Two Minutes

By Alice Martin

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Lin heard it takes two minutes and she counts the time in imperfections.

A chip in the paint above her single long dorm-issued bed. A tear in the cardboard cover of her college-lined notebook. A pinprick of a pimple on the inside of her pale upper thigh. The knowledge that she still hasn’t read the first three parts of Oedipus at Colonus, a discussion of which will be held in her Classics class three hours from now. Three hours. 180 minutes. 10800 seconds. 90 sets of two minutes. A lifetime of time.

Her pale pink sheets are new and crisp, the corners folded into what her mother call “hospital corners” and the pillow shams ironed. When she started college a few months ago, her roommate asked her who irons pillowcases. Two weeks later, that roommate requested a switch and Lin ended up with her own room. Lucky girl, her mother had said. Lucky girl to have so much given to her for nothing.

What else takes two minutes? Her microwaved dinners: chicken and broccoli alfredo. Chili con carne. Turkey with gravy and long grained rice. All eaten alone. The walk from her dorm to her Classics class. Her phone calls with her mother each month, when she gives a status report and her mother responds with efficiency.

Two minutes. The time it took for him to finish. At least she thinks.

She thinks of last week in Classics, when they discussed Antigone. What are these two minutes? Every kind of stillness. The hush when the executioner’s ax goes up at the end of the last act.

One minute now. Time rushes on and Lin wonders about time after this time. Three years in college, three in law school, a forever after. It is unimaginable, this time.

She thinks of the time her mother drove her to the cliffs on the Pacific Coast Highway, when she was rejected from Stanford. They’d stayed in the car for hours it seemed, or maybe it was only two minutes, listening to the invisible waves beneath them crash into rocks. The cold and salted air rushed Lin’s face through her open window. She wondered if this was how it felt to fall.

When Mother spoke about college she’d never spoken about the alcohol, the boys, the girls. There was so much Mother didn’t talk about. She made it seem easy. I didn’t say yes. I can say no to anything I say vile, and I don’t have to count the cost. If only it were so easy.

All it takes is one thing unsaid, one imperfection, two minutes. And it’s over.

Lin’s eyes move from her paint-chipped toenails to the grey speckled floor, to her desk, where the stick lays, flat white plastic with a grey-darkened screen.

As she stands to look she repeats, My nails are broken, my fingers are bleeding, my arms are covered with the welts left by the paws of your guards – but I am a queen.

– Alice Martin