They fall like dry leaves, these tufts of paper, subject to the slightest puffs - he raggles another jagged piece out of the wall he is building. It is hard work, and he is tired. Soft hands cover his face. God, it's so dark.
He wasn't always this way. He had never planned to be old and, now, gray hair and the noises he makes involuntarily, and there is so much time. Everyone says it like it's a blessing. Some golden reward for a life lived, if not lived well. Now, you have so much time! It's true, but time for what? Time to sit in an empty apartment tearing cocktail napkins into ribbons? Time to check the clock and think: Holy shit. It's not even noon!
There is a sweet, rotten light sneaking through the gaps in the curtain, the gaps in the wall. Even the sun is corrupted, covered in gray misery, plumes of smoke and all manner of bullshit. At least I've still got plenty of time to enjoy it. He tries to smile.
It is at times like this that he wonders if anything could have changed the trajectory. He could have had kids. He could have worked harder. He could have chucked it all long ago and lived like a peasant, chasing enlightenment.
We are all victims of our choices.
There is a sound in the apartment. There are times when he can almost convince himself that he is going crazy. Finally. But the noise is there. It is the noise of desperation. Some gnawing, scrabbling something. He tries to ignore it or enjoy its company. Failing at both.
He has become a man who names the birds outside his window - he does not know if this is some form of penance or something to be proud of. There is so much he does not know. And folks lay it on him. You have all the time in the world, now! So, what? He should start learning about steam engines or stop eating gluten or do yoga in a sauna? People say these things to him and he blinks like a man who has spent the day in a mine. And they look at him with sad, long faces while he thinks of violence.
There is a scrap of paper taped to the bathroom mirror. It is the first thing he sees every morning. He does not remember when it arrived there. It is written in his handwriting, though, so he reads it.
LIFE IS A CARNIVAL. NEVER TRUST THE CARNIES.
He reads this every morning and nods resolutely. The woman who sells him coffee must shave her beard. The men climbing poles will walk the power lines, one after another, crossing the city in grid-flash daring. The girly show is everywhere, but they never show it all, no matter what the barker says.
He looks at the clock and taps his fingernails on the table and charts the pain that starts in his left temple and goes all the way down his back, to his thighs - hot, sharp pain. This is it. This is everything and everything is nothing.
Outside, the birds sing and he resists the urge to throw crumbs out the window, cooing the little names he has created, the lives he has created. He knows that if he were gone tomorrow, it would be a blip in their recognition, if that. And just last week he woke to a goldfinch on his steps and he had cried the rest of the day, mourning beauty lost. Cursing the neighbor's cat.
It is time to do something with all this time, but what? He wishes he could donate it. Give it to some young go-getter with plans and a glint in his eye. Let him use the time. Maybe he could do something with it.
Time passes. It may pass slow, but it does pass. He can't stop it. He can't speed it up and he can't slow it down no matter how it feels or what his third grade teacher said so many years ago.
Time does not fly. Not for him.