Michael was a simple man, he came from simple beginnings. There was nothing special about M, other than he is the protagonist in this story. If you were to ask his mother what was unique about him, she wouldn’t know. Then again, she’s not the greatest judge of uniqueness, being pretty bland herself.
M grew up in a quiet neighborhood in the middle of a sprawling suburbia. We don’t remember the name of the city, so it must not be important. Or it’s at least not relevant to the story.
The story begins outside a bank, under a city clock tower. It’s a day like any other, except that M’s future depends on it. Well, his house’s future did, at least. He was on the verge to losing it - the house. He himself would be pretty comfortable living in the back of his station wagon, if it weren’t for his wife, two kids and a dog taking up all the room.
This day was particularly critical. M had been unemployed going on 6 months, and the family had fallen behind on the mortgage payments. M was outside the bank preparing himself for a meeting. He knew he was going to be bent over the table, but there was nothing much he could do about it now.
M steadied himself, adjusted his tie, coughed to clear his throat, and started the unimaginably long walk to the front door of the bank.
The bank was set back from the road; the stairs up to the front were all made of concrete and were strafed by long forgotten planters. The once pristine hand rails had weathered over the years and had turned auburn, they had also acquired a sheen from years of wax deposited by city skate-boarders looking for a slide. Not that this was of any particular interest to M, he’d never skated, waxed, watered or used a handrail.
Finding the first step with his foot, M considered all the possible outcomes of the impending meeting. More than likely nothing would change, they’d likely be losing the house in a number of days. That didn’t let M stop himself from dreaming about getting an extension to the house, care of an increase to the mortgage. He imagined a new level on the single story house. Not one that towered over his neighbors, but one that stood out, nevertheless.
Long ago, M’s family had outgrown the house. He and his wife had bought it while child-less and the single story, two bedroom, one and a half bathroom with an enclosed deck, house had seemed like a palace. Two kids and a dog later, they found themselves piled on top of each other, stepping on each others toes. A second story was well overdue. But that was hardly a pressing matter. He needed to secure the existing house before they could consider making additions to it.
M ascended to the next step. Again, he found his footing. This time he saw his children laughing in the yard. The sprinkler was on and the sun was out. It was a beautiful day, that day, but if things didn’t go well, it might be one of the last. He knew he wanted more of those days, but he wasn’t sure if he could make the case.
M continued up the stairs in this manner, thinking of the past and jumping to the present, sometimes visiting the future, where they sometimes lived in a two story mansion and sometimes in a trailer park. He fancied the former, but would have tolerated the latter, given the cramped nature of his station wagon.
At the top of the stairs, M stopped to catch his breath. He was not a fit man. It had been years since he’d gone to the gym -- his belly attested to this. As he drew a breath in, he looked around at the city. The bank building was tall and made almost exclusively of glass. Across the street to the north were a few boutique shops and to the east was a coffee shop, a pawn store, and a jewelers. None of the stores interested M. Not at least in this moment.
Having caught his breath, M turned towards the bank and started walking. It felt like a death march, except without the gas. The weight of the upcoming events lay heavily on his shoulders. He was completely absorbed in thought.
“Yo, what time is it?” yelled a man. It took a second for it to register that the man was asking him for the time; and that it wasn’t some sort of odd rhetorical question some folk in the city were known for asking. The stranger really did want to know the time.
M pulled back his sleeve and revealed an old watch. He looked down at it and gauged the locations of the minute and hour hands. It was roughly 12 noon.
The watch was nothing particularly special. It was a Timex. It was silvery metal, and in some places it was brushed. It had brown leather straps. It had clearly been years since the piece had had any attention. The leather was scuffed, the watch face was slightly dented and reflected the light oddly, and the glass that covered the whole mechanism was cracked. Not a huge crack, but not a pretty one either.
“It’s almost noon,” responded M, looking up to find the stranger’s eye.
“Nice watch,” said the man. It wasn’t clear to M if the man was being sarcastic or not. The accent was foreign to him, so the emphasis was all wrong. He assumed the best of him, and forced out a muffled, “thank you.”
The social transaction having come to a close, M continued towards the bank. The sun was out, but as M drew closer to the bank, the shadows cast by the surrounding buildings grew larger. It was slightly ominous and might have worried M, had he observed and believed in such things. He was still too focused on losing his house to notice the change in light.
M entered the bank through the north east entrance. There were others, but none were around any convenient parking. So he had chosen that entrance by default.
The information desk was across the bank, in the south east corner. He walked towards it.
