Carpe Diem by Judi Walsh

“It fits in your hand,” she said. “Not like a wristwatch, or a carry-clock, it’s supposed to meld to your palm. See if it fits yours.”

He held out his hand for the shiny, flattened orb. Too yellow to be pure gold. His thumb rubbed the lens covering the brassy hands and the white face studded with pansy-coloured jewels.

“So, I just close my hands around it and think about a time and place, and it will take me anywhere I want?”

She nodded, her thin-framed glasses perched on the end of her nose. “Yep, that’s it. Want to give it a go?” She scratched her head. “But remember. You’ve only got a minute, and then it will bring you back here. If you want to keep it after that, you give me a thousand pounds.”

He closed his fist around it and wished hard to be back in that house, with them, before it all happened. The shop whirled around him, a zoetrope of greens and greys, to be replaced by his old dining room, minutes before the fire. The family were holding hands around the table, his note in the middle. He was conspicuously absent, as he had been that day. He knew now what a mistake he’d made, leaving them for her. He couldn’t have known what was going to happen next, that he would never see them again, that he would never be able to make up for lost time. But now, he was really here! He could see them, smell them, and they him. They looked at him with tear-stained, expectant faces, and he stood, looking back, trying to think of the words that would make this OK. They looked away.

Back in the shop he knew what he had to do. He handed over the money, and put the watch in his pocket. Scrabbling home, he thought about what he would say, wrote it out, practiced his lines pleading and imploring them to forgive him.

At last he was ready. He steadied himself, retrieved the watch from its case, and closed his fingers around it just as he had done in the shop. But – nothing. He shook his hand, panic rising, and held the watch up to his ear. He could hear it ticking – it was still working – what was wrong? He tried again, but nothing would come clear. He cried out in distraction. He would take it back, demand a refund, demand it be repaired. He had to tell them, had to make amends.

He looked at the watch, duller now, in his palm. Still the tiny jewels winked, still the too-yellow body glimmered. He turned it over, like a pebble, like a stone. There, on the back, was a tiny inscription. He grabbed his glasses, and peered at the elaborate script. He could just about make it out. He read out loud:

Valid for one use only.

Judi Walsh writes short fiction and poetry. Her work has been nominated for Best Small Fictions (2018), highly commended in the Salt Flash Fiction (2012) and National Flash Fiction Micro Competitions (2016), and long-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction and Novella-In-Flash awards (2017). She tweets @judi_walsh.