Short Story: The Watch by Sarah W.

A middle-aged man reminisces about an unforgivable act he committed as a child in this psychological short story about shame, resentment and memory.

My dad died before I was born. All my childhood I felt a kind of absence. I wasn’t close to my mother. I don’t think she allowed herself to be close to anyone. To her, I was just another thing to deal with. My privilege was undeniable. I was fed (well,) clothed (expensively, compared to some of the other kids I knew) and attended one of the nicer private schools in the area. Someone on the outside would have said I had everything, and maybe I did. Maybe she loved me in her own way.

     The worst thing I ever did, I did to her. I’m on the twilight end of middle age and my mom has been dead for over twenty years and I still think about it every day. I never told my ex-wife or my girls. I never even told my second wife even though she probably thinks we’ve shared everything together. Some things are too painful to share. If you keep them from the people you love and push them far back inside maybe they’ll start to exist less. So we hope.

My mom had a watch that she always kept in her pocket. She never wore it on her wrist. The only times she allowed herself to part with it was when she showered and changed into a nightie before bed. The watch was a little battered and old but there didn’t seem to be anything special about it, except that it had belonged to my dad. My dad the veteran, who had come back from service unscathed only to die in a plane crash when my mom was pregnant with me. Our family’s biggest ghost, even more than Uncle Kevin the pedophile or cousin Stewart-who-had-lived-in-a-home-for-as-long-as-I-could-remember. My mom only talked about my dad when she was drunk. Once I heard her talking to him when I got out of bed late at night for a glass of milk.

“Donnie, what am I going to do without you? Everything’s gone to shit.”

I’m Donald Jr., pre-Trump debacle. At the time I could only assume that when she spoke of ‘things going to shit,’ she was talking about raising me. He was Donnie. I was just Donald. I grew up hating my name and wishing it was almost anything else. I’m Don now.

Sometimes she would call me Donnie when she was drunk. I would sometimes have dreams about going to a body of water- an ocean, a river, a bridge overlooking a pond- and letting the watch fall from my slowly ungrasping hand. I never felt guilty in these dreams. I never thought about my mom either. I was simply unburdening myself. It was like the relief that comes with removing an itchy piece of clothing. 

    By the time I was eight, things with my mom had gotten to a breaking point. She yelled at me constantly. Sometimes she cried and refused to get out of bed. I fixed myself sandwiches and ate in front of the TV. One day, I cheated on a test. It was a stupid, impulsive move and the teacher confronted me right away. I cried a bit, mostly out of embarrassment. I was usually a good student and my nice, pretty teacher wouldn’t like me anymore. I was sent to the principal’s office and the principal called my mom.

“Your dad would be ashamed of you.” Those were her words, shouted in my face on the way home. That night I came into the bathroom while she was in the shower. I picked up the watch off the counter and dropped it on the tile floor, stomping on it as hard as I could. I’ll never forget the period of silence that followed the crunch, as Mom turned off the water and hastily wrapped herself in a towel. Silence. Silence. Then she gasped, looking down at the broken watch. I waited for her to hit me, even though she had never done it before. Surely I was asking for it, Instead she broke down crying. It was the worst sound I’d ever heard.  She shook with great, shuddering sobs and picked it up with trembling hands. 

      The watch couldn’t be fixed but she still kept it in her pants pocket every day until she died. She was even buried with it. We never talked about what had happened but it made me sick to look at it. Never before had I truly, intentionally hurt another human being. I was mean, I was rude, but I was never cruel. I didn’t know I had it in me. 

    I know my mom never forgave me. There was a cloud of disappointment in her eyes whenever she looked at me, like she was seeing me for who I really was. Not like my father, who apparently was the personification of everything honorable and good. Sometimes I dream that I dig my mom up and steal the watch. Then I fix it and I bring it back. I put the watch on her wrist (which in the dreams is made of flesh, and never rotten or skeletal) and I feel a huge sense of relief. When I bury her again I can hear the ticking of the watch from underground. It’s so loud, like the heart from the Edgar Allan Poe story.

     When I wake up it’s my heart that’s pounding a fast, steady rhythm in my chest. I still like to have a glass of milk when I can’t sleep, but my wife Monica is a light sleeper so I usually try to stay in bed. I wish my mom knew how sorry I am and how sometimes the ticking of a clock or the metallic flash of a watch on someone’s wrist leaves me with my heart in my throat. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s