Ten minutes waiting in line. She snips them, pastes them into the app on her device, and is more than halfway up the line. Another maybe three minutes, she estimates, snips those, and is rewarded by reaching the top of the queue. She’s getting so much better at estimating these things now, and there are bonuses if you got it spot on—you could double or even treble your time, it’s been said, though she hasn’t, yet. But every day she’s improving.
This morning at breakfast, she estimates that it would take Emily seven minutes to eat her cereal. It takes eight, but that had been a pretty good call, and leaves her with only one minute of staring at a small girl picking up each individual cheerio with her spoon, draining the milk off, and eating it. Seven minutes saved. Seven minutes of not watching that. Seven minutes of not tamping down the desire to yell ‘would you just eat the damn cereal already’ over and over until they are all crying. And seven minutes banked for later, to use as she pleases.
There have been some issues that need to be smoothed out, and the manufacturers are aware of them, they say on their website, and are working on it. There are glitches. Users report fuzzy feelings after they snip. That hasn’t happened to her, but she has felt some jolts, and some confusion. She would be sitting with her device, calculating the snip and hoping the kids wouldn’t disturb her calculations, and once she has snipped, there would be a slightly jagged hole—her on one side of it, the children on the other, staring across, puzzled. Something she’s meant to answer, maybe, or something she should have noticed. Something. It only lasts for a second, less than a second, though maybe these intervals are getting longer, the more she snips. Maybe. Emily and Tom looking at her for a fraction longer each time, as though she isn’t quite there.
After she drops them to school, she runs errands and straightens the house, snipping as she goes, watching the minutes build up in the app, watching it glow and pulse. After she collects them from school, and only snips a little during snack and homework, she feels her joy begin to gather in her, like a secret. The sun is shining, and the kids are happy to play in the garden. In this moment, their heads are bent over some small insect that moves on Tom’s arm—a beetle or a butterfly maybe, and Emily holds her soft arm out to take whatever it is. This is the perfect moment—nobody is fighting, or shouting, or bleeding from grazed knees. Quietly, she closes the back door.
She makes coffee and takes down the best biscuits from their hiding place, takes out the book she had been saving. But first, she opens the app. Three hours, it says. Three whole hours snipped and stitched together out of all the tiny pieces of wasted time during the day. If she looks closely at the screen where all her minutes are stored, she can see Emily staring at her as she spoons up cereal, Tom prodding her arm during homework, all those little moments. She presses the button that says Use Time Now, and all the memories vanish. The day greys around the edges, the way it always does during the Time-Use phase. She tries to remember breakfast, and what had annoyed her. Something about cereal. Something about reading practice at homework later in the day. No, it’s gone, entirely gone. For a moment, a small pain presses through her chest and she thinks she might cry, for some reason. Then it is gone, and she opens her book and settles down to read, uninterrupted, for the next three hours. Three hours while the clock stands still, while the world stands still, before the next minute turns.
Fiona McKay lives beside the sea in Dublin, Ireland with her husband and daughter. She is a flash fiction writer and is also querying a novel. Writes with Writers’HQ. Words in various places, including: Reflex Fiction, Janus Literary, Scrawl Place, EllipsisZine, The Birdseed, Twin Pies, Bath Flash. Tweets about writing at @fionaemckayryan