The man living across the hall is old. We call him John, or Mr. Wallace when we’re intimidated by the shelves of skin on his cheeks. Lately, John’s been knocking on our door whenever he has a problem with his computer. He uses it to play solitaire and to Skype his granddaughter, but sometimes it acts up. So some of us head to his apartment and tinker around. I have to slow each step so I can walk by John’s side. We move slow enough for the marrow to drip down the walls of my bones, pouring viscous and thick like sand in an hourglass. In John’s apartment, all the clocks are frozen. It’s 10:12, 8:26, and 3:02 all at once, and the calendar is still flipped to October even though it’s March. The place is littered with photographs—capsules of people I’ve never seen. The fridge babbles (it doesn’t always work, either). The smell of cigarettes wools over every item. Smoke unchains from the end of John’s cigarette, carving footholds in the air, climbing to the ceiling. I watch it spill from his lips, unscroll from his nostrils. John dissipates into the grey, sending out light through the orange throb of the cigarette and the flint of his eyes. Sometimes he reminds me of a sleepy dragon; or a stone knight, eroding under moss. When the computer’s fixed, John stands up, thanks us thoroughly, sends us on our way.
The police sit us down in our kitchen and try to establish a timeline. I don’t think the interrogation lasts fifteen minutes. Then again, our apartment doesn’t have a clock. We use the stove to tell time, or our phones, or the Fitbit charging on the granite counters, never worn. Terri is the one with a good memory, and she swears she saw John getting his mail a week ago. I tell the police about the time I was sick, and the hallway was dark, and two kids at the door gave me some bullshit story about coming in to check our cable. The police officer, the one with a toothbrush moustache, asks if I thought they were suspicious. I said, our apartment doesn’t have a TV. He asks if that was over a week ago. Just to make sure we understand the timeline.
The new neighbours move in six months later. They’re a young family—a couple and their baby, who they dress in tiny pink shirts and bushy flower bows. When I meet them on the stairs, they say hello, smile, ask about the previous owner. I say what the police said—it was definitely a robbery. I don’t say that it was probably the two kids in the dark, that I should have paid more attention. That maybe if I’d given them some cash, this could have ended differently. I don’t think about how it was us who found him—Terri and me. She has a good memory, but mine has become intentionally bad. I try not to remember him, so I focus on the details. The pulled-out drawers, closet doors thrown open, boxes, books, clothes swarming the floor. All of it hazy, distorted, blurred and spotted like there’s fungus growing over it, frothing over the fabric and swallowing the light. Our new neighbours don’t need help with their computer, but they do invite us in for a drink. The clock in the kitchen and the one in the living room both read 7:32.
I think about how easy it is to reset a clock.
Vera Hadzic (she/her) is a writer from Ottawa, Ontario, studying at the University of Ottawa. In the past, her work has appeared in Crow & Cross Keys, Kissing Dynamite, Rejection Letters, and elsewhere. She is an editor for Wrongdoing Magazine and can be found on Twitter @HadzicVera.