The colors came in small bursts that brought a widening smile to Cariad Boerum’s twelve-year-old face which shined with wonder as she explored this the pigments of this wonderland. Images appeared within the color blotches in that beautiful way clouds in the sky sometimes took on shapes of faces and objects. But it wasn’t only objects, people, places and things that were visible, there was music, too, or perhaps not music as she had known it, the type played by instruments but the supposedly random sounds of life that were drawn to one another and strung themselves together like notes on sheet music and these notes were visible, gentle whirls of color, blurred, spinning and brilliant, the kaleidoscope of nature’s soul, in every shade of the spring flowers, carried aloft by the ambient drone of the wind.
Then the images faded taking along with then the rich colors and she found herself back home in the weather-beaten and sun-faded hues of her father’s workshop in the dullness of her singular reality. Here nothing was too bright, nothing was big or even bold. And though she loved her parents very much she longed to be back in that fantastical realm away from her sorrows, the only place that gave her peace. When reality had firmly set itself in her vision, Cariad found she was staring at her Welsh-Guyanan reflection in the mirror. Her hair was still ebony, her eyes still the color of emeralds and her sun-burnished skin was still honey but the colors seemed muted now.
“How was it?” her father said over his shoulder. Professor Rupert Boerum sat hunched over his worktable littered with cogs, chronographs and assorted watch parts, a magnifying loupe positioned over his right eye. He was tinkering on a miniature watch movement with a one-millimeter screwdriver in his right hand and brass tweezers in his left.
“It was fantastic, Dad,” Cariad answered hardly able to control her enthusiasm. “What was in that stuff you put in my eyes and why did it go away so quickly?”
Rupert placed the tools on the table and swung the loupe from over his eye before picking up the tiny bottle with the eyedropper. “This is an accident,” he said. “It was meant to be a cure for macular degeneration which is a common eye disorder that causes central vision loss or what you see when you’re looking straight ahead. What we believe it actually does is dilate the eye just enough to visually detect the passage of time. And it went away quickly because I diluted the solution.”
“I was looking at time?”
“A tiny portion of it, or so our theory goes.”
“Then why aren’t you working on that instead of wasting your time on stupid clocks and watches that nobody uses or even cares about anymore?” Her tone was wrong, it was disrespectful and Cariad knew it the moment she heard herself but it was too late.
Her father didn’t get mad, however. He let out a sigh that was almost imperceptible though she did see his shoulders drop slightly as he said, “My hobbies aren’t decided by how many are interested in them, the only thing that matters is that horology brings me joy so I don’t consider it a waste of time. And this watch that I’m working on is more related to those eye drops than you realize. This was the third method of telling time, after sundials and water clocks.”
Rupert gently lifted the watch movement and gave the crown a little twist and it began to tick. “What do you hear?” he asked.
“I hear ticking,” Cariad shrugged. Was this meant to be some sort of trick question?
“No, that’s what is happening, the watch is ticking. What do you hear?”
Cariad had no idea what her father meant or how she was supposed to answer the question. All she heard was the stupid ticking of the stupid watch.
Rupert sighed again, this time more audibly, “When baby animals, puppies and kittens and the like, were separated from their mothers, ticking watches and clocks were placed in their bedding to soothe them and stop them from crying at night because the sound mimicked the heartbeat of their mother. So, that’s what I hear when a clock ticks, I hear the heartbeat of existence, the movement of time as the universe as it expands, I hear evolution and it brings me comfort for as long as that ticking continues, time continues which means we continue.”
Rupert put the timepiece back on the table and covered it with a cloth. “And speaking of time, it’s time to get ready for dinner.”
“Dad, I’m sorry about what I said. Your hobby isn’t stupid, I am. I have a bad habit of saying things I don’t mean all the time now. I don’t know what’s wrong with me,”
Tousling his daughter’s hair, Rupert smiled, “You aren’t afraid to speak your mind, you get that from your mother. Maybe someday, hopefully sometime soon, you’ll learn to balance that with diplomacy. That you will get from me.”
Cariad rolled her eyes because she knew he was calling her immature in his own special way. “Can you put the drops in one more time? Please?” she pleaded, dragging out the word please the way she used to when she was younger to wrap her father around her little finger. She hadn’t used it in a while and was out of practice.
