People think they can manage it, but that isn’t true either. Everyone has their own way of being in time. Until you are comfortable with the fact that how you are in it is unique to you and that your contribution to the rest of the world is just to be as you are, in time, you will not find happiness. You will stand outside of time and it will push you and pull you, or stop for you entirely. And you will be angry, and frustrated by it.”
The old woman looked up from her work and saw that Selene was crying. She put away her needle and got up from her work. She offered a handkerchief, and said “You were pulled outside of your own time when you were a little girl. I saw it happen, and it saddened me. You were caught by other people’s misuse of time, and you were powerless to change that. But now you are free to do so. Make this your task, my dear. Learn to be comfortable in time, with time. Recognize it as your friend, and not your enemy. Realize, fully, that you do have all the time in the world. Everyone does. Be free, in time. Now we must get you back to your own world, and your own life. In good time!” The old woman laughed.
The dream became nothing more than the colors the old woman was wearing, and the colors shifted and grew fainter and fainter until there was only a warm sweetness in the air around her. She woke up. And even though the calendar and the clock had moved ahead, she knew that there was still plenty of time. And that she would be in it just as she was, entirely as herself, and do with it whatever she found to do that pleased her.
It was chilly in the room. She lit a fire, and went to make some tea. She had no headache, none at all.