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Imaginary Jobs: Institute for the Study of Time Passing

Do you ever find yourself thinking, “No, I don’t want to be part of a dynamic team in a fast-paced environment”? You’re not alone! The recent Great Resignation was swiftly followed by the Great Scramble to Find a New Job, and by the universal realization that looking for a new job is less than no fun. But we are here to help! with a (hopefully) ongoing series of jobs you might not have realized existed (perhaps because they never did or have not for centuries). Find something to suit your skill set!

I’ve recently started a job at an institute entirely devoted to the study of time passing. At the institute we had thought, up until a few months ago, that we were mere moments away from complete understanding. Lately, however, our grasp is slipping, we are perplexed. We are, in point of fact, reeling. Surely it was August, only yesterday, my boys were small and home all the long day, and our greatest concern was finding a place for them to swim. Surely these mornings that we wake up and it’s dark and cold, and before you know it, it’s dark and cold and dusky, with just the winking suggestion of a pale wintery day in between, surely these days are just a dream, or a memory. Surely it’s not the middle of December. Did we have autumn? Did we have glorious fall colors and crisp, clear days? If so, we didn’t notice, which breaks our heart, because, here at The Institute for the Study of the Passing of Time, noticing is our business! It’s what we do.

We study each passing, perfect, irreplaceable moment, and then we capture it, and we put it in a glass jar with a filmy lid of wax. We study it and label it. We store all the jars on shelves in a darkened room, so that you could see how they glow. We’ve known for some time, of course, that time travels at different rates for different people depending on the time of day. It goes quickest in the morning, when you’re lying in a warm bed, with the sun struggling weakly to light up the cold day, and all of your chores and worries swirling around your head. And big events seem to go so quickly in other people’s lives. They fly by in bright fleeting flashes of significant moments. You hear somebody is pregnant, and next you know they have a baby. To hear about somebody else’s trip abroad is planning, postcards, and stories when they get home; they’re back before you knew they were gone. They talk of going to college, you blink, and they have a degree and a job. None of the seemingly endless slow growth and change, the day-in-and-day-out joy and discomfort and bewilderment. These are the times you tell yourself you will remember. The moments too small or fleeting for a photograph, but bigger than the world, because they’re passing so swiftly and surely. And surely you’ll remember this moment. And this, and this. Every moment.

Do you remember when you were ten years’ old and you lay in a field with grass stains on your knees and the remnants of a butter brickle ice cream cone clinging to your sticky hands? Do you remember eating wasabi peas and dancing at a party in a beer-soaked attic that smelled of sun-baked wood and incense? Do you remember the time you carried a basket of tomatoes from your garden, on your lap, all the way to your seaside house, and the bright green smell of their leaves and vines mingled with scents of salty air and coconut sunscreen when you rolled down the window two blocks from your new home-for-the-week?

Do you remember eating wasabi peas and dancing at a party in a beer-soaked attic that smelled of sun-baked wood and incense? Do you remember the time you carried a basket of tomatoes from your garden, on your lap, all the way to your seaside house, and the bright green smell of their leaves and vines mingled with scents of salty air and coconut sunscreen when you rolled down the window

Do you remember your younger son tired on a bike ride, so he just stopped, and as you stood and waited you noticed everything. (How many years ago now? How?) The trees met overhead, sewn together with vines, so that you find yourself in a green tunnel, punctuated by spaces of shadow and spaces of bright light. The clouds rolled by, making shadows that drifted through the tunnel like slow trains. The difference between light and dark evened as they passed overhead, and then jumped into sharp relief when they’d gone by. It was a giddy feeling of moving and standing still at the same time. Your son said it must be the end of summer, because yellow leaves were slowly falling all around. He asked, “Do you remember that time that you weren’t there…?” And he told the story of how they’d gone for a walk, and gotten lost, and climbed over a tree in the river. He said that day they’d eaten a breakfast of eggs, and then right away they ate dinner. A small moth landed on your knee, and slowly opened its wings in a strange and beautiful fashion. Your son wanted to catch him, but you wouldn’t let him. He said you liked the moth more than him, and he threw his bike on the ground and ran down the path, his bright yellow helmet bobbing up and down in the light and the shadows. When you caught up to him one tear rolled down each of his perfect cheeks. With a beautiful gesture, he reached up two fingers of one hand, and touched each tear with one finger. A tiger swallowtail flew circles around you, dappled like the day, and your son said that it flew the way you rode your bikes, flapping then floating, flapping then floating.

Do you remember driving to the middle school dance through soft green fields at a soft rosy 8 o’clock on the edge of an unseasonably warm day (How many years ago now? How?). And your older son asked you to remember to do something when you got home. And you said “sure, sure” but you were lost in thought, and you didn’t hear him, and he knew it. And you asked him to repeat what he said and he did, and then he said, “Don’t forget!” And put one finger from his right hand on his head, and one finger from his left hand on your forehead, and the song playing on the radio said, “Every moment, every moment, every moment…”

Or that time you went camping, deciding at the last minute, packing practically nothing at all, and before you know it, dusk had fallen. You’d just been swimming in the river in the last warmth of the summer sun. You walked back along rapidly-darkening trails, trampling ferns and weeds under foot, raising impossibly sweet scents that seemed to surround you and cling to your wet skin. All around you the woods murmured with the secret life of busy summer bugs. A shivering breeze tugged at your damp clothes, so that when you reached your campground you were glad to sit by a crackling fire that seemed to smoke the changing light out of the damp earth. You were with the people you love so much it aches, warming yourself in their glow, with the darkness whispering and working all around you. You believed you’d never forget this moment. But you have told yourself this about all the moments.

And where does that leave you now? It’s all a vague, piquant, poignant, melting blur. You barely recall the big moments, the photograph-worthy times, let alone the in-between times. And you promised yourself that you would never forget. That’s where we come in, at the Institute For the Study of Time Passing. We’ve got these memories saved for you, dancing and glowing in their jars. Because we understand that the fact that you can’t recall these passed times does not mean that they’re not there. They’re still yours, inside of you, and through our extensive studies we can help you to conjure them. Raise the lid to each jar, and the essence of wood smoke, the smell of grass-stained paws, the fragrance of summer evenings through car windows, the smell of a doctor’s waiting room, or a secret aisle in a library, or your grandmother’s sun-baked attic full of crackling old clothes, of the swimming pool changing room, rain on dry earth, or new blue snow. Whatever it takes, we have it waiting, stored up for you, ready to transport you. Time is running and passing, but we are here to help you grab hold of it where you can, and stretch it around you, to carry it with you down the ceaselessly passing hours and days and years.

Do you have an imaginary or outdated job you would love to do? A job you wanted as a child from some misheard line of poetry, like catcher in the rye? Do you want to tell us about it? We’re welcoming essays for the Imaginary Jobs series. Send submissions to magpiesmagazine@gmail.com.

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