Time flies

Evan sat on a tree stump in the back yard, watching the earth revolve. He balanced a laptop on his knees as the linear shadow fell across the face of the sundial, a short crawl past IV.

“Hello, there.”

Evan looked up. “Hi, Felder,” he said.

“Thought I might find your mother out here,” Felder said.

“You just missed her,” Evan said. “She was late for something.”

“Well, I’ll catch her later,” Felder said, turning toward home. “Just wanted to steal some parsley.”

Pam Wells/The Pullets

“Wait—have you ever heard this?” Evan leaned over the sundial. A phrase was cast into the top surface: “Time is a river without banks,” he read.

Felder gave it a moment to jangle. “Nope, don’t think so. Sounds like something you could find in Bartlett’s, though.”

Evan shook his head. “I googled it and the only thing I could find was the name of a painting.”

“Hhm. Well, I don’t know much about that. Something for school, I take it.”

“Yeah. We have to write about time, and I thought this’d be easy. But the more I think about it, the less sense it makes. I mean, time as a river is cool, I guess, but a river without banks? That’s a flood.”

“Time as a flood… nope, doesn’t work for me, either. Hang on, now, you said something about a painting.”

“Yeah, it’s by Marc Chagall,” Evan said. He clicked a window on his computer and a painting filled the screen: A huge flying fish carried a clock and a violin over a river, and two lovers lay on the bank. The title matched the words cast in the sundial.

“Pretty wacky, huh?” Evan said.

“Oh, the mind of an artist, it’s a wacky place to go,” Felder said. “Wasn’t he French?”

“French and Russian. And Jewish.”

Felder raised his bushy brows. “Jewish isn’t a nationality, but that’s all right. I was just thinking… now, what I was going to say… oh, the title. Do you suppose he wrote the title in English?”

“Probably not. Probably wrote it in French.”

“Aha. Yes. So it’s possible the translation might be a little… well, a little—”

“Stupid.” Evan was finally enjoying the process. He translated the English title into French, played around with some alternate words and finally was able to locate the painting under its original French title, Le temps n’a point de rives.

“Which means, ‘Time does not have banks,’” Evan said.

“I wish you’d stop talking about banks,” Felder said.

“Shores, then. And Chagall didn’t even make it up. It’s from a poem: ‘Man does not have a harbor, time does not have shores; it flows and we pass!’”

Felder’s eyes sparkled. “You’ve done all that sitting on a stump in your back yard. How times have changed.” His eyes fell on the sundial. If it was right, it was half-past V. “It’s been fun!” he yelled, and flew home to check on his baked halibut.

©2010 Pam Wells


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