“Hello sir, may I help you?” asked the information desk attendant.
“Yes, I’m here to see Mr. Nichols,” responded M.
“Do you have an appointment?” queried the attendant.
“Yes, for Michael Pearson” said M.
“Aright Mr. Pearson, please have a seat, Mr. Nichols will be with you directly,” said the attendant, without skipping a beat. The attendant had probably already said the same thing 100,000 times that day. He had clearly not even bothered to check anything about the appointment, he just wanted M out of his face.
M found a seat and took it. He’d usually pull his phone out at this point, but this moment felt especially important and that it merited his undivided worry.
M sat there for what seemed like an eternity. He continued to worry about the house and his family. The time seemed to stretch infinitely. The tick of the surrounding clocks grew louder and louder as the time passed and passed.
Finally, across the bank, he saw a familiar face, it was Mr. N. The sight of this face, unfortunately, evoked a sense of panic. It was his banker. It was not that M did not like the man, it was only that they never meet under good circumstances.
Mr. Nichols was a short and rotund man, which made M feel slightly better. M always felt better being in better shape than the people in his vicinity. M wasn’t sure why it was the case, but because of knowing it, he’d often visit fast food restaurants when he was feeling low. Not for the carbs, but for the company. M like fat people for other reasons as well - he had good fat friends - but a sea of fat made him feel fit. Sadly, Mr. N’s belly did not make M feel well enough today.
Mr. N signaled M to come over. M wandered over and accepted Mr. N’s invitation into the office. M took a seat for the second time after entering the building.
“Can I get you something to drink? A coffee? A water?” asked Mr. N in one breath.
“No, thank you, I’m fine,” responded M, in a shorter one.
“Well then, no time to waste, let’s just get right down to it, shall we?” asserted Mr. N in the form of a question.
There was no option here, they were just going to get right down to it. M appreciated this about Mr. N - he didn’t bother very long with social niceties. Though today, M reflected, he could have used a few seconds of pleasantries.
“I’ve reviewed your file, and…” began Mr. N. This was it, thought M. It was time for the big let down.
The meeting progressed just as M had anticipated. Mr. N explained how risk was calculated by the bank, and than M was no longer an acceptable risk. They went back and forth on possible changes, but in the end, nothing changed. Nothing seemed to be ok that day.
Dumb-struck, defeated, and deflated M exited the Mr. N’s office. He exited into the main bank via the same door as he’d entered Mr. N’s office.
M hadn’t noticed the grandness of the bank on his way in. He now felt dwarfed by the scale and elegance of the room. The ceiling was an ornate set of large picturesque engravings and moulding. In the centers of each fake steeple hung old mechanical clocks. Given their vintage, M figured they must be worth a small fortune. He imagined returning at night and stealing one. But who was he kidding, they only looked small from his vantage point. They were probably the size of him or two people. Furthering the problem was the height of them. They were out of reach. And even then, the weight of them would be to much. No. He couldn’t take one.
Suddenly a man dashed towards M. The man was wearing all black and had nylons over his head. The man ran with such ferocity and single focus, that M knew something was wrong. M couldn’t figure it out, but whatever the events that were unfolding, it prompted a deep sense of unease.
Something was certainly wrong: The bank was being robbed. And the man sprinting towards him was in on the heist.
As the masked man drew closer to M, he screamed at M to get down. The closer the man came, the closer to realizing the man was the same person he’d seen only minutes before. He’d been outside bank when he had been asked…
“Yo, what you looking at?” asked the man. “Oh, hey, it’s you!” exclaimed the man. “You know what time it is! Get down on the floor, motherfucker!”
The assailant continued approaching M, narrowing the divide between them. For a short second it seemed that M was OK. M started lowering himself obedient towards the floor. A split second later the man let loose a strike. Not a particularly well aimed or hard one, but enough to catch M off guard. The man’s hand connected with M’s wrist, knocking the paperwork out of his hands. At the same time, the the strap on his watch broke, sending the relic screaming towards the ground.
The watch connected with the ground in slow motion. The existing cracks in the glass grew as the force of the collision rippled through the device. The glass spidered and finally exploded free, sending shards all around and exposing the watch face to the elements. The watch bounced a few times before coming to rest face side up, with a few last ticks left in it.
M steadied himself for the second time that day, this time on one knee. He’d managed to catch himself, if not his things. M was still in shock, but was aware of his surroundings. He felt for the missing watch. He reached for it on his wrist, but he knew immediately: the watch was gone. In the corner of his eye he saw a small black mass on the floor next to him. As he looked away from the assailant he saw the watch, it’s guts splayed bare. M’s eye twitched.