“And keep your mother waiting? Not on your life and not on mine,” Rupert plucked the bottle from the tabletop, slid it into the top left-hand drawer of his work table and locked it, placing the key on its assigned wall-mounted hook. Cariad made note of the hook location.
“Can’t you tell her we’re in the middle of an important experiment or something?”
“Lie to your mother? Have you met the woman? She would pick it apart before I finished the sentence and then I would never hear the end of being foolish enough to let you talk me into making the attempt.”
Cariad knew all this, it was just the idea of having to sit through the process of dinner. When it was just her and her father, dinner was eating on the couch in front of the wallscreen watching a science program or a comedy and laughing or discussing a topic around a mouthful of food with drinks precariously perched on sofa arms or sometimes wedged between the cushions to avoid spills.
With her mother, dinner was always served in the dining room, elbows off the table, back straight, take small bites and chew with mouths shut, make pleasant conversation but never with a full mouth, finish the entire plate, use the napkin, ask permission to leave the table, help clear the table, sweep the floor, help wash the dishes.
When she left her father’s study she would have to wash and change into her dinner attire, a ritual she never understood. Washing her face and hands? Yes. But a full shower? And wearing an outfit only design to eat a meal in? Where was the sense?
Everything was as Cariad expected it to be. The dinner—roasted yellow pepper and tomato bisque, salmon with lemon dill cream sauce, warm butter rum lava cake—was prepared to perfection. Her mother, Ruth, used to be a chef in what she called her former life before she met Rupert and used Sunday dinner, which was traditionally a big family meal though it was now just the three of them, as an excuse to show off her culinary skills. If she actually derived any pleasure at all from cooking, she managed to keep it a well-guarded secret.
Mostly everything about her was never a topic for conversation as Ruth Boerum excelled at playing her cards close to her vest. Over the past week or so she hadn’t looked her best but maintained a stoic appearance. Cariad would have asked her if anything was the matter but they currently did not have that type of relationship. Conversations between them that used to be very long were now very short. Cariad was not able to pinpoint the exact moment the familial bonds between them had become ruins. Perhaps it was not something that happened all at once. Perhaps it was little things that had built up over time that initiated the decay. The foundation of their relationship was in the process of disappearing.
As for tonight’s meal, there was one unexpected admirer of Ruth’s cooking, Cariad’s cat, Sacha, who somehow mastered the art of remaining out of the adults’ line of site as she stood on her hind legs and tapped Cariad’s thigh with her paw to request food. Cariad would oblige by placing bits of salmon in her mouth and transferring them to her napkin and discreetly passing them to Sacha during the pleasant dinner conversation that began in a typical fashion until her mother introduced a new topic.
“Your father and I have been thinking about your education,” Ruth said, touching the cloth napkin folded into a triangle to the corners of her mouth.
“What about it?” Cariad asked.
“We feel it might be best if you studied abroad, to expand your horizons.”
“I don’t want to study abroad,” Cariad turned to address her father. “I want to study with you, Dad. You taught at university so you know what you’re doing and my schedule is flexible so it won’t get in the way of your work and I can even assist you with that, if you’ll have me. Please?”
Ruth eyed her husband who appeared quite content not to join in the conversation but her expression was clear as crystal, she needed Rupert to side with her. They would need to be a united front if there was any hope of sending Cariad away to school.
“Education is not merely memorizing and reciting passages from books, isn’t that right, Rupert?” Ruth said in her usual manner where a question wasn’t actually a question but more of a statement.
“Your mother’s right,” Rupert placed his fork with the untasted rum lava cake down on the dish. “There is a world outside this house, outside our family, a huge world full of wonders and delights that will terrify you at first but it will also come to amaze you. You have a place in this world and you will only discover it after you learn the rules, what makes it work, which rules to follow, which ones to break. So, perhaps instead of thinking of it as school, you consider it a primer for society. A sneak peek into the life you’ll be leading once you move out on your own.”
“When have you ever heard me express any interest in society and how it works? All I want to do is study time like you do! Isn’t that what devoted children do, follow in their parents’ footsteps?” the frustration in Cariad’s voice was rising dangerously close to what her mother considered disrespectful territory.
