Black Dandy is pleased to present the much anticipated follow-up to our premiere issue, featuring 10 tales of unsettling situations.
We’ve assembled writers who dwell in the sublime space between magic realism, surrealism, and the otherwise strange.
Read this issue’s first story below.
When To Use What Has Been Saved
by Soramimi Hanarejima
Your swift, sweeping strides through the house close what little is left of the gap between your singular, urgent intention to enter the Extra Time Room and the room itself. But as you cross the kitchen, mere steps from your desperately desired destination, your pace slows as a smile softens your face and then your mood. Here’s where it all began.
You had just finished your homework—one of those fill-in-the-blank worksheets you’d get daily during second grade. The rest of the evening now lay before you, free of schoolwork, and you were eager to crack open your newly checked-out library book. That’s when your father called you and Tamporé to the kitchen for a family meeting. You were sure the topic of discussion would be, once again, chores.
Feeling the meeting to itself be a chore, you lumbered into the kitchen to find both your parents were already there, waiting. But the chairs around the kitchen table were not waiting; they had not been pulled out as they always were before these meetings, ready for the members of your family to take their places. Your mother and father were just standing by the counter, so you followed their example and simply stood by the refrigerator. A few seconds later, your little sister came in, and seeing everyone standing, she stood next to you.
“Look at the clock above the sink,” your mother said, presumably starting this family meeting. “What’s time does it read?”
“Seven twenty four,” Tamporé answered proudly. She had recently learned how to read analog clocks.
“Right, Tam,” your mother said. “Now, all of us are going into the room that used to be the study, and we’ll play a game there.”
“Oh, oh, how about Race to Rainbows?” Tamporé blurted.
“Sure,” your father answered. “I’ll go get it from the game shelf and meet you outside the room.”
Once everyone was gathered by the door he had painted a creamy sea-foam green just days before, your father turned to your mother and said, “How about you do the honors?”
So with a fluid twist of her wrist and extension of her arm, she opened the door that had been closed for weeks. Then your mother swept an open hand across the threshold to invite you and your sister to enter.
After stepping into the room for the first time since the redecorating began, you took a moment to savor the fresh coziness of the new custard-yellow wallpaper and pastel-plaid throw rugs, all warmly lit with portable lanterns. Then your family of four sat around the small coffee table in the middle of the room, upon which your father began dealing out the cards of Tamporé’s favorite game.
Soon, the game and the room’s atmosphere melded into a homey ambiance. Aside from the newness of the decor and novelty of lantern lighting, the room was similar to the other rooms in the house; compact but not cramped, furnished just enough to feel lived-in and inviting—a space laughter could easily fill and enliven. In retrospect, you should have noticed one thing that made this room different: the windows were unusually dark, even for a November evening. But you were too caught up in the game to make this observation. The room and your mind were full of excitement that was rare for a school night—the delight of devising promising strategies combined with the thrilling uncertainty of what cards would be played as you waited your turn. You still remember that your sister won the first two rounds, your mother the last; you came very close to being the victor of the second round with three golden sunrises.
After the fourth round, your father said in his gentle and jovial way, “All right that’s enough for tonight.”
Your family returned to the kitchen, where your mother asked you and Tamporé, “What time does the kitchen clock read now?”
You had to be reading it wrong.
That was your first reaction. It had to be 8:26. There was no way it could be only 7:26. But no matter how you tilted your head or squinted your eyes, the clock’s short, red hand lay between the 7 and 8.
Just how was that possible?
Your father smiled when you looked to him in confusion, then said, “That clock is working just fine. That’s the correct time, out here.”
“Check the clock in your room,” your mother encouraged, also smiling.
You and Tamporé scampered upstairs. On the night stand between your bed and hers, the clock’s lines of magenta light read 7:27.
Are Mom and Dad playing a trick on us? you wondered.
Eager to know why these two clocks did not agree with your sense of time, you and your sister hurried back into the kitchen.
Your mother’s blue eyes seemed especially bright as she gave you the explanation that your young minds, creative as they were, had little hope of figuring out.
“Time in the room passes differently from the time outside it. While we were playing Race to Rainbows inside, time was passing very slowly out here,” she told you.
She pointed down the hallway, then continued.
“In that room, we use extra time. Time that we have in addition to time that’s normally passing. In there, that’s where we’re going to keep time we don’t need right away. Dad and I will collect bits of extra time and chunks of time that are uncommitted. We’ll put everything we can collect in there.”
“What does un-com-mitted mean?” Tamporé asked, as if trying not to drop this word when verbally handling it for the first time.
