Question of Timing

23 Nov 2022

Have you ever wished you could go back and change an event in your past?” Gabe asked with a cocked eyebrow.

Jerry shot a look at the old man who’d planted himself on the park bench beside him. In his many years as a bartender, Jerry had met a lot of odd people, but this guy was a bona fide fruitcake.

Frail looking with delicate blue-veined hands and long grey hair tied back with a leather thong, the stranger had sat down as Jerry had started to eat his cut lunch, introduced himself simply by his first name and immediately launched into conversation.

Flitting from subject to subject like a hyperactive hummingbird, Jerry had barely been able to utter a single syllable in response. Now Gabe was looking at Jerry eagerly, his pale blue eyes alight with genuine curiosity. The silence that was caused by the remarkable question stretched for several moments, the only lapse in the basically one-sided conversation thus far.

Shrugging his broad shoulders slightly, Jerry thought carefully before he replied. There was something about the old man’s imploring gaze that stirred a need that Jerry failed to comprehend, to give an honest and heart felt answer.

Many disjointed memories flooded Jerry’s mind but one event in particular stood out more starkly than the others, “Seven years ago,” Jerry sighed as he finally began to speak, ‘a young man came in to the pub where I was working. He was barely nineteen and obviously very depressed; and I think in retrospect that he’d come looking for someone to confide in …”

“Go on,” Gabe encouraged gently as Jerry’s voice trailed off in remembered remorse.

“It was busy that night. I tried to talk to the boy but there were just too many distractions, not enough time! As he left the boy tried to tell me something but I just fobbed him off. There just didn’t seem to be time,” Jerry hung his head in shame, “Turned out that the boy’s father had murdered his mother and then turned the gun on himself earlier in the week. He’d lost his parents, his home and then that day, his job, all in one week.”

“So it’s a question of timing,” Gabe murmured, more to himself than to Jerry.

Jerry rose suddenly and paced in front of the park bench, pounding a fist into the cup of his other hand, “I should have taken the time! I should have seen the signs!”

“Twenty-twenty hindsight is a wonderful thing,” Gabe said firmly, “we can let the ‘should of’s’ rule our lives. It is not your fault the boy took his life.”

Jerry didn’t question how Gabe knew these things. He watched the old man pluck at his flowing white, cheese-cloth shirt absently, “I should have taken more time.” Jerry finished quietly.

Now smoothing down the knees on his matching trousers, Gabe met Jerry’s dark eyes sombrely, “You think this is why you have trouble forming relationships? You are afraid of responsibility?”

Jerry nodded miserably. Gabe was somehow in his head but it no longer seemed to matter to Jerry. All that mattered was the unbearable weight he’d carried on his shoulders for seven long years.

“What would you do if you had the time, Jerry?”

Lifting his head, Jerry looked into the blue eyes with absolute conviction, “I’d fix it.”

Gabe put a thin hand on Jerry’s arm, “Then fix it,” he smiled.

The park suddenly began to dissolve. The colours of the sky, the grass and the trees and flowers began to swirl rapidly into a kaleidoscope of stars. Pinpricks of colour became planets and suns, blooming and dying like coloured grains of sand blowing on a swift breeze.

And then Jerry was standing behind a familiar bar pouring a mug of foaming beer. The clink of glasses and the chatter of the local patrons was a cacophony of confusion filling his ears after the quiet background noise of the park.

Orienting his senses quickly, Jerry glanced up and down the marble topped bar counter. Sitting on the end stool was the boy, hunched over a brown bottle of lager, his eyes downcast and wet with unshed tears. A rush of conflicting emotion welled up in Jerry’s chest. He pushed aside the puzzlement. However it had happened, Jerry had been given back the time he needed. The time to make things right.

Placing the overflowing mug in front of a surly faced customer, Jerry tossed the towel that hung over his shoulder under the counter.

“Max,” Jerry called out urgently to one of the other bartenders, “I gotta go, it’s an emergency.”

“No worries mate,” Max gave him a thumbs up in understanding.

Jerry walked down to the boy and pulled the empty bottle away from him, “Come on mate,” Jerry said, “that stuff is not gonna help,” the boy looked up at Jerry with a startled expression, “You haven’t told me your name.”

“It’s Lee.”

“Well, Lee, I’m Jerry,” he said and stretched out a hand to be shook, “How about we get outta here and have a coffee. There’s a nice place across the street, much quieter. We can talk there.”

Across the street, Jerry and Lee settled into a booth in the corner of the café. A carafe of strong coffee sat in the middle of the table, only the dregs left. Lee had talked and cried as Jerry had listened sympathetically, offering what comfort and advice he could.

Out of the corner of his eye Jerry glimpsed a slim figure dressed in a white cheese-cloth suit, his grey hair tied back at the nape of his neck. Looking over in Gabe’s direction, Jerry smiled gratefully. Gabe smiled back and was gone in the blink of an eye.

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