M saw himself at home. His parent’s home. When he was young.
M was playing with his set of super-hero figures. His collection was varied and rather inconsistent in content. He had large ones, small ones, and some in between. There were Marvel and DC heroes mixed together. The games made little sense: Thor fought Batman and Superman fought Shera. It was a mess.
In the background 60 minutes played. It was part of M’s father’s nighttime ritual: Jack, Coke, and Rooney.
“Do you know what time it is?” yelled M’s mother.
“Yeah,” resigned M. “Just one more minute, Dad’s not home yet.”
M’s mother walked around the corner into to the living room. “Your father is running late, hun, he may not be able to read you a story tonight,” said his mother.
M took Batman by the head and spun him wildly. Batman’s foot connected with Thor’s head. Thor soared across the room - without a hammer - spinning head over heels, colliding with his mother’s print of The Persistence of Memory by Dali. Thor then fell to the carpet with an almost impercibable thump. Defeated.
“But mom! He promised!” protested M.
M’s mother sighed and a gentle calm crossed her face. “I know he did, but he had to work late tonight. You know that happens sometimes,” M’s mother reminded him.
“Yeah, I guess,” sighed M.
“Now go get ready for bed. I’ll send your father in when he gets home,” said his mother.
“OK,” sighed M.
M released Batman and let him fall to the ground.
By the clock, It was still early evening. M’s father was on his way home, driving the family’s Dodge Aries. He had purchased the car from a garage willing to let it go for nothing. The previous owner had abandoned it and left the dispensing of the vehicle to the garage. Needless to say, the garage was not particularly impressed with the previous owner. It was originally brown, but mostly red thanks to the accumulated rust. The occasional dent bent the light, and the occasional hole absorbed it. It was not, what one would described as sporty, but still, M’s father considered it a perfectly powerful machine. For the purpose of fantasies, anyway.
The roads were wet and M’s father was speeding ever so slightly. The night was chilly and there was a faint hint of fog. He was driving home from out of town. The roads were empty except for the occasional truck carrying a load of garbage, chickens or cattle. The smell would have been great, if you were the type of person who enjoyed shit and piss with hints of vinegar. M’s father appreciated none of these smells, nor slight flavors.
The highway had a set of lights every once in awhile. Under the auspice of preventing accidents, they were designed to slow and group traffic. M’s father, like many others, found this most irritating - a small groups of inept drivers had ruined it for the rest of them.
On this night, the road was slippery and black. Unbeknownst to M’s farther, these conditions would lead to his demise. Not an untimely one, of course, since we need it for the story to makes sense, so in a sense, his death is right on time, if that helps you feel better.
As he drove, M’s father listened to the radio. There were a few old favorites at this hour, so it made for a perfect drive home. He listen to Jazz those days, the chaos appealed to him. His orderly job gave him enough strict thought. By education, he was an engineer; by trade, he was and IT technician. This was before IT was IT. When it required an advanced degrees just to maintain the room sized machine.
On the seat next to him was a new toy for M. It was another Batman character, but with a slight different costume. M’s father realized this was all part of the marketing, but he didn’t mind indulging his M’s imagination. He knew his son would either like it or pretend he liked it - either was fine by him. Though, like all parents, he would have preferred his son to be honest in every situation, white lies seemed a skill worth encouraging. It made for more socially adapted members person. At least, that’s what M’s father thought.
M's father drew closer to the first set of lights. They were red, and the crimson pierced the fog like a needle and thread did flesh. A set of alternating amber lights had predicted the red, and he’d started to slow down long before he saw the traffic lights come into view.
As he drew closer to the intersection, he became aware of something out of place. A truck and a section of a car occupied the inside of the criss-crossing roads. He turned down the radio, as is customary when trying to concentrate. In the distance, he could now hear the wail of police sirens and if he were to strain his eyes, the flashing orderly display of ambulance lights.
The light turned green.
Those who had witnessed the accident, the ones in the front of the intersection, stayed put. A variety of other vehicles started to sneak around through the cracks left by the leading vehicles. M’s father followed suit.
As M’s father passed a late model BMW, the lights turned amber. The approaching police had set the lights to be red going both ways, and it was currently in it’s transition phase.
M’s father pushed the gas to the floor. The engine roared, in so far as a family car could. The front of the vehicle hiked up, like a cat ascending into a pounce. The tires spun, not finding grip immediately, but eventually digging in to the like a horse preparing for a gallop. The clock struck 7, but with a tick, not a ding.
