Time Lapse

— Jennifer Chiu

In another life, a better life, the south-facing walls of my apartment are plastered with floor-to-ceiling windows. Beneath me: the cityscape spread out, the sunset melting into the streets, the skyscrapers melting into the sky. Everything melts, and I drip lazy onto the couch. On my laptop—which is tinged warm against my thighs, fans blaring—someone has splattered multicolored text against a night sky. The cursor blinks white and white again, and I let it.

In this life, I am content. Every day I wake up and get ready. I eat breakfast: I make omelettes, toast. I smear cream cheese on a bagel and take a picture, save it to my camera roll before I begin work. I block my hours on a calendar in pastel colors and hang it against an off-white wall. Everything is planned, routine. There is no surprise. For work, I have chosen a color palette of fuchsias and turquoises and cream yellows for the monospace text. All the letters are so simple, so clean. I settle into a cyclical rhythm and parse the hours like clockwork.

In this life, I remember to rest. I take scheduled breaks. I open the New Yorker and read an article. I read the short fiction and enjoy it so much. When my phone timer goes off after fifteen minutes, I return to my computer. The chair is still warm, the shape of my body still imprinted in it. For dinner, I make something simple. Noodles. Rice. I go to bed at 10 p.m. and fall into dreams that I do not remember come morning. I wake up and get ready. I eat breakfast.

I watch my life play out in loops. In this life, I am so happy.

Recently I have been waking up past noon, though I do not actually wake up past noon. I do not know when I wake up, except for the days when I am shaken from a fuzzy dream and reach beneath my pillow to find out that it is only 8 a.m.. I slip back into an uneasy sleep or, sometimes, I do not sleep at all and instead lie in bed trying to catch my dream. It flutters away from me like it is taunting me. I give chase and I never win. Sometimes I manage to catch up to it but it simply melts before my eyes. I am a terrible predator, so instead I spend the morning curled up in a ball. I do not think or sleep. I am suspended in a state of half-consciousness, and a voice in my head tells me I am wasting away like this. I tell it that I am taking things slowly, that I am trying to preserve my youth before it slips through my fingers like water, and I know that I am lying, but I can no longer remember at which point I began lying, so I take it all for gospel instead.

Some days, I wake up crying and do not remember why. I set a timer for ten minutes, and after the alarm rings, I wipe my face dry and fall back into routine.

In March, it felt like time was crawling to a standstill, the hours oozing into sap and hardening. Now, I feel as if I cannot rest enough. Time keeps slipping through my fingers. I am too greedy—I scoop it into my hands and salvage what I can, cupping it into my mouth, wiping what drips onto my chin with my hand and sucking my fingers dry.

There is never enough time in the day. I wake, and the sun has already slithered past its highpoint, already on its descent. I am only awake for a few hours before it slips below the horizon again. While it is in the sky, I keep my blinds wide open and siphon what I can. I have east-facing windows, meaning there is more sunlight in the morning, as the sun is rising into the sky. It is a shame that I am not awake for this, but I do nothing to change it.

I cut my corners elsewhere. I eat lunch. I do my best to eat more slowly, chew more mindfully, but when I check the clock after finishing, only six minutes have passed. I try again the next day—ten minutes. I think I am trying to slow down, but I won’t let myself. I don’t know what I am doing with this extra time, only that there is none, that somehow my minutes are being stolen and I do not know where. At the end of the day, even with all these shortened ends gathered in my fist, I still do not have enough to tie it all together. Instead, I fall apart at night and spiral into my dreams.

Over the years, I’ve made small efforts to record my dreams, or what remains of them. I try different things: notebooks, loose-leaf paper, the notes app, another notes app, text messages, sticky notes. None of it works and years later, I still chase my dreams like snowflakes. I bring my hand to my cheek and confuse my tears for snow.

I give up trying to remember my dreams. They are the first thing I lose in the morning, and I languish in their absence.

The days lengthen. First I watch through my window as the sky splits into daybreak. It is already cracked over the landscape by the time I slip out of bed, and I shield my eyes from the glare. Still, I leave the blinds open and write a letter that ends up being thrown away with the calendar pages and sticky notes.

I attempt to follow something of a routine. My New Yorker subscriptions arrive and pile on my nightstand. I sneak in reads between classes, during classes, after classes. The tote bag arrives a few weeks later and I am so happy. I match the cream canvas to the text of my flashcards and spend the entire morning imagining and reimagining color palettes. When I finish, I eat lunch in the fifteen minutes I allot myself, counting my bites on my fingers. Somewhere along the way, I lose count and swallow the rest in frustration.

My days are jumbled by afternoon and I realize I am running out of time. I rush out the door before sunset and kick up dead leaves as I wander up and down the streets of my neighborhood. Each day, I see the same houses and same streets, but somehow I can never remember any of them. Instead, I find that every day paints the houses a different color, changes the taste of the air on my tongue. I take pictures and pray that I might remember, but when I return to look at them, there is nothing familiar.

The phone screen flushes warm against my face, and by the time I finally fall into dreams, I have already forgotten them.

Sometimes I wake with the phantom of a dream caught in my throat. I choke until I can find a glass of water to wash it down, leaving only a taste of dust on my tongue.

Snow comes for the first time in years. It’s unexpected, and at first, I am not sure what to do. It does not snow here—the winters are colorless and muggy and I only count the days until spring.

I sit at the dining room table and watch the snow collect in fat flakes on my back porch. At first, it is a fine dusting, then the sidewalks disappear. The road. I put on the only pair of boots I have and slip outside. In the snow, everything is different: brighter, newer. The details of the houses are crisper, the lines cleaner and straighter, and I am struck by the sudden clarity. I pull out my phone and take a flurry of pictures to preserve it. None of them are good, but I keep them anyway.

My footsteps are soft on the way home, and the snow crumbles in my hand when I try to pack it together. I examine a snowflake on my palm and watch it melt. My hands sting red with the cold by the time I get back inside and I warm them against a pot of soup. Are you crying? my mom asks. No. I just thought the snow was beautiful, I say.

Under snowfall, the days seem longer. It feels as if there is more time. The hours spool beneath my fingers and, at night, the snow is so luminescent under the moonlight that I almost mistake it for daylight. It is so beautiful that it makes me cry, and I remind myself to write a love letter before I can forget.

There are many letters I want to write, people I want to write to, but there is never enough time. I try. I take so many pictures of the sky, colors and colors and colors. In my dreams, I run from end to end, recoloring what memories I can in brighter colors. I try to journal—scrawling my thoughts into any notebook I can find, and I think for the first time that I may be falling in love with the world.

In a week, it will all be gone. The snow, the footsteps, the ice. The houses will remain, though not exactly the same. The sidewalks will return, as will the roads. But for now I can only see my own footprints in the snow. I mourn it already: how all this light, all this brightness will return to water. I wish I could stop it somehow, make time stop and suspend everything like this. Like dust caught in the air, snowflakes in mid-flight. I wish it could be like this just a little longer, wishing I could tell the sunlight to wait, the snow to stay. Saying please, please don’t go just yet.

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