Outside my window, a squirrel licks the porch bricks, one black eye monitoring my motions in the dim room on the other side of the glass. My desk has that old-furniture scent of dust and furniture polish; its antique glass knobs are cool and smooth, picking up bits of window light. A clock ticks.
There are actually three clocks in my room. The digital one that I can see when I awake in the wee hours thinking it is morning; the round, black clock that kept time for four years in a college dorm room; and the cat-clock, with a tail that ticks away the seconds. Lately the college clock has kept a time all its own, regardless of the orderly flow of minutes from the other two. (I need to change the battery, I suppose.) It is a crazy time, inconsistent even in its disagreements with Simone. (Simone is the cat.) I like to imagine it keeps pace with some other world’s time. Perhaps one day I might glance out of the window and see no squirrel-licked bricks, but instead, what? a snowy wood?
Once at college it snowed overnight. I peered out the window at 3 a.m. to see pajama-clad figures under the parking-lot lights, laughing as glistening flakes fell. The sun rose on a Narnian morning, with snow on the holly bushes outside the library, lying along tree branches, covering the grass. We walked in the morning snow, photographed it, threw it at one another. By afternoon, the new world was melted and trampled and scraped away; there was only mud left, and a snowball someone put in the freezer.
That college world now seems mostly to have melted away for me; I’m left with a good bit of mud, but green shoots are coming through it. And there is that clock on the wall — my frozen snowball, perhaps — ticking away days that are already over, I sometimes think. “Time past,” as T.S. Eliot puts it, “present in time future.”
I think a great many things on grey afternoons, when my bones are weary and dear friends are traveling away. Dim blue rooms are full of books and silences, and the laughter even of yesterday seems a hundred years away. But it isn’t really. “Footfalls” may “echo in the memory,” as T.S. Eliot says, “Down the passage which we did not take / Towards the door we never opened,” but Simone is a full four minutes ahead of the digital clock, ready to launch me, early, into tomorrow. Perhaps I should change the college clock’s battery, or run outside and frighten the squirrel.