a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
What would life be like, she thought, if I could stop time?
Only a hundred pages to go, she said to herself. She hated this; researching why the printer at the office didn’t work was never what she imagined herself doing on a Friday night ten years ago. Thirteen-year-old Josie would’ve been repulsed.
Her whole life had been planned. She would finish her novel, sell it, make a name for herself and write books until the day she died. Josephine Taylor, best-selling author. She could almost see herself on the billboards and the headlines. If only she had the time to finish her novel, it would only be a matter of time before the world knew her name.
But for now she had to settle. After all, there was nothing she could do if she wanted to keep the lights on.
It was 10:04 pm. She’d canceled her date to figure out how to fix the stupid printer because her boss refused to hire someone to do it. No one at the office had offered to help; no one really cared. They were only there waiting for the next paycheck. Her? She hated her job, but she wanted that assistant manager position that would soon open.
It’d been years since she’d last written. Not even a short story or a poem. She missed it. She wished there was a way for her to read the manual, fix the printer, go on her date and write at least something for her novel. There never seemed to be enough time. What’s the point in living this life if I can’t enjoy it?
She walked to the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee. Glancing at the clock, she saw the time. Not a minute had passed since she last checked.
The coffee tasted disgusting. She detested buying the cheap kind, but it was all she would afford at the moment. Adulting sucked. It was as if being twenty-three suddenly meant that hope in life was magically gone from one day to the next. It was funny, really, how much she’d always craved the independence and freedom of being an adult, but now that she was actually one she just wanted to press a button and go back. What she would give for just a second to breathe.
She sat down at the table again and continued reading. It was endless. Whoever wrote the manual clearly had a lot of fun and was discovering adjectives. Was it really necessary to describe a printer with such gusto? In her experience, it was nothing close to a “magnificent machine”.
Josie sat there for what felt like an hour. She’d had enough useless information on office hardware for a lifetime, but at least she knew what was wrong. All she had to do now was send an email to her boss telling him what was wrong and hopefully she wouldn’t have to be the one to fix it as well.
Taking a deep breath, she decided it was time to sleep. Tomorrow she had an early shift at her second job. She grabbed her phone to set an alarm and frowned. It was 10:04. Still. She looked at the kitchen clock and her computer. They all had the same time. Outside, the city was quiet. There was no sound of cars honking, people yelling or her neighbor’s loud music. The world had stopped.
Josie put on shoes and went outside. Everything and everyone was frozen. Smiling, she went back inside. She didn’t care if it was a dream or if she had finally lost it. It was her chance. An infinity inside a minute was all she needed.
In high school she and her best friend had made a list - a bucket list of some sort - with all the things they would do in college. He'd gone to art school and lost contact, but the list was still there and she had no problem with doing it all herself. It’d been that way, anyway, ever since she graduated.
The first item on the list was made up in the spot where she and Atlas had first met. Her aunt had a house with a pool nearby and they had always wanted to spend the night there, but the adults never let them. Getting there wouldn’t be a problem, especially with the world frozen in its spot.
At her aunt's house, Josie placed the inflatable bed on the pool and got inside. The sky was beautiful that night. That and the silence of the city was perfect. This was all she’d wanted since she was eighteen. She closed her eyes, ready to sleep for an infinite amount of time.
“Hey. Is that spot taken?”
Josie woke up with a start. Had the world begun spinning again?
“You’re immune as well?” asked the previous voice. Josie smiled.
“Why’s the sky so low, I wonder. Are the stars too heavy for mighty old Atlas to hold on his back?” she said, getting out of the bed. Three years since they’d last seen each other.
Atlas and Josie hugged each other. Ironically, it was as if no time had passed since the last time they saw each other. Together they lay on the inflatable bed under the stars and talked about their lives these past few years. Atlas had quit art school to help support his family after his mother died. He, too, was working two jobs. No time for his own life or love. Although it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. His heart had been struck long ago.
After a while of stargazing, they decided to do another thing they’d always wanted to do but never got the chance.
They walked around the silent city with permanent markers and spray paint in hand, ready to write anywhere. One lamppost, wall and abandoned building side at a time they left a part of themselves throughout the city they’d grown up in. Without realizing it, they spent a year completing the challenges of their high school bucket list in the infinity of 10:04 o’clock.
Their fifteenth year, after almost thirty years of being in love with his best friend, Atlas finally confessed his love for Josie. They were standing at the edge of a lake in front of his childhood home, the one he lived in before moving to the city, throwing rocks. It was the carelessness with which Josie threw the rock, failed and laughed that gave him the shot of courage he never knew he needed. He wanted to see that laugh for the rest of his life, but he felt himself slowing down.
“What’s wrong?” she asked when he fell silent, looking at her. She always knew.
“Nothing. It’s just… I don’t know how to say it,” he confessed, throwing a rock at the lake.
“It’s okay. I love you too,” she said smiling.
He looked at her, confused. She loved him? And she knew how he felt?
“Funny thing is, I always thought the world would stop spinning if I said it. And when it actually did, I thought you wouldn’t feel the same way. But I don’t care anymore. I just want to grab your stupid face and kiss it,” she said turning towards him.
So close together, they could see each other's wrinkles. They’d lived a long life together. How had they never known?
They closed the distance slowly, afraid that the world would continue moving once they touched and they would lose this moment forever. Finally, they kissed, stealing a few minutes away from eternity, but connecting their hearts for infinity.
Atlas pulled away as he felt his mind going slower, shutting off. Time was running out again, but this time he didn’t care. For once he’d followed his heart the whole way and he knew that no matter what happened, nothing could ever erase this.
“Go write your book. Make them know the name of Josephine Taylor.”
He gave her one last smile before, like the rest of the world, he became frozen in time.
The next eleven years of her life Josie dedicated to writing her novel. She was forty-nine now, but she’d never felt more alive. When she was finally finished, she went back to the lake and read it to her beloved Atlas. Although he could not hear her, she read it out loud and began editing in her head.
It took her another ten years to finish her final draft. She’d never felt prouder of herself in her life. This was all she’d ever wanted to do. She could only imagine her thirteen-year-old self, crying about feeling alone, completely oblivious that her best friend was in love with her and that in forty-six short years she would finally finish her book.
Josie felt fulfilled after finishing her novel - yet time had not returned to its normal state. Having no idea what to do with her free time, she began trying to master as many things as she could.
She baked, cooked, knitted, wrote more. With each passing year she felt herself becoming weaker. She missed Atlas. Being old by herself wasn’t her favorite activity of her infinite night. She felt like she was slowly losing her mind. She wrote letters to Atlas daily until she had over eight hundred. She couldn’t remember how long it’d been since the first night anymore.
On the anniversary of her 50th year, Josie woke up in the darkness that accompanied her frozen world. She was smiling for the first time in a long time. She was tired despite just having woken up, but wanted to add something to her novel.
Sitting down at the table she typed one last sentence on the second page while slowly feeling her body shutting down. For one last time, she looked at the time.
The next morning, Josephine’s boss called the police after she didn’t show up to work. Her lifeless body was found on the floor near the table, a broken coffee cup by her side.
On her laptop, a document was left open from the night before. The title page read:
The Marvelous Adventure of Adeline Black
By Josephine Taylor
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.