M’s father entered the intersection with no hint of trepidation. He lacked it only because he was traversing as the amber was lit, something he had done many times before. But he should have had it, because of the sliding-out-of-control semi.
Just in time to see the side-swiping truck, M’s father turned to see the door crush and the window explode. From then he only felt pressure, until there was none. The car was shorn in half, throwing M’s father’s body free. It tumbled head over heels to begin with, but eventually rolled on its side, like a gangster rolls a body in a blanket. His body came to rest on the shoulder of the road, in the ditch, where the gravel gripped flesh better than rubber.
The car was mostly pieces and the flesh was mostly ground. An arm lay alone at the wheel. The pressure had kept it in place for long enough to sever and drop it in place. On it was a cracked watch. It ticked one last tick.
M lowered himself further to the floor. In his periphery he saw the watch. It lay there lifelessly. The mechanism had ground to a halt from the impact. It was likely the internal spring had come unwound. It was going to cost a small fortune to get it fixed. A fortune he did not poses. The irony was not lost on M, a collision had ended its function twice. This possibly foretold his demise too, he thought.
A sudden flash of excitement came over M. He felt the shiver travel down his extremities. He imagined the movements vividly. From his crouched position, M rotated clockwise, in a swift spiraling motion. His mind fluttered with disorientation as he did this, as his system flooded with adrenaline.
After years of super-hero mishash games, he had had his mother enroll him in a martial arts course. He had spent years sparing, anticipating a moment he might put it to use. That time had never come of course - after all, he was a tall white male, which afforded him free respect from most. Even without the arts, what person would engage such a privileged societal role.
As he spun he felt his foot connect with the ‘motherfucker’ spurting man. As his spin came to an end, and M felt the pain of the collision. It radiated from his tibia, up through his thigh. Despite the pain, he steadied himself. For the third time.
The assailant had dropped his gun, and it had slid just out of M’s reach. He instantly remembered an action film cliche, and dove for the gun. He spun head over heels, and with arms stretch downwards, scooped the gun from the floor at the peek of his flight. The flip continued. As his feet connected with the floor, he angled himself, pointing the gun toward the two remaining asaliants.
He fired shot, but missed wildly.
One of the assailants, the one closest to him, cocked his shotgun.
M steadied himself. For the fourth time. He took aim, his arms trembling from the excitement. He’d only seen this done on TV and the big screen. Lining up the up the sights, he slowly let out a breath. At the paused, he squeezed the trigger. Bang! The shot echoed in around the building. The bullet hit the ‘motherfucker’ assailant before the sound registered. The assailant’s leg slightly disintegrated as the bullet ripped through his thigh. The assailant’s leg buckled and he fell to the ground.
All of this had happened in slow motion for M. Time seemed to have become thick, and life traveled through it like a fly in syrup. It felt like he had had all the time in the world to figure out his next move.
As the assailant fell he reached for his leg in agony. His shotgun came loose, and like a lance being grounded, it fell perpendicular to the ground. It slightly rotated back, until the barrel squarely pointed at the second assailant’s face. As the floor contacted the grip of the gun. It triggered.
The shot was louder and more frightening than the pistol's. It was no wonder birds disappeared at the sound. The people on the floor would have too, had they not been under threat of execution.
The flash of the muzzle was enormous, and had it been possible to view the the slug, or shot that it contained, it would still have been obscured by the smoke. Again, the sound rippled through the air, vibrating everything in its path. The boom carried to the ceiling and was reflected back in an equally thunderous form.
But before the sound had been heard, the assailants head had exploded. A person squealed and covered their head. The shot threw meaty chunks to the left, to the right and to the rear. Had anyone being paying attention closely, they would have seen how the reaction had made mince of his fragile flesh.
His audience still in shock, M rose. He walked the distance that divided him and body number ‘motherfucker’. As he strode, faces began to appear, with traces of fear. What had transpired shocked them more than what had begun. M continued to walk toward the assailant’s limp body. He had never seen a dead body. He had seem ones in the movies, of course. And he had imagined them with his figurines. But he had never seen one in person.
As he finally closed the distance, he lifted his foot and placed it on the body’s shoulder. Looking out towards to sea of faces, which were covered, mostly, in relief. He exclaimed, “That’s what time it is!”
M felt the cool of the marble on his face. With his face turned towards his broken watch, he began to cry. He had wet himself.