Times Pieces

by Susan Morehouse

Feature image: Jean Charles Cazin. October Day 1890-1891. The Art Institute of Chicago.

My husband is walking out the door with an expensive watch, carrying it in the box it came in. “Are you getting it fixed,” I ask.

“I’m going to see what it’s worth at the pawnshop on Main,” he says. “You could just get a Timex,” I say, “if you want to know what time it is.”

“Sure,” he says, “or I have that watch you gave me. It just needs—”

“Batteries,” I say.

“Yeah,” he agrees, “and a band.”

The expensive watch was a gift from a man whose biography he wrote on spec, a book no editor has taken yet, even though Henry, the man behind the success of a major tabloid, implied it was a done deal. That was before the financial collapse. Henry gives these watches to anyone he needs a gift for. He buys them in bulk. Need something for a sheik? Here’s a Millage.

We’re broke.

I didn’t know the extent until my husband confessed last week that he can’t sleep from anxiety. He comes downstairs to drink enough vodka until he can fall asleep. I monitor my reactions: How big a problem is this? What do I do? I am reading a novel by Michael Cunningham. The main character, Peter, also middle-aged, gets up every night for vodka and a pill. He is a mostly successful art dealer in Manhattan, but he’s anxious. His wife doesn’t know he gets up every night for vodka and a pill, or if she does, she sleeps through it. She has become distant. I don’t sleep through it, though I may have become distant. I monitor my distance. Maybe I’m a little relieved that there’s a mostly successful man who has vodka and a pill every night and he’s mostly okay. Except he’s a character. In a book.

Our daughter is in Mexico living with my mother and learning silver jewelry design. She is taking a break from college. San Miguel is an hour behind us in New York. We forget sometimes and call too early, or too late. Every month we send money for classes, and for silver and semi-precious stones. It’s not a lot of money, but her college fund doesn’t cover this. Nothing covers this.

“Did you know silver has gone through the roof,” my husband tells me over a cup of tea. A week ago it would have been over a martini, but we have stopped that. He is being conversational. “At least it’s better than gold,” he says. “She could be working in gold.” He is very proud of her designs, of her work ethic. At college she stopped leaving her room.

My mother calls to say she’s always at the studio. “Sometimes I get worried,” she says. “Your daughter doesn’t have a clue about time. Then she’s out on the dark streets trying to find a taxi. She forgets to call. We worry,” she says. “Something could happen.”

Mugged by depression: our daughter is Sleeping Beauty outside the story. Something has already happened.

“Do you think you could find my gold pocket watch?” my husband asks me. I answer as I always do when he asks: “I don’t have to find it; I know exactly where it is in my jewelry drawer.”

“I want it,” he says. “That’s what I mean when I say can you find it.”

He is standing in the hallway by the front door—about to leave or enter, I can’t tell.

“What are you going to do, sell it?” I say.

“Maybe,” he says.

I don’t find it on the first pass. There’s a mix of stuff: some family pieces, including a funeral brooch: a lock of the deceased’s hair set in gold: the name engraved is my name, Susan. There’s also a gold and topaz pin, a gift to my mother from her second husband (I think about the gold, but put it back in the drawer). I also have every piece of jewelry our daughter ever made for me, including shells on string, and earrings from a kit, as well as her baby teeth in an envelope. There is some talk in the extended family of sending her all the silver tea sets from the grandparents’ generation. She could melt it all down. She knows how. “Who has time for tea?” our cousins say.

The watch when I find it is lovely, a heavy gold nugget engraved with roses. The sound of it ticking is steady, fast, and somehow comforting. I hope he doesn’t sell it. I also have a pocket watch. Many years ago, I traded a spinet desk for two watches with an old man in West Virginia who had a barn full of antique things. I wanted a pocket watch for my boyfriend’s Christmas present. His family was from NYC and sophisticated. That same Christmas, he gave me my first piece of real art, a wooden puzzle sculpture of a woman sitting under a tree that’s really a rainbow. Then, I wanted to be someone a boy would give art to. Now I don’t know the boy anymore, but the rainbow woman is still on my desk.

I think if my husband sells any watch for the gold, it should be the second watch I got for myself. It doesn’t run anymore.

Later, at the gym with a friend, I confess I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how I got here: to this impasse, this financial mess, this middle-aged body, this worry about our daughter. We are side by side on elliptical machines pumping 120 steps a minute in the middle of a room full of other people on other stationary machines doing the same thing. My machine shows I have sixteen minutes left to goal. On the television our new governor is giving a State of the State address. We’re broke, he says. “I worry we won’t get through this,” I say. My friend nods. We are breathing heavily. “But,” I say, “maybe we will. Maybe this is just something to get through—like adolescence, or college.” My friend nods again.

“I mean,” I say, “there’s time, right?”

Susan Morehouse teaches fiction and nonfiction at Alfred University, where she
is chair of the Division of English and director of the Summer Creative Writing
Institutes for high school students. Her work has appeared in various journals,
including The Southern Review, Literal Latte, and most recently, New South.

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