Mastering the Fine Art of Time Management
a short story by
JENNA CORNELL | Tutor + Writer
As I wrote this story, I wanted to explore the importance of family, the finite nature of life, and how time seems to rule everything we do.
Photo by Kaley Dykstra
THE STAIRS CREAKED AND SQUEAKED, just as I remember them; each having its own particular tone, like the voices of a choir. When I opened the screen door, I paused for a minute, recalling the day I barreled through the screen, ripping it to shreds. The old dog of Mr. Cooper’s would have surely eaten me alive had I not taken such drastic measures. I saw the French doors in front of me with their cherry wood and stained glass windows slightly more weathered than the last time I made my presence known in this place. The light gleamed out of the leaded windows in rainbow variety upon my face. The last time I stood at this point was when Dad passed away, two years ago. This Christmas was going to be quite a different one without him. My mother transferred to me the traditional duty of reading “The Night Before Christmas” to my nieces and nephews. Apparently, she thinks I have some sort of storytelling magic, but I don’t think I can ever bring the theatrics and pyrotechnics to the story that my father always did. He had a bellowing voice and the innate qualities of a Shakespearean actor. He probably missed his true calling, but you would never know by his dedication to his family. With a deep sigh, I grabbed the doorknob, and swung the wooden barrier open. Stairs to my right, hallway down the middle, sitting room to my left, with a fire boasting red hot embers, and decorated family tree not far away. I was entering a sanctuary of sorts. Not one of spiritual connotations, but one in which a person feels comfort, love and safety.
Aside from the occasional crackle from the fire, the house was unusually silent. I removed my snow-laden shoes on the entrance rug, put my coat on the delicately-carved coat stand, and strolled down the hallway towards the kitchen. Something good was simmering in the oven. Hints of apple, pork, and onion invaded my nostrils like the cold just minutes before. The kitchen timer controlled the room with its demanding clicks dialing down. I hated timers. Timed lessons. Timed multiplication tables. Timed tuba lessons with sheet music I never managed to grasp. They made sure to let everyone know that life is timed. It’s decided and succinct. There are no what ifs, maybes, or perhaps laters. Life has a use-by date, and we were merely pawns in its officiated game.
The sitting room called to me, and I ventured through the swinging door. Many a time my brother and I were harshly reprimanded for running the “Indy Circle” as my mother liked to call it, sometimes smacking the trailing brother in the face with the full sway of the door. The fire added about 20 degrees to the room, making it feel like a warm electric blanket. Dad’s chair, oh, how he loved that. He would sit down in it after supper and have a nice cocktail: nothing remotely stylish, just a simple whiskey and Coke. I know there are many people who would look at that nightly ritual and criticize it as some level of alcoholism, but he really didn’t drink otherwise. It was something to end his long day of work and help him relax from the stressors that plagued him. He was a mechanic. One of the best in town. I remember when I was a boy, he would come home from work with his hair all frazzled, the mechanics suit grimed up, and car fluids so entrenched in his skin it was like a cologne. It may be weird to say, but that smell came to be something of a reassurance for me. As I sat down into his mangled leather recliner, I felt as if he were there with me. The Victorian rose-papered wall, which, when facing the kitchen, would be the east side of the sitting room, housed the liquor cabinet. It was more like a buffet table that my parents stored various spirits in for special occasions. They always had the opinion alcohol should not be within view, even if it was in the home. Too tempting, they would say to us. Out of sight. Out of mind. As one last farewell to him I went over to the liquor cabinet and pulled out his favorite whiskey. Its pungent aroma flooded my thoughts as I twisted off the cap. The soft trickle emptied into my tumbler and sent me reeling back to the first night he took me out for a drink; “You’re a man now,” he said. He was never one for philosophical conversations. But somehow, he always knew the perfect time to sit me down and have a life discussion. I barely choked it down that night; quietly pretending I was indeed a man, but secretly knowing I didn’t fully understand the responsibilities.
I returned to his favorite resting place, drink in hand, and lifted the foot rest. Eyes closed, I settled into the ambiance. A peaceful ambiance only he knew how to treasure. Oh, the amounts of laughter and frustration he must have felt over the years sitting here in front of the fire; all us kids running around like banshees. I can recall one or more times when Dad set his drink down and became a member of our troupe, dancing around with grease-laden curls flopping about. My mother would run in and tell us to quiet down, and without hesitation, he would scoop her up like a little feather and dance some more. She mentioned him on the phone a few times since his death, talking of old times and good times, and all those times she would never get to have. I’m not sure what is more crushing: to be the child who lost a father, or the child who must comfort the parent who lost a spouse. I don’t know. Maybe both work together simultaneously. Maybe both of us would heal one another of our grief. Maybe we never would be the same people ever again. Maybe time heals all wounds. Maybe it’s a vicious maniacal rouse we’re taught by others trying to manage the twisted rouse themselves. People are bound by Time’s insensitive amusement to change on a dime, just as I am bound to its dirty pleasure.
A thunderous crack startled me from my intangible conjecture. Presents of all sizes were stacked under and around the precisely-decorated tree. So many, in fact, that I highly doubt anybody has been able to water the thing in a couple of weeks. Voices began to fill the air outside on the porch. I could hear them faintly at first, and then almost like a firecracker exploding they entered my domain. I could take the stand that these invaders had violated my personal territory, but this, too, was something of comfort for me. Christmas would never be complete if we didn’t have loud, boisterous adults and children running here and there. I wanted to go and greet them with excitement: to jump out of my chair and join the dance, but I stayed put in my father’s favorite chair with his favorite drink, mastering the fine art of time management.
Tutor + Writer
Jenna Cornell has an MA in English/Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. She is a professional writing tutor with Pearson Education and involved in radio broadcasting with Cumulus Media. Her poems have been published in several print and online publications, including Blaze Vox, Mirrored Voices: Best Modern Poets (Vol. 4), Sheepshead Review, and Northern Lights Journal. She recently published her collection of poems, Fantastic Illusions of Life, Love, the Birds, and the Bees, in 2015. Jenna is inspired to create from the every day things she encounters in her life. While some ideas come from personal experience, others come from things that have happened in the world. When she isn’t involved in radio or teaching writing to students, she can be found creating in multiple artistic disciplines. Typically, her creative endeavors are inspiration-based. If she cannot set aside time immediately to create, she will jot her idea down and then find time elsewhere in her schedule. Jenna has also found that creativity is a demanding lover of sorts, expecting her to drop everything else she is doing to submerge herself in its depths.