Time wore a green cloak that shimmered like the sea, like the sun losing and finding itself between the trees and their leaves. One day Time came to a place where a certain girl lived; he sat down at her table and said, “I’d like to begin.”
So she first poured him a cup of tea and then one for herself. And this time—instead of everything happening all at once or not at all—everything happened slowly; one sip after the other as Time settled back with a sigh.
“You’re going to have to learn to be patient now,” he said to her. “You’ll have to let your tea cool before drinking it.”
She stared down at her cup and saw that it was steaming, but Time was drinking his like he needed no time at all for things to cool down, or come together, or mend. Time was immune to time. To wanting and waiting. He didn’t need to wait for the right moment, his pockets were full of all the moments in the world, bottomless and sparkling.
“But what about love?” the girl asked. Time leaned forward, the corners of his mouth perking up in an almost-smile, the way the moon can be almost full in the sky—but isn’t.
“You’ll have to wait for that too,” he answered with a twinkle of eternity in his eye. A twinkle that she could have sworn was love.
From that day on Time had a place at her table, and a cup with his name on it. Nobody else was allowed to drink from Time’s cup. It sat there hot and steaming, fresh and ready, waiting for just the right moment in time. The girl never knew exactly when or if he’d show up, some days he did and some days he didn’t. But in the end he always did and they’d chat and whisper about this and that, and she gradually learned to sip her tea with patience. He’d tell her jokes about Time walking into bars and brothels, churches and monasteries, about blondes and donkeys and elephants. His pockets were endlessly full of punchlines, and he was never full but never hungry. He was as content with one bite to eat as he was with many. But still he came again and again, and drank and ate and made her choke with laughter.
This went on for quite some time, and eventually, one sunny spring morning, the girl realized that she was in love with Time. Could a person do such a thing? Could a girl really fall in love with Time? Would the universe ever permit such a thing? Was it a crime? The girl kept this secret to herself, daring only to take it from its hiding place in the dead of night when she knew everyone would be fast asleep and Time would not be coming for tea until at least the following day.
But one day, one week, Time stopped showing up. Time just wasn’t there anymore. The girl kept his cup at his place at the table in hopes that he would come. That he had just been delayed or maybe there had been some emergency at the center of the cosmos in need of immediate attention. But the more she hoped and prayed, the more futile her silent begging became, until one night she did not beg at all. She just went as quiet as the dead, and the sound of her heart breaking was deafening.
Then, suddenly, one day out of the blue Time showed up! Time showed up out of nowhere and she was so relieved and excited and bewildered, and her heart soared and plummeted in her chest like a bird trying to dive for both a pearl and a star simultaneously.
“Where have you been! Where have you been, Time? I thought I’d never see you again!” She wanted so badly to rush into his arms.
Time—not needing time at all to learn and know all there is to be known, knowing exactly how she felt about him—raised a gentle hand to silence her chatter and stop her dead in her tracks. “You can’t fall in love with an illusion.” He said it so matter-of-factly, so much like an adult lecturing a child on the ways of the world for the very first time, that it almost cut through her bones and crushed her.
“But…” She went into a mute kind of panic. Her eyes darting back and forth like a mouse with no escape. She knew he was right, she had never really thought about it before—probably because she didn’t want to. “There must be a way!”
Time just bowed his head. “There isn’t.”
The girl looked at him then, really looked at him and studied him. His heart was breaking too. “But you’re Time! You can have anything you want without waiting! Why can’t you then have me?”
Time sighed. “Because,” he said, “the same rules don’t apply for you. If it was just me in my own world that would be one thing. But this is me, in your world, and I must abide by your rules.”
“So take me to your world then!” The girl insisted. She insisted so loudly and stomped her foot so hard that the earth shook.
“I can’t,” said Time. “You are far too real of a thing to live in a world of illusions.”
“But the tea!” She pointed out. “Why could you drink the tea without waiting? The tea is in my world too!”
“The tea is not a real thing. The tea doesn’t have a heart… a heart that loves me.” He sighed. “There are rules. It would take far too long to explain everything to you, and it would only break your heart further.”
The girl tried to be brave. She tried hard to hold back her tears, to stand tall and strong like an oak but then, as Time bid her farewell, she crumbled.
She was devastated. She thought she had finally found the love of her life, but it had been just a dirty trick and there was nothing she could do about it. But then one day, the girl learned of a witch that lived deep in the forest. This was not a good witch. She was a sneaky witch with selfish intentions up her sleeve, but the girl was desperate. So she went to her, begging her for a bit of magic that would allow her and Time to be together. The witch, being evil and having a black heart, and always looking for a chance to deceive, immediately jumped at the opportunity to help the poor girl. For whenever a spell of hers was cast, it kept her alive that much longer, and she wanted to live forever. So she gave the girl a spell to cast, told her to whisper it under the light of the next full moon and her and Time would be together. The girl, being foolish and much too in love, didn’t bother to ask questions. She simply took the scroll and ran, and waited very impatiently for the night of the full moon to arrive. And when it finally did, she ran out into the night and cast her spell.
The following morning she awoke as always to the sound of the grandfather clock ticking away by the fireplace, but today it sounded different. A little funny. A little deranged, a little mournful. The ticks were no longer strong and steady, but now frantic and sad. She went over to the clock to investigate, confused and wondering, studied its face and noticed how the hands of time were shaking.
“Why?” said a voice. “Why did you do it?”
The girl jumped. That voice. It was him! It was Time! It was coming from… the clock. Oh god! the girl thought. Oh no oh no oh no! “I- I- I didn’t know!” she cried.
“You didn’t ask! You didn’t think! I told you to have patience, that love would find you with patience! But you couldn’t wait, could you? I told you we couldn’t be together. And now…” The clock sagged with a heavy sigh of regret, “I knew I should have stayed away from you, but I couldn’t. I tried… and now… I’m trapped in here forever.”
The girl fell to her knees, sobbing and pleading for Time’s forgiveness, wanting nothing more than to undo what she had done. But Time said nothing. Time was now just a grandfather clock in the house of a girl who had loved him too much and too foolishly, and the evil witch, deep in the forest with her black heart still beating, got to live another day.