“Uncommitted time is time you don’t have plans to use. Committed time is time that we’ve promised to someone or something. Time that we’ve made plans to use,” your father explained. “Like you have to be in school tomorrow from nine in the morning to three in the afternoon. That part of your day is committed. That’s committed time.”
“It’s time that we can’t just do whatever we want with,” you added.
Your sister nodded thoughtfully.
“Right,” your mother said, pleased by your contribution. “So if I have five extra minutes when I get home, before we have to get dinner ready, I’ll put those uncommitted minutes in that room. And by saving uncommitted time in there, someday when we really really need more time, we’ll have the time we need, in that room—our Extra Time Room.”
You understood your mother’s explanation but could not relate to it, could not yet appreciate the significance.
To you and Tamporé, time seemed abundant enough. The only occasions when time ran out too quickly were during recess and holiday trips. Your tenuous grasp of your mother’s words was enabled solely by the adventure movies you liked to watch. Their heroes and heroines were always running out of time, and though they always got through the wormhole before it closed or arrived with the antidote before the poison did any permanent harm, extra time would have been helpful. With it, they could have avoided some of the sacrifices they had to make. But you couldn’t imagine your family ending up in those kinds of situations.
So you asked, “When would we really need more time?”
“What would you do if our house were on fire?” your father asked in return.
“Get outside to our meeting point,” Tamporé answered quickly while you tried to figure out how a burning home connected to the Extra Time Room.
“Right,” your father said. “But what if the smoke were really thick, choking you and stinging your eyes?”
Sensing that there was just one right answer for this, you and Tamporé waited for it.
After a half minute of silence, your father said, “Well, you could run into the Extra Time Room to get some air. While you’re inside the room, everything outside would be happening extremely slowly, so you could breathe easily for a few minutes without having to worry about the fire getting much bigger. You could even wash the smoke out of your eyes with water from the pitcher we’ll keep in there.”
You and your sister nodded. The hypothetical situation meshed with the emergency-preparedness lessons you’d both had at school.
“And we’re only going to use the Extra Time Room for emergencies like that,” your mother said.
The discussion ended on this note, with your mother further stressing that this stash of temporal surplus was to be reserved solely for situations of exceptional need. She made it clear that you were to conduct yourself as if the room wasn’t there and would only spring into existence in the most dire moments.
Your mind, however, soon formed a habit of turning your thoughts toward the Extra Time Room whenever you became frantically upset, certain that you were facing circumstances of catastrophic consequence. You would then implore your parents to let you use just a little of the time in there, and they would respond with furrowed brows and harsh words, contending that the situations you felt to be desperate were acutely overblown. Feeling unfairly rebuffed, you’d withdraw and sulk for hours or even days afterward. But as the years passed, you came to retrospectively agree with their judgement, seeing the pattern in hindsight: in your moments of distress, extra time would have been useful but not essential, not deserved.
A couple minutes to check and make sure you had everything in your backpack for the class field trip to the cognitive-archaeology site, before dashing out to catch the bus. Five minutes after breakfast to look over the words for the spelling test you forgot about. Three minutes to dry your eyes and freshen up so Rui-na wouldn’t know that you’d been crying when she came over to pick up library books. Fifteen minutes of private time, to be away from the family reunion after your cousin Limg had “accidentally” thrown a snowball right in your face then called you a wimp because you were upset and demanded an apology.
When you thought back on those episodes in the months and years following them, you couldn’t believe you had asked to use the Extra Time Room for such minor, self-centered needs. Of course your had parents denied these requests; how could your childish issues possibly have been worth all the minutes of relaxation and conversation, all the afternoons of outings with friends and contemplative walks that your parents had given up to become precious hours of refuge from future calamities?
Your reflection cultivated a tardy respect for their unyielding restriction on the room’s use. And it wasn’t long before that respect solidified into complete deference, thanks to your last attempt to use the Extra Time Room.
Your days in fifth grade were drawing to a close, bringing you to the end of your time in elementary school. To conclude this epoch of your education, your final assignment for the school year was to create a story that assembled all the important ideas you had learned since kindergarten. Working diligently weeks ahead of the deadline, you were confident you would finish early. Yet, there you were, alone at the kitchen table the night before the due date, drawing and writing as quickly as you could without making mistakes. But no matter how swiftly your pen moved, each glance at the clock made it despondently clearer that the remaining chapters (which you didn’t even have rough drafts of) could not be finished by the approaching deadline.
Suddenly, your vision was blurring with tears that then fell upon and soaked into the blue tablecloth when you blinked them away.
