The Irony Of Time

28 Feb

Well, it’s now week three of the IndieInk Writing Challenge. And I have to say, the competition and the prompts just keep getting more and more fierce. My challenge this week comes from the very talented and ultimately lovely Anastasia McDonnell (@mcdonnellism on the Twitter machine).

“The Giant Hourglass: You are given 5 years to live. Not 2 weeks, not six months, but a full five years to the day. Describe how you handle this news & what you fill this rather unusual timeline with.”

Wow. And I thought last week’s prompt was going to be hard. This one? As I am typing these words, I have no clue how I am going to attack this one. All I keep coming up with is fart sounds and the word “DUH” that seems to be on repeat in my tiny brain.

Anyway, here goes nothing!



Until that day, I never paid much attention to it.

You see, time seemed to be so inconsequential, so trivial. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t change time. I couldn’t fast forward reality. I couldn’t go back to fix all the mistakes of the past. After years and years of abiding by other people’s timetables, I just quit caring altogether. After all, why occupy yourself with the task of worrying about things you cannot change?

Well, that’s what I used to think.

That is, until that day.

I remember that day. I remember the sights, the sounds, even the way the small, sterile room smelled.

Most importantly, I remember the irony.

I was late, very late to an appointment that was three months in the making. As usual, I was obeying a timetable imposed on me by someone else. When I made the appointment to see him, I could hear the disinterest in the receptionist’s voice as I questioned her about their lack of a more expeditious appointment time.

“Three months is the absolute soonest he will be able to see you, sir” she said with a hint of irritation to her Southern drawl.

“Fine. Just fine. I’ll just be waiting here, wondering if I am even going to live long enough to make it to this appointment. But don’t you worry yourself about me.”

Met with silence, I wasn’t sure if she caught the heavy dose of sarcastic anger I was throwing her way.

“We’ll see you on the 23rd of April, sir. Make sure you have your paperwork completed upon arrival to insure no further delays. Have a good day.”

No sooner did I try to stumble out some sort of halfhearted valediction, I was met with a deafening dial tone. My time with her was up. There was nothing more I could do.

As the months passed, I got sicker and sicker. I could feel my body withering away.  I knew I was dying. I knew there was nothing they could do. But still, I waited for that appointment with a sense of urgency and diligence that nobody could match. Maybe, just maybe, he would have the answers. He would look at me, wave his magic wand, and take away all that ails me. I clung to hope like a lifesaver. At this point, hope is all I had left.

The unforgiving sounds of my alarm clock jolted me out of bed that day. Discombobulated, I struggled to allow the remaining nightmare to wash itself from my mind. Today, I would meet my maker so to speak. And my subconscious knew this. For the last three months, my dreams had slowly become nightmares. My mortality was at play. By day, my mind struggled with this very fact. And by night, my mind would torment me.

“SHHHHHHIIIIITTTTTT!” I screamed out as my weary eyes finally focused on the alarm clock.

I was already 15 minutes late to my appointment. Once again, time had fucked me.

Without hesitation, I threw on my clothes, doused my un-showered self with cologne, and ran down two flights of stairs to my car. Within minutes, I was checking in for my appointment.

“I’m so sorry I’m late, ma’am. I don’t know what the hell my alarm clock was thinking this morning!”

“Please fill this two top forms out and initial the bottom, sir. He is running  a little bit behind, so there may be a little bit of a wait.”

I took my rightful place among the others in the waiting room. As I sunk into the vinyl seat, sounds of sickness surrounded me.  I knew I was going to end up just like everyone else in this room. I knew there was no way I could fight it anymore. I knew my time had come.

I could feel the tears starting to stream down my face as I initialed each of the documents the receptionist handed me. I felt like I was signing my own death certificate. I already felt doomed before I even had a chance to meet with him.

“Mr. Johnson? Is there a Mr. Johnson here?”

Embarrassed, I slowly rose to my feet and headed into the direction of the womanly voice calling my name.

“I’m Mr. Johnson, ma’am. Please excuse the tears and the red face. I must have gotten something in my eye.”

I knew she didn’t buy my story. Her disbelief was written all over her calming smile and comforting eyes.

“It’s been a bad allergy season for us, hasn’t it?” she quipped back.

I smiled as I shook my head in agreement. I was still way too embarrassed to muster the words needed for an actual conversation.

We made our way down a long corridor and into the exam room. My mind quickly inventoried my surroundings as if I would need these memories for a later date. The room was cold, white, and suffocating. This would be the place I would meet him. This is the place where I would be saved.

Or so I hoped.

Within minutes, he was finally standing in front of me. The pressure of his handshake seemed to crush every single bone in my right hand. I didn’t care though. This was my moment. I had waited so long just to meet this man, this savior of mine.

And then he spoke.

I don’t even recall the whole conversation that took place that day. My mind would only allow me to remember the most important parts. My hope was no more. His confirmation of what I already knew validated my worst nightmares.

I was dying.

Suddenly, the thing I never paid much attention to was front and center on my mind. All I could think of was time. How much time did I have? How much time would I spend in pain?

His words were as heavy as boulders. Each verb, each noun, each adjective stung like cigarettes smoldering underneath my skin. Even though I already knew what he was going to tell me, I felt abused. I felt sicker than when I walked into that fucking room. I finally felt defeat trickling into every part of my soul.

I’m sure the look on my face said it all. I couldn’t even comprehend what had just been presented to me. I tuned out pretty much everything he had to say. I couldn’t change reality.

Time had come for me.

“Wait. Stop. No more explanations. No more talk of experimental treatments. How much time do I have left? What is my timetable here, doctor?” I said between tears and anger.

