There is always time.
It never waits for us, but it is always there, taking each moment that passes and hoarding it to itself. Time is the great miser. The dragon that sleeps upon its horde of moments, preventing any one of us from stealing some time back, or going back and changing the said to the unsaid, the undone to the done.
Marie grew angrier with time, the older she got. She never forgave time for stealing her grandfather from her. Growing up, he was her best friend, the intermediary who stood between Marie and a world she did not understand. He taught her about how his flowers grew and about the vegetables on his allotment. He taught her to run the earth through her fingers, to feel its texture and understand its smells. He told her why butterflies danced and read her stories of dragons and princesses who refused to sit helpless in their towers. He taught her games and he taught her songs. He let her taste his home brewed beer and hold the toasting fork near the flames.
Then one day he was gone.
Marie had other family. She had a Mum, a Dad, and a crying, shitting thing they told her was a brother. She had her granny too, but only a pale shadow of the granny she’d had when here grandad was alive. Time had stolen Marie’s grandad and left a hole in her world where she knew no hole should be.
Marie lost her trust in time, in the possibility of a future. She knew the future always came, that the school holidays always ended no matter how hard she wished for one more day. She knew too that her birthday and Christmas always seemed to get further away, harder to reach with every day that passed, rather than come closer.
It seemed that everything she longed for, everything she wanted, everything she needed, time kept out of her grasp.
Over time, Marie learnt that the only trustworthy things in the world were numbers. They always turned out to be where they said they would be, even if sometimes they found rather cunning or tricky hiding places. Even time could not escape the inevitability of numbers. Numbers were the only things that made time keep its promises and reveal where it had hidden the past.
Marie knew, felt deep down, in a place where even numbers were scared to go, that the answer to time’s betrayals lay in the numbers. If only she could make the numbers line up in a way that time did not understand, or expect, then she could slip through – somehow. She would be able to squeeze herself into that gap that lay between time and the numbers used to describe and control it.
The computers she worked with after getting her PhD were not good enough, though. Marie knew she needed a computer far more powerful than any she had ever known. She needed something that could wrestle the numbers out of time’s tight dragon-clawed grasp. A computer that would pierce the heart of the time dragon with its number lance, and let her through to the heaps of hoarded moments it sat squat upon.
Marie knew too – with the certainty that she knew numbers – that she would be the one who would build that time machine that would bring back all the time dragon had stolen from her.