‘The clock ticked on the mantel. She looked up from her work and sighed. It read 7:43. She had 17 minutes to wait. 17 minutes to stew. Once she’d looked up she couldn’t get that concentration back. The papers spread across the table may as well have been written in Hebrew the amount she could understand. The figures danced in front of her eyes as she tried to avoid looking up above the desk. All her ears could hear was the ‘tick…tick…tick…’ as the seconds dragged by.
7:47. Could it go any slower? Subconsciously she started tapping her nails in time to the clock. ‘Tap…tap…tap…’. She didn’t realise it. It was a nervous reaction brought on by her fear for the next few hours. She hoped it would be worth it, hoped she would enjoy herself. She really needed to because she’d been unhappy for so long.
To make the time pass she started thinking. Going through scenarios, having conversations in her head. It usually helped her relax. Not tonight. Tonight it made her tummy queasy. There were too many butterflies about for her liking. Doing somersaults and backflips, and tyingthemselves up in knots. She never was any good at untying knots.
‘Bring me sunshine…’. It always calmed her. Just singing softly to herself she felt her stomach start to stop churning. It was a song from childhood her Mother sang to her when she was scared. Thunderstorms were the worst. They would sit on her bed singing at the top of their voices to drown out the rumbling outside the window. She didn’t need that now…it was all but silent in her flat. Just the ever present ticking, and her heart beating in her ears.
After a few repetitions she stopped looking at the clock. She shuffled some papers on her desk and started putting things away. Put the lids back on her pens, research back in its folder…then stopped dead. She picked up her phone and found the number. Her finger hovered over the call button…but she couldn’t do it. Couldn’t cancel this big chance. She put it back down and closed her eyes, trying to ignore the inevitable. Hoping she could sleep through the whole evening. Not that she believed it.
‘BRRRIIINNNGGGG!!!!’ She jumped, and the contents of her desk scattered round her on the floor. She started to clear it up before realised what had made her jump. The doorbell. She glanced at the clock. 7:59. Early. She didn’t like things being early. Not that she preferred late. Everything had to be exact. Happen ON TIME. Otherwise it shook her. She went back to picking up her papers. They’d just have to wait outside. ‘BRRIIINNGGG!’. No, still not time. The slowest 60 seconds of her life.
She looked up eventually, and the clock read exactly 8 o’clock. It was time. She headed towards the door, towards the future…’
‘For at eight o’clock the world came to an end. It was reading time. The hours between eight in the evening and one or two in the morning have always been my magic hours. Against the blue candlewick bedspread the white pages of my open book, illuminated by a circle of lamplight, were the gateway to another world.’ ~ Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale