The Hourglass

CW: Car accident, death

This was her hourglass, and when I flip it over, I can hear her voice, bickering with me about how long to boil an egg. Telling me I’ve thought long enough, and it’s time to put the Scrabble letters on the board. Asking me to tell her when the time’s up so that she can pour the perfect four-minute cup of tea. Laughing as I time her putting up her waist length hair to go to work. Insisting that she was only going to be out in the garden for five minutes, and grinning when she came back to find me standing in the doorway, hourglass in hand.

It was in my pocket that night. I was home before her, and I was getting ready to make bread. I’d mixed the yeast and the warm water and the sugar. The timer was broken, so I’d decided to let the hourglass run through four times to give the mixture time to froth. It wasn’t really necessary but watching the sand run through the glass in the sleepy warm afternoon sunshine was soothing, almost hypnotic. The sound of the crash took a moment to work its way into my befuddled head.

It was all done by the time I got to the garden gate. A man sat inside the deep red Jaguar, his hair falling forwards, his face blank and white. And tucked underneath the gleaming front bumper, her bicycle. She was face down, still and quiet, her tweed skirt rucked up around her knees, her white silk shirt growing pink. And a cascade of late cabbage roses and heady sweet peas scattered around her. When I close my eyes, all I can see is her pink lace slip, her favourite, almost frivolous under the hem of her sensible skirt.

The ambulance arrived in seconds, or in days, I’m not quite sure which, and I was shooed away by the capable and set-faced men in uniform. We didn’t have a car, but Mr Jenkins, our neighbour, drove me over to the hospital.

They wouldn’t let me in to see her. I was only her landlady, the spinster she shared a house with. I found the hourglass in my pocket – it must have been in my hand as I ran out of the door. It was wrapped tight in my fingers when I heard her voice, quiet, tense, asking for me. But still they wouldn’t let me in. All they wanted to know from me was whether she had any family, and where they were. I told them what I knew.

They left me alone, and I turned the hourglass over and over, but I didn’t hear her voice any more. I must have dozed in that hard wooden chair, because the next I heard was an auxiliary, rubber-soled shoes squeaking on the polished floor, with an elderly woman on her arm. Later, a frantic call for a nurse, running feet, and then a doctor, walking quietly, a man in no hurry. And I knew.

On the long, cold bus journey home, the hourglass turned and glinted under my fingers, under the early morning streetlights, and all I could think was at least she didn’t die alone.

Her brother came to clear her things, and he treated me civilly, distantly. No discomfort, just the politeness reserved for staff. He told me about the funeral, and seemed surprised when I turned up. I sat at the back, looking at the grieving family in the front two rows. I said my silent goodbyes. And I never had another… tenant.

I’ve still got the hourglass, and now, watching the sand running though, it feels I’m seeing my future running through into my past. I might give it to my niece, when she marries her girlfriend next weekend, in the registry office right next to the beautiful park. We will have a picnic in the sunshine, she said. I might tell her what I have told no-one else, about the woman who, in a different life, could have been her aunt. I think they might understand.

By Suzanne Elvidge