As you wiped the wetness from your eyes, a scenario for the remainder of the night assembled itself your mind. You would enter the Extra Time Room at 11:03pm, work just as hard on your assignment until completion was within your grasp, then exit the Extra Time Room to finish the remaining work and go to bed by about midnight—the hour you had long feared and revered as the intimidating gateway to tomorrow.
This plan felt thick with plausibility, urgency and even inevitability. You were sure this time your parents would agree with you. They talked with such fervor and frequency about the importance of doing well in school and about the necessity of getting enough sleep.
So you rushed into the living room and frantically proposed this plan to your mother and father. In their armchairs, they listened to you make your case and said nothing until you were done. Then, as a part of your mind that had remained quiet already knew would happen, they refused.
“I’m disappointed that you’re even asking,” your mother said.
Faced with rejection firmer than you had expected, you lost your remaining shreds of composure.
“You have to let me!” you cried, no longer worried about waking your sister with your words.
“You are in no position to tell your father and I what we have to do,” your mother said sternly.
“Just a few hours in the room,” you pleaded in tears.
“No, darling,” your father said, unstirred by your panic. “You cannot use what we’ve saved there to make up for the time management skills you have not yet mastered. You will not master them this way.”
“Only this once,” you insisted. “Then I’ll work harder at planning my schedule.”
“We cannot allow you the luxury of using what may later be a necessity,” he said, so succinctly, as though he had been planning to tell you that for a long time.
“I thought you were saving it to help us. I need help right now,” you rebutted, voice becoming shrill.
Your mother looked on at the exchange between you and your father, her face creased hard with irritation.
When you think back to this moment, you are drawn to wonder if your mother wanted to swiftly rise from her armchair and slap you for being so bratty. But this musing of yours is, you suspect, a reflection of how you feel toward your preadolescent self, and not, you hope, a foreshadowing of how you might one day feel toward your own children.
Every second that passed as you stood before your parents brought you closer to sobbing uncontrollably.
Until your father surprised you by saying, “Okay, then I’ll help you. I can do some of what you need time to do.”
That settled the matter.
Several years later, you would become curious if at this point your father had undermined his attempts to teach you the importance of time management by showing you that people who care about you would be willing to shoulder the responsibilities you had failed to uphold. You would then conclude that he was teaching you another lesson: when you care about someone, you help them do what they don’t have time left to do alone, and then sometimes a lack of time can be overcome by generosity and cooperation.
It was still a tiring night of writing and drawing and rewriting and redrawing at the kitchen table, but you didn’t go through it alone, and together you and your father finished your story, with enough time left for a few hours of sleep.
A couple weeks later, when you heard about the approaching asteroids, a lurid lucidity sunk into you, as though infusing itself irrevocably into your very being. The completion of a school assignment just couldn’t compare to other uses for the room. And you had turned family versus world into parents versus child. The margin of safety your mother and father had grafted to your home, this modicum of protection they had made for you and your sister, it was supposed to provide peace of mind, but you had turned it into a source of stress what seemed like countless times.
During those nerve-racking days of early summer, you could feel it everywhere you went. A veneer of normalcy over sheer dread—people going about their usual routines not knowing how much longer this world (which many now realized they had come to love) would last. This produced in your behavior a veneer of normalcy over sheer shame.
Along with everyone else, your whole family followed the news of the asteroid swarm closely for weeks, until astronomers confirmed that they would all miss the Earth and Moon, narrowly. No one said anything about your outburst during or after what would later be referred to as The Closest Brush. Your mother, father and Tamporé all knew how humbled you felt, and you were grateful that no one rubbed in how self-centered you had been that night just weeks earlier. But sometimes, you wished they had said something, so that there would have been some landmark scolding or snippy remark to put this episode in its place, instead of the silence that let it stretch out and slowly attenuate.
Back then, however, there were barely a few days in the room—an appreciable amount of time but a mere fraction of the current temporal contents of the room. Back then, the demands upon you were not nearly as great as those facing you now. Back then, your needs were more modest, and it was much easier for someone to help you. Back then, you didn’t have the responsibility of helping other people, of defending their dreams.
Now, with your hand on the door knob—leathery as if with a patina of memories—you feel even greater certainty that your urgent need to be in the Extra Time Room is legitimate and reasonable. You require only a little of what has been amassed in there—to be the time that your schedule hasn’t left you to rest, to reflect, to be with your own thoughts and leave behind those you’re paid to have. You will use mere hours out of several months. Hours you can pay back soon, with interest too.
“Look,” you’ll say to your disapproving mother, showing her your calendar. “I have a vacation coming up that I’m not going to need all of.”
The door swings open swiftly, much more easily than you expected, as if you had anticipated pushing against the weight of months on the other side of the door.
