A Remarkably Accurate Machine
by K. Kylyra Ameringer
"Reggie, will you stop obsessing over that thing! Reggie! Reginald, will you look at me when I'm talking to you!"
"Hmmm?" Reginald Ignacious Parker lifted his faded and worn eyes to his wife's face. "Did you say something, dear?"
Sandra Parker rolled her eyes. "I've been talking to you for the last five minutes, Reggie. You haven't heard a word I've said, have you?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, dear," Reggie said, smiling slightly. "It's the clock, you see," indicating the small silvery-smooth shape on the table next to his favorite chair. "It's ticking down, you know. I haven't much time left."
"Damn it, Reggie, it's just a clock! Just a stupid novelty gift that your company churned out to make money! It doesn't actually work! Look, the thing is programmed with insurance actuary statistics. It has nothing to do with the individual owner!"
"Not work? Novelty? Oh, my dear," Reggie said, shaking his head slightly. "That's where you're wrong." His voice took on the practiced inflection of forty years of salesmanship. "Life clocks are attuned to each customer's unique biorhythms. A remarkably accurate machine! Never needs adjustment! Runs on its own internal power source. Why, we guarantee accuracy to within two seconds, or a complete refund to the customer! A wonderfully accurate machine!...Maybe too accurate," he added pensively, watching the red LED display.
Sandra Parker closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose. She could feel another tension headache coming on. "Reginald," she said, struggling to keep her voice even, "we've been through all this before."
"I know, my dear, but you can see the bind I'm in! Only fifteen hours, forty-two minutes and thirty-seven seconds left! That's it! That's all I have left!"
"Reggie," Sandra said, leaning over him, "you are not sick. You have no disease. You see your doctor on a regular basis. You eat well and you take plenty of exercise. You are a fit man of sixty-seven years! You are not going to suddenly expire in fifteen hours, forty-two minutes and thirty-seven seconds!"
"Eighteen seconds," Reggie said, correcting her. His eyes never left the LED display. "Now fifteen...twelve...nine..."
His wife sighed and turned to leave the room. She paused at the doorway. "Reggie, I'm leaving to visit Susan for awhile."
"Yes, Reggie," Sandra replied with another sigh, "my sister, Susan. You do remember my sister, Susan, don't you?"
"Susan...ah, yes. Nice girl. A few years younger than you. Her life clock would have quite a few hours left on it."
Sandra Parker shook her head and stooped to pick up her suitcase. "I'll be back in three days, Reggie. Susan's number is by the phone if you need anything. There are cans of soup in the cupboard and some left-over roast in the 'fridge. And if you can tear yourself away from your precious clock Mary Martin said you could pop over to her house for supper tomorrow evening." She watched her husband for a moment, then rolled her eyes and left. She looked forward to getting away from the house for a few days, and by the time she returned all this life clock business would be behind them.
Reginald Parker was barely conscious of his wife's leaving. He touched a button on the side of the life clock and the display on the LED screen changed accordingly.
He could set it to display hours only, but during the last week when the hours had fallen below one hundred he'd found that setting disturbingly low. Another touch of the button would display his remaining time in minutes, which was better, although not completely true. The display read nine hundred and forty, but he felt cheated out of the additional twenty seconds or so he knew he had before another minute lapsed. A third touch of the button revealed the time remaining in seconds, which he liked to see because it was the largest number. Over fifty-six thousand seconds remaining. But that display allowed him to see how quickly time was slipping away from him. So, as usual, he returned to the default setting showing hours, minutes, and seconds. Reggie grimaced at the red numbers on the screen. Damn it, he'd lost almost another five minutes there.
He remembered when he'd first gotten the clock. It was his three-month anniversary working for Life Clock, Inc. That was well over forty-five years ago now. In those early days he'd kept it in his office on his desk. He'd never even bothered to look at the display then. Hell, it seemed his two weeks holiday each year, all three hundred thirty-six hours of off-time, didn't even make a dent in the huge balance of time left to him back then. Oh, he had lived foolishly, he thought to himself. If only now he could go back and grab all those wasted hours and stuff them back into his time clock!
A Remarkably Accurate Machine by K. Kylyra Ameringer