There’s an hourglass somewhere in the world with the rest of your life slipping through it. That’s what my friend Jib says, anyway.
He says he found his hourglass when he got lost out in the Dunes. Got to traveling out there and couldn’t find his way back. “Abandoned by my bearings,” is how he puts it. Jib’s got a lot of funny phrases like that.
The way he tells it, he came to a house as night was falling, a house all by itself out in the desert. The front door was locked, and there was someone standing next to it, smoking a pipe. A doorman.
He tells a lot of stories, does Jib. Always has. When we were kids, he told me fake ones and laughed about it later. Now that we’re older, I can usually tell when he’s lying. In this case, I can’t.
Jib doesn’t say much about the doorman—just that the doorman asked him for something. A bribe. Not money, though. It had to be something precious, a wedding ring or a watch handed down from his grandfather or a picture of his kids. In the words of Jib, “Something worth something to me.”
He never did tell me what he gave away. Must’ve been worth enough, though, because he was allowed in. He said the doorman turned a key in the lock on the front door, and pushed. And Jib stepped inside.
The house didn’t look like any house he’d been in before. There was no furniture, sparse light, many paintings on the wall. Each one was a portrait of a different person, though Jib couldn’t see any of their faces; they all had their backs turned. And he says he could hear music, the same four notes over and over again, though he couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Also, everything was very clean. And there was a staircase.
He took that staircase up, and another, and a third, and another, and another, and finally he lost count of how many staircases he’d climbed. Jib asks me how it’s possible for a house to have two stories on the outside, yet room for ten, twenty flights of stairs on the inside. I can’t explain it. He can’t either.
At the top of the stairs, there was a room. An immense room, limitless, vast enough so that he couldn’t see the ceiling or the opposite walls. “A room that shouldn’t exist”—that’s how he puts it.
It wasn’t empty. There were hourglasses.
They weren’t little ones, these hourglasses. If you believe Jib’s story, they were as tall as him, some even taller. And no one would ever call Jib a short guy.
He claims that these hourglasses went on for miles, that each one had a name on it. Some had nice fat pockets of sand left in them, some didn’t. Some were all done running and sat there silently, like old bones.
Jib said it was quiet in that room, but not totally silent. The only sound you could hear, and only if you stood perfectly still, was the hiss of infinite grains of sand as they slipped through the narrow part of the glass, down into the chamber below.
He claims he walked through the rows of hourglasses for an entire day, just wandering around looking for his name. He says they weren’t in any kind of order he could figure. They were just there.
He came across a familiar name on one of the hourglasses, after a while. Lynn Graves. She was a friend of a friend of ours. I use the past tense because Lynn would still be our friend’s friend today, were she not deceased. She passed on not long after Jib came back from this supposed journey, of a busted belly. And Jib, the insensitive bastard, insists that the hourglass with her name on it was almost empty when he found it. So he thinks he knew she was going to die, or something.
He kept on wandering through the hourglasses, and by now he tells me his heart was thumping, was “rattling like a rock inside a can.” He was going to find out how much longer he had to live.
When he found his hourglass, it had his full name on it and everything, right down to the “Jib” in quotes between his first name and his last.
Even while he tells me the story, I can read the guilty relief on his face. His hourglass, he says, was almost as full as it could be. Which means that, according to him, he has a long, long time left to live.
And maybe that could’ve been the end of it. But I guess he didn’t leave quite yet. He found another hourglass with another name. Mine.
This search, he claims, didn’t take as long as when he was searching for his own. The search took no time at all, in fact, because my hourglass was right next to his. Like whoever had put them there knew Jib and I were close, or something like that.
Jib saw whatever’s left in my hourglass. He tells me he knows how much longer I’m going to live.
He says it’s a man’s right to know when he’s going to die. But it’s also his right not to know. So he leaves it up to me to decide. He’ll tell me if I ask him, and if I don’t, he never will.
And I wonder. And I think. And I ask myself, almost every moment of every day, I ask myself: Should I?
© Kyle A. Massa, 2016. All rights reserved. No part of this short story may be duplicated or distributed in any form or by any means without expressed written consent from the author.
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