When Leo gets in the car, the clock moves back an hour.
“See?” Mom says. “I told you guys.” But we aren’t convinced. I’ve seen this happen this summer, sure. But I figure there has to be some sort of scientific explanation. I believe in science, and the internet, and evolution. I think if all the clocks keep jumping back an hour, it’s probably some sort of bug or interference. Not the ghost of our dead dad.
But Mom keeps going, “I think it’s Dad,” and fiddling with the hours button, changing the time back. “What is it, babe?” she coos at the dashboard.
Now that Leo is safely home from camp, she declares it’s time to get to the bottom of this. “Let’s go to the psychic,” she says, turning around to look at us in the backseat. The psychic is this shriveled-up homeless woman who sleeps in a tent with her cat on the beach next to the Henna tattoo booth. California is a great place to be homeless because of the beach and the sun, which is why there are so many bums here. Even though Mom says they have pretty good lives, for bums, we still always bring them our leftovers when we go out to eat. The psychic is one of our favorite homeless people to feed because in exchange she usually tells us what color our energies are.
Dad died in a fire. How dramatic is that? He was a firefighter and one summer there was a wildfire in the hills and he went up there to, you know, fight it, and he lost. I know I sound a little too casual, the way I’m talking about the death of my father. But I was little when it happened, and besides, this is how we always talk about Dad. It’s how we make it seem less sad.
Sometimes Leo gets really bummed about Dad, probably because he’s actually old enough to remember him. Then he gets mad at me for not understanding, and I get mad at him for being able to understand. Then Mom says we should quit it because you never know when it’s going to be your last day on this planet and when you died you weren’t just fighting a fire but you were also fighting with your brother. With Dad, that was the actual situation. Now, we don’t talk to his brother either. That one isn’t made any less sad by speaking about it in a casual manner.
On the way to see the psychic we try to guess what she will say about the significance of the clock moving back an hour.
“If it were moving forward, well, that would be too obvious,” Mom says. “He’d be telling us to move forward.”
“Dad’s not that sappy,” Leo says.
“You’re right,” Mom answers. “He’s much more original than that.”
“Maybe he thinks if everything had just happened an hour earlier he’d be alive,” I say, even though I still definitely don’t believe that Dad is moving the clock. “And he’s trying to do in death what he couldn’t in life.”
“Now that is good,” Mom says, gesticulating with a pointed finger. “That is very good.”
We find the psychic under the same palm tree she’s usually under. She’s resting her head against its trunk with her eyes closed.
“Excuse me,” Mom says, waving her hand in front of the psychic’s face. “Hello?”
The psychic opens her eyes, and it takes a moment for her to register not only who we are, but maybe where she is. I mean, she had been sleeping.
Mom asks her if she remembers us. “Of course,” the psychic replies. “You always bring the Szechuan chicken.”
Mom smiles wide. “Yes,” she says, “that’s us.”
She tells her about the clock. How it moves back whenever something happens with the family. Like Leo coming home from camp, or earlier this summer when Dad’s parents had come to visit.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that it’s Dave, right?” she finishes. “But what does it all mean?” We are standing above the psychic still, Mom gripping her purse and the psychic squinting up at us with her hand over her eyes.
The psychic is quiet for a few moments, considering us. Then, she starts asking questions. About Grandma and Grandpa, and other fires Dad fought, and the men he had known who had died in them, if any.
“Did he have any unfinished business?” she asks finally. “Any bad blood or feuds, that sort of thing?”
We all look at each other, but no one says anything.
“Wait, I’m getting something,” the psychic says, closing her eyes again. “It’s not the direction of the clock that matters, or even the ‘hour’ increment as a whole. It’s the number sixty. You know, sixty minutes in an hour. It’s about sixty.” She opens her eyes, and they shine with a new kind of light. “Do you know anyone who was born in the year 1960?”
Mom tightens her grip on the handle of her purse, and the corners of her mouth begin to slope downwards. “Don,” she says. “His brother Don was born in the year 1960.”
“And he didn’t get to say goodbye to him?” the psychic asks. “What happened with Don that your husband didn’t finish?”
I don’t know if Mom knows why Dad and Uncle Don were fighting that day, because she doesn’t answer the psychic. She just thanks her and gives her twenty dollars and walks off toward the car. When we get in it, she sighs, placing her head on top of her hands on top of the steering wheel.
“Well, now we know,” she says, and starts the car. When she turns it on, the clock is wrong again. We drive home in silence past the colorful beach houses and tall, skinny palms, their fronds moving gently back and forth in the breeze.
Sarah Davidson is a writer living in Los Angeles. She is more excited than most about miniature items, and less excited than most about games. Her poetry has been published in Helicon, Northwestern University’s arts and literary magazine. Follow her on Twitter @sarahdavidson25.