Pietá or the Antithesis of Time

Vito Gulla

And the watch had stopped, the second hand stuck in that moment of time—a moment from so many months ago—but Jose clutched the watch regardless. He held it tightly, certain that its guts and cogs would come tumbling out at any second.

He stared out the window. The days had literally grown longer, yet no matter the evidence to the contrary, he denied this fact. He loosened his grip, pulled back his arm, readying to toss it out, far away into the great, blazing sun.

But he could not.

The watch survived; Joaquin did not—Joaquin, his first and only child, his son who had left for war. Stoploss, they called it. It struck him funny. The phrase suggested something just: stop the killing, stop the war, stop the loss of life. But in reality, it meant the opposite: stop the soldiers from coming home—stop his son from coming home.

He gazed out toward the blood-colored sky and then to the clock on his nightstand. He told himself it was a mistake: he’d been awake the entire night (and the night before), and he remembered, the sun did not rise at this time yesterday.

***

Jose, a cigarette hanging from his mouth, carried an ashtray into the living room where Maria, his wife, sat and watched TV. He sat down on the sofa, in front of scraps of paper, orange peels, empty beer bottles, an expired calendar, and dirty plates on the coffee table: the trash she refused to clean after the boy left. She had brought so much into the house lately, piled things up on top of each other until there was only a sliver of walkway to every room. He glanced at the coffee table disapprovingly but placed the ashtray amongst the litter nonetheless. For a short while, he blindly flicked his cigarette and watched the show. He looked away from the screen and left the cigarette to burn in the ashtray.

Maria glanced at the VCR. 12:00 blinking over and over. These things, she said, in Spanish (they rarely spoke English anymore). I wish Joaquin was here. He could always fix these things. I can never set it up right, so I always miss my shows.  A pile of papers began to tip on the coffee table, and a look of concern swept over her face. She pointed: the ashtray fell.

Goddamnit, said Jose. For Christ’s sake, Maria!—scrambling to take the cigarette from the rug—Can’t you clean your shit up?

I’m sorry, said Maria.

Yes, of course you’re sorry: you’re always sorry. You know, maybe this wouldn’t happen if you would clean your shit up.  And all this shit you bring in the house, the mountains of shit you bring into my house, spend my money. Here. Go, spend some more—throwing money from his pocket—you loser.

***

At the pawn shop, surrounded by crossed swords, a counter stocked with all manner of firearms, grandfather clocks along the walls, as well as other antiques and art, Jose finished the last of the paperwork as the pawnbroker inspected the watch. There’s an inscription on here, said the pawnbroker. I can’t give as much with this, you know. And I don’t know if I’ll be able get it going again either. So—

Yes, said Jose. I know.

It’s a nice watch, though. A very nice watch. Yours?

No, besides, I could never wear it: my wrist is too small.

Shame.

Yes, it is, said Jose. Now are you done? Will you pay me or no? I don’t have time for this.

The pawnbroker put the watch on the glass case before him and plucked his suspenders with his thumbs. Well I need to certify this, he said. Make sure it isn’t stolen. There’s a lot of things I need to do, you know. This kind of watch, it’s a complicated process. I mean, I’ll have a price for you in a couple of days, but not right away. It don’t work like that.

Just take it, said Jose. Give me whatever.

Listen: it don’t work that way. I’m sorry.

Fine! I don’t need the money—reaching out to the pawnbroker’s hands—just take it.

***

Jose left his plate half empty and went to the bedroom where he lay for several hours in darkness. As he stared in the face of the clock on his nightstand, he thought of his son, when he was a boy riding a horse like Jose had done in Villa Ahumada with his father. He curled into a ball away from the door when his wife finished watching TV and came to bed. The light bled through the crack in the doorway, and on the wall, he could see her shadow. She laid down beside him. I thought you had gone to bed, she said.

He didn’t respond.

You know, she said. I was thinking about taking a shower before I go to bed—her hand crept along his waist to the inside of his thigh—why don’t you join me? I think you could use a hot bath.

Why don’t you leave me the hell alone?

***

Defeated, forced to accept that which he wished not to, Jose turned away from the counter. The pawnbroker called him back, but Jose could not hear the man. As he walked out, he noticed a picture of a snake eating itself. Had Maria brought something like that home? Was it a painting like this one? Or a sculpture? A bracelet?

He turned. Excuse me, he said. What is this a painting of?

What? said the pawnbroker. Are you—

The snake. I have seen it before. What is it called?

Ouroboros.

Ouroboros, yes, said Jose absently. Thank you.

And he walked out the door.

The day was coming to a close. The night readying to drape its blanket of stars, streetlamps flickering on, one by one in a procession of light, and as the sun fell behind the buildings and trees of the city, he remarked how unfamiliar it all seemed. The sky was not consumed by that fireball of red, as it so often was, but instead there was a cornucopia of colors, all running together in hues of purple and yellow and orange. He followed the streetlamps home, stopping at a trash basket to drop the watch amongst the rest of the garbage, and as he did so, he glanced at its face one last time. The boy is gone, he thought. Jose let go, walked away, and the watch began to tick.

#

Vito Gulla holds an MFA from Wilkes University. He teaches English at Delaware County Community College, and his work has previously appeared in the LA Review of LA.