“And no one is stopping you from doing that, dear,” the word dear had a dagger-like sharpness to it and Ruth spat it at her daughter with deadly accuracy. “All we’re suggesting is that you add more variety to your personal portfolio than being a carbon copy of your father. You might find there are other people in the world to look up to.”
Cariad’s face was alive with a kind of terrible anger but a strain was also present. She was forcing herself not to blurt out the hurtful things that could never be taken back. Instead, she turned to Rupert and managed to say, “Are you just going to sit there and take that?”
When her father didn’t respond, Cariad said, “You know what? Forget I said anything,” she pushed her chair from the table, startling Sacha who bolted from the room. Without asking to be excused, Cariad stormed off, stomping her way up the staircase to her room, ignoring her mother’s demands to return to the table at once. It was an immature move and she knew it but she needed to release the frustration of not being able to bring herself to say the things she truly wanted to say to her mother.
Inside her bedroom, she slammed the door for good measure, to let the household know how truly upset she was. Sacha eventually gathered enough courage to poke her head out from under the bed.
“It’s okay, Sacha,” she said. “I’m not mad at you.” Cariad plopped down on the bed. Sacha, still wary, head bunted Cariad’s leg as she came out into the open, marking the girl with her scent glands before jumping onto the bed to lay her weight beside her human.
“The problem is they think I’m still a little girl. They think I can’t see something’s going on with Mom. Why can’t they just be honest with me for once? It’s so unfair!” Cariad stroked Sacha’s head and the cat showed her appreciation in purrs and long, slow blinks.
After a while, there was a knock at her door, a gentle tapping that belonged to her father. She wanted to tell him to go away, to leave her alone but it came out as, “Come in,” which made her angry at herself for being so weak.
“Before you say anything,” Rupert said as he closed the door gently behind him. “I’m not here to make you do anything you ultimately don’t want to do, I just want to offer up a little more information to help you make the right decision. Will you allow me to do that?”
Reluctantly, Cariad nodded.
“Good. The school we had in mind isn’t just any old school, it’s one of the best in the world. Candida Isca Academy.”
“Candida?” Cariad eyes turned round and shocked. “How can we afford that?”
“Your mother called in some favors and managed to land you a scholarship. Don’t ask me how, she wouldn’t say but I do know it wasn’t a simple process. You still have to interview, though, which is why we can’t force you to attend. You sabotage the interview and Candida’s out of the question.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“When have I ever lied to you?” Rupert asked and the truth of the matter was Cariad had never even considered the possibility of her father lying to her and put on the spot like this could not come up with a single instance.
“Okay, then,” she decided to test him, “tell me what’s going on with Mom. I’m not stupid, you know.”
“No one thinks you’re stupid, you’re simply at that age where you think you’ve got the world figured out and trust me on this point, you don’t. Your mother and I are handling a situation right now and she wants to be the one to tell you in her own way in her own time. I’m simply respecting her wishes the same way I’ve always respected yours.”
“You two aren’t getting a divorce, are you?”
Rupert wrinkled his face and said softly, “What? Nothing of the sort.”
“Because you’d tell me if you were, right? Because not telling me would constitute lying to me, you know that, don’t you?”
“Well aware of it. No divorce, I promise. Your mother will be my wife for the rest of our natural lives and then some.”
Cariad was silent, staring down at the Turkish area rug, eyes scrying its light blue, cream, navy blue and rust red pattern, searching for an answer, any answer. Finally, she exhaled and asked:
“Can I at least have some time to think about it? It’s not fair springing it on me like that and expecting me to make a snap decision.”
“The interview is in a month, after that the point becomes moot.”
Cariad tore her eyes from the rug and looked at her father. “I meant what I said, you know, about following in your footsteps.”
“It is possible to do both you know and you might even make a discovery that would make me want to follow in your footsteps. And don’t give me that look, stranger things happen every single day,” Rupert smiled and patted his belly. “Now, I don’t know about you but I missed dessert and a slice of homemade lava cake is sounding real good right now. Join me?”
“I don’t know. Is Mom still down there?”
“If you don’t cut your mother a little slack—”
“I’m joking, Dad. I’ll play nice…for now.”
“At this point, I’ll take whatever concessions I can get.”