Time Collecting

by Anna Zumbro

English: You are forty.

This is you: four decades of experience woven into roughened skin and thinning hair. At work you ask the intern who is half your age for help with the new computer program. That was you, once — the brash young tech whiz, brimming with the potential of all the years ahead of you. On candlelit dates you  wear the hipster glasses that make you look young, gloss over the years in your stories, demur when she asks your age even as you try to deduce hers. There will be time, if all goes well, to find out if who you are is good enough.

Spanish: Tienes cuarenta. You have forty.

Two score trips around the sun, completed and stored in your back pocket, ready to be whipped out when needed to demonstrate independence to your parents or authority to your children. Can you lose years the way you’ve so often lost your keys? Your other intangible possessions — fear, cold, hunger — do not stick around forever.

Your daughter’s screams wake you each night, and you rush to her bed to offer comfort. She is eight years old and shaking, unable to lose the terror of a bad dream. Maybe the secret of losing well comes with the gaining of years.

Russian: Тебе сорок. To you are forty.

It is one more gift to open, this new number. Like the handmade striped sweater you receive from your mother, it is both welcome and not, and you wear it regardless. Sometimes you divide the number into equal slices, like a loaf of babka: eight spans of five, four spans of ten, six spans of seven with one not completed. Yet.

Astronomical: 0.24-166.1 years. Your age depends on the planet.

Your daughter grins as she waves her homework assignment and announces that on the planet Mercury  he is 43 years old. “I’m older than you!” she giggles, and her youthful myopia amuses you enough that you do not point out that your age would increase on Mercury, too. You are her North Star, ever reliable and never changing. But this reveals your own myopia. Even the stars move, grow, and die.

Mathematical: 60 sec/min x 60 min/hr x 24 hr/day x 356 days/year x 40 years = 1.26 billion seconds (approximately).

There’s a new kid at the youth center where you volunteer, 14 or 15 by the looks of him. He doesn’t talk much but agrees to a basketball game. He’s energetic and has a knack for free throws, but hasn’t learned how to change direction quick when you fake him out. Sweating on the bench during a break, you ask his grade, and he asks your age. “Over 1.26 billion seconds and counting,” you say.

The boy laughs. He says he’d like to play another game, if you aren’t tired. You nod and stand. You’re not tired, not yet.

Anna Zumbro lives in Washington, DC. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Cricket, Daily Science Fiction, freeze frame fiction, and other publications. You can follow her on Twitter @annazumbro.