Why on earth would a woman in her mid-thirties ask for time to be taken away? They never ask for time to be taken away.
He’d been dealing in time for decades. Living in the same 1920’s terrace house on Gloucester St since he’d returned from the Second World War in 1945. Seventy two years ago and yet he did not look a day over 46. The age he was when he first moved in.
He didn’t think about it much these days; age really meant nothing to him anymore. Today though, with the young woman asking what she had, he had reason to pause. He would be 118 years old this year, in all of that time he had never had someone ask to have time taken away.
Yeah, sure he had his regulars, although they had diminished somewhat in the ’70s and ’80s. Most, if not all, dead due to the gangsters Abe Saffron, George Freeman and others. Even Mr Saffron himself had been a regular right up until he died in 2006.
His customers always asked for time to be added. They wanted to maintain their youthfulness, live longer to reap the rewards of their oft ill-gotten gains. None, even Abe Saffron himself, an apt user of his services, had ever thought to take time away.
On reflection, he had only contemplated it once or twice himself in the 70 years since he had returned from the western front. From where he had found the cursed pouch that contained the timepiece.
Still, he was baffled, why would a young woman, who had a full life in front of her, ask to have time taken away? He’d never seen her before, had never heard of her. She most definitely was not someone of renown in The Rocks or Potts Point. If she were, he would have known about her as she would have most definitely caught his eye.
So desperate she was to have the time taken from her, he felt he could have asked for anything. To ask for what he really would have liked from her would go against everything he had lived to preserve. He would not compromise himself now, no matter how attractive she was.
She had been very specific; she wanted the balance of her life taken from her at exactly 2 am tomorrow morning. Looking at her he had deduced that meant he had to take 52 years from her as he could see she was meant to die in her sleep in her old age.
He agreed his payment would be the usual. He did not want for much. He had his house, his books, his stool at the pub. He did not want for more; adventure and excitement were beyond him now. In the past, he used to travel, explore and experience the world. After 70 years of travel as a 46-year-old he was done.
She knew she had to pay in cash, and when he told her the amount due she had simply used her foot to slide an old leather bag towards him under the table, nudging it into his foot. Reaching behind her neck she unclasped the necklace she was wearing and passed it to him ‘Use this’.
He watched as she stood and walked away, disappearing out the door, she turned left onto Cumberland Street. He sat still, drinking his beer nice and slowly. There was no rush, he had hours to prepare. Draining his glass he stood, reached down and picked up the leather bag. It felt heavier than it needed to be.
Opening the front door to his home, he walked the length of the hall into his small kitchen, pulling the string to turn on the light. Like everything in his house it was old. He had not replaced anything in the 70 years he had lived there. Yes, he’d added some bookshelves down the hall and into most of the rooms in the house, as books were his one continuous pleasure.
From the pantry he pulled out a tin of baked beans, opened it and tipped it into a pot on the stove, lighting the burner with a match from the windowsill. He sat at the table and thought about what he was about to do. He had never done this before.
He was about to euthanise someone. It most definitely was not murder, as she had most definitely requested it. She had been clear and very specific in what it was she wanted. Their conversation has been very short and sweet. He simply being the service provider, her being the customer. It was not his place to advise her, to try and talk her out of it; to interject in any way. He’d learnt not to ask questions years ago after it almost cost him his life.
But then again, people did not normally ask to be killed by him. He got up from his seat, stirred the beans, put them in a bowl, got himself a can of beer and sat at the table, absorbed by his thoughts. Eating only out of habit not out of any need or appreciation.
The light from outside faded, the shadows cast by the bowl and can lengthening then disappearing as the sun went down. The kitchen light casting a weak glow. He could see the luminescent glow on his watch, it was 1:45 am. Standing, stiff from sitting for so long, he walked part way down the hall and lifted the leather pouch down from the top of the second bookshelf.
Returning to the table, he sat and removed the timepiece. Even after all of these years, he was amazed at the beauty of the device. As plain as it was, dull and grey, it still looked as perfect as the day he had found it.
The two halves opened to reveal the intricate cogs and spindles; ageless. He checked his watch, 5 minutes to 2 am. He adjusted the spindles, winding them in the opposite direction to what he normally did. He wound them back for what seemed like an eternity, 52 years was more than anything he had ever wound before. Normally his regulars would ask for a month or two, a year at the most.
He placed the necklace she had given him into the bowl and closed the two halves around it again. It was 2 am. He sat for a moment; silence. So silent he could hear the ticking of his watch as he waited.
Opening the timepiece one more time; the necklace was gone. She was gone. He had done his job, as joyless as it was. He had euthanised someone for the first time.