“A patient with your condition usually has five years to live once the initial diagnosis has been made. Think of today as day one.”

“Five fucking years? I have five years left of this? Five years of pain, agony, and suffering?”

“Yes, Mr. Johnson. I suggest you start living each day like it was your last.”

And with that, his time with me was done. I heard the metal of the door latch click as he left the room.

He was gone. And so was my hope.

That night, I sat alone in my bed for the first time as a man with a known death sentence. Where would I go from here? What did I have left?


The one thing that was once so insignificant to me suddenly was the only thing I could think about. I was a prisoner to time. I couldn’t speed it up. I couldn’t slow it down. I could feel time weigh me down like a giant hourglass that was strapped to my back.

As I glanced over at my alarm clock one last time as I drifted off to sleep, I was now, more than ever, on the clock. Tomorrow would be day two. Tomorrow, I would have more time to think. Tomorrow, I would have less time to live.

Suddenly, time had become both my friend and my enemy. And now It was up to me to figure out how to keep the peace.


30 Responses to “The Irony Of Time”

  1. Jason Hughes February 28, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    Wow. Nicely done. I was there with you the entire time. Had to remind myself this was fictional, to the degree that none of us actually knows when we’ll die.

    Very powerful. Nicely done.

    • TJ February 28, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

      Thanks, Jason! To be totally honest, some of this wasn’t fiction. I borrowed quite a bit of some actual events that I went through last year.

      • Jason Hughes February 28, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

        I can’t imagine the amount of fear you must have felt, then. For what it’s worth, you captured it so very well.

  2. Mandy February 28, 2011 at 5:37 pm #

    Wow, great post. So many great details. The fear, the anticipation, being late, the doctor and staff interactions, the emotions. Well done.

    • TJ February 28, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

      Thank you! I am excited to see what you do with your prompt.

  3. Jules February 28, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

    Damn. You are a master at this!

    • TJ February 28, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

      Aw, shucks! I’m so glad you are participating this week. Bring it, Jules.

  4. flutter February 28, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    Look at you with yer fiction! This rocked.

  5. Future4Fina February 28, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    I have no idea how I would have written with this prompt because I don’t believe I know myself well enough to decide what I’d do with the time I had left. It would have scared the bajeezus out of me. You nailed it my friend.


  6. Random Girl February 28, 2011 at 8:30 pm #

    I loved this. It made me anxious. It takes a lot to make me anxious.

    • TJ February 28, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

      I’ll definitely take that as a compliment then!

  7. Wendryn February 28, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    I liked this – definitely got me involved.

  8. andygirl March 1, 2011 at 12:18 am #

    whoa! great piece, my friend. I wanted to keep reading.

  9. anastasia mcdonnellism March 1, 2011 at 12:32 am #

    GAH! You are such an amazing writer. I loved this, I am honored you turned my humble prompt into such a wrenching piece. I loved the description of the decay, the doctor’s waiting room, the prognosis & resulting fury – I didn’t expect that and I really liked it. Bravo, sir, bravo! I love & am so glad to be part of this challenge with such excellent writers like, you, Teej.
    >>Thanks for the classy shout-out, too ;)

    • TJ March 1, 2011 at 9:21 am #

      I learned it from watching you! Wait. What were we talking about?

  10. Jürgen Nation March 1, 2011 at 11:05 am #

    Dang. Well done. The whole piece radiates nervous tension. And this? “Tomorrow, I would have more time to think. Tomorrow, I would have less time to live.”

    Aaaargh. PERFECTLY stated. Gave me chills.

    Awesome prompt too, AMcD!

  11. evenstarwen March 1, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

    You are SO talented. When I saw this challenge in the email, I was immediately excited to read the response. You took my expectations and multiplied them by awesome. Great job.

    • TJ March 1, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

      Thank you! I don’t think I have ever multiplied anything by awesome before. :)

      • evenstarwen March 1, 2011 at 5:08 pm #

        Excellent. That means I witnessed history being made.

  12. Holmes March 1, 2011 at 5:18 pm #

    Nice dude. This is tense.

    • TJ March 1, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

      Thanks, man!

  13. You can call me, 'Sir' March 3, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

    “Yes, Mr. Johnson. I suggest you start living each day like it was your last.”

    Wow. Worst. Oncologist. Ever.

    Great job with this. It’s the kind of challenge that I’d probably over-think, then end up writing WATER SKI OFF A CLIFF or something equally meaningless.

  14. Deb @ San Diego Momma March 3, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

    Uh-huh. This is how it’s done.
    Imagery? Imagerisitic. Story? Absorbing? Dialogue? Natural.

    How it is DONE.

    The end.

    • TJ March 4, 2011 at 9:37 am #

      Thank you!

  15. K March 4, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    “I was a prisoner to time.” This sentence sums it up. The sentiment is crippling as it is probably one of the most disempowering experiences one can have (this is what lies beneath the immortality conundrum). We all know we are headed towards some end but somehow not knowing when it comes frees us from the burden of living each day “to its fullest.” What a heart-breaking story. Very well written.

  16. Kerri Anne March 4, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    This made my heart ache. Here’s to never taking precious time for granted.

  17. Indigo March 6, 2011 at 7:57 pm #

    Holy wow! I know this feeling. Your descriptive nuances captured the fear, the unknown factor of how – how do you decide to spend your own fate.

    The day I was told I would never hear again felt a bit like this. Changed my whole life from that point on. (Hugs)Indigo

    • TJ March 6, 2011 at 8:05 pm #

      Thank you so much! I appreciate the kind words.


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