Ainsley stepped across the threshold of the tiny antique shop on the corner of Burrows and Dart Streets. Immediately, his nose caught the scent, or rather, scents of items too numerous to count. Varnish and leather, old books and old linens, dried flowers and a fresh pot of coffee dared his olfactory nerves to guess their identities.
“Hello?” He called out. Any echo of his voice was sucked from the air by the dusty furniture. No one answered his greeting, so Ainsley wandered unsupervised.
Too many objects caught his eye for him to travel the room methodically. Instead his path was erratic; going from grandfather clocks to hand-made fishing lures. Every item had a story, Ainsley was certain, and that was why he had come. His novel-in-progress, Angry Shadows, was at a stand still. A focused lack of inspiration kept him at a meager fifty-thousand words.
“Somebuddy call?” A belated voice rang. “I was washin’ muh hands. Hello?”
“Hello,” Ainsley answered. The voice had been that of an old, but stout lady, but her face remained unseen. That was fine to the browsing Ainsley, who found people to be a distraction at best.
Slipping through a particularly tight aisle, he bumped an old dresser and sent an hourglass rocking. It tilted, rocked back, tilted again, and went over the edge of the dresser. Miraculously, when it struck the floor it did not break. Ainsley picked up the antique and studied it. Less than ten inches from end to end, it was not exceptionally large, but size was hardly a factor when it came to value.
“Ah yes, the Fairfax piece,” the lady announced as she stepped from the backroom. She pronounced the title as though everyone should be familiar with it.
“The hourglass. It was from the Fairfax Estate. Odd Family.”
“Look carefully at the sand in that glass.”
“S’cause it’s not sand. Those’re ashes. Fairfaxes had a daughter; Annie, that died when she was ten. Obsessed with clocks.”
Ainsley, a three-time best-selling author, knew a tall tale when he heard it. And yet, he was intrigued. He checked the price tag: seventy-five dollars. It might have been a nickel to Ainsley who smiled and said, “For an even hundred, will you give me the whole story and a pen to write it down with?”
“For an even hundred, I’ll even draw you a picture.”
The tale was fabulous; too fabulous. Upon dying, Annie had said that her life was ending too soon. She was willing to die, but not to waste life. Her last wish was that her ashes be put into an hourglass so that her minutes might become someone else’s. Gregory Fairfax, the first owner of the hourglass had lived an unusually long life; one hundred and ten years, three months and four days. If one did the required math, that left an approximate twenty years in the glass. Not only was the tale interesting, it would give spin to his own novel.
Ainsley carried the hourglass out of the shop, thinking still of little Annie’s willingness to die, but her eccentric reluctance to not waste her time. How odd. So enamored with the thought was he that he did not see the little girl crossing his path. When they collided, both fell into the street. With no warning, a passing cab could not bring itself to stop in time. Ainsley went up and over, the girl went down and under, both were wounded mortally.
From the pavement, Ainsley could hear the girl crying. His hand gripped the hourglass tightly as though the story, if true, was going to save him. Annie’s willingness to die would save him.
But as he lay on the ground, he could not shut out either the girl’s crying or his own guilt. If she died, it would be because of his own inattentiveness. If it had not been for him, she would not have been knocked into the street.
Ainsley also thought of Annie. She had been willing to die and now, that willingness passed through time, into him. The girl was within his reach. Moving slowly and painfully, he stretched out the hourglass and placed it on her chest. His own pain worsened, but the girl’s crying stopped almost instantly.
Whether the tale of the Fairfax Estate is true, one thing is certain. On that day, the young girl lived and Ainsley did not.
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