Have the hinges been oiled?
You can only recall two times when you yourself opened this door, and the last time you were only twelve. Your mother had asked you to move the rocking chair into the Extra Time Room. Minutes later, you were dragging in that worn, wooden antique, which seemed heavier than it needed to be, its weight making it unquestionably part of the adult world you had begun to inhabit and not simply visit. You couldn’t imagine anyone sitting in it, upon its hard seat and back like a fence of dowels. You’ve always thought the sofa here to be exceedingly comfortable and suspected your mother just wanted the rocking chair stored away somewhere.
You step in, switch on the battery-powered lantern hanging to the left of the doorframe, then close the door behind you. Inside, you unhurriedly take in lungfuls of the long-sequestered ambiance of familial warmth, the air animating as you do so, stirring to life with a springtime freshness, from the last time the windows were opened for ventilation.
You sink into the sofa you remember sitting helplessly upon, the cushions sluggishly, almost reluctantly compressing under the pressure of your body as they did that morning your family was going to say goodbye to Aunt Zona, when Tamporé needed time to calm down—time in which her sudden outburst could abate, in which her emotions could run out more of their course. You try not to think about how heavily she was sobbing, how erratically she gasped for air as your mother held her shuddering, closed up form.
Looking around the room, you find packaged water and cases of MREs in the far corner. These supplies puzzle you for a moment. They are in none of your memories of the Extra Time Room, but maybe you never paid attention to them before. The other items here are just as you remember them, in their familiar places. The flashlights, candles, matches, first-aid kit, flare gun and OTC meds are arrayed out on the little table by the inky-black windows facing the backyard. Your father insisted these items be left out so that no time here was expended to get them out if they were needed.
Your gaze lingers upon the physically small but psychologically hefty rules on the far wall.
Really listen to each other and yourself.
Give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Start the timer.
The list looks exactly as it did when your parents hung it up. Typed words on paper sandwiched between sheets of glass locked in place by a brushed steel rectangle. That elegant yet austere frame now reminds you of just how seriously your parents treated this space and makes you aware of the possible purposes they saw the room serving. Seeing these rules also reminds you to run the timer.
I’ll start it in a moment, you tell yourself.
The softness of the sofa’s worn leather conspires with the faint scent of old sweaters and blankets to lull you into a slow mental waltz of gently luminous, nostalgic ideas. The treehouse town. Autumn afternoons on the empty stretch of beige and blue beach. The belief in eternal best friends. Hazy, mythic creatures that coalesce out of vapor. The possibility that life’s mysteries could be revealed through art.
Scenes, musings and feelings swirl lightly around your rarefying consciousness with a leisurely but intentional geometry mixed with a graceful spontaneity. They coax you into letting go of what little is left of your patience, letting it rest from its tiring task of holding the irritations of the world at bay, of keeping the the floodgates of your consciousness closed.
Spinning so tranquilly, the dreamy imagery and warm sentiments displace who you were so inevitably a few hours ago, who you had to be in that oppressive conference room as months of your team’s work was shredded by a tirade jagged with expletives and sharp, cold facts—to which you said nothing so you could just get it all over with. You could only be a person who abdicated what little agency was left, who did not have the emotional wherewithal to respond to Luminda’s pleading eyes, wide with disbelief as the axe came down upon your team’s circadian-synchronized, time-sharing basis for collaborative subconscious cognition—what you still believe to be the best bet for preserving the remaining sanctity of emotional processing in a society where it is under siege. But ever hostile attitudes towards your team’s project had made you taciturn, accepting of the fatalism forced upon you.
That outwardly stoic, inwardly exhausted self of yours is now being swept aside by the inseparable siblings of who you have been and who you could be. And now you come to viscerally know the kind of rest you’ve long needed. Not time to regain some of the stamina depleted by nauseating freak-out-burnout cycles, but time to recover who you are at heart—to be the selves you could not otherwise afford to be.
Explanations and recourse can be sought later, they tell you. For now, remember all that you are.
When sleep fades away, it recedes to yield the awareness that you’re curled up on the sofa in the Extra Time Room. A blanket is—has been draped over you. You open your eyes and find your mother in the rocking chair. Your body jerks quickly into a bolt upright position.
“It must have been only a few hours,” you blurt just as automatically as you went from being horizontal to vertical, not yet conscious enough to be more deliberately articulate.
Looking relaxed and contented, your mother smiles lightly and says, “It’s time to put to good use the modest wealth we’ve bestowed upon ourselves.”
You stare into her eyes, which are the calmest you’ve ever seen them—the brilliant blue of her irises present nowhere else here except in your own.