by Foster Trecost

            The train is empty but for a few travelers. Perhaps they are businessmen like myself, I cannot be certain, and the truth does not interest me, with the exception of a young man clearly dressed for meetings of the highest order, but who has made consistent trips to the beverage car, each time returning with a libation of some sort. My watch confirms the time, which is eight forty-five. I look upon him with no more than a passing glance for fear he will mistake eye contact as an invitation to discourse. My desire to clarify exists only to satiate my curiosity, which exists only to pass the time.

            I return to my watch and take interest in the second hand. It is the least regarded of the three hands and the least practical, except for certain uses within the medical profession. It seems to have been put there for decorative purposes. My mother places a great deal of importance on form and it makes sense that she gifted this watch to my father, and then to me after his passing. I wear it faithfully, though never would I purchase such a timepiece. But for as long as she remains among the living, my father's watch will remain around my wrist, more a tribute to her than to him, with its second hand circling the face in winning fashion. Each second is marked by a tick, but the actual second, defined as an interval of time, exists between the ticks. The ticks are a tool of measurement, no more useful than the seconds they measure. It is only in the sum of seconds that we fined value.

            The train station offers a pleasant atmosphere, though it exists as an in between place. People only come here to go somewhere else. I pause to take in the cavernous interior, then walk to the cab stand. My father's sister lives not far from here, but too far to walk. This will not be a surprise visit, nor a visit we are anticipating. I am in the town where she lives. At best it is an obligation, one that must be fulfilled even in the absence of sincerity.

            I give the driver an address four blocks from her house and set myself to finish on foot. I am careful where I step because the sidewalk has buckled above tree roots, and the trees cast shadows in all the wrong places, but my caution is short-lived as my thoughts return to the second hand. How unfitting to be defined by a boundary, as if all that matters are birth and death, with no regard for what happens between.

             My aunt opens the door but does not invite me inside. Instead she holds her ground as if to say I am to go no further than the stoop. She seems nice enough, but would rather have spotted me elsewhere, perhaps the market, a place of countless distractions to pull her in another direction. But there I stand at her door, a thin slab of red-painted wood that could easily separate us were she to close it.

            “It's nice to see you,” she says.

            “You, as well,” I say back.

            I can see this visit will play out like the others. I am pleasant, she is cordial, but neither of us feel affection toward the other. My obligation has been fulfilled. I pocket both hands and nod, a notion she is free to regard as a genuflect, but it is far from a respectful gesture. My mother will inquire about the meeting in her way of inquiring about things in which she has no interest. Her questions will border on rhetorical, as if she, too, is fulfilling an obligation.

            I step to the sidewalk and turn in the direction of my meeting. I walk with my head lowered, not because I feel sadness or regret, rather because I have no interest in seeing the sights a raised head might offer. This block lacks the trees of a few blocks back, so it lacks roots to buckle the sidewalk and my stride quickens. With nothing to attend but the business at hand, my head clears, and allows for a faster gait. I count steps as I walk, increasing the count each time my foot contacts the ground. A step is worth no more than the distance it covers, but like the second, it is the outer edge that gets all the attention.

            A copper glint catches my eye and I think it must be a bottle cap, but slow my pace to find a penny so perfectly placed it would seem someone put it there for a reason. I have no use for pennies and contemplate what the reason might be, slowing just enough to realize there is an intersection before me, one I would have failed to notice otherwise. I look up in time to see a city bus barrel past, only inches away.

            One second-one step-one penny. By themselves these things are without value, depending, of course, on how value is defined. I pause to allow the remaining cars to pass, then proceed across the street, thinking